Sunday, 18 April 2021

World Amateur Radio Day

Home But Never Alone

CQ, CQ, CQ, this is VU3TQT… heartiest greetings to you OM/YL… happy world amateur radio day… your signals are 5 by 9 at my end… keep enjoying the hobby… 73… Such words of expression exchanged between radio amateurs across the globe has been renting the airwaves on the various Ham bands radio frequencies. In Ham Radio parlance, CQ stands for general calling over the air; OM stands for old man and is addressed to any male Ham operator irrespective of one’s age; YL is young lady which is referred to any female Ham operator no matter what her actual age is; 73 stands for Best Regards and the alpha-numeric characters such as VU3TQT are unique callsign which identifies a Ham operator. 

Welcome to the niche world of Ham Radio! Today is a significant day for Radio

Amateurs or Ham Operators across the globe for hooking up into the airwaves to celebrate the World Amateur Radio Day (WARD) and exchange pleasantries. On this day in 18 April, 1925 the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) was founded at the International Radiotelegraph Conference in Paris. American Radio Relay League (ARRL) co-founder, Hiram Percy Maxim was its first president.

**Amateur radio experimenters were the first to discover that the HF spectrum was a resource that could support worldwide communication. In the rush to use these shorter wavelengths, amateur radio was “in grave danger of being pushed aside,” IARU history has noted, prompting the founding of the IARU. At the 1927 International Radiotelegraph Conference, amateur radio gained allocations still recognised today - 160, 80, 40, 20, and 10 meters. Over the years, the IARU has worked to defend those allocations and to give all radio amateurs new bands 136 KHz, 472 KHz, 5 MHz, 10 MHz, 18 MHz, 24 MHz and 50 MHz.   

The beauty of Ham Radio is that with just minimum resources such as a transceiver

VU3OIM, Venkat's Radio Shack
and a simple wire antenna one can communicate thousands of kilometres across the globe by reflecting signals through the earth’s ionosphere in the HF (high frequency) bands. Hams have been also communicating with the International Space Station (ISS) crew from time to time. No mobile phone or Internet service providers are required since the communication establishes wirelessly between antenna to antenna. Prior to the advent of the Internet, mobile phones and social media, nobody could ever imagine in their  darkest thought of communicating different corners of the globe by operating a transceiver from the comfort of one’s residence or from a remote mountain top. Ham radio made that possible decades ago. It is the oldest form of social media which is still practiced worldwide today.To become a licensed Ham operator and own such transceivers, one has to pass an exam conducted by the governments of respective countries. In India it is conducted by the Wireless Planning & Co-ordination (WPC) Wing, Ministry of Communications, Government of India. 

Ham is a synonym of amateur radio. Its origin of usage dates back to 1908 when the first amateur radio station was operated by three youngsters of Harvard Radio Club in the United States. They were Albert S. Hyman, Bob Almy and Poogie Murray. In times, the first letter of last name of each of these radio amateurs were taken respectively that read as “HAM”. Since then the word Ham has become a popular term to refer an amateur radio operator in an informal way. 

Teenager VU3FMV, Smriti at her Radio Shack
From a teenager to an octogenarian, from an ordinary house wife to the hotshot captain of the industry and from a simpleton living in the neighbourhood to the armed forces, physicians, pilots, and sailors, et el, the Ham community comprises of a vibrant diverse people. There are several families where the spouses are both radio amateurs while many have their offsprings too in it. To become a Ham operator it is not necessary to have a science background, although it may help greatly if one has it. The primary requirement is if one has the ardent interest in shortwave radio listening (SWL) and RF (radio frequency) world. The radio amateur is progressive with knowledge obsessed with science, a well built and efficient station and operation of approach. With such age groups into the hobby, a code of conduct is maintained thereby, manifesting a mutual respect and civility within the Ham community. In 1928 a radio amateur by the name Paul Segal, W9EEA wrote something called the “Amateur’s Code”. This 92 years old document talks about how radio amateurs should behave. One of the codes reads, “The Radio Amateur is considerate, never knowingly operates in such a way as to lessen the pleasure of others”.

This year the IARU which commemorates 96th anniversary of its existence, has come up with a special theme - “Amateur Radio: Home But Never Alone”. The theme has special significance as it marks the killer COVID-19 which commenced in 2020 and the subsequent lockdown that led to extreme isolation to contain the spread of the virus. However, in such difficult circumstances the worldwide amateur community responded positively by reaching out one another via the airwaves in local, national and global levels.
Octagenarian VU2VTM, R J Marcus, often  
regarded by Hams as the Marconi of India 

Nets such as Wellness and Stay Safe on the VHF (very high frequency), UHF (ultra high frequency) and HF (high frequency) bands were regularly held across countries to magnify the importance of limiting the spread of the Corona virus. These Nets provided friendly voices and regular status check to those, especially senior citizens who are confined to their homes. 

Interestingly, the lockdown period saw several Hams to revive their hobby by dusting out their transceivers, hosting antennas and come on air live. This led to an unprecedented on-air activity with record-breaking numbers of entries in the various radio sport contests in all bands. All these only reinforces a powerful message that radio amateurs belong to a global community who comes together in times of crisis, are connected as well as available to assist those in need. 

