In September 2018 I went to my first Radio Buildathon and Hamvention, they were great fun, and made even better by the fact that the G-QRP club convention was co-sited with the Hamfest so I got to go to that as well!
Telford Hamfest and the G-QRP Convention are annual events which run in Ironbridge, a small town famous for having a very old iron bridge. As well as the Hamfest, the G-QRP buildathon ran the night before in a hotel in the nearby Telford. This year, I was lucky enough to hitch a lift up with Steve G0FUW and Lewis G4YTN and so went to all three events.
A Buildathon is an even in which participants build an electronic kit. They are an excellent way to meet like-minded people, get excellent value kits to build and create something useful. The actual even was run by the almost legendary Bath Buildathon Team (Steve, Lewis and friends), and this year, the Buildathon kit was designed by Heather M0HMO, and was described as an HF Swiss Army Knife.
This amazing little thing consists of an Arduino clone, OLED display, GPS receiver and SWR bridge, and it can do a massive amount of things, including:
- Measure RF forward and reflected power and SWR,
- Measure HF frequency
- UTC time, using the GPS
- Latitude and Longitude, also using the GPS
- Maidenhead grid square.
Not surprisingly, this took some building, especially since the indoor lighting made distinguishing resistors colours hard, but I think that almost everyone there ended up with a complete and working, and calibrated unit! My Dad’s (MW6KPF) eyes nearly fell out during the course of the evening, mostly due to problems reading the tiny resistors! People also found soldering the screen across the middle of the board pretty hard.
The finished unit runs off a 9V battery, and to tidy it up it needs a case and maybe an external antenna for the GPS receiver.
Overall, this was great fun to build, and was definitely the highlight of the weekend for me. Heather has uploaded the instructions, source code and gerbers etc. to her website, so the kit is also ready to hack!
The Hamvention was exactly what I expected! A dark warehouse like room (part of the museum Enginuity), with rows of tables covered in stuff. There were lots of stalls from companies like SOTABEAMS and Kanga, clubs like the G-QRP club, and the rest of the space was pretty much full of random bits of test gear, radios, components and junk (wow there was a lot of junk!). It was great fun to look around and all the bits and bobs, and to stop myself from buying too much random stuff I wouldn’t need!
The G-QRP club’s mini convention was held in the same building as the hamfest, only upstairs. There were three (almost) one hour sessions and all three talks were excellent!
The first was on a student built mini satellite called the Flying Laptop Project. The speaker, Barry Cook G8PHG, was involved in the engineering some of the electronics for the satellite and the result was a fascinating talk in which I learned about Magnetorquers and various other facts concerning all aspects of satellite design (e.g. it’s pretty common for rockets to carry dozens of satellites up in a single launch!). Barry is an absolute gold mine of interesting facts!
Next was a talk by Vic Winton GW4JUN, on The G-QRP GM3OXX Memorial Construction Challenge. This is a challenge to have a 1 Watt QSO using home made gear, which sounds like a fun thing to try. The second half of his talk contained a lot of handy info on learning CW in a way which avoids common pitfalls. When I finally pluck up the nerve to get started properly I hope I can remember what he talked about!
Finally, there was a live Solder Smoke. This is a podcast I wasn’t familiar with until just before the convention, and it is excellent. The presenters talk about all aspects of radio electronics and construction and are entertaining as well. The episode was primarily a really well thought out list of interesting things from the G-QRP magazine, SPRAT, along with what made them interesting. It made an excellent homage to the club, and an awesome introduction to the podcast for me.
All in all, this was an excellent weekend, and I’m hoping I’ll manage to go next year too.