Ham Radio Deluxe Blackball for Negative Review

How to not endear yourself to your customers 101: Shut off the licensing to your customer when they post a critical review. N2SUB found out the hard way you don’t mess with Ham Radio Deluxe.

After publishing a review on eham about his experience with trying to get things to work with Windows XP, and then with Windows 10, N2SUB had his HRD license revoked, and was told by technical support that his license key had been “blackballed” by the company.

Dr. Michael Carper, WA9PIEA, Owner and partner of HRD, in a very ham-fisted reply, claims that the blackball of the license key was the result of an over-zealous support tech. However, reading his response, it hardly reads like an apology. In fact, it is rather defensive of the incident as a whole where HRD seems to try to explain the behavior as an example of “we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone”. While that may be the case, the fact it was retaliation for a product review may be in violation of the Consumer Review Fairness Act (HR 5111).

The eham review that sparked the controversy seems to speak fairly well to issues other hams have encountered with the product, including myself. N2SUB does not call anyone names, make any false claims, and is frankly a rather tame expression of his frustration with HRD. For HRD to have retaliated in this manner is bizarre.

In the end, it appears that things have been set right with N2SUB for the time being and his license has been un-blackballed. But the incident in general, and the response from the company, was odd. Let’s hope this behavior does not become a trend.

 

**UPDATE** Here is a link to the thread on QRZ.com

**UPDATE2** Here is some more info on the shenanigans taking place at Ham Radio Deluxe.

HF Signals BITX40

 So this showed up today in my news streams. It is a BITX40 7Mhz QRP SSB transceiver. At 7 watts, it has more than enough power to get on the air with a simple SSB radio. It is a “some assembly required” “kit”. The board is fully assembled, and it comes with connectors and other parts, but there is no housing, or speaker. At $45, it is an interesting thought. Check out their website for more details. http://www.hfsigs.com

Thoughts and Links to a Few Things Discussed on Our Tech Net Tonight

PL on your receiver, or CTCSS:

We all know that you need to transmit a PL tone to unlock a repeater.  That’s how we keep repeaters from keying up unnecessarily.  In the old days, when there weren’t many around, we didn’t use PL at all.  Today, with ham repeater channel pairs all used up in all metro areas, it becomes necessary to place repeaters on the same frequency, and as far apart as geographically as possible, but then separate them further by requiring each to use a different PL tone for access.  That way we get better frequency reuse, where we can place them somewhat closer together, and users can make sure they only bring up their own system, and not the other ham group’s repeater.

On our own receivers, though, there has never been such a rule that we use PL.  The official term for PL on your receiver is CTCSS, which stands for Continuous Tone Coded Squelch System.  It basically means that, when set to this mode, you won’t hear anything from your receiver’s speaker until it hears a specific subaudible PL tone to open it up.

By the way, you would be correct to say that, while your own radio might not need to use it, when seen from the perspective of the repeater, it indeed uses CTCSS on its own receiver before your voice gets repeated.

OK, so besides not hearing other people on your repeater’s channel that might be far away, what other use does CTCSS have.  There are a number of them, but I’m only going to mention one other that you may care about.  If you are walking or driving around, and hearing occasional beeps, squawks, or blasts of white noise from your radio, using CTCSS will prevent random junk from coming out of your speaker.

As an example, in my house, my cable modem emits a digital harmonic that just happens to fall right on 147.33 MHz, the frequency of our two meter repeater.  I can’t monitor that frequency for very long without CTCSS, because the receiver is always opened by the digital noise.  With CTCSS, it’s blissfully quiet until someone keys up the repeater, which transmits a PL tone to my receiver, opening up the speaker.

As a parting note, beware that there are still quite a few ham repeaters that don’t transmit PL.  You’ll just have to check on a case-by-case basis.  To save you a little bit of time, I can assure you that all of the K7DAA, GVARC, and SBCARA repeaters do transmit PL.  On the two K7DAA repeaters, I also perform one other, very minor trick:  I turn off the PL transmit tone about 1-2 seconds before the repeater transmitter drops.  This gives your receiver time to notice that the PL tone is gone, and it again mutes the speaker before the usual squelch crash when the repeater’s transmitter drops off the air.  Nothing is perfect, though.  You’ll still hear a crash after an ID or other very short transmissions, but not during regular conversations.

