Sunday, December 18, 2016

Maker Faire Tips in QST

My article on Bay-Net's efforts to showcase amateur radio at Maker Faire Bay Area is in QST (January 2017 edition) hitting mailboxes and digital readers now.  I blogged about this year's project back in May 2016, and that article contains links to detailed materials and presentations.  We also talked Maker Faire with the HamRadio360 team in their late June podcast.

Special thanks again to my team that worked hard on this event: +Beric Dunn, +Bernard Van Haecke, +Derek Kozel, +Marcel Stieber, +Kenneth Finnegan, +Maria Pikusova, and Bob Somers.

Also in the article is an interview with fellow Maker +Jeri Ellsworth on her journey away from and (finally) back to amateur radio, and a cameo appearance by my youngest daughter Tara.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Holiday Project: LED Flip Light

This post has nothing to do with wireless.  File under How-To.

The original idea for this project came from David Bakker at draailampje.nl ("draailampje" means "flip light" in Dutch) via Make: - I've modified it slightly.  My kids both like to solder, so I wanted a project which my youngest could do mostly by herself.



Parts:

The idea of the flip light is very simple: parts needed are a CR2032 battery, a coin battery holder, a tilt switch, and a 10mm diffused LED.












This assembly is mounted into the lid of a small hexagonal glass jar with hot glue.  We built 20 of them in assembly-line fashion, with me acting as safety observer and occasionally suggesting that she re-solder some joints.

Operation is dumb simple; flip the light over to turn it on, back again to turn it off.

The CR2032 battery drives the LED directly - no current-limiting resistor is needed.  You have to make a choice about orientation - David Bakker's original design is to have the light on when the lid is up.

My daughter decided to have it on when the lid is down, with the LED pointing up when on, so that the light comes out the bottom of the jar.  She felt this was more "pretty".

The end result was really nice - she tossed a few on the mantle, put some on the dining room table, and gave a few away as gifts.

The most expensive parts of the project were the glass jars.  You can get them for about $1 each if you buy a box of 24.  Parts list above.

Update: LED Hack for Christmas Houses

2016 Update: Updated links to parts sources - some had broken since the original post.  Also: For a festive touch, we use color-changing LED tea lights in the Fezziwig building.  That guy knew how to party!

This post has nothing to do with wireless.  If you want to learn how to retrofit Christmas houses with LEDs, read on...

Last weekend my wife and I started getting the Christmas decorations out of storage.  One of my wife's favorites is a set of Dickens-style houses/buildings, some have signs like "Scrooge & Marley" "Fezziwig" etc.  Each has a C7 lamp and a cord.  Given the number of houses she has, cord management is always an issue.  We wind up trying to hide them with fluffy "snow" fabric, and then we have to hide a socket-strip and all the plugs.  The lights get hot, so in proximity to the fabric there's always a fire risk if one of the lights were to pop out.  The houses are fun, but it's a huge mess, so we decided to homebrew some LED lights for them.

Top removed from thread protector
We started by buying a set of small submersible LED tea lights.  These typically come in packs of 10 - 12, are used for weddings and such (toss them in the bottom of the punch bowl, etc), and cost about $0.80 each.  You can get them in white, color-changing, or a mixed set.  Each light uses a couple of CR2032 batteries, so we picked up a pack of 20 for under $8.00. The lights arrived with batteries, and only one of them was depleted, so we were good to go.  We also discovered that a color-changing light had got mixed into our set of white lights, which the kids decided was really cool because that house "looks like they're having a party". 

LED glued into thread protector
As it turns out, some of her houses have larger openings for the C7 lamps, so we just set the light on the table and put the house on top of it.  The others had smaller openings, so I needed to hack something up.  We considered using modeling clay, but I thought that might get messy.  Sugru or InstaMorph (moldable rubber) would have been great, but I used all my Sugru to make a custom mount for a Wii sensor.  Then I remembered that I had a bag of pipe thread protectors left over from an antenna install - I use them to make custom grommets for my coax ingress box.

Perfect fit!
As it turns out, the LED lights friction-fit perfectly into thread protectors.  So I sliced off the end to expose the LED.  I put a few drops of hot glue on the thread protector to secure the LED.  They fit perfectly into the holes where the C7 lamps used to go, and they put off good light.

