Sunday, October 15, 2017

The 2018 ARRL Calendar is now available for purchase. The 13 month format features photos of exciting on-air operating activities.

Put this on the wall where you work and someone is bound to ask about your hobby!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

I still need Wyoming to complete Worked All States on FT8 so on Friday night I started calling every 7-call that popped up in the waterfall. It’s not a bullet-proof method of searching for the elusive Cowboy State but calling CQ WY was getting me no where.

I ended up working a lot of 7’s but none of them were in Wyoming. In fact, many of them were East of the Mississippi. So with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek I tweeted:

“I can tell I’m getting old because call signs not being in proper regions are beginning to piss me off”.

That tweet drew some attention and many comments with almost everyone understanding that it was intended to be funny. I even followed that with another that explained:

“I’m chasing WY so calling every 7 I see in the waterfall. All of them have been East of the Mississippi! That’s just wrong…”

The crowd grew as did the banter and it was all friendly until, you guessed it, someone didn’t get, that it was supposed to be funny. He even gained a little support for his misguided grievance.

To be clear, I wasn’t suggesting the rules be changed just to make me happy. I don’t care if you live in West Virginia with a 7-call. It was a joke.

But sometimes you run into those in our hobby carrying a chip on their shoulder just waiting to be “offended”. I’ve read about some who have actually left the hobby over an inane comment like this.

I’d hate to be the cause of that so I’m going to follow-up with the folks in Newington about having them sell a new topical cream I heard about that’s supposed to thicken human skin. I don’t know all the ingredients but I hear it includes Aloe Vera to soothe the burns.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Life in the future has a few perqs. I just used Alexa to order Halloween candy for the kiddies…

ARRL is thanking the Amateur Radio community for its generosity in support of the ARRL Ham Aid Fund, which is making it possible to provide relief and recovery communications in Puerto Rico.

RI1ANO was stacking ‘em deep when he showed up on 40 meters last night using FT8. South Shetland Islands are number 117 on Club Log’s October Most Wanted List, but that visitation chummed the waters attracting a lot of attention and making lucky operators very happy.

Dog Park Software has released Version 1.09 of dogparkSDR. dogparkSDR is the first Native Mac client for the Flex Radio Systems Signature series SDR Radios. It takes care of setting and displaying radio parameters, displaying the Panadapter and Waterfall as well as routing the radio audio in and out of the Mac.

Why Friday the 13th Spelled Doom for the Knights Templar.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Last weekend was the first Great Lakes HamCon which took place at the Michigan International Speedway. By all accounts the venue was spectacular, the crowd sparse, and the vendors nearly non-existent.

I had penciled this one in on my calendar months ago but as the date approached I couldn’t find any vendors who planned to be there. Not a single one. In fact, a few seemed genuinely surprised to learn of the event. Clearly more advance work is required.

The event site says there were “over 1,100 paid attendance” which is great for a first time event, but I suspect most of those in attendance were there to attend one or more of the forums. Organizers rolled out an impressive lineup of speakers but that tends to blur the line between a hamfest and a convention - I suppose that’s why they called it a HamCon.

Which begs the question, are ham radio conventions growing faster than hamfests? I believe the answer is “YES”.

The Visalia DX Convention, W9DXCC, W4DXCC, TAPR Digital Communications Conference, AMSAT Space Symposium, the Six Meter BBQ in Texas, I could go on but you get the point. I think it’s a definite trend, local hamfest organizers probably disagree.

You put on a show in a clean, air-conditioned hotel conference center with a few good speakers and a handful of specialty vendors, and you appeal to a rapidly growing segment of the hobby for whom the typical “hamfest” has become bourgeois.

In the case of the Great Lakes HamCon it seems they have the perfect venue to rival that big show a couple hundred miles down Interstate 75, but apparently it takes a lot more than a great venue to succeed in the world of “hamfests” - no matter what you call it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

I’ve recently started listening to a podcast called, STAY TUNED WITH PREET by Preet Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney who fought corruption, financial fraud and violent crime, in a series about justice and fairness.