In India several radio amateurs, particularly of southern states played a pivotal role during the lockdown period. Hams in Hyderabad voluntarily tracked and helped migrant workers, the destitute and sick by swiftly rushing them with food packets, bottled water and alerting the medical service. In the silicone city of Bangalore, which is fast gaining a synonym as the Ham capital of India, radio amateurs worked round the clock by extending a helping hand to the state government in its war against the killer-corona virus. Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Pune, Kolkata including Delhi-NCR too among other cities had been featuring the importance of COVID safety measures such as hygiene initiatives in its local Nets while simultaneously chasing away the isolation and boredom blues caused by the lockdown. Apparently, the national capital lacks in having any credible local radio amateur club that deserves a mention.

*IARU President Tim Ellam, VE6SH in a message said, “As we enter the second wave of the COVID pandemic, many of us are still dealing with the lockdowns and the associated isolation from being unable to meet family and friends in person. While there is a hopefully light at the end tunnel, it is likely some form of social distancing will continue well into the future…My wish for the World Amateur Day, as it was last year, is for everyone to stay safe, follow the advise of medical professionals and use Amateur Radio to remain connected to our global community”. 

**ARRL is the International Secretariat of the IARU. There are several countries around the world who are members of the IARU as well as the ARRL. The 25 countries that formed the IARU in 1925 have grown to include more than 160 member-societies in three regions. IARU Region 1 includes Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and North Asia. Region 2 covers the Americas, and Region 3 is comprised of Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific island nations, and most of Asia. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has recognised the IARU as representing the interests of amateur radio. India falls under Region 3. 

The Amateur Radio Society of India (ARSI) is affiliated to the IARU. Though ARSI is considered as the apex body that represents radio amateurs interest in India, but sadly, it is yet to get some teeth and be recognised by the national telecom department. Since long the ARSI has been pressurising the government of India to hand over its power in conducting the Amateur Station Office Certificate (ASOC) exams. In contrast, amateur radio exams in the US are conducted by the ARRL which is a body of radio Hams who volunteer as examiners while the licences are issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). India has a long way to go to match its US counterpart, though.

In India the British army officers were the first Ham operators in the sub continent while their native Indian counterparts jumped into the hobby much later. The first Indian to be licensed was Amarendra Chandra Gooptu in 1921 with a callsign 2JK which was followed by Mukul Bose with callsign, 2HQ in the same year that resulted the first two-way Ham radio communication in the country. During that era, passing the radio amateur exam was fine but, getting the licence for a native Indian was an uphill task for address verification, background check, etc as it took weeks, months, years and sometimes documents got lost forever. Strangely, such archaic rules were being continued post independence period until just recently when things started slightly improving following the intervention of ARSI.   

Former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, VU2RG
Former Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi was an avid Ham operator who did his might in promoting the hobby. During his regime import duty of Ham radio transceivers were lowered which gave a fillip to the rise of amateur enthusiasts in India. He was a Ham operator right from the days when he was a pilot with the Indian Airlines. Gandhi used the Ham Radio intensively while flying around as the Prime Minister. Until a few hours before his assassination on 21 May 1991 at Sriperumbudur, he was on air making his last call from Vishakapatnam in the midst of a hectic election tour. After his tragic demise, his callsign - VU2RG has been assigned to a club station of Rajiv Gandhi Foundation (RGF). The chairperson of RGF is his spouse, Sonia Gandhi who is also a Ham with the callsign, VU2SON.

In the recent months there has been scarcity and sharp increase on import duty for transceivers and other Ham radio equipments following our strained relations with China. This has severely impacted many Hams to go live on air. Though homebrewing or DIY (do it yourself) is an important activity of radio amateurs, but the reality is that crucial components to build a transceiver, antennas, etc are all  majorly dependent from that dragon country. Even though imports have been officially banned, but clandestinely it is still continuing via a third party country resulting in cost escalation. Except for single outlets based in the national capital and the nation's financial capital that deals in specific brands of Ham radio transceivers, there are no showrooms in the country where one can get a look and feel of various rig of his choice before deciding to swipe the card to own one. Many Hams who have superb knowledge in fixing hardware visits a market in Agra where discarded army transceivers and antennas can be procured at a bargain price. India does not manufactures transceivers nor does it has chip building facilities.      

Gandhi's signature on a QSL card

There are more than three million Hams worldwide. USA and Japan have more than a third of the total Ham population in the world. However, Ham radio is banned in North Korea and currently in Myanmar too following a military coup in February 2021 where the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi had been suspended. In India there are slightly over 25,000 radio amateurs out of which only around 2,000 are active and most of whom are primarily based in the south. This low figure does not augur well given the fact in the months ahead India will be shortly entering its centenary year in amateur radio. Many veterans and senior Hams are of the opinion that a major chunk of the people simply come to get the government licence and use it for other purpose, while several students who had no interest in amateur radio, but were asked to undergo a Ham radio training course thus, blocking callsigns for the next forty years or so. Such maladies can be put on check only once the ARSI is vested with the power of conducting the ASOC exams.