We're pleased with the end result, but if I had to make a change I would use amber/yellow LEDs instead of the pure white we have now.  Maybe over time I'll swap in some of those if the white ones fail.  In the meantime, our Dickens Village is lit up with no cords or concerns about fire danger. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Earthquake Go-Kit - Pirate Radio?

In the wake New Zealand's recent KaikĊura earthquake, locals have been relying on an FM radio station called "Brian FM 100.3" to provide them with news about where to find food, running water, and toilets.  The broadcasters set up a similar radio station in the aftermath of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.

Radio New Zealand article

In the US, this would probably be unnecessary - most of our broadcast stations have well-engineered towers, backup towers and power sources, and redundant studios.  New Zealand likely has a lot of idle FM spectrum, even when there's not an earthquake, so the Brian FM network can move around as needed to provide coverage and information to hard-hit or remote areas.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Build a (fire)wall and make China pay for it

I've been gradually building up a Raspberry Pi for use in my shack, and I've also been experimenting with a home control and security systems hosted on Pi platforms.  To be really useful, a home control system needs to be accessible from outside my home, and a remote radio setup would also be nice.  This has led me down a path of learning about how to conveniently but safely expose ports on my Pi platforms to the internet.

At any given moment, there are thousands of attackers active on the internet.  If you expose ports like TCP 80 (web server), or TCP 22 (ssh) you will be attacked, likely within minutes.  These attacks range from sophisticated hack attempts carried out by state-sponsored security teams, to teenagers running automated scanners that look for obvious weaknesses like unmodified default passwords.

Most attacks try to leverage brute-force methods - they start with a presumption that the superuser login is "pi" (the default) and work through a list of obvious passwords like the default "raspberry", or "pi", or "password", or "123456", etc.

Presuming you've changed your superuser password (and ideally your login name) an easy method to add security is to implement fail2ban.  The fail2ban method tracks failed login attempts over time, and if the same IP address fails more than X times within Y minutes, that address is then added to a ban list in iptables.  If your password is non-obvious, this works fairly well.  The problem is that, without additional setup, iptables exist in memory and are wiped on every reboot.  And because they exist in memory, you'll ultimately waste Pi resources trying to exclude billions of IP addresses.  It's possible to preemptively ban ranges and subnets of IP addresses, but you're still talking about nearly 8,000 entries just for a single country like China.  Also; fail2ban only works if someone actually attempts a login - it does nothing about attackers who probe connections without logging in.

The reality is, the number of IP addresses from which I want to allow connection is very small, and (unless I'm traveling) they're all US-based.  So the trick is to only allow connection from IP addresses originating in the US.  Turns out this is possible using GeoIP and some scripting.  The GeoIP method uses a file database of IP address ranges listed by country.  When an ssh client connects, their IP address is compared with the database.  If the IP address is not from the US, it refuses the connection.
I still run fail2ban, to handle any US-based attackers, and to deal with any non-ssh traffic.  Let me know in comments if you use GeoIP for security, and what you think of my strategies.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Nexus 6 Review: Wi-Fi Done Right

I've been a Droid user for many years.  Started out with the Droid 1 then onto a Droid 2, Droid RAZR Maxx, Droid Ultra, a very short-lived and painful experience with the Droid Turbo, then a Droid Maxx which is essentially a slightly fatter Ultra with more battery.  When my battery's capacity started to run short, I started looking at other phones.  I decided to get a Nexus 6 (unlocked from Amazon) when Google announced that they would roll out Wi-Fi Assistant to all Nexus phones.

Wi-Fi Assistant was originally a Google Fi feature that applies a VPN to open Wi-Fi access points - without user intervention.  In fact, Wi-Fi Assistant is now (once you have the Play Services 9.6 update) capable of securing all open Wi-Fi, even ones where you manually connect.  This is a huge move by Google that will hit the cellular carriers hard because if I'm able to use public Wi-Fi with confidence, and my phone is latching on to open Wi-Fi by itself - why do I need a large data plan?

