Good Day on 20

Saturday arrived with cold rain and a stiff enough breeze to make it fairly miserable outside. That presented no real problem, it was one of those lazy days where you appreciate staying inside. Sometime in the afternoon I switched to 20 meters and was reminded of the Florida QSO Party when I heard folks calling.

I enjoy the State QSO Party’s, I’m just not serious about them. It’s typical for me to jump in, make a dozen contacts, and jump right back out.

And that’s precisely how this one went. I was in for about an hour, made two phone contacts and 18 CW contacts, all on 20 meters and called it quits. The band was very quiet with signals popping out of the noise floor. I tuned a bit more before tuning across KM1CC – the Marconi Cape Cod Radio club station celebrating, International Marconi Day.

I’ll probably send for their card.

I was out of the shack for a few hours after that but left the transceiver powered up. When I returned, it was getting late and I thought to shut things down and call it a day. But there was Fed, RA6AN calling CQ from Krasnodar with a great signal and we chatted for a few minutes. And the day still wasn’t quite over yet. Before pulling the big switch I got to send greetings to Laci, OM2VL in the Slovak Republic and Tom, 9A4W in Croatia.

I shuffled off to bed sometime after midnight and couldn’t help but think that it had been a good day on 20.

Dreams Can Come True

For more than a decade, amateur satellite enthusiasts have been hoping against hope for the possibility of a shared ride to high orbit. In the era before space became a big business, AMSAT organizations were able to get rides to high transfer orbits for little or nothing. Fast-forward to the 21st century and that same ride now costs upwards of $20 million — far out of the reach of radio hams. Now comes a ray of hope. Maybe. Possibly. Could be. Knock wood…

From this week’s edition of CALLING CQ (#53).

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DXpedition Lifeblood

Chesterfield TX3XAccording to Wikipedia, Chesterfield Islands is a French archipelago of New Caledonia located in the Coral Sea, 550 km northwest of Grande Terre, the main island of New Caledonia. The archipelago is 120 km long and 70 km broad, made up of 11 islets and many reefs.

Twelve amateur radio operators are planning to invade this island paradise in October using the call sign, TX3X.

Like most modern DXpeditions, keeping up with all the details is easy enough, the operation has a Web page. And big operations like this are expensive. Grants and donations are the lifeblood of any major DXpedition, and while I think we’re all aware that corporate sponsors play a big role, it can be easy to overlook just how big this might be.

Money makes the world go round, and sure, promotional photos with transceivers, amplifiers, antennas and other gear from select manufacturers is good for the sponsors. But I believe these guys really support amateur radio and DXing, beyond lip-service and promos.

I keep a close eye on these details because I prefer to do business with those whose support of the hobby goes above and beyond making a few bucks.

Like these Corporate Sponsors of the TX3X operation:

Elecraft
Elecraft founders Eric Swartz WA6HHQ and Wayne Burdick N6KR will loan the team six K3 / KPA-500 stations for the DX-pedition.

DX-Engineering
Tim Duffy K3LR and the DX-Engineering team are donating a significant inventory of necessary equipment, including coax, RF connectors, power supplies, telescoping masts, and other essential equipment.

N6BT.com
Tom Schiller founder of N6BT.com is providing his Evolution Series of vertical antennas to the project. Tom’s antennas have been used on many DX-peditions with excellent results.

MicroHAM
microHAM founder Jozef Urban OM7ZZ, and Joe Subich W4TV of microHAM USA, will loan 7 DigiKeyer II interface units. Along with our Lenovo T410 laptops and N1MM+ we’ll have a fully integrated state-of-the-art networked logging environment.

GM0OBX
Billy McFarland GM0OBX donated custom made interface cable sets for the DigiKeyer II interface units. http://www.gm0obx.co.uk/online-shop/4584969897

DX-University
We are happy to have Wayne Mills N7NG and DX-University as a corporate sponsor.

Northern California DX Foundation
In addition to their generous financial support, the NCDXF will loan us several sets of band pass filters.