Even though amateur radio in India is going to mark its 100 years, but sadly, by and large it is still not well known to the general people. The ignorance is so much that sight of a Ham operator carrying a handy talkie or a base station fitted in a car with protruding conspicuous antennas makes many people believe they are either detectives, security personnel or at worst - call-centre wallas, radio taxis and sometimes terrorists too. 

The national broadcaster Doordarshan (DD), which has the exclusive rights of

A Repeater Notice in Echolink 
terrestrial broadcast in India has done little to familiarise Ham radio in the correct perspective through its Vigyan Prasar programmes. It is often projected as a disaster management while the actual hobby part takes a back-burner. They have grossly ignored in their programmes dissemination of one of the key requirements in amateur radio, which is certain level of proficiency in both written and spoken English. Sadly, this has caused scores of would-be Hams, especially those from rural areas to find themselves in crossroads immediately on receipt of their ticket. The fallout of this results several hams to come on air live communicating in their respective languages or get frustrated, loose interest and gradually go off the air. This completely negates amateur radio’s “One World, One Language” theme where English is considered the preferred language of communication.

To clear this foggy image, in India the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) is the exclusive department which comes into play whenever there are natural calamities and accidents. The WPC have assigned NDRF frequencies too, but only in the UHF band. Ham operators with their communication skills loaded with luxury of frequencies in the UHF, VHF and HF bands extends support during such times, but only after a formal written request is made by the respective state and central governments. Most videos on Indian amateur radio posted in YouTube are poorly created and often distorted missing the essence of this world’s unique hobby. Perhaps, Prasar Bharati, which runs both DD and All India Radio (AIR) needs to sharply reorient itself, reduce technical staff and instead add content muscle.

Elicraft KX3 portable HF transceiver 
There is no doubt that the radio amateur is patriotic, stationed and skilled all-ready for service to the country and community.
Some of the amateur radio’s public service role in the past disaster and emergencies that deserves mention are the Indian Ocean Tsunami, the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, Latur earthquakes including the recent years flash floods in Kerala and Uttar Khand. 

Barring those engineering colleges and individuals who seek amateur radio training at the National Institute of Amateur Radio (NIAR), Indian Institute of Ham (IIH) and certain government-run and aided educational institutes having Scouts & Guides, one wonders why Ham radio awareness have never made inroads in premier and well known educational institutes for instance, under Delhi University, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Amity University, Calcutta University (CU), Jadavpur University (JU), St. Xaviers, Loreto Convent, Donbosco, or Christ King College, Bethany School, etc?! There are brilliant people in these institutes and just a single day 45 minutes of an effective presentation on amateur radio awareness every year will surely drive the right students to take it forward on their own if they find it interesting to become a practicing Ham. I can say all this with conviction since I was never in Scouts or attended NIAR and IIH, but aware of talents in these educational institutes.

As time and technology march on, over the years amateur radio has seen a

Yagi antenna for HF bands
remarkable transformation with the advent of SDR (software defined radio) transceivers enabling digital transmission of data and voice through packet radio such as PSK, RTTY, FT8, JS8CALL, etc. and DMR, DSTAR, FUSION respectively. However, purists have been crying foul as these emerging digital modes have been killing their years of achieved skills go waste in CW (continuous wave) or the Morse Code, often regarded as the earliest form of digital communication. It is like the video killed the radio star situation of the 1980s. The reality is that even though digital messaging is making inroads into the Ham bands, CW will continue as it still commands a unique form factor.
 At the same time, adaptability to the emerging new digital technology in amateur radio should be acceptable by all Hams. 

In the final analysis, it would be great to see some notable changes on the flaws highlighted. Amateur radio is open to all and historically we have always gone along well. We should be warmly accepting new comers especially those who are different from us in age, circumstances and background. There should be no display of arrogance and the privileges given to us should not be used for any pecuniary purpose. In amateur radio, politics, religion or any inflammatory topics are considered taboo since it creates anger and frustration. Nobody likes to be told they are wrong, inadequate, stupid or can’t do anything right. Instead, people respond to encouragement and consideration. 

The second wave of COVID-19 pandemic has hit the country with fury claiming countless lives worldwide. On a different note, while celebrating WARD, let us take a moment to remember all the Hams who have gone silent key (term of respect for deceased Ham) during this period and those battling for their lives. On this auspicious day let us all also pledge to imbibe a little kindness and lot of forgiveness in our minds so that Hams can set examples to the world, both on air and off air through our sacred hobby - Amateur Radio!

**References: ARRL & IARU

Saturday, 20 March 2021

Ticket to Airwaves - A look back

The Other Side of Me!

It was festival of lights and the cool evening of Bangalore was glittering amid the

quiet ambience of a nationwide COVID-19 lockdown. I had been air-dashed to the silicone city nearly a couple of months ago for a medical treatment following a horrendous accident at New Delhi. Observing the cityscape from my terrace, the evening hours were no different from the other metropolitan cities and towns with shutters down and deserted streets.