This all takes Wi-Fi a step closer to being a viable alternative to cellular data, although there are still many issues.  The problem is that managing a Closed SSID network is painful and complex, and Open SSID networks are subject to abuse.  Wi-Fi also suffers from a handoff problem (i.e. it has no handoff method) and it's fairly easy to do a man-in-the-middle attack in coffeeshops - without 802.1X there's no way to know if that "xfinitywifi" hotspot is really Comcast or not.  Wi-Fi Assistant solves that problem by providing a VPN back to Google's servers.

zOMG so fast!
So far I'm very happy with the Nexus 6.  It's a two year old design but it feels quite snappy.  Google's clearly still putting effort into development, and the Android is pure - no Verizon or Motorola/Lenovo weirdness.  It's a bit larger than I'm used to, so I'm glad I didn't get the Nexus 6P, but I have large hands so it works for me.  Wi-Fi in the 5 GHz band using 802.11ac on the Nexus 6 is fast.  It easily maxed out my 75 Mbps DSL connection in a speed test.

For a while I'd been using an iPad in the evening because the screen was much better than my Droid Maxx.  Now the iPad sits forgotten for days at a time, as I find the Nexus 6 screen good enough to handle almost anything.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

K6BJ - 100 Years of amateur radio in Santa Cruz

The K6BJ amateur radio group is celebrating it's centennial on September 17th, and the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History.  Information can be found at www.k6bj.org - come to the coast and celebrate a century of amateur radio tradition in Santa Cruz County!

  • September 17, 11:00am - 3:30pm
  • FREE Admission

Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History
705 Front Street
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Workbench: Screw Terminal Adapters and Lever-Nuts

Having collection of connectors with screw terminals or lever clamps is very useful.  In a pinch you could do a field-repair on a headset, a rig interface, or resurrect a broken power cord with just a pocket knife and a screwdriver.  Here are some of my favorites:

DC Barrel Connectors - these can be used to make a quick disconnect (in lieu of a switch) or an extension cord.  If you just want the plug to match an existing device, you'll have to measure the outer diameter and inner pin.  Most of the time the outer dimension is 5.5mm, and the inner pin is either 1.7mm, 2.1mm, or 2.5mm.

2.1 x 5.5mm paired DC Barrel Connectors
http://amzn.to/2bEavs4

TRS "Phono" Connectors - these are really useful for building test cables or attaching a rig interface to the ADC port on an Arduino or ESP8266.  When you get to the mountain for a SOTA activation and realize your 5 year-old has yanked the end off your headphones, you'll want one of these.

1/8" (3.5mm) Tip-Ring-Sleeve "phono male" plug
http://amzn.to/2bjqfOS

1/8" (3.5mm) Tip-Ring-Sleeve "phono female" jack
http://amzn.to/2bj6JVy


For pocket tools, I prefer the Leatherman ES4 Squirt.  (http://amzn.to/2bEe5lV) It's a ham's dream tool, with a wire stripping jaw, knife, scissors, file, and a screwdriver bit that works well on these screw terminal adapters.












Other interesting stuff....

Wago Lever-Nuts - these are really useful for quick repairs or experiments where you want to easily connect and disconnect wires.  You can use them to quickly add sections of wire for tuning dipole antennas.  Lift the lever, slide in a wire (or wires plural) and drop the lever - done.  Made a mistake?  Lift the lever, change, drop the lever.  They'll handle up to 400 VAC and 20 amps, so they can be used for household electrical repairs or rig power cords.  I keep a handful of these in my field bag, some my glove compartment, and a bunch on my bench.  I prefer the newer 221 Series because the lever is wider and easier to manipulate.
http://amzn.to/2bEcNY3

BNC Female w/ screw terminal - these are 75 ohm, designed for CCTV installs, but for receiver testing or low-power transmit they'll work OK.  Be aware that some adapters like this actually have baluns, which you don't want for RF testing.
http://amzn.to/2bE9Yq1

RJ45 screw terminal plug - kinda bulky, but it's great for designing cables on a bench.  When I'm done and have a working design, I build a real cable using CAT6 and an RJ45 crimper or a punch-down terminal block.
http://amzn.to/2bJ6pxr



Sunday, August 21, 2016

Repost: How to fix a Toyota Brake Light

Note: This is a repost/update from my old blog. 

Toyota Highlanders are well made cars - I bought a 2004 for my wife who later upgraded to a Sienna minivan, so I took the Highlander for myself.  It's at 130,000 miles and still going strong.  However, apparently they have a known problem where the brake lights on one side will intermittently stop working.  I've had people pull up next to me at stop lights and tell me I have a light out, then I get home to find the light is fine.