Array Solutions
Jay Terleski WX0B is providing a Shared Apex Loop Antenna and offered other support, as required.

6 Meter Antenna
We thank Istvan (Pista) Kolcsey HA0DU for providing a 7 element 6 meter beam.

Straight Key Suspicions

Having become more involved with the SKCC and its many activities, I’ve spent considerable time using a straight key over the last couple of years. I still use an electronic keyer for contesting or when chasing DX, but those oppotunities don’t require much in the way of sending.

Not long after the Michigan QSO Party ended last weekend I got a call from a fellow intent on chewing the rag. Things were going okay using the keyer with solid copy on both ends but I stumbled — numerous times — while sending. I kept noticing random missing dits or dahs until I was convinced there was something wrong with the paddles.

After our QSO, I tore the key down looking for a mechanical problem that apparently didn’t exist.

That got me wondering if something could be wrong with my electronic keyer. I’ve used a Logikey K-5 for years and there’s never been another piece of equipment in my shack that I’ve been as pleased with as it. I couldn’t imagine what might have gone wrong but it had to be something. I plugged the paddles directly into the Eagle and used it’s internal keyer — assuming if the problem disappeared, the K-5 was indeed the culprit.

(I’m faithful believer in external keyers but Bob Locher, W9KNI explains why much better than I ever could).

But as it turned out, it didn’t matter. Using the internal keyer, I waded into another QSO and again, experienced random missing elements that made it tough to get into the natural flow of sending. It didn’t halt the QSO, but every now and again I would send a “V” and a “U” would come out.

Having ruled out the hardware and the electronics all that was left was the operator!

Using the K-5 as a practice oscillator, I sat down and sent Morse code to no one in particular for a solid two hours. I had the latest issue of QST magazine on the computer screen and sent all the text from several articles. It was exhausting but I noticed right away that the problem was me. My timing was off, just enough to cause my sending to be faulty.

By the end of that marathon practice session, things were sounding much better. Back on the air, I enjoyed a couple of nice QSO’s without missing a beat.

I would never have suspected operator error — I guess you’re never too old for practice. This episode makes me suspicious that extended time using a straight key has a negative impact on using paddles. At a minimum, I believe its caused my timing to be off just enough to gum up the works and at least for the moment, I’m inclined to avoid the straight key like the plague.

I’d be curious to hear from anyone who has noticed similar phenomena.

Writing a Letter

A few days ago I published the 52nd edition of CALLING CQ, my (almost) weekly letter for active ham radio enthusiasts and I didn’t want the anniversary to slip by unnoticed.

Launched as an experiment in personal publishing, mostly because home Web pages are dead, all the steam has gone out of blogging, Facebook never appealed to me, and brief missives on Twitter seem best suited for those with short attention spans.

I wanted to craft something else and eventually settled on a weekly letter, delivered via email. I know, the tech elite have declared email dead so often that it has become cliche — only it’s not dead, not by a long shot. Either that, or I’m too stubborn to admit that it’s a failed delivery medium.

CALLING CQ is my effort to collate and share an eclectic mix of things that I think will be of interest to a broad range of radio enthusiasts — with a short dose of personal commentary tossed in for good measure. I don’t cover breaking news — weekly publications can’t do up to the minute and there are plenty of excellent sources for the very latest news about amateur radio.

It’s published (almost) every week and there’s no cost to subscribe. There are no ads and I’m not paid to include links. I make a few older letters available for perusal, but I don’t maintain complete archives because I want you to subscribe and get it in your inbox every week. If you just bookmark a page, you will forget to return on a regular basis (I know).

I use Tinyletter, a service that manages subscriptions and delivery. I get certain stats from them that inform me that our little rebel alliance is doing very well and continues to grow. It’s been gratifying to learn that well over 70 percent of all letters sent are opened and receive attention (link clicks) from readers. That level of engagement is off the charts wicked good for an email delivered periodical and I don’t take that for granted — my readers are the cream of the crop in amateur radio.

Now, enough with the applesauce — on to the NEXT year of personal publishing and CALLING CQ!

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.