There were intermittent Diwali greetings phone calls and WhatsApp messages piled up in my mobile which I decided to check them only once I hit the bed. One of the messages congratulating me set my day. It was from a Gurgaon based senior Ham Radio Operator, VU2CW alias, Rajesh Chandwani. He had procured my licence from the Wireless Planning & Coordination Wing, Ministry of Communication, Government of India, New Delhi and sent it to my WhatsApp. Photo: Diwali at Bangalore

Next day the first thing I did was to get through the drills of being registered in the Echolink platform. Once I was through, opened the App in my mobile, went to the settings and typed “Listening mode” in the name field. The reason behind doing this was to get a fair taste of the various Nets around the world before finally deciding to check-in to the Nets of my choice since some of them conducts in their respective local language which I try best to avoid. Globally, English is considered the universal language of communication in Ham Radio or Amateur Radio and hence, the popular phrase - “One World, One Langauge”. Incidently, Echolink does not provide the listening mode option, though.

Earlier on 30th October 2020, in a unique way monitored the Delhi local VHF Net live on the VU2DLR repeater faraway from my Bangalore QTH (residence of a Ham) that appeared to have spiked up all my good hormones - serotonin, dopamine, endorphins and oxytocin. Was pretty down due to the fatal wound in my right hand which has left me crippled, but a sudden video call that integrated live audio feed of the Delhi VHF Net, chased away that gloomy mindset.

Blending airwaves with the cyber highway was just like a fusion indeed. Unlike the technologically advanced VU2FUN and VU2HUB Delhi repeaters which are privately owned by two enterprising brothers - Karan Bakshi (VU2IB) and Rajesh Bakshi (VU3FUN), VU2DLR repeater is not patched to the Echolink platform. The ingenuity of Pradeep (VU2AK) of pulling me into the Delhi Net was much appreciated. I remember the kind words of encouragement for getting well soon poured in from senior Hams like Kamath (VU3SLJ), Net Controller of that day, Sandeep (VU2MUE) including several other Hams.

For a short while the Net signals went down and so the audio quality too deteriorated resulting in latency. Some of the callsigns which had exceptional audio quality were VU2CW, VU2FR, VU2LO, VU2BQF, and VU2NW. It was even interesting taking me for a virtual tour to VU2AK’s shack which had some homebrew rigs among others.

On 17 December 2020, I took the afternoon flight from Kempgowda International Airport (KIA), Bangalore and had returned to New Delhi for a week. Figured out the frequencies and then programmed my radios to the local repeaters. Honestly, it was like reviving my old hobby but, now legally and no more in a hush, hush manner playing with transceivers and antennas which I used to do during my school and university days. 

On a chilly Christmas eve was my maiden appearance in the Delhi VU2DLR repeater when I had gone live on air in the VHF Net. VU2MUE, handle, Sandeep was the net control station on that day. Pushing a mere four watts of power with my handheld radio and the stock rubber ducky enabled all Hams tuned in to the frequency to copy my signals fairly loud and clear.

Next evening, 25 December 2020 on Christmas day, I flew to the City of Joy. At the Indira Gandhi International (IGI) Airport I got a bit worried about my cabin luggage since I was carrying my two little radios, cameras, power bank, including few other electronic items. Just like any other passengers in the queue, I had also picked up a tray and placed my hand luggage in it for the automated roller rails to take it through the scanner for security check. Photo: Christmas carol singers inside IGIA, New Delhi 

Meanwhile, I was already physically frisked and was waiting for my hand luggage at

the other end. Suddenly, I noticed the scanner’s light change from green to red and my tray was subsequently moved to an adjoining track roller rail for a physical check. There were few other trays before mine and I was watching them slowly approaching one after the other for a thorough check by the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel. 

Passengers who were carrying larger than permissible size of liquids and perfumes, chemicals, lighter, matchbox, greasy bottled eateries such as pickles, pen knifes, sharp objects, etc were summarily confiscated, while many were reprimanded too. All this while I had been keenly watching others that gave jitters and remotely made me feel like a miscreant for no reason.        Photo: St Paul's Cathedral, Kolkata

Finally, when my turn came, a CISF officer pointing objects at his computer screen

which reflected images from inside my cabin luggage, asked me what was it and to take it out. I took out my electric beard trimmer, the transceivers and along with it flaunted my Amateur Radio Licence. The CISF personnel after quickly examining the licence which had the prominent insignia of government of India, immediately responded with a courtesy saying, “Sir if this (licence) had been shown earlier then you would not been held so long, apologies…” I told myself COVID rules anyways makes it mandatory for passengers to check in two hours before flight schedule and I had enough time to loiter or relax at the airport lounge. Photo: View from inside the aircraft while midair 

After landing in Kolkata, pulled out the two little handies. One of them was put on scan mode while on the other I punched in frequencies of the local repeaters. It was fun checking in to the regular VHF Nets on the repeater as well as making QSOs (communication bewteen Hams) on Simplex mode that sometimes led to interesting ragchew (discussion between Hams over the air). It was nice to check in to the two Kolkata Nets run by WBRC (West Bengal Radio Club) and BARS (Bengal Amateur Radio Society). 
Photo: The picturesque Ganges River in Kolkata

Some of the familiar Hams who used to conduct the regular Nets on the WBRC repeater were Saurav (VU3JXF), Sangita (VU3ZIH), Soham (VU3WNJ), Ambarish (VU2JFA) and Kawsar (S21SKV) who operates from Dinajpur in Bangladesh. 

Here something unique which I had noticed was that the BARS repeater which had

turned faulty since long ago, did not dither it’s regular VHF Net as it was being carried on in Simplex mode at 145.200 MHz daily from 10:00 PM to 10:30 PM. I remember coming across Ashish (VU2GMT), one of the Net Control Station and few others whose callsigns I do not remember. 


During my short span in this city that was decked up with Christmas and New Year decors, I had done several experiments with regards to range tests which was very enriching. This exercise also helped me in building new Ham friends over the airwaves and I assured to visit them in my future visit to the City of Joy. Photo: Park Street, Kolkata  

After spending a little over a week in Kolkata, next I flew to the Garden City on 3rd

January 2021. While I was racing to the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport (NSCBIA), Kolkata to board steel wheels, back in my mind I was again apprehensive about the security check of my cabin luggage as I was carrying my handies besides, other electronic items. However, it was a breather indeed - security check here at the NSCBI Airport sailed off without any hindrance.

On landing at the Kempgowda International Airport (KIA), Bangalore in the evening, I pulled out my two radios again and set them on scanning mode. Was simply delighted to discover that the radios triggered all the repeaters and were roaring with strong signals. Photo: An aero bridge at IGIA, New Delhi

Two VHF Nets were underway while I was alternatively monitoring both the stations. After listening for a while, I pressed the PTT (press to talk) button and first checked in to the Indian Institute of Ham repeater. Dr. Sathyapal, VU2FI was the Net Control Station who had accorded a warm welcome into the Silicone Net.

This was followed by checking into the QNY Memorial Net. Net Control Station, VU2YVK, who is affectionately addressed as Vijayda, had some real kind words for my maiden appearance in the R-3 repeater. He had also briefed me about the timings of other daily morning Nets and requested to check in for the same as well as the R5 repeater. Photo: Bailey, the eleven years old black English Cocker Spaniel always by my side 

Interestingly, several VHF Nets running in a day as well as QSOs on Simplex mode and the abilities of my cheap little radios to trigger all repeaters including several Simplex signals from my Bangalore QTH made me feel them as precious as just like any owners of the premium Kenwood TH -D74 or Yaseu FT-3DR are to them.

I started regularly checking all the Nets and the best part was that within a short time

my callsign had got pretty familiar with all the Net Control Stations since it had become evident as most Hams immediately recognised it’s handle. Sometimes the quick radio check often led to long QSO roundtable ragchew reinforcing the bond and trust between each Ham operators. At times when several breakers (Hams who join the discussion midway) join into the discussion many jumble up the callsigns too and try to correct it in the subsequent overs. It was fun though yet maintaining the protocols.

On 7th January 2021 at 145.650 MHz, -600, R3 morning Net, it was a pleasure listening to Vijayda (VU2YVK) with his unique intonation and dexterity he conducts the programme. This repeater which is not patched to the Echolink platform still manages to get a whopping 50 - 60 plus check in through direct RF (Radio Frequency). He was able to copy me 5 & 7 direct while 5 & 9 plus through the repeater. All I was using is my tiny handy with the stock rubber duckies which had been doing a fine job for me. The bottom line is I cannot trash these handies and become a rig snob. There is so much of learning from these tiny HTs which has quickly helped me to come on air live while hopping cities.

The garden city caused ripples around the world on January 2021. First, an all women crew Air India made its maiden flight from San Francisco to Bangalore. Next, on 14 January 2021 it was the all women Net Control Stations from Bangalore to conduct a special VHF Net on the IIH  repeater (145.800 
MHz, -600) which is also patched up with the Echolink to facilitate Hams across the world to check-in. The Net Control Station (NCS) team comprised of Nisha (VU2NIS), Bhoomika (VU3JYP) Sowmya (VU3SIM) and Smriti (VU3FNV) who were excellent that saw more than 180 plus check in. Photo: The all women NCS (Photo, Courtesy: VU2FI)

January also witnessed significant favourable propagation in different regions of South India enabling distant stations to trigger the Bangalore repeaters and check in to the regular VHF Nets. The much blessed Sporadic-E or ‘Es’ in short, saw Hams waking up the Bangalore repeaters as far as from Kanyakumari, Calicut, Salem, Hyderabad including few Dx stations from Southwest India too. One of the many familiar Hams was an ENT physician, Dr T A Thangavelu who used to regularly trigger the Bangalore and other southern states repeaters from his QTH at Erode, Tamil Nadu.

Checking all the Nets on the repeaters, Simplex mode QSOs and range test et al,

suddenly got me an invitation to take part in the VU Bangalore Ham Contest. And yes, I had sportingly taken part although with my dual band handies. Finally, the two-day Bangalore VU mega contest in the VHF, UHF and 6-meters bands concluded on 17 January 2021 at 12:59 hrs with lot of fan fare and learnings, but with a different kind of a ‘pleasant stress'.