Then recently the light went out and stayed out.  I replaced the bulbs but they remained out.  Fuses were fine, my trusty Fluke 77 said voltage was getting to the assembly.  Posters in Toyota forums said that dealers are asking $40 - $140 for diagnostic, plus possibly $300 to replace a "circuit board"...?  Sounds like a scam to me.

I did some searching online and found reference to how the contacts on the bulb holder will get compressed and not make proper contact. (Kudos to Berto for the original post and Kujath for the photos.)  Kujath suggested using a flat-blade screwdriver to bend the contacts a bit, but I think a needle-nose pliers works better since you can control the amount of bending.  I did both bulb holders and the lights are working just fine. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Use It or Lose It : Google makes a play for part of the 3.3 GHz amateur band

I've presented several times at Pacificon on the topic of spectrum auctions and the threat to amateur radio's allocations.  In my talk Ham Radio Must Die (So It Can Live) at Pacificon 2010, I specifically talked about the threat to the 3300 - 3500 MHz band.  The threat increased exponentially when the FCC converted the 3500 MHz band to the Citizen's Broadband Radio Service for use in heterogenous networks and densified mobile data systems, and now Google is asking the FCC for permission to test a wireless last-yard technology for delivering Google Fiber service in the upper half of the 3300 MHz band.

In my Pacificon talk I pointed out that the 3300 MHz band is almost never used, and the possible auction valuation to commercial users is very high.  If we presume a $2 per MHz-POP auction price (which is about what the AWS-3 commercial carrier spectrum went for) and a US population of 320 million, the value of the 3300 MHz band is $128 billion.  The AWS-3 auction, record-setting though it was, only raised $47 billion.  For a government $19 trillion in debt, $128 billion isn't much but it's a start.  Google could afford to buy that spectrum, and with the unprecedented access it enjoys due to the revolving door between itself and the White House, it has the political clout to make this happen.

There are just over 800,000 licensed amateur operators in the USA.  $128 billion puts the value of our 3300 MHz band at $160,000 PER OPERATOR.  For something we never use.  I'd be willing to say (and I'm being very charitable in this estimation) that 0.1% of all US operators make use of the 3300 MHz band.  That's $160 MILLION PER ACTIVE OPERATOR.

I'm not saying what Google's doing is right.  If you think it's wrong, file comments with the FCC.  I'm saying what they're doing is not surprising, and that I predicted this would happen six years ago.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

HamRadio360 Bling

Came home today to find a package.  Inside was a HamRadio360 sticker and a hat - and the hat is personalized my callsign!

Want a hat for yourself?  Shop now

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Talking Maker Faire and IMS2016 w/ George KJ6VU

This week's HamRadio360 podcast contains a segment where +Beric Dunn K6BEZ and I were interviewed by George KJ6VU about the Bay-Net amateur radio project at +Maker Faire and continues with discussion about the panel I moderated for the +IEEE International Microwave Symposium.  The audio for the panelist presentations is in the podcast, and the presentation PDFs are available online in my previous blog post.

Special thanks to Cale at HR360 (nee the +Fo Time Podcast) for covering this.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

How To Remove a Flow Lock Without a Key

During the drought I bought a Flow Lock to prevent people from helping themselves to my water.  They have an interesting magnetic key system and seemed like a good idea.  However I found that over time the tumbler mechanism gets corroded and then it won't unlock - even with a key.

The first time it happened I was able to unlock it by spraying WD-40 and tapping it with a small hammer.  The next time it got stuck nothing worked.  My option was to replace the entire faucet, or find a hack.

The Flow Lock tumbler mechanism, when engaged, couples the outer green metal shell to an inner metal fitting.  When the key isn't inserted. the outer shell spins freely, preventing removal.

My solution was to drill through the outer shell to the inner fitting, and then run a deck screw through the two holes.  This couples the shell to the inner fitting and it came off easily.  Side note: I was amused by the product video for this which claimed that a Flow Lock (also known as a "Spinsecure Faucet Lock II") is "virtually impossible to remove without the key" - I did it in two minutes with basic tools and a 5 cent deck screw.

Tips for doing this:
  1. Use a 5/64" drill bit designed for metal work.
  2. Drill into the center of an indent on the outer shell.  It doesn't seem to matter which indent you choose.  
  3. Maintain steady pressure on the drill.
  4. Stop periodically and cool the drill bit with spray lubricant or machine oil.
Disclaimer: Stealing water is illegal.  Destroying private property is illegal.  This hack is intended for people who own Flow Locks but can't get them off using their key.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Field Day is here!

