Hell Freezes Over

The lake of fire flash-frozen on the news that KE9V bought a bug

I’ve stared into the screen for the last fifteen minutes trying to come up with a clever opening line to explain what I did this week. But words have failed me, so I’ll just say it — after forty years of pounding brass, much of that time spent in condemnation of the wretched device, I bought a bug.

My longstanding disdain for the contraption was forged by its frequent abuse through misuse. There’s not another mechanical device on the planet capable of slandering Morse code the way a bug can. You ask it for three dits and it will give you six lickety-split and think it’s doing you a favor.

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Old men like me often take up the bug late in life, usually without sufficient practice, the result being a sacrilegious butchering of Morse. Most of the affection it receives comes from the fact that us old guys wax nostalgic and love shiny things from the Land of Ago.

That, and on those rare occasions when you happen to tune across a fellow who has truly mastered the art and skill of the bug, what pours forth is as pleasing to the ear and soothing to the soul as an evening sipping good bourbon at a hot little jazz club.

I was smitten by this 1962 Vibroplex Blue Racer that’s been restored by a friend who happens to be a master craftsman – and a maestro at the bug.

We had breakfast one day this week and he explained the basics of bug operation and even lent me a code practice oscillator, to keep it off the air until I’m ready. I’ve spent about an hour or so in practice so far and can honestly say that I probably won’t put it into use for at least six months. Practice, practice, practice…

So fellows, if you caught an unnatural chill in the air one day last week have no fear, it likely wasn’t a sign of more winter weather ahead. It was just a breeze off the lake of fire flash-frozen on the news that KE9V bought a bug.

OzarkCon QRP Conference

Spend two days immersed in the low-power lifestyle

Pre-registration for OzarkCon 2016 is now open. Hosted each Spring in Branson, Missouri by the Four State QRP Group. QRP enthusiasts from all over congregate to make music, merriment, and spend two days immersed in the low-power lifestyle.

Hotel, conference, kit-building session, wacky key contest, banquet, vendor fair, swap meet, alternate activities for the ladies, prizes, pickin’, grinning, good times!

April 1-2, 2016. Visit the conference Web site for complete details.

 

TopBand

a fine business way to begin a Sunday morning in my log-book

In the pre-dawn morning, just after the dog was fed and the first pot of coffee brewed, I switched on the Eagle and took a quick spin down the 40 meter band. Nothing. Dead. Quiet. 80 meters revealed considerable activity and I was a relieved to have some evidence that the antenna was still standing.

Since I was going lower anyway, I decided to listen on 160 – the TopBand. Wow. Lots of signals, all calling CQ TEST. A quick check online confirmed that this weekend was the CQ 160 CW Contest.

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My antenna is actually short for 80 meters, nowhere near what’s required for 160. But the auto-tuner in the Eagle is nothing if not forgiving and a fellow can only listen to so many CQ’s without giving in to temptation.

For forty-five minutes I managed to search and pounce on eight different stations in seven different states for a whopping total of 56 points. But I was pleased to work stations in WI, VA, WV, SC, TN, KY, and AR with practically no antenna as I don’t have many states confirmed on 160.

As darkness gave way to dawn, I could hear the CQ’s sliding lower in the noise and decided not to push my luck and thought it poor form to make these guys work hard to hear my peanut-whistle. I popped back up to 40 meters where activity had started picking up and promptly worked a YN4 at 7011.

But the moment had passed and I was ready for more coffee. I pulled the switch and mopped up the paperwork with a fresh cuppa. That was enough radio for me today. I’m never going to be one of those operators with 20 or 30 thousand contacts in the log. An hour of chair time is a long time for me — three or fours hours an eternity.

Still, wading into a contest with no ambition towards a particular score is a fine business way to begin a Sunday morning in my log-book.

 

On the Tube

I think I’ve been spending more time spelunking YouTube since it went Red. Here are three of my favorite videos this week.

K8ZRH activated his portable ham radio station on the North Country Scenic Trail in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula as part of the ARRL and National Park Service “National Parks on the Air” event. His presentation best embodies the spirit of the event as it gives equal time to the park along with radio and most importanly, made me wanted to go visit!

Nat & Lo are a couple of Googler’s who spend their twenty percent special project time creating videos out of the many cool things going on at Google. It’s an informal, behind the scenes look at the tech giant through an insiders lens. In this edition, they take a look at Waze — the popular traffic app.