 

DMR (Digital Mobile Radio):

I’ve bought two of the TYT MD-380 UHF DMR radios for $100 or so on Amazon (a click opens an Amazon search window–multiple vendors)

Hytera is a well-respected name in the DMR two-way radio industry.  They are now marketing to hams through Gigaparts

Hotspots:  Even though most of us in the South County and Hollister areas can use the W6YYY DMR repeater on Crystal Peak, it’s very nice to have your own little DMR system at home or portable in the car.  At present, the two most popular ways to do this are:

  1.  Buy the SharkRF Openspot, a relatively new all-in-one product with no DIY skills needed:  SharkRF website here
  2.  Buy the DVMega board, plug it into either a Raspberry Pi, an Arduino, or a BlueDV board (if you use Android), and add software

By the time you are done, any of the above will end up costing you about $200-300, just so you know.  The Shark has the least number of fiddly things you’ll have to do to get it running, but the ham that sells them gets backed up often, so you’ll spend a week or three in back-order status (not a big deal, though).

The BlueDV is a neat unit that you can control with your Android device, but as an Apple guy, I didn’t find that as attractive.

If you do Arduino, make sure you buy the Arduino Due (Due is Italian for Two).  Not just any Arduino will work.

If you go the route I did, with the Raspberry Pi, be sure and get the Pi 3 like I did.  It is faster than the others, and has built-in WiFi.  All of the choices in #2 use the DVMega radio board.  Note that you can buy either a single- or dual-band board.  There is about $40 difference.  I bought the cheaper UHF-only model, since almost all of the DMR activity is on UHF around here.  I also mentioned the DHAP, which is the 3D-printed case that my hotspot rides around in.  It’s perfectly OK to put a DVMega/Pi combo in one of the taller cases designed for the Rasberry Pi (and only $12 or so), but I wanted something more integrated that also included space for batteries.  That’s how I ended up with the Hardened Power Systems DHAP case.  It’s $99, but includes a dual-mode power supply, and space for four 3.7 volt Li-Ion batteries for easy portable use.  I had to wait about 3 weeks for delivery, by the way.  And yes, I got the bright yellow one!

So far, I’m the only one in the area with a DMR Hotspot, but Dan, KJ6LXX says he might go for a Shark, so feel free to ask him for opinions.  If you try to duplicate what I did, I can certainly help you with it.  Since we’re in the very early days of DMR radio, not a huge amount of “…For Dummies” guides are available yet, so don’t feel shy about asking lots of questions, or for help getting something going.

Mel, KK6MES, and Steve, W6MNL, are the two folks whose brains I’ve been able to pick regarding the DMR world, so feel free to hit them up with questions if/when you hear them on the repeater.

As was also mentioned tonight, the listing of DMR radio manufacturers roughly by cost and features as of today:

  1. Motorola–top of the line, expensive, but used gear on eBay.  Watch out for $300+ programming software you must have!
  2. Hytera–like Motorola, the only two that can do roaming across multiple ham repeaters.  Just began marketing to hams.  See Gigaparts above.
  3. Connect Systems, or CSI–very ham-friendly people, very solid gear, American company.
  4. Kenwood–surprise!  Let’s see what Kenwood brings to the market in DMR.  Note the link to VA3XPR.net, a good source of DMR news
  5. TYT or Tytera–I know, they’re Chinese, but several of us really like their MD-380 radio.  UHF-only, excellent tx and rx audio, easy to use.
  6. All the other Chinese vendors, only because I don’t know their product personally.  Wouxon and Alinco also have ham DMR stuff.

As a parting thought, before I buy or build any of the above, I usually have a look at various reviews and comments on all these items on YouTube.

Ham Radio 360 Podcast features local hams

George, KJ6VU, has a great podcast and accompanying web page with some interesting gear and DIY projects going on. They are presently doing a group build of a 1-30 MHz antenna analyzer based on the Arduino platform. Have a look and/or listen at www.hamradio360.com

 

I mentioned this on tonight’s tech net at 9 PM.  While you are perusing that website, have a look around at a few other very interesting things.  For instance, see George’s presentation from this year’s Dayton Hamvention, where he introduced the very handy portable end-fed antennas from his new company called PackTenna.

 

The presentation does a very good job of showing you how to wind some simple baluns (actually they are un-un’s) to get your 50 ohm feedline matched to the very high impedances of either a resonant, end-fed dipole, or a random-length end-fed antenna.  Or…you could buy one ready-made from PackTenna for $89.  If you go to www.packtenna.com and look around, be sure to read the QST magazine “test drive” of his antennas.  Highly recommended.

Amateur Radio Parity Act

amateur-radio-parity-act-logo_13Please take action! Check out ARRL’s Amateur Radio Parity Act action page so you can contact your representatives and let them know you support this legislation!

Time is of the essence!  The Amateur Radio Parity Act, having successfully cleared the US House, now awaits action in the US Senate.  If the bill is not passed before the Senate adjourns for the year in December, it will “die” and we have to begin the entire process in both houses of Congress when the 115th Congress is sworn in come January 2017.

Please use this link to contact your US Senators and request they support the bill when it comes to the Senate floor during the “lame duck” session, between now and mid-December’s adjourment.