Every year the amateur radio community conducts Field Day - one part contest, one part public outreach event, one part campout & BBQ, and four parts awesome.  Bay-Net hosts a Field Day each year, operating as K6SRA.  For the past few years we've been setting up in a parking lot of the Almaden Quicksilver Park in San Jose CA - and this year is no exception.

For some Field Day is serious stuff - massive operations running 24 hours through the day and night, generators and amplifiers and stacked Yagi antennas, with operation coordinators whose sole purpose is to encourage the radio ops to work stations and log faster.  This does not sound like fun to me.  K6SRA Field Day often devolves into an impromptu technical session where the radios sit idle while we pore over the details of some homebrew project.  Our Field Day operation has jokingly been called "Hot Dogs and Radio - in that order".  For many of our members, busy as they are with work in the always-hectic Silicon Valley, Field Day is a chance to relax and catch up.

This year we plan to shift one of our HF stations from phone to digital on a station created via the excellent Raspberry Pi hacking skills of +Beric Dunn.  I figure the kids will like this better, since it's a keyboard and not a microphone they'll probably be less reluctant to get on the air.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Using Amateur Radio to Enhance Engineering Education @ IMS2016

On Tuesday May 24th I moderated the panel "Using Amateur Radio to Enhance Engineering Education" at the 2016 International Microwave Symposium, hosted by the IEEE.  My panelists were all university professors who have integrated amateur radio into their engineering courses.  As discussed in my article "Amateur Radio in Education" (IEEE Microwaves, April 2016) the panel discussion centered around the value of hands-on understanding that amateur radio brings to engineering students.

Each school has its own implementation of amateur radio into their curricula.  UC Davis uses amateur radio for projects that need transmission i.e. to control drones.  Tribhuvan University uses amateur radio as a tool to teach RF principles, and for humanitarian purposes during earthquakes.  Carnegie Mellon University (both the Pittsburgh and Silicon Valley campuses) have active repeaters and host Field Day sites.  Cal Poly SLO also has a repeater, but they also use amateur radio so much in their courses that freshmen EE undergraduates are required to get Technician licenses - and I'm told that in the coming school year they'll begin requiring graduate students to get their General Class licenses.  I've named this policy the "Derickson Doctrine".

Presentations from each of my panelists are available for download:

Dr. Dennis Derickson AC0P, Cal Poly - San Luis Obispo (download)
Dr. Bob Iannucci W6EI, Carnegie Mellon University - Silicon Valley (download)
Dr. Xiaoguang Liu AI6DW, University of California - Davis (download)
Dr. Sanjeeb Panday 9N1SP, Tribhuvan University - Kathmandu Nepal (download)

Note: This panel was reported by ARRL news release thanks to Ward Silver's help.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Bay-Net at Maker Faire 2016

Maker Faire 2016 in San Mateo CA is complete.  We got a lot of very interested visitors to the booth, and a good portion of them were either not hams or were "ham-curious".

This year's focus for Bay-Net at Maker Faire was Software-Defined Radio and our projects are loosely grouped into three subtopics:
  • Show use of low-cost SDR hardware with microcontroller platforms, primarily Raspberry Pi.  These projects are primarily focused on doing basic tasks like filter analysis, receiving FM radio, etc.  We're also showing use of low-cost SDR hardware running with inexpensive Android tablets such as Amazon's 7" Fire which often sells for only $39.99 and can be used to build a basic spectrum analyzer.
  • Show applications of SDR hardware running on microcontrollers to do things like build APRS trackers, run azimuth/elevation rotors for tracking satellites, receive ADS-B info from commercial aircraft, and more.
  • Show higher-end commercial SDRs for performance applications such as monitoring LTE.
Special thanks to the team that worked hard on this event: +Beric Dunn+Bernard Van Haecke+Derek Kozel+Marcel Stieber+Kenneth Finnegan+Maria Pikusova, and Bob Somers.  In the days to come I'll be posting links to info about these projects, so follow and keep watching this blog.