What I could guess is there were hundreds of contestants turning the different spectrum bands into a foxhunt to trace Hams over the airwaves. The organisers under the leadership of Vijay (VU2YVK), Exo (VU2EXO) and Prathap (VU2POP) among others, did an excellent job by giving a fillip to this world’s oldest form of social media alias, our amazing hobby - Ham Radio. Photo: Part of my Contest set up in the terrace

Working stations with my handies on the stock rubber ducky frequently forced me to move around to find sweet spots for different stations to be heard and received. Often I had to run to and fro between my call log sheets and sweet spots making it quite tiring at times, though.

The handies were literally being put on heavy duty that resulted in getting them almost fried up. A Ham with a great sense of humour advised to quickly make an omelette on it or else the radio’s circuitry will burnout, while another commented if my grid square location was at a freezing area then my hands could act as a good heat-sink.

With my poor little radios I was able to work around twenty stations until the juice of my rig completely drained off and wouldn’t recharge again. Got to know that’s how lithium batteries behave when the energy knocks down to zero. This was frustrating but, then my four-legged paw came wagging and just melted me down.

The radios gave me a fair understanding about its capabilities when put on a heavy duty such as this mega contest. Another interesting part is that the contest have awakened Ham operators to relook the way we communicate over the bands in Ham radio. The point here is most operators get stuck completely on the repeaters and seldom finds time for Simplex. The contest also drew attention of Dxing on Simplex mode as well as the widely neglected 6 meters and 70 cm bands. 

Photo: Ten years old Layla also  a golden brown English Cocker Spaniel always kept me engrossed with her tricks whenever I could not find any station on the airwaves

Finally, with my not so stable hand completed the formalities of submitting my log sheet to the organisers. This was my unplanned first ever contest to join while city hopping, not just to win a trophy, but to participate in the spirit of a true Ham.

Have made several Ham friends over the airwaves in Bangalore. Most of them are extremely helpful. Many of them went to the extent of lending their antennas and rig too, which was very touching indeed. Some of them who deserves mention are Vijayda (VU2YVK), Karan (VU3HGG) and Vakku Jose (VU3JUA). Karan, Vakku and Renu (VU3CQM), had become my good pals over the airwaves. 

One late night long after the Nets concluded my radio was still switched on.

Suddenly, I heard a voice calling for a radio check over the 145.800 MHz. It was Renu to whom I promptly responded with my handy and subsequently Karan, who is known to keep his transceivers in scan mode joined in too. Since then we had met several times over the airwaves. Both Renu and Karan were building a high beam yagi antenna and were also offering to build one for me with the excess raw materials. Karan also used to be the Net Control Station for the Sunday evening Silicone Net. Vakku too offered to lend one of his ground plane antennas so that I could trigger more stations during the contest. Photo: QSL card from IIH

Another one fine January morning was a pleasant surprise checking up the Pune VHF Net (VU2ETD). Karnataka's Shimoga based senior Ham, VU2ARG, alias Rajesh, a diehard scouts leader also checked in at the same time. It was great meeting him over the airwaves while old man VU2UEL, Dilip Bapat was the Net Control Station with his distinctive style of conducting the Net.  

What I have noticed is that there are amazing Hams from different age groups and backgrounds whom I had come across. Some are physicians, teachers, college/university students, marketing professionals, businessman, retired government employees, bankers, ex-servicemen as well as corporate personnel, etc among others, which only makes the Ham fraternity so vibrant. Some of the familiar NCS and Hams were Varadhan (VU2ITI), Prakash (VU3PNN), Exo Tom (VU2EXO), Karunakaran (VU2KNE), Venkat (VU3OIM), Rajen (VU3JYT), Bopanna (VU3BOP), Prathap (VU2POP), Madhukar (VU2MUD) and Manorita (VU2MGS). Photo: VU2AMU, Arvind's radio shack

One fine January morning a senior Ham, handle, Nayak (VU2NYK) pinged me to come over at 145.500 MHz. Owner of premium rigs such as the ICom 7300, ICom 2300 H and Diamond antennas, etc in his shack, Nayak was enticed to procure the UV5R to his transceiver arsenal as most Net Control Stations used to give me good signal reports.

Nayak wanted to test his new UV5R handy from his QTH using the stock rubber ducky while the signals turned out to be neat and clean breaking the squelch in my tiny radio. Then came another Ham, VU2SW, handle, Sankar. After few overs, Sankar’s radio went dead as his battery drained off completely. 