It’s not a political diatribe, though Bharara was a high profile US Attorney in a high-profile district who was told by Trump that he would retain his position immediately after the 2016 election, and then inexplicably fired him just a few months later.

Wikipedia says:

Preetinder Singh Bharara is an American lawyer who served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 2009 to 2017. As U.S. Attorney, Bharara earned a reputation of a “crusader” prosecutor. According to the New York Times, during his tenure he was one of “the nation’s most aggressive and outspoken prosecutors of public corruption and Wall Street crime.” Under Bharara, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York prosecuted nearly 100 Wall Street executives for insider trading and other offenses. He reached historic settlements and fines with the four largest banks in the United States, and closed multibillion-dollar hedge funds for activities including insider trading.

Check out his new podcast.

It’s interesting, smart, and an excellent break from the typical podcast tedium.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Since entering the HF Digital world I’ve noticed a tremendous uptick in the number of QSL confirmations received via LoTW. From 2010 to the present I uploaded 4,176 CW contacts to LoTW and received 1,763 confirmations (42%). So far this year I’ve uploaded 836 unique FT8 contacts which have resulted in 620 LoTW confirmations (74%).

I’m unsure why anyone would operate FT8 without QSLing as there is no real value in a conversation-less contact if not for award credit - but there are still plenty of hams who don’t use LoTW claiming it to be too difficult.

In my experience, three out of four digital operators use LoTW and are prompt about uploading their contacts. That’s particularly satisfying given that it took me more than a year to achieve WAS CW via LoTW while I collected WAS Digital via LoTW in just over three months.

Monday, October 9, 2017

If you subscribe to the CALLING CQ weekly letter you might have noticed it missing from your inbox these last few weeks. I have concluded its production run and it’s no longer available. Everyone has been unsubscribed, user data has been purged, and all related Web pages have been deleted along with the Twitter account.

Fortunately, there are plenty of sources for general news about ham radio. It was my pleasure to produce the letter each week and make it available at no cost for more than two years and now I look forward to pursuing similar publishing opportunities that explore more specific niches of the hobby. Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

A few stolen moments permitted me to make a few radio contacts today. 40 meters was in decent shape and not long after the sun went down it provided a conduit to Europe that was good for several contacts including Northern Ireland, an all time new one on digital for me. When I uploaded the days effort to LoTW, the confirmation from MI0NWA was even waiting on me!

Earlier in the afternoon I had slipped into the shack for a few moments and had just made an FT8 contact with a station when my five year-old grandson walked in. I showed him the contact in process which he thought was kinda cool but he was even more interested when we looked NS0SR up on QRZ to see where it was located.

Turns out it’s the ham radio station for the North Shore Scenic Railroad Radio Club in Duluth, Minnesota. The photos of the trains and the ham radio station onboard the trains was worth a million bucks to my grandson who is a young railfan with a serious thing for trains.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

This is going to be a “no radio weekend” as there is simply too much going on around here to spend time in the shack.

That contact with Hawaii via FT8 last weekend finally appeared in LoTW which completed my quest for Digital - Worked All States and I’ve already completed the application for that.

Now I just need Wyoming for the WAS via FT8 endorsement.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The new handbook arrived today - with the new name badge bonus.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

My desktop computer is a 21.5-inch, 2011 iMac and though it continues to chug along without complaint, it’s useful life is growing short. I’ve had some crazy notions about replacing it with a new Windows desktop since its primarily used in the shack. I held off on doing that because of my long association with the Mac and I simply couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger, so I waited.

And now I’m glad that I did. The decision to migrate to FlexRadio affords me some flexibility in the choice of an OS. Not only that, but I’ve had plenty of time to consider how much value I place on a desktop machine versus a laptop. Previously I just assumed I would replace the old iMac with a new iMac and a 27-inch model to boot.

Given that my new FlexRadio 6400 is headless and will be installed in a closet, my desktop suddenly has a lot more space, why would I fill it with an enormous machine/monitor?

Since I’ll be carrying my ham shack with me wherever I roam, either in the form of the Maestro or a computer of some sort, I decided to replace the “shack” desktop with a new laptop.

I purchased a MacBook Pro. It’s a 13-inch model that’s a good-looking space gray and wonderfully made. This will replace my iMac and serve as one part of my portable ham radio station. It’s running the latest version of OSX and seems to handle the simple tasks I’ve thrown at it with ease. It’s taken some time to migrate my logbook and LoTW certificates to the new machine but those chores are complete and now it’s time to decommission the iMac.

And while the new MacBook Pro is a powerful machine, I’ll just have to get over the fact that the A11 chip in my new iPhone 8 has a faster processor than my laptop. My how times have changed.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

I’ve been blogging here for ages but about a year ago I made a significant change in the format. Looking for something easier to maintain, I deployed a static site generator. No more databases, comment moderation, or constant security updates to install. It’s just plain text formatted in Markdown and then streamed thru a processor that arranges the files into folders and adds custom formatting.

The front page incorporates the last thirty postings. Older posts scroll off the front page but remain in the archive. You can link to any of them by clicking on a post title which reveals the permalink URL.

The date of the post is generally the title of the post. That might seem counter-intuitive but these daily posts aren’t like typical blogs where one post equals one topic. I often blend several topics into a single post and this seems a handy way to label that without adding confusion.

A full RSS feed is available and great pains have been taken to make the site mobile friendly.

The content is mostly a chronicle of my adventures in amateur radio, a hobby that has captivated my attention for more than forty years. But I’m not dogmatic about it. Unrelated topics show up here from time to time. Get over it. I’m unimpressed by those who proudly proclaim that their blog or Twitter feed is “one hundred percent about ham radio and nothing else”.

These reveal nothing interesting about the author and are usually boring as toast.

You will note the absence of that wall of advertisements that attends some ham radio blogs. I’ve got nothing to sell and am fortunate enough to afford the ten dollars a month it costs to lease this server.

Having said that, I do occasionally review a book or make recommendations about something purchased from Amazon. When I do, I sometimes include an affiliate link which, if clicked and you make a purchase, presents no additional cost to you but provides me with a token commission.

I use Google Analytics to generate statistics so whatever extra jumbo mumbo jumbo Google uses to make that happen could rub off when you visit. I suppose the Amazon affiliate links might as well. I tell you that as a disclosure. I don’t personally collect any data from site visitors.

That’s about it. I hope you find some reason to subscribe to the RSS feed or visit the site from time to time. Comments aren’t supported but you can always email me. Or we could just meet on the air - like real hams.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Carl Smith, N4AA, editor of QRZ DX and The DX Magazine, is in the hospital recovering from a bad fall nearly three weeks ago in his home. Nothing was broken, but he was heavily bruised. Carl has temporarily suspended his publications.

Monday, October 2, 2017

There’s no reason to believe this horrible year is going to get any better…

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Happy October!

I showed up at the appointed hour for the Peanut Powered Sprint yesterday as mentioned and never heard a soul. Then I realized the event wasn’t yesterday, it’s today, and that explained the silence…

I did work Hawaii via FT8 this morning on 40 meters. Fingers crossed that the guy uploads that confirmation to LoTW. That would complete my quest for WAS Digital and leave me just one short of Worked All States via FT8.

Whenever I confirm those, I’ll very likely set the new mode aside. As the crowds have shown up for the big party the LID’s followed and the new mode seems to be descending into anarchy. Some of the bad behavior can be blamed on this being such a new mode and everyone is trying to figure some angle for how to best make use of it but a lot of it is just inconsiderate operators, as usual.

But frankly, I’ve changed my mind about this mode being ideal for use by the big DXpeditions. I see no way for it to be successfully implemented in any fashion without provoking total chaos. I hope I’m wrong about that, but if you’re taking bets, bet on bedlam for FT8 from Bouvet Island.

Hey, and since it’s October, I’m back on Twitter. I’ve been taking a break during the month of September for the last few years and enjoy the break. I cheated a little this time around and tweeted a few photos but mostly just enjoyed the break.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Absolutely stunning last day of September in the Heartland. We drove a few miles out of town on a gravel road on our way to a local apple orchard where we’ve traded for many years. Picked up a few gallons of fresh apple cider and a big bag of apples.

Was exploring 40 meters before the sun was up again this morning and once again, managed to work a few VK’s and ZL2LI using FT8.

After we visited the orchard I spent another hour in the shack and had a nice ragchew with Richard, VE3JEV who was in London, Ontario on 40M phone.

Later this afternoon I hope to make at least a few contacts in the Peanut Powered QRP Sprint. I’ll be using Peanut number 280 - hope to hear you in the fray.

Hey, one more QRP note for the un-dead. Paul, NA5N has announced the details for the upcoming Zombie Shuffle:

THE ZOMBIE SHUFFLE is an annual event for QRPers to get on the air, have some fun, and rack up a really big score in spite of what your CW or operating skills may be. It is held near Halloween and to avoid the CQ World Wide and ARRL Sweepstakes contests. The Zombie Shuffle is administered strictly through the QRP-L mailing list.

Friday, September 29, 2017

I’d have to check the log to be certain, but I believe this is my seventh consecutive weekend where I worked at least one VK. Most of those have been via FT8 though a few weekends ago I managed to work several Australian and one station in New Zealand using CW. The 40-meter austral path remains a bright spot in my recent HF adventures.

The cold front that’s been pushing thru the Midwest arrived here yesterday. It’s 44F as I write this, too chilly to have all the windows open at this hour of the day but this dry, cool weather will finally let us get on with enjoying Autumn.

Can’t get enough cool weather or pumpkin spice this time of year.

Parsing all the ham radio news for the next edition of my weekly letter has been tougher than usual as its been dominated with hurricane recovery efforts. Amateur radio certainly is proving its worth as it so often does in these situations, but I believe down the road a few months when we reflect on 2017, ham radio’s response to the hurricanes will be our most shining moment.

Look No Further Than the Waterfall

I’ve spent most of the last five decades pounding brass. Starting as a Novice with CW-only HF privileges and equipment. My station has always been modest and I learned long ago the benefits of CW for the unassuming. 100 watts and a wire. That’s me. But I’ve enjoyed enough success with that combination that I’ve yet to meet a pile-up I didn’t think I could bust.

Then a few months ago ham radio was gifted with another new digital mode and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. My digital HF resume is downright embarrassing. I’ve made a handful of RTTY contacts in 40 years. Then when PSK31 became a “thing” I jumped on that bandwagon for about 30 minutes and four contacts before deciding it wasn’t for me.

But this FT8 thing has captivated me and I’ve logged nearly a thousand contacts with it in just a few months and it’s been an eye-opener. I simply didn’t know, and had no reason to assume that the digital HF segment of the hobby had grown so large.

I’m flat-out stunned by the number of hams engaged in this facet of our hobby.

While I have no data to back this up, it’s not much of a stretch to proclaim that there’s considerably more activity on the HF digital modes than can be found on CW. It wouldn’t even be a fair comparison if it weren’t for contesting.

And I’ve discovered a couple other things…

While working FT8, I keep a Web browser open so I can visit the QRZ pages of stations I work. A high percentage of these are younger than average operators and many of them also happen to be relative newcomers to hobby radio. While a lot of them cite antenna restrictions as an obstacle - this has been mitigated by the use of weak signal digital modes.

In fact, one evening I worked three stations who were using the HF mobile antenna on their automobile while it was parked in their driveway. Their bios detailed how they come home from work, park outside the garage door, and run a cable from the antenna on their car to inside their house so they can enjoy amateur radio too.

If you’re looking for a place where the younger, newer, smarter, more motivated, and more active ham radio enthusiasts are hanging out these days, look no further than the waterfall.

September 16, 2017

I have been curious about FlexRadio offerings since they entered the market. Early reviews of their hardware were very good and you could just tell that they were on to something. My own reticence about jumping onboard in those early days was based on my preference for a different operating system. Having to fight with Windows and its multitude of software updates and out of date drivers simply wasn’t my idea of hobby fun.