Presentations
Beric K6BEZ : "Getting Started With SDR"
Pieter KK6VXV : "Receiving WX Satellite Signals w/ SDR"

Software/Apps
SDRTouch - Spectrum Analyzer app for Android on Google Play
GQRX - Spectrum Analyzer app for Linux on gqrx.dk
GNU Radio Companion on gnuradio.org

Hardware
SDR dongles (RTL-SDR, NooElec, etc.) on Amazon
Raspberry Pi 3 on Amazon
Raspberry Pi Touchscreens on Amazon

Update 22-May - Added presentation from Pieter and link to SDRTouch.  
Update 23-May - Added team roster, hardware and software/app sources

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Amateur Radio in Education


This article references a panel session and amateur radio social that will occur on May 24th at IEEE's International Microwave Symposium (IMS2016) in San Francisco CA.  Tickets for IMS2016 may be purchased online: www.ims2016.org

Copyright notice: This article originally appeared in IEEE Microwaves Magazine, April 2016.  Authors: David Witkowski (W6DTW) and Suresh Ojha (W6KTM).  Download a PDF copy of the original.

Much has been said in recent years about the need for increased focus on scientific, technical, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in the United States.  It’s argued that compared with students from other countries, U.S. students perform less well on tests; moreover, they often don’t fare well when competing with foreign students and immigrants for college admissions and jobs.

While there are counter arguments that a hyper-disciplined focus on math and science isn’t healthy, the obvious increase in foreign STEM students at major universities has led to calls for a shift in focus in U.S. primary and secondary education from trades and general education to college prep – specifically, prep for STEM degrees.

International student admission to University of California increased by 33% from 2013 to 2015
(Source: University of California & LA Times)

Shifting Educational Values

In making the shift from trades and general education, secondary schools in the United States have stopped offering practical electives and replaced them with advanced placement courses.  Auto shop, home economics, and sometimes even physical education are no longer required – and, in some schools, they’re not even offered as electives.  Electronics shop, a practical elective which for many older engineers was where we got our first exposure to amateur radio, has been swept away along with many other subjects not focused on the “college track”.

It can be argued that this is a good thing: it’s now increasingly difficult in the US to make a living with only a secondary-school diploma; obtaining a college ungraduated degree is now the minimal requirement for a majority of entry-level technical jobs.  In fact, most job postings in engineering now list a master’s degree in engineering or an M.B.A. as a basic requirement, with a Ph.D. often added as a preferred requirement.

The Value of Practical Skills

Given these trends in job requirements, many may suggest that we not allow our young people to waste school time on trade skills and focus instead on getting them into a trajectory which leads to advanced degrees.  Many undergraduate programs focus heavily on equipping students with the latest knowledge base of a rapidly changing electronics field – in a sense, the undergraduate program has replaced the trade skills aspect of secondary education.  Most advanced degree programs focus on theory and are taught using simulations and theoretical constructs – a course of study that often ignores the challenges of building real-world systems and fails to teach the practical troubleshooting and system-integration skills that form the basis of the technology on which our economy increasingly depends.

An internationally known Silicon Valley company, famous for having a very young employee demographic, has begun hiring older engineers as they expand their efforts beyond web apps and the cloud into smartphones, wearable devices, and semiconductors.  The reason is simple: making wireless systems and semiconductors requires practical skills in troubleshooting, system integration, and real-world design that can only be learned by a repeated doing-failing-redoing cycle.  And these aren’t skills that are taught in many master’s and Ph.D. degree programs.

Amateur Radio as a Hands-On Educational Tool

Practical experience building real-world systems is critical to a meaningful post-secondary education.  Private industry is also demanding engineers skilled in troubleshooting and system integration.  This is why amateur radio has increasingly become a popular tool for professors seeking to compliment theoretical understanding with practical circuit-building and system integration skills.  Amateur radio (or ham radio, as it is popularly called) offers postsecondary students a direct opportunity to apply the theory they learn in engineering courses.  Additionally, it gives them an appreciation for system-integration concepts as well as troubleshooting techniques.

These advantages are especially acute for RF and microwave engineering.  Many universities may not have spectrum analyzers, network analyzers, and other expensive test and measurement instruments available to supplement RF and microwave theory courses.  However amateur radio gives them a low-cost opportunity to engage students in building circuits and systems operating in the RF realm – and to teach them how to get things done with improvised equipment and minimal resources.

There are very few post-secondary curricula that allow universities and students to have the comprehensive “audio to antenna” experience – an approach which is possible with amateur radio.