On 03 February I flew back to New Delhi. The security check at KIA, Bangalore just sailed off once again smoothly. Soon I realised that my amateur radio licence superseded all my other identification documents such as PAN card, Adhar card, passport, and driving licence. As the Aero India Show which was underway, my Indigo flight got rescheduled on reaching the airport. There were dozens of inbound flight landings while our aircraft was taxing for takeoff only to be intermittently delayed. Turned around and saw a beeline of aircrafts, all waiting for clearance from the air traffic controller (ATC) for take off. Photo: The almost deserted lounge inside KIA, Bangalore due to cancellation and reshedulling of flights due to Aero India Show 

All through February north India too in general was witnessing favourable propagation leading to several Dx stations to wake up the  Delhi VU2DLR repeater. VU3KIJ, Shiv Kumar Sharma from Ludhiana in Punjab and VU3JAT, Jat, an ex-servicemen from Agra city used to trigger the repeaters almost daily and have QSOs with Delhi-NCR Hams. On 25 February at around 10:00 PM, there was a marathon QSO roundtable with Manish (VU2GNA) from Jallandar, Shiv Kumar (VU2KIJ) in Ludiana both in Punjab while Rajani (VU2HW) and me (VU3TQT) in Delhi-NCR. The audio quality of both the Dx stations were mind-blowing as good as local stations. Earlier in the morning south Delhi Ham Lokesh (VU2LO) too joined in to a lovely QSO when Jat (VU3JAT) from Agra and Shiv Kumar from Ludiana triggered the VU2DLR Delhi repeater. 
Photo: Long queue of aircrafts waiting clearance from the ATC for take off at KIA, Bangalore

Barring this Sporadic ‘E’ tropospheric ducting phenomenon, the overall Ham activity in Delhi-NCR is extremely limited. Only a handful of check-in are made in this repeater on the daily VHF Net that commences in the evening from 9:00 to 9:30 PM. The other weekly Saturday VHF Net on the VU2FUN repeater too does not fair any better, but has a face-saver since it is patched up to the Echolink that garners lot of check-in from pan India including few countries around the world.

Unlike in Bangalore, my radios here in Delhi by and large remained completely silent, except for the solo daily VHF Net and weekly Saturday VHF Net. Even making a CQ call over Simplex both in the VHF or UHF bands never got any Hams responding. Photo: Captured this image from the aircraft while it was flying over Bhopal's Bairagarh area

Over the past decade it is estimated that more than five hundred Hams in Delhi and

NCR have received their ticket but strangely, less than ten per cent are actually active thereby, turning the vast majority into paper Hams. Many ascribe such trends due to the misconception by the prospecting candidates or would-be Hams (shortwave listener/SWL) that an amateur radio licence would fetch them a cushy government job in disaster management and the various Ham radio training camps tacitly endorsing the same. Similar is the situation in several other cities. Besides, there are observers who feel that a significant lot are simply interested in acquiring the licence as it gives them a distinct government valid identity which can be used for several purposes and lastly, it could be due to the high cost in importing transceivers in India which may have disinterested many Hams to come live on air. However, the matter needs to be probed and addressed by a competing authority so that Delhi-NCR airwaves too becomes thriving. 

So far, so good - I am thoroughly enjoying ever since I went live on the airwaves. Really want this amazing hobby of ours and world’s oldest form of social media to remain sacred so as to destress us from the mundane life. It would certainly be great to see more Hams active in the bands and also hope import duty on all rigs are significantly reduced. Incidently, India does not manufactures any transceivers or hardwares and therefore, most Hams here are completely dependent on imported goods. Finally, it all depends from what perspective one looks at Ham Radio.

Today's moments, tomorrow's treasure...Related videos below:

Bangalore Multiple morning VHF Nets 

VHF Nets from the terrace in Bangalore

Range test during a morning walk in Bangalore

Efficiency of these tiny radios that triggers all the repeaters at Bangalore

Delhi and Pune VHF Nets audio clips grab  At the Pune VHF Net listen toVU2VQL, 
 Professor Sadhashiv, who turns 87 and one of India's oldest Ham Radio Operator

The All Women Net Control Station


Saturday, 6 March 2021

An Old Laptop Makeover

Machine all set to become a workhorse

How does it feel to revamp an old laptop and make it work some of the heavy duty software on it? And how does it also feel to give it a cosmetic makeover to bring its original look? This is what I had experienced turning an old notebook into a workhorse which was lying at home waiting to be discarded.

Such initiative triggered me only when my trusted MacBook Air one fine morning during the pandemic lockdown all of a sudden gave up putting me in crossroads. Had checked with several Mac authorised service centres and all had stereo type response, suggesting to replace the battery module that costed a bomb.

Created hinge cover in the right 

Looking into the state of affairs, my younger nephew pulled out an old Lenovo notebook and handed to me saying that I was free to tinker with this machine since it was in the verge of being discarded and disposed off as junk.

After few days I took some time off to examine the machine closely. The model was Lenovo IdeaPad s400 with licenced Window'8 OS which immediately made me guess that the notebook must have been purchased sometime in mid 2010. The island keyboard appeared fine, but with marks of severe wear and tear particularly in the spacebar, tab, shift, ctrl, and arrow keys including the track pad.

The glossy dark screen had some stubborn horizontal marks in the centre and innumerable scratches in the bezel. Could be due to the changed alignement of the hinges which was on constant friction between the screen and keyboard when in closed position. Additionally, the right side hinge cover which prevents dust from entering the motherboard was missing that made the area look hollow and pretty odd. The two hinges holds the screen along with the combo keyboard and motherboard section.

The exterior of the notebook had a silver look, akin to an aluminium finish on a plastic, but with multiple scratches and slight dents in the front left corner edges.

Turning the machine upside down, I immediately spotted three screws missing while the rubber feet that prevents the notebook from slipping off when on a tabletop, appeared brittle due to constant change of weather and age related factors. The missing hinge cover now appeared clearer and was similar to bike without a mudguard.

Located the original charger and put the machine on charge. After several hours removed the charger, but the battery refused to store any energy and so I put it back on the mains again and started the machine. It took several minutes to boot up and to my utter surprise it was Ubuntu as the Windows'8 OS was missing.

My older nephew who is a software engineer, had installed this Linux OS few years ago and was unable to recollect the password or retrieve the original Windows'8 operating system inspite of the best efforts.

By now I was convinced that this Lenovo notebook had been literally cannibalised. There was lot of hard work needed to be done and I decided to take it up as a challenge to restore the machine even if it could help in light office works such as Word, Excel, Power Point and also primarily run some Ham Radio programs in the digital platform. The way-forward was first to check the hardware followed by software and finally a cosmetic makeover.

Procured a screwdriver set with multiple heads. Took out the battery and then carefully unscrewed the back cover. Cleaned mounds of dust with the help of a soft one inch paint brush and a vacuum pump. Removed the RAM and Hard drive, cleaned the terminals and put it back. Restarted the machine, but it was still taking ages to boot up.

Really could not figure out what was actually causing this slow booting and nor was it allowing to install an old Windows'7 OS version that put me in a fix. Took snapshots of the motherboard, system information and shared it with one of my Ham Radio friends based in Bangalore - alias, Karan Dutt (VU3HGG).

Karan is a software wizard who has been building computers since past several years. After examining the snapshots, he advised to get the hard drive checked and preferably replace it by a solid state drive (SSD).

Accordingly, I removed the hard drive and got it checked by an authorised service centre. The hard drive turned out to be faulty as it failed to install Windows OS even when inserted on a different laptop.

After a lot of soul searching of SSDs, I finally settled with a 500 GB WD SATA SSD

Hard drive replaced with SSD
variant and fixed it on my own. It has up to 560 MB/s read speed and 530 MB/s write speed plus five years warranty.

Had also cheked the CMOS battery which keeps the system's clock and date running among others and then started the machine. This time there was comparatively significant improvement in the time taken to boot up which was very encouraging indeed.

Next, was to trouble shoot the charging section of the notebook as it was not storing energy in the battery. I suspected the battery must have been dead and so searched for a new compatible lithium battery pack.

Checked the original Lenovo battery charger with a multimeter which showed it was fine, but surprisingly, even the new battery was not charging and neither the charging indicator light was glowing in the notebook.This drove me to return the battery to the seller.

After checking with few more sellers, settled with another battery pack which lit the battery charging indicator in the notebook. Though the retention of energy time in the battery pack is much less than the original one which came along with the machine at the time of purchasing, but its okay.

Meanwhile, installed Windows'10 Pro, Office'19 including few other programs. And guess what?! - This decade old machine now boots up as well as shuts down with a lightening speed. A preliminary opinion working on the different programs and applications so far sails like a feather. However, after thoroughly using it for the next few months will be able to give a better review of its performance.

With the machine's hardware and software back in order, the next piece of work was to fix the missing hinge cover and to give a cosmetic makeover too. Was wondering how to do that and just wished if I only knew someone owning a 3-D printer so that a similar hinge could be copied from the existing one and rolled out a brand new hinge cover. Perhaps, this would have been the easiest and quickest fix, though.

Ripped off soap dispenser

I found an empty Lifebouoy liquid soap dispenser, ripped off the bottom and cut a long strip matching to the breadth of the existing left side hinge cover. 

With slight heat gently moulded the plastic strip to replicate the original hinge cover. Once done, took the reverse side of a Haldiram peanuts packet and covered the plastic hinge with Fevicol glue. Yes, it looked silver metallic and with a black permanent marker pen coloured all over the strip until it  matched with the original one to a great extent. I am sure this hack may sound quite amusing to many!

The final stage was to get rid of innumerable scratch marks on the exterior and bottom side of the notebook. Tried cleaning with Colin liquid which only made some of the scratch marks more prominent. The only option left was to get it laminated with a metallic silver matt finish laminate which resembles close to the original colour of the notebook.

Today, this decade old notebook with just 1.50 GHz Pentium (R) processor, enhanced 8 GB RAM and 500 GB solid state drive looks sleek as well as functions smartly. With softwares such as Premiere Pro, Audition, Lightroom, etc running in this machine, it is all set to become a workhorse. Thanks to Karan for inspiring me in renovating this machine which was in the verge of being disposed off as a junk. Thanks also to my nephews who are more like friends, though. And yes, you too can do the same if you are having an old laptop lying in your home.

Below are images related to the article:

The old laptop transformed into a workhorse

Top: orignal hinge cover; Below: created hinge cover wrapped in silver foil 

Cosmetic makeover of the Lenovo notebook

Lookalike hinge cover created; Below, the original hinge cover

The original Hard drive
Hard drive being replaced with SSD 

The Lenovo notebook and the SSD