Recently on Google+

I don’t have a Facebook account but I’m quite active on Google Plus. Here’s a look at my public posts made during the last week or so. If you have an account, please circle me and let’s stay in touch.

If you prefer to keep your distance from “The Google“, you can follow my public posts via this RSS feed.

April Showers

My zest for all things HF generally begins to ebb about this time of the season. In my head, HF is something to be practiced when the weather turns nasty cold and it’s more agreeable to stay indoors rather than out. But when April showers begin to turn to May flowers and the windows are open more than closed, I’m inclined to spend what precious free time I can manage outside — away from the shack.

Knowing my radio reaction to the change in seasons, I’ve planned a few things to try and keep radio on the front burner, without the need to stay indoors. Someday, I might take HF gear to the field. That’s what I like to think and sometimes say out loud, though I do it rarely. The hassle of setup and takedown of gear, portable power and antenna make it less attractive to me than I wish it would be, though I know plenty of folks who live for that opportunity.

I’ve already made some headway in the quest to return to satellite operation. Many years ago I built a world-class ground station that permitted me to enjoy long QSO’s on AO-13 and digital operation on several of the PacSats. Those days are long gone of course and now if you want to work the FM LEO birds, you mostly have to buy a 30 year-old handheld transceiver and an Arrow antenna.

I’ve done that many times and honestly, it’s mostly downhill after you work a hundred others who are usually also standing in their backyard manually pointing a small Yagi at an invisible, seemingly imaginary moving point along the horizon while rapid fire exchanging call signs and grid squares.

Still, I haven’t done that lately so I’m making plans to reprise that role.

Of greater interest to me is the FunCube Dongle Pro+ that I obtained some months ago. I’m interested in using it to download telemetry data from the FunCube satellite on a regular basis using a Raspberry Pi. It’s purely SWL action unless you add some sort of transmitter to the mix, something that I’m not terribly interested in doing. Believe it or not, there’s much joy to be found spelunking through piles of data on the general health of these little satellites. It’s a hobby all unto itself — and one that doesn’t even require a radio license to practice.

I also plan to install a VHF/UHF mobile transceiver in my car. For these last ten years I’ve told myself that there’s no traffic on the local repeaters anymore so there’s no point in investing in a mobile installation. I think that questionable notion has cheated me out of many opportunities to get to know the local fellows better and I regret it.

My IRLP node (4212) deserves some attention too. After twelve years of operation as a low-powered UHF neighborhood node, I plan to install an improved antenna with new feed line and replace some of the hardware in an effort to make my node usable all over town.

That’s probably enough to keep me busy and out of trouble, at least until Dayton after which I’ll reconnoiter and make the necessary adjustments to make reasonable use of my time, without turning on the HF gear.

ThumbDV Gets More Interesting

recent post on the NW Digital Radio blog suggests that the audio quality from their ThumbDV could be an improvement over that of the DV-Dongle. This, according to the post, is due improvements in the new AMBE-3000 vovoder. The older DV-Dongle is built on the AMBE-2020 vocoder. The evidence seems anecdotal at this point, however, an application engineer at DVSI suggested that improvements in the AMBE +2 technology “provide superior voice quality in some circumstances”.

I find this interesting because while D-STAR feels like a “new” thing, it’s actually aging quickly and I’ve often wondered how the hardware built on first-generation technology would hold up — and how it might be upgraded. Or not. In my opinion, the ability to upgrade the vocoder chip makes the modular design concept of the Universal Digital Radio look head and shoulders above the current crowd.

Full disclosure: I just ordered a ThumbDV this afternoon and plan to use it with a Raspberry Pi.

RIP: HF DXing

Reports from the E30FB operation, The Eritrea Project, on the impact of a recent major X-class solar flare that completely blacked out HF communications for a brief period. Such bad luck to experience during a costly expedition to the 20th most wanted entity on the big DX list.

But space weather presents only a minor challenge to the operation. According to the team:

“Our main challenge continues to be out-of-turn calling and poor ham spirit on the bands”. “Our QSO rates could improve, if everyone would listen and follow the DX Code of Conduct.”

Again and again these exotic operations are being challenged by childish behavior of DX chasers everywhere. This on the heels of the nonsense that took place during activities from EP6T and K1N. We’ve never seen DX team leaders imploring DX chasing hams to straighten up and fly right as much as we’ve seen over just the last twelve months – and it’s not getting better.

Pleadings from those who go fall on deaf ears. Code’s and solemn oaths to play nice are useless. The virus of DX insanity has so overwhelmed the host that there’s nothing left but to wait for death.

It’s time to find another interesting facet of this hobby and quietly move along.

RIP: HF DXing. We had a good run.

Shave and a Haircut

I received an email from Harry’s yesterday, informing me that one of my favorite enterprises is celebrating its second birthday.

Harry’s is the place that bought an ages old razor blade factory in Germany and now ships razors and other shaving supplies direct to your door. No middle man, nothing fancy, just a high quality shave for less than I had been spending on those cheesy plastic disposable razors. I reviewed the service last year when I began using it, and now these many months later I’m still a happy customer.

And no, they don’t pay me to say that. I just like to share good things with my friends when I find them.

Now when it comes to haircuts, I haven’t been to a barber shop in a long, long time. Despite that, I’ve mostly managed to remain groomed thanks to a fifty dollar home haircut kit and the services of my wife. It helps that my grooming needs are simple — a few runs over my aging noodle with a number 2 guard is about all it takes.

We’ve got the process down to ten minutes. Flat. No commute, no waiting, quick cleanup. And no real cost incurred. There’s no telling how much I have saved thru the years but it must be substantial. It’s as close to perfect as you can get.

Except, I do miss the barber shop experience. Waiting my turn was an opportunity to chew the fat with the barber and the other old dudes waiting their turn. If the conversation goes slack, there’s always a stack of hunting and fishing magazines to pour over. How else would I learn about the best lures to attract largemouth bass — or what shot is best for taking ducks?

The problem wasn’t the cost, it’s that my barber got old and his shop is now only open a couple days a week, and only a few hours a day. His schedule and mine just don’t line up anymore. And what’s more, barber shops are dying. There’s only a few left in my hometown, though there are more than a hundred hair salons.

And that’s too bad because radio telegraphers do not make appointments to get their haircut and they do not get their haircut in a salon.

We pound the “shave and a haircut” jingle with brass, but we don’t do salons.

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