Real World Examples

A number of universities, however, have noted this demand for graduates well versed in comprehensive electronics skills.  The following schools have responded to this demand by incorporating amateur radio into their curricula.

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
Known widely for its hands-on approach to technical education, Cal Poly Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) at San Luis Obispo – under the leadership of Dr. Dennis Derickson, chair of the school’s electrical engineering department – is notable for its work in designing and building satellites: they’ve launched eight and are currently building two more.  Because these satellites use amateur radio frequencies for uplink/downlink, students in the Cal Poly satellite project are required to have amateur radio licenses.  Other programs at Cal Poly are similarly practical and require students to be licensed.

University of California, Davis
The University of California (UC) campus at Davis has always had a practical electrical engineering program with a number of RF and microwave courses.  In 2009 Dr. Linda Katehi, well-known for her work in RF and microwave design, became chancellor of UC Davis, and the electrical engineering department has since become a recognized leader in millimeter-wave and THz research.  Undergraduates who participate in the Senior Design Project build a working Doppler radar, and professors like Dr. Xiaoguang (Leo) Liu have begun integrating amateur radio into their undergraduate and graduate project curricula.

Carnegie Mellon University
Amateur radio has been a constant aspect of student life at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.  The school’s amateur radio club was created in 1914, and the students on campus there today operate and maintain the W3VC repeater.  CMU’s satellite campus at Moffett Field in Silicon Valley offers a very hands-on, graduate-level engineering program; under the leadership of Dr. Robert Iannucci and Dr. Martin Griss, the students at CMU Silicon Valley with amateur radio licenses are given an opportunity to participate in unique research projects that focus on solving practical, real-world wireless engineering challenges.

Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu Nepal
Dr. Sanjeeb Panday and his students at Tribhuvan University’s Institute of Engineering have been on the forefront of a unique journey.  Nepal has been recovering from a terrible civil war and making a transition to a constitutional republic, and the country is only now beginning to allow amateur radio within their borders.  Under the leadership of Dr. Panday the number of licensed amateurs in Nepal has increased from only five to nearly one hundred, and his students were able to successfully install the country’s only VHF repeater system in midst of the major aftershock of the huge earthquake that devastated Nepal in April 2015.  Dr. Panday and his students have overcome numerous economic, social, and political obstacles because they recognize amateur radio’s potential as an educational tool.

Real World Value

Each of these universities utilizes distinct and innovative approaches to incorporate theory, design elements, and licensing in amateur radio into their coursework.  Increasing numbers of universities are adopting this approach.  The consequence of this work has been substantial and in the case of the work being done in Nepal, potentially life-saving.

Amateur Radio at IMS2016 – and Beyond

During IMS2016 there will be a moderated panel where professors from the universities described here discuss their experiences using amateur radio as a vehicle for teaching engineering electronics.  These instructors will share their motivations for using amateur radio, the way in which amateur radio is used in their curricula, and the impact this has had on graduates of their programs.  The panel session will be followed by a hosted social event for IMS2016 attendees who are also amateur radio operators.  

For over 100 years amateur radio has been a way for people to make friends and contacts in distant locations.  Increasingly, it is being used by universities to impart requisite skills in hands on troubleshooting, and system design and integration necessary for today’s engineering graduates.

It is increasingly difficult for employers to find talent with hands-on RF experience, and amateur radio experience aids in understanding radio systems and radio construction.  Many engineers in the field are amateur radio operators, and so amateur radio can be a good ice breaker during interviews.  Finally, networking within the amateur radio community can help young job seekers find career openings.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Happy to join the Ham Radio 360 family!

I'm super excited that Cale Nelson K4CDN to has included my updated blog on list of syndicated sites for his new HamRadio360.com community.  I've worked with Cale in the past as a guest of his Fo Time Podcast, and he's a great guy - with content from George KJ6VU and others, I expect Ham Radio 360 to grow quickly, and I'm glad I can be a part of that.

Update; Hoping that the search robots will pick up the fact that http://sparqi.blogspot.com/ is now here - you'd think so since Blogger is Google..?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

New name, new look

Hi folks,

It's time for an update.  I've changed the URL of this blog, and given it a new look, in preparation for something which I can't yet talk about.  Suffice to say - it will be awesome.  I also fixed the problem with comments not displaying - beware of that Dynamic Views template.  Unfortunately, it looks like the changes caused all previous comments to disappear.  No matter - we move forward with anticipation of great things!