Orlando Hamcation 2023

This year’s edition of Hamcation was pretty good. Definitely seemed more crowded this year than last year, which was good to see. By the time I got there on the first day (about 20 minutes before the gates opened) the parking field was pretty much full. On the second day, they were sending people over to the overflow parking area by the time I got there when it opened.

Didn’t find quite as many things to purchase this year as I found last year, but did pick up a few nice things.

Begali had a table with a bunch of their keys and paddles on display. It was a very popular booth with lots of people stopping by to check things out and send out some Morse code. After stopping by the table a few times to play with the paddles, I decided on the last day of Hamcation to pick up one of their Camelback straight keys.

Begali Camelback straight key

It’s a very nice straight key with a nice responsive action and a solid heavy base that’s not moving anywhere when I’m keying. Very happy with it. Just need to wire it up with a suitable cable now.

Out in the flea market/boneyard area, there were quite a few people with tables set out. Seemed like not quite as many as last year though.

An interesting item I found out in the boneyard was this board with an LCD display on it.

Gabotronics Xminilab oscilloscope module

At first I thought it was just an LCD display module, so I bought it along with a couple ESP32 boards and a book for a few dollars. When I had a chance to take a closer look at it, I discovered that it wasn’t a display module at all, but a tiny little oscilloscope! Should be fun to get it running and see what it can do.

For the workbench, I found this arbitrary signal generator. I’ve been wanting to have one for the workbench for a while. Haven’t tried plugging it in and turning it on yet, so it might be a great addition, or it might become a project.

Pragmatic 2416A arbitrary waveform generator

Looking forward to playing with my new acquisitions when I have some spare time.

Atlanta Hamfest 2022

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of meeting Connie and me getting my amateur radio license, we went back to the Atlanta Hamfest this past weekend.

A tote bag with text to commemorate the 10th anniversary of NR4CB and AB4UG meeting
NR4CB + AB4UG commemorative tote bag

This was our first trip back to the Atlanta Hamfest since the last time we went back in 2014. The 2022 edition of the hamfest was back at the Jim Miller Park with a shiny new events building.

This year, the hamfest was quite a bit smaller in terms of the bone yard and vendors inside but considering the times, I thought the turn out was still pretty decent. Apparently there were a number of last minute cancellations so there wasn’t much in the way of commercial vendors at the hamfest this time. We still found a few things to buy from the swaps and people out in the bone yard though.

The hamfest acquisition I’m most excited about is one that Connie came across: a bin of slide rules and slide rule books including a neat little round slide rule. This will expand my slide rule collection quite a bit. Some of the larger slide rules have scales I haven’t come across before, so I’m looking forward to learning about those and how to use them.

A bin of various slide rules and slide rule books
A bin of slide rules and slide rule books

Other acquisitions included a couple boxes of ferrites and toroids, an Astron RS-35 power supply for the shack, and a stack of QRP Quarterly magazines someone was giving away.

Part of our day was spent serving as volunteer examiners for the testing session being held at the hamfest. We helped out with the afternoon shift, and had about 5 people taking tests in the afternoon. Most of the test takers were in the morning shift and it sounded like it was pretty busy.

Even though the hamfest wasn’t as big as the previous years we went, we still had a really good time.

Orlando Hamcation 2022

Made it back to Hamcation for the first time since my very first trip there in 2013. Like the first time, Hamcation didn’t disappoint. The crowd size seemed pretty respectable for Hamcation, although I don’t really have a good memory of what the crowd was like the first time I went so it’s a bit tough to compare. There were a lot of people moving through the commercial and swaps buildings, but I didn’t feel like I was stepping on anyone making my way through from table to table.

We started the festivities off Thursday (Feb 10) with the 2022 ARRL National Convention, held at a different location from Hamcation. It was a day long affair with four different tracks. Connie and I were in the Handbook track, with talks designed to introduce or remind people about different aspects of amateur radio. There were some good presentations on hunting down radio-frequency interference, Parks On The Air, amateur radio satellites, and remote rig operating.

Friday was the first day of Hamcation. Most of the big name vendors you expect to see at a major hamfest were set up in the Commercial building. Wandered through the Commercial building for a while checking out various offerings. LiFePO4 batteries from a company I hadn’t heard about yet, PO4Power, looked pretty interesting with an integrated LCD screen showing the battery voltage (and maybe other things).

LiFePO4 batteries from PO4Power
LiFePO4 batteries from PO4Power

After going through the Commercial building, we walked over to the Swaps building. Pretty crowded in there with both sellers and shoppers. We made the circuit of the outside tables, I got distracted by a display of handbooks at one of the inside tables and picked up a 1970 ARRL handbook in pretty good shape to add to my collection. Then it was time for a lunch break.

Lunch options at this year’s Hamcation looked pretty decent. There were four different food vendors offering a decent variety of choices. A wood-fired pizza place was set up, so we decided to go for that. Pretty tasty pizza.

Pizza for lunch at Hamcation 2022
Pizza for lunch at Hamcation 2022

After lunch, it was back in to the Swaps building. Lots of people selling in there. Came across a set of tables where two nice ladies had a bunch of components, bins, equipment, and homebrew radios displayed. Turns out they were the wife and daughter of an SK who was a skilled homebrewer and did a lot of work in the radio/EE world. I was looking over the various component bins working out what would be good to add to my collection of bits and pieces and was starting to accumulate a bit of a pile when Connie asked if I’d be interested in taking the whole set of bins (6 in total). The two ladies were a bit surprised that Connie made such a suggestion, but they were very supportive of the idea. I thought about it a bit (mostly thinking about how I was going to find room for everything). Connie said do it, so I said Ok! Took a few trips to get everything out to the car. It will take me a while to go through everything I picked up and figure out what I’ve got (that deserves it’s own blog post), but along with what I already have, now I think I’ve got enough bits and pieces for a lifetime or two of building.

After that, we decided to call it a day and head back to our hotel for some much needed rest.

The second day of Hamcation (Saturday), Connie was volunteering at the VE testing session, so I was left to wander Hamcation on my own. Didn’t really notice if the Saturday crowd was bigger because I spent most of my time out in the boneyard. Looked like a lot more cars in the parking area on Day 2 though.

Wandered through the rest of the Swaps building after picking up a few more bits and pieces from the two ladies we bought the bins from. Scored a Digilent Analog Discovery 2 USB oscilloscope at one table for an exceptionally good price.

After that, it was time to wander the boneyard, which felt a lot more expansive than I remember from 2013, although I’m not sure I made it through all of it back then. I spent a good 4 hours wandering through all the boneyard tables (and getting a bit sunburned in the process) and probably could have spent another hour or so revisiting a few of the tables.

Spotted an old Heathkit TC-2 tube tester that looked interesting. The guy selling it told me “That’ll look great in your closet!” He had it marked for $20, I asked if he’d take $10 for it, and he accepted it. I think it will be a fun project to work on.

After Connie was finished with the VE testing session, we met back up for one more quick cruise through the swaps building, and then called it a day.

All in all, it was great getting back to Hamcation. Crowds seemed pretty decent and there was lots of stuff to see. Looking forward to going back next year.

Back to hamfests: Shelby 2021

Made a trip out to our first hamfest in quite a while (last one was back in 2020).

We made the road trip out to the Shelby Hamfest for the first time. It’s one I had been wanting to get to for quite a while now, but it happens the same weekend as Dragon*Con so I never made it until this year.

We drove up Friday afternoon, and Saturday was the only day we spent at Shelby. Got there bright and early as the gates were opening, so we were able to get a decent parking spot. Spent the early morning wandering around the boneyard/flea market checking out the early birds that opened up their tables until the indoor stuff opened up. Checked out the indoor people, then spent the rest of the morning exploring the boneyard.

Lots of people out in the flea market area selling the usual range of really nice gear to miscellaneous stuff. Saw at least 3 or 4 people selling some really nice looking Collins radios, ranging from complete sets to single cabinets. I can see why people like to collect Collins gear. They’re really nice looking units. I got a bit drooly looking at them.

Didn’t really have a big shopping list going to the hamfest, but did end up picking up a few things with the goal of putting mobile VHF radios into the cars in mind. In the boneyard, I found a couple of Fluke multimeters for a pretty good price. Seller didn’t know what condition they were in, but I figured for $10, they would either be decent workbench instruments or fun projects to work on. Also found a D104 mic missing the bottom plate and connector for pretty cheap so I grabbed that too. A few other miscellaneous tool type items rounded out the shopping day at the hamfest. Didn’t see too many Morse code keys, but there was one table that had a selection of older Vibroplex bugs that I was kind of tempted by.

The crowd seemed to be a lot lighter than I expected, even during the middle of the morning and early afternoon. There were a lot of cars in the parking are by the time we left but it didn’t seem that crowded while we were there. I suppose the size of the hamfest helps spread everybody out. Had some fun random encounters with a few other hams that we new, and a nice conversation with Bill Morine/N2COP, ARRL Roanoke Division Vice-Director.

I was too busy wandering around checking things out and trying to decide if I “needed” it or not to get any pictures of the hamfest, but Connie got this early morning-ish photo of the boneyard off in the background.

Early morning at  the Shelby Hamfest boneyard
Early morning at the Shelby Hamfest boneyard

Charleston Hamfest 2020

This year’s edition of the Charleston Hamfest went fairly well I thought. I had a pretty good time there anyway.

Most of my time was spent up front at the microphone making announcements and picking door prize winners, but I did get to spend some time wandering around looking at stuff. Picked up a couple books, a box of analog meters, and enough spools of wire to keep me going for decades. Builder hams getting rid of stuff can be very generous when they find other builder hams (or aspiring builder hams) looking for stuff.

Toward the end of the hamfest, the “Free Stuff” table starts getting more and more things piled onto it. Found an old Heathkit Automotive Tune-up meter and an EICO Model 460 oscilloscope that ended up coming home with me. I figure the oscilloscope will make a nice restoration project to learn/practice on without having to worry about messing up. Also grabbed a box of miscellaneous wires and microphones off the free table.

Two of the big vendors that have been regulars at the hamfest were notably absent this year (retired from the hamfest circuit), so the vendor space seemed emptier than usual. Still a pretty decent amount of stuff to look at and buy.

Back this year was the go-box exhibition and competition. There were some pretty cool go-boxes that were submitted. One of these days when I have more time to spare, I’ll have to put one together.

No time for radio, building, or tinkering these days but once I get past the PhD, I’ll have plenty of projects to work on.