Tuesday, January 15, 2019

I recently read this article describing a group of personal computing enthusiasts who are learning about the Ubuntu distribution of Linux. What caught my eye was that this effort is part of an Older Persons Commission. In other words, it’s a group of senior citizens getting together to further their own education and interest in a technical hobby.

You aren’t likely to see much of this sort of thing in amateur radio in the United States. Even though we are a rather large collection of senior citizens ourselves, we apparently like to pretend otherwise.

Especially when it comes to the ARRL. Even suggesting that ham radio is a wonderful hobby for retired persons is anathema to their way of thinking. They would much prefer to show you an eight-year-old making a satellite contact on the cover of QST magazine, as though that were typical, than to even hint that there are “old” people involved with amateur radio.

While I’m an ardent supporter of the League, I consider it gross malfeasance that they don’t run recurring advertisements in AARP publications promoting amateur radio. Especially considering it’s actually possible to convince 100,000 senior citizens to give ham radio a try while it’s nearly impossible to attract even 1,000 young people.

You can take the blue pill (most hams do) and pretend that there’s some secret formula just waiting to be discovered that will cause young people to suddenly flock to amateur radio, but we both know that’s bullshit.

The ranks of ham radio are filled with incredibly smart people, none of whom have been able to discover the fountain of youth – because it doesn’t exist.

We need a lot more retirees, quick!

Monday, January 14, 2019

The weekend weather played out exactly as predicted. One of those rare times the weather forecast was spot on. We got six inches of snow on Saturday and the temperatures hung right around 27F. It took me an hour or so to dig the cars out and clear the driveway on Sunday morning.

What didn’t go as planned was the radio activity. I intended to spend several hours in the NAQP CW contest but when face-to-face with it, I declined to jump in. The bands weren’t too bad, I just didn’t feel like going thru the motions simply to pad the log.

One granddaughter stayed with us on Friday and another spent Saturday night, so we were busy and well entertained. Even so, I managed a little time in the SKCC WES and added a couple more K3Y band slots. In all I think I logged just 13-14 contacts this weekend. Not the level of productivity imagined but that’s okay, life doesn’t run per a script and I enjoyed it nevertheless.

Here we are less than halfway thru January and I’m done with the K3Y event. I enjoy this annual challenge and usually work it to the very end but there isn’t much chance I’m going to work the DX regions I still need and all I’m doing at this point is loading the domestic band slots.

I’m more intent on achieving Tx7 but seem to be stuck at 340 unique contacts. 350 is required for that level and try as I might, I haven’t been able to find 10 more T’s and S’s that I haven’t already worked. To be fair my approach has been terribly casual. I just work everyone I hear calling and see where the numbers shake out. And best I can tell, that turns out to be 340…

The extended weather forecast now shows another big snowstorm set to arrive here this coming Saturday. 8-12 inches more snow with this one. They were right last weekend, it will be interesting to see how they do with this one.

That much snow would be a doozy.

Friday, January 11, 2019

The big news here continues to be the weather where the forecast models now show even more snow than was originally predicted. It’s gone from 2-4 inches to 3-5 inches and the latest that suggests some areas around here may get more than six inches of the white stuff.

That timing works out well given that this weekend in the NAQP CW Contest. If we are “snowed in” then I plan to put four hours in that event using the KX3 at five watts. No telling how that will turn out but it’s another “just for fun” event for me.

Also, this weekend is an SKCC Weekend Sprint (WES) which is smack in the middle of the K3Y so there could be all kinds of Morse madness at work if the bands cooperate even a little. I’ll play in the WES for a few hours unless things are completely dead. I can always use a few more numbers in pursuit of an “S” even though these won’t count toward the January brag total.

If the bottom completely falls out of HF I’ll be in the backyard, in the snow, pointing my satellite antenna towards the heavens trying to re-ignite my chase for the satellites. I’ve been mostly dormant with regards to this facet of the hobby lately and need to focus more on this quest.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

To this point it’s been another winter-less winter here in Central Indiana. I say “another” because that’s the way it’s been here for four of the last five winters. So we’re cruising along with 50 degF days in December and January and pondering how much warmer the climate has become when finally, out of the blue, we get a small dose of colder weather.

The cold front moved in last night and now it’s 24 degF with 40 MPH wind gusts driving the wind chills into single digits. And if you can believe the weatherman, we might see 3-5 inches of snow on Saturday. If that materializes, I plan to stay indoors and play radio. But we will see…

I managed to complete a US sweep in the K3Y event yesterday. I’ve also got NA and EU and I’m feeling pretty good about it especially considering HF conditions. I’ll keep plugging away until the end of the month to see if I can add a few more DX zones but if the event ended right now, I’d be pleased enough with the result.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

On Saturday night I was trolling around the old Novice portion of the 40 meter band (7.100-7.125) trying to avoid the RTTY contest with loud signals that appeared in the waterfall like an invading army. I’ve enjoyed more than a handful of interesting QSO’s in this part of the band lately and tonight was no exception.

I answered a CQ that turned out to be K3RLL calling.

Over the next 45 minutes I learned that Don was in Florida for the Winter. He lives in Pennsylvania when there’s no chance of snow. He was using an old TS-520 that he had sold to a friend long ago. When that friend became a Silent Key some years later, Don got it back. He was using it with a 1944 Telegraph Apparatus CP-810 bug that’s been modified to get it down below 20 WPM.

After our enjoyable QSO I kept thinking his call seemed familiar, but it wasn’t until later, when I added him to my electronic log, that I noticed we had worked once before, in the Leaf Peepers QRP event last Fall.

I’ve since learned that Don is an active QRPer and his exploits appear from time-to-time in the NAQCC newsletