Weekend Update

Now this is the way it’s supposed to be. I dropped the XYL off at work a few minutes ago and am sipping a steaming brew at Starbucks as I assemble these few words to share with you. Today is my first regular “working” day spent at home in a long, long time and I’m hoping it’s the first day of a month or two hiatus from work.

But before we get to this week, I need to wrap up the last one.

Work ended as planned and as scheduled on Friday afternoon and I started for home. With that one stop at R&L Electronics to pick up a couple of Hamvention tickets. It’s a five dollar savings per ticket versus buying them at Hara Arena. I arrived home at 5pm that evening, with 90 minutes to spare before we needed to be in Farmland, Indiana.

Farmland is a cozy community about 13 miles east of town. It’s primary claim to fame comes from the fact that Ansel Toney, the kite man hailed from there. We like it because it’s a friendly, small farming town that schedules events every other Friday evening at the community center. On Friday evening, it was sloppy joe’s, baked beans, cole slaw and lemonade — along with live entertainment — folk and bluegrass music.

band

I’ll be back there in a few weeks to listen to Robert Pursley, a lieutenant general in the United States Air Force who served as commander of U.S. Forces Japan and Fifth Air Force, with headquarters at Fuchu Air Station, Japan. As commander of U.S. Forces Japan, he was the senior U.S. military representative in Japan. As commander of Fifth Air Force, he was responsible for the conduct of U.S. air operations in Japan and the Republic of Korea.

On Saturday morning I intended to make a 60 mile run up the road to the North Central Indiana Hamfest in Peru. But the schedule was tight, I needed to be back in town by noon for a meeting with the ECI-QRP group in Muncie. I ended up skipping the hamfest but I did make the QRP club meeting, always a good time. I think there were 12-15 in attendance including Richard Meiss, WB9LPU and he always brings interesting bugs and keys brewed in his shop.

After the meeting, the sun was shining and the temperature was climbing and we couldn’t pass on that opportunity to spend four hours working in the yard. Winter clean-up, first mowing of the season, application of the Spring weed and feed. It was nice to be working outdoors again in such good conditions but we may have overdone it a bit. My head is still smarting from sunburn.

Fed, showered and in need of some rest, I plopped down in the shack and spent a couple hours doing the search and pounce thing in the Michigan QSO Party. I mixed up phone and CW, all on 40 meters, for 35 contacts that was good for 1,400 points and finally pulled the plug and called it a long day.

Kudos to the operators in Michigan. The event was great fun and friendly — a dynamite combination!

Sunday was a rain day. It rained gently from the time I woke up until the time I went to bed. I read that we received over an inch of precipitation yesterday, and it was nice. Unable to do anything outdoors, I made a few contacts on 20 meter phone in the North Dakota QSO Party. I would like to have spent more time chasing ND stations but then came the thunder and I thought it best to unplug the antenna and shutdown the shack.

With nothing left to do but nap, I put the finishing touches on CALLING CQ, the letter for active radio enthusiasts that I publish (almost) weekly. This one was special, the fifty-second edition. With one entire year of personal letter publishing under my belt, I like to think it is evolving into a more useful publication today than it was the the day it was launched.

I’ve learned few things about letter writing along the way, but I’ll save that for tomorrow.

The End

A little over fourteen months ago, I accepted an out of town assignment with my largest client that was supposed to last for six months. The project was based in Cincinnati, just 110 miles from where I live. That meant driving over every Monday morning, staying in a hotel during the week, then driving home again on Friday night.

This project has finally reached its conclusion and I’m done. This morning I received my final hotel wake-up call and in a few short hours, will be headed home for at least a month of down time. I have no roadmap for what I’m going to do while on hiatus but it’s a near certainty that I won’t be dining in a restaurant for as long as I can get away with it.

And given my long absence, the list of chores at home has become embarrassingly long — I doubt I will get bored.

Oh, and there’s that BIG weekend in Dayton coming up in a few weeks. It’s handy that R&L Electronics is just north of Cincinnati in Hamilton, Ohio so I can stop there on the way home to pick up tickets for Hamvention.

Today marks the end of one adventure; tomorrow the beginning of another.

No Kids, No Lids, No Kids

If on-air chatter, hamfest chit-chat, forum and blog postings are a reliable measure, then a large number of radio amateurs live in constant fear of the death of the hobby. This of course flies in the face of actual data — which shows the number of licensees in the US are at an all-time high.

But for sake of conversation, and another five hundred words over the transom, let’s ignore facts and dive into the notion that ham radio is facing imminent death. After all, life is going along fairly well here on Earth at the moment, but for all we know, a massive rock could be headed this way intent on occupying the same space as our rock — an impossibility that nature will correct with sudden destruction.

From what I’ve been able to gather, one of the most pervasive arguments for our demise is our inability to attract children to our game of radio. Apparently, a large number of our fraternity are convinced that the future of our enterprise is dependent on the inclusion of a significant number of pre-pubescent hominids.

I smell what they’re shoveling, but I disagree.

Not that I’m against young people getting involved in our hobby, I’m not, I simply don’t believe their involvement is a requirement for our continued success. I was licensed as a teen nearly forty years ago and was considered somewhat unique at local ham club events because I was the youngest ham there — by at least twenty five years — and that was 1977.

Apparently, we couldn’t attract many youngsters forty years ago either.

Dig into this a little and you will discover that the quest for this magical “fountain of youths” has been ongoing for decades and yet we seem no closer to its discovery today despite the fact that ham radio has been growing like a weed — sans the kids — for decades.

This meme is faulty, the product of unimaginative thinking. “I believe that children are our future” — that sort of tired, simplistic rhetoric. The bio pages on QRZ are testament to the tens of thousands of hams who got interested in this hobby early in life, then had no time for it in subsequent decades. Only after marriage, family and career were well underway was there enough free time to consider a return to amateur radio.

And while visiting those QRZ bios, take a good look at the accompanying photos. Most of us are overweight, out of shape, and dealing with complications from Type 2 diabetes. Do we really want to encourage children to follow our footsteps into such a sedentary lifetime hobby?

Besides, crafting a one-size fits all solution to our perceived problems, “we need more young people”,  undermines the notion that one of us whose not a teenager might revolutionize amateur radio and alter the course of the hobby. You know, like Hiram P. Maxim, who didn’t get started in radio until after his 40th birthday —  and was so old by then as to be useless…

Lesson in Contrast

Was up early today, as usual for a Sunday. I fed the dog and cat and the coffee was done brewing about the time the dog came back in the house. While they settled down for a couple more hours of shut eye, I walked to the shack with a steaming cup in my hand. I fired up the Eagle more out of habit than anything else. I’ve been on something of a hiatus from HF these last few weeks — my own prescription for avoiding burnout.

Before I gave it any thought, I was slowly tuning across a 40 meter band that wasn’t in great shape, but was full of signals. I stopped to listen to a few of the SKCC boys working their weekend sprint and kept working my way up into the phone portion of the band. There was all the usual clam chowder but I stopped when I encountered a small group discussing how boring amateur radio conversations had become.

And this went on for more than twenty minutes. It was, the most boring conversation I’ve ever heard, and ironically, it was a boring conversation about boring conversations! Obviously what’s boring to me might not be boring to someone else so I suppose it’s subjective. But allow me to offer another look…

This afternoon Brenda and I were taking advantage of the sun and 60 degree temperatures to do some after winter clean-up in the backyard. I carried my handheld FM transceiver along and was using it to monitor my IRLP node (4212) that I had connected to the WIN System, a wide area FM repeater system along the west coast.

It’s a big system and there’s always a lot of chatter and today was no different. As we worked we eavesdropped on several conversations. One of them, included a fellow who is a pilot. He had spent the weekend shuttling dogs from high-risk shelters to adoption centers around the region. His volunteer work was for a San Bernadino organization called Wings of Rescue. Over the entire weekend, he shuttled over 400 dogs.

We were fascinated by the conversation and others on the system were lining up to ask questions or to offer congratulations for a job well done.

It was all that, and more. It was a lesson in contrast.

FM – no static at all

Somewhere back in my long ago, I spent considerable time on VHF FM simplex. Often chatting with a local group of friends though the occasional interloper would occasionally cast their lot with us. Without doubt I’ve enjoyed more hours in casual conversation on FM simplex than I have on any other band or mode, including the high frequencies. And yet, I haven’t even listened to FM simplex in two decades or more.

So why did I quit hanging out on FM?

Best excuse I can come up with is that I’m a product of 20th century incentive licensing. When I entered the hobby the way it was supposed to work was you got your Novice license and played around a little on HF CW. Then as soon as you could upgrade to Technician, you bought a handy-scratchy and started hanging out on FM and got to know the locals via repeater. The bump to General and above was the ‘open sesame’ to HF DX and what every real ham lusted after — HF phone privileges.

That experience caused me to assume that FM and repeaters were set aside for those who couldn’t pass a Morse test — training wheels for radio amateurs. Or something like that. At least that’s what got stuck in my head. Once I moved to General, Advanced, and eventually Extra class (yes, I’ve had them all) I never looked back at FM operation.

Then somewhere along that line, things changed. FM got linked via the Internet and before long repeater systems in California were connected to other systems in places like Australia and DX became a more complex concept to define. Not long ago, some FM operation began to be replaced by digital voice and the lines were blurred even more.

Is it really radio if I use a one-watt UHF handheld transceiver to enjoy a conversation with someone in South Africa? You can go all Taliban about it and loudly proclaim that only HF is real radio — but that means diddly squat to those whose intent is the enjoyment of casual conversation via radio.

It would be easy enough to put a Ringo Ranger back on the roof, hook up an old VHF transceiver that’s been loitering in the garage for ages, plop it on 146.52 mHz and wait for the action. But from what I’m told, that territory has become something of a barren wasteland in these parts. Probably for the reasons enumerated above.

A directional antenna with a three hundred watt afterburner would embiggen the simplex circle and provide a better approach. Have added the necessary new items to the Dayton shopping list — I’m getting back to FM – no static at all.

Shouting at the Sun

During one of many Atlantic crossings made by Marconi in 1902, the wireless on the ship he was aboard made contact with the main station at Poldhu at varying distances during the voyage, each a new record.

The final transmission at 2,099 statute miles from “home” seemed to prove to the world that this thing called “wireless” was a real and disruptive force that would soon blanket the earth and all the ships at sea.

But there was this tidbit from the pages of Thunderstruck by Erik Larson:

The voyage had brought forth a troubling revelation, which Marconi for now kept secret. He had discovered that during daylight hours, once the ship was more than 700 miles out, it received no signals at all, although reception resumed after dark. He called this “the daylight effect”. It seemed, he said, that “clear sunlight and blue skies, though transparent, act as a kind of fog to powerful Hertzian rays.”

A couple of months later, still mystified and frustrated by the effect, Marconi was less judicious in his choice of words. “Damn the sun!” he shouted. “How long will it torment us?”

Yeah. We know that feeling very well…

AMSAT to Update Satellite Book

AMSAT is in the process of updating the seminal book, “Getting Started With Amateur Satellites”, originally written by Gould Smith, WA4SXM. The update is long overdue and will reflect the realities of 21st century amateur satellite operation.

Topics covered include tracking software, orbital mechanics, antennas, radios, Doppler tuning, and operating techniques.

The work goes beyond the brief descriptions provided on most printed handouts and will provide a complete reference for new satellite operators to assemble and operate a ground station. A companion Fox-1A reference sheet is also being planned for release at Dayton. This will be made available for AMSAT’s FieldOps team for distribution at hamfests and satellite operating demonstrations.

Watch for the 2015 “Getting Started With Amateur Satellites” book and reference sheet at the AMSAT booth at the Dayton Hamvention. The publication will also be available online in the AMSAT Store shortly after the Dayton experience.

via AMSAT News Service