David L. Jones is an electronics design engineer based in Sydney Australia. He hosts the EEVblog, the world’s largest and most popular engineering video blog and Youtube channel. In this edition, he thinks his solar panel array may have been struck by a meteorite…

Ham Radio Collection

Reports of the death of Google+ were greatly exaggerated

A few years ago I began publishing a weekly ham radio newsletter. It was comprised of opinions and links to things I found interesting or unusual in our hobby and was delivered via email. But after 18 months of weekly production, I shut it down because my job had become too demanding to continue meeting a regular deadline.

Not long after, I reprised the effort in the form of a Ham Radio Collection on Google+. That seems to work better because I can post as time permits without deadline pressure. And with the ability to include media and allow readers to add comments and discussion, the overall experience is much richer than the emailed letter.

It’s doing pretty well too.

With over 3,000 followers and more than 1.9 million views, it has eclipsed the newsletter audience and continues to grow rapidly. 

You might not know it, but there are tens of thousands of radio amateurs immersed in the Google+ experience as it has evolved from a social network into an expansive collection of unique interests and communities.

Reports of the death of Google+ were greatly exaggerated — come take a look. No ads, no cost, no account required.

Straight Keys

Relive the days when manually sent Morse was a common thread that bound ham radio enthusiasts

This weekend was a radio-active one for me. Snow and bitter cold across the Heartland demanded that I spend most of the weekend indoors. With little else to do besides watch football games being played by teams other than my own favorite, I spent more time than usual in front of the radio.

I’m a member of the Straight Key Century Club (3383T) which celebrates it’s founding in 2006 with a month long, K3Y Celebration operating event every January. It’s a busy time on the bands chasing slots and areas.

If a person were “all in” on the event, it takes 150 confirmed contacts to sweep the entire board. Fortunately, you don’t need to be that aggressive (unless you just want to) to claim success in the event. In working just 14 of those 150, I’ve managed to log stations in the 1,2,3,5,6,7,8,9,0 call areas — along with KL7, KP4, EU, and NA.

The EU station worked was Bert, F6HKA. I work him in nearly every SKCC event and on every band. He’s a great operator and must be driving a super station on the Continent. The bands can be completely abysmal, with not a peep heard from anywhere on the planet — yet there’s Bert. The NA station was Paul, VE1PVH in Nova Scotia. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always wanted to visit the Maritimes and whenever I work someone from a location that I’d like to visit, that contact becomes a special one for me.

There’s still a few weeks left in the event and though I’m only able to get on the air during weekends this month, I expect to work a “4” and at least sweep the lower 48 states.

One additional SKCC note — the club just surpassed 15,000 members, a truly impressive feat by any all-volunteer organization. It’s free to join and offers all the fun you’re willing to put into it. Why don’t you join us and relive the days when manually sent Morse was a common thread that bound ham radio enthusiasts from Nova Scotia to New Zealand. It’s an ACTIVE club with lots of events, contests, awards, and things to keep you busy on the air.

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Speaking of straight keys, I caught this blog post from K2NCC who briefly reviewed his new Vibroplex Straight Key Blue. I love that blue finish and would have already whipped my credit card out and been on the phone to Scott, except I’m trying to get rid of stuff, not add more to the pile.

But this beauty could be yours. Just saying…

CQ Doomsday

“You got food?” — “Nope, we’re starving here too”

Since opining that an impressive number of new licensees hasn’t resulted in a noticeable spike in on-air activity, I’ve received several notes from those convinced that our recent growth has been fueled by the prepper movement. The notion being that these new licensees value the benefits of two-way communication capability without interest in typical ham radio activities.

This isn’t the first time I’ve considered such a thing, but it doesn’t seem to make sense.

Why not just stockpile two-way radio equipment and use it without a license? I don’t ever recall anyone in the Thunderdome being overly concerned about government rules. Especially considering the budget cuts that have reduced FCC enforcement to two guys and a truck. Besides, the intrinsic value of ham radio during a natural disaster is its ability to contact someone who can arrange to send help from outside the area.

Robust radio communication from an area devastated by hurricane or earthquake is invaluable because that area is likely cut-off from the rest of the world. In that scenario, sending messages to those in unaffected areas to SEND HELP makes perfect sense.

But in a post-apocalyptic world where the entire system has melted down, who you gonna call?

In that case, the ability to make contact with someone far away might help mend a lonely heart, but I imagine the actual conversation might go something like this:

“Are you guys as screwed as us?”
“Yeah, we’re totally screwed”
“You got food?”
“Nope, we’re starving here too”
“Okay, talk to you tomorrow if we don’t all die tonight”
“73 and good luck”

Silly me, it just seemed unlikely that preppers would embrace amateur radio in any significant numbers. And I was comfortable believing that until a photo appeared this week of an Oregon Militia member carrying what looks like a Chinese, dual-band amateur radio transceiver… I guess I could be wrong?