But when the evolution of the Flex hardware reached the point where the computing part of the radio was removed from the end-user, I went from curiosity to real interest. Still, it was a significant platform change and I wasn’t willing to abandon one ship to leap onto another.

And then came the latest 6000 Signature Series providing an option to make the transceiver a server while opening up the user interface to other devices like a Maestro, PC, Mac, or iOS device. Realizing that this sort of operability is available in a format that permits users to put the hardware in a closet (so to speak) while accessing that hardware via Ethernet was a real inflection point in my thinking about FlexRadio.

I reserved a Flex-6400 this week. Though it won’t be available until early 2018, I’m excited about this new future and am making plans for integrating this platform into my ongoing amateur radio adventure. Some will take place on an iPad from the road while others will be enjoyed with a Maestro sitting in my own backyard…

September 15, 2017

My wife and I plan to attend the Bloomington (Indiana) Hamfest next Saturday.

It’s a 2.5-hour drive from my house so normally we could just drive down and back in one day. But there’s no fun in that. And we noticed that on Friday night, in the same venue, the local club is sponsoring a fox hunt followed by a spaghetti dinner with live country music with the proceeds going to their “Helping Ham Fund”.

So, what the heck, we’re going down on Friday to partake in these festivities before the fest on Saturday morning. Trying to find lodging was tougher than I imagined. Almost every room in Bloomington is sold-out and what wasn’t was going for $300+ a night.

The room scarcity isn’t related to the hamfest – Bloomington is home to Indiana University which is hosting a football game on Saturday afternoon. I found a room 20 miles south for $200, more than I wanted to spend but I booked it.

Life’s too short to be a party pooper. See you there?

September 14, 2017

Do you plan to stay up late or wake up early to order the new iPhone?

I’ll be up at 3am EDT but I’m not ordering a phone, I want the Apple Watch 3 with GPS and cellular. I’ve owned a first generation Apple Watch since it became available and while I’m happy enough with it, the addition of cellular makes this something I can’t pass on.

Wish me luck. I’ll be bleary-eyed and fighting the queue just for the hope of placing an order in the middle of the night. If I succeed, the new Watch should arrive next Friday and then the fun begins, Dick Tracy style.

September 13, 2017

I noticed QRP-ARCI unfollowed everyone on their Twitter account recently. I’m not sure it matters. They never made good use of Twitter and the club seems locked in a death spiral.

Low-power activities are no less popular today than they were a decade ago, but the organization has failed to attract new blood and now is failing to thrive.

My subscription to the always excellent QRP QUARTERLY magazine is set to expire in January 2019 but I’ll be surprised if it’s still being published then.

September 12, 2017

CALLING CQ - Issue 105 is now available for viewing online. I make it available in this format because Yahoo Mail users are unable to receive these letters via email - it’s marked as spam by Yahoo. If you don’t use Yahoo Mail, sign up for a free subscription and I’ll drop the latest issue into your inbox each week.

September 11, 2017

Today is the anniversary observance of the most deadly terror attack on U.S. soil, when two hijacked planes were flown into the Twin Towers and caused their collapse. Two other planes were hijacked — one flown into the Pentagon near Washington D.C. and another crashed into a Pennsylvania field. Family members will again recite the names of 2,983 people, including those who died at the three sites, and in the World Trade Center bombing in 1993.

September 10, 2017

With Hurricane Irma approaching Florida, the Hurricane Watch Net is activated. In addition, SATERN has OUTBOUND Health and Welfare Nets activated.

Emergency Frequencies

  • Hurricane Watch Net 14.325.00 MHz, 7.268.00 MHz
  • SATERN 14.265 MHz, 7.262 MHz
  • 60 Meters may be in use for FEMA communications

September 9, 2017

A fellow can only watch just so many hours of hurricane news coverage in one week so after dinner last evening I retired to the shack. Having been away from home a few days, I fired up the laptop and went looking for something new. There were plenty of signals in the waterfall on 40 meters, but very little DX.

Calling a few stations in North America, I got nothing in return. This seemed unusual and continued long enough that I decided something must be wrong and I started checking settings. I couldn’t find anything obvious. The audio and USB connections all looked proper and the transmitter was certainly working. Then I noticed something odd, many of the stations who I had called appeared to have a time problem.

Surely it wasn’t everyone, maybe it was me?

A Wrinkle in Time

FT8 is particularly sensitive to the time. Your computer clock has to be within about one second of the actual time or it just won’t work. That’s why the WSJT-X docs recommend using a program or some other resource for regularly updating and maintaining your PC time.

I use a Windows 10 laptop for FT8. When I’m not using it, I turn it off and sometimes that can be for several days at a stretch. I expect it’s clock to be off a little every time I turn it on and so as a matter of practice, the first thing I do when I boot it up is to go into settings and request a time update.

I did that first thing last night but after seeing so many time discrepancies I did it again. And then a few times more for good measure. I started and stopped the program a few times too, just to be certain it was registering the updated time setting. But all of the stations I tried to call seemed to be out of sync with me and eventually, I gave up and went to bed.

That was the first time I’ve ever been skunked trying to make an FT8 contact.

What a Difference a Day Makes

This morning I was up long before dawn and back in the shack and once again, I set the clock on the laptop and listened to 40 meters. The band was dead. Same for 30 and 20 meters but 80 meters seemed to be buzzing and almost all of the stations copied appeared to have their time set correctly. First CQ I replied to I worked. Then another and another.

Now this is the way it’s supposed to work!

I logged twenty contacts before stopping for another cup of coffee and to jot down this entry before the sun comes up. Though I’ve devoted most of my on-air time to FT8 these last few months, I’m certainly no HF digital expert and have no explanation for this.

Is it possible that a dozen or more stations were out of time-sync last night or was it me?

September 8, 2017

U.S. Highway 66 was established in 1926, and was the first major improvement to link the west coast with the heartland. Through stories, songs and TV shows, the highway came to symbolize the spirit of the freedom of the open road, inspiring many to see America. The demise of Route 66 began in the 1950’s as the U.S. began the interstate highway system, and the highway was officially decommissioned in 1986. Today, small portions of the U.S. Highway 66 still exist in towns and rural areas in several states.

The Citrus Belt Amateur Radio Club of San Bernardino, California will host the 18th annual Route 66 On The Air special event, September 9-17. The event offers radio amateurs a chance to perhaps relive their own Route 66 memories and to celebrate the famed highway’s 91st anniversary. There will be 21 stations – two of them “rovers” – operating in or around the major cities along Route 66 from Santa Monica, California, to Chicago, Illinois.

Radio amateurs who operate while driving on Route 66 may take part in the event by using the designations “mobile 66” or “/66” after their call signs.

Each participating club will issue its own commemorative QSL card to celebrate this event. Certificates are also available. Visit the event Web site for complete details including frequencies and modes to look for. 

Be sure to get your kicks, on Route 66.

September 7, 2017

Got your Peanut Power number yet?

You should request one soon if you plan to operate in the 2017 Peanut Powered QRP Sprint that’s sponsored by the North Georgia QRP Club.

The event takes place on Sunday, October 1st from 2200 to 2400 UTC and the objective is to work as many Peanut Power numbers as possible on 40, 20, and 15 meters using SSB and CW. Points per QSO are awarded based on the kind of Peanut worked (Goober, Salted, Boiled, Roasted, and Raw) and that’s based on power used and location (home vs. portable).

It’s all explained in the rules PDF that can be downloaded here.

I’ve already got my number – 280. Look for me to run the sprint as a Roasted Peanut!

September 6, 2017

Amateur Radio Preparations Ramp Up as Irma Strengthens to Category 5

Hurricane Irma, making its way through the Caribbean with the possibility of affecting South Florida by week’s end, has, in the words of the National Hurricane Center (NHC), become “an extremely dangerous category 5 hurricane.” The NHC urged that hurricane preparations be rushed to completion in areas now under hurricane warnings.

September 5, 2017

Those who can, do. Those who can’t usually just say “that’s not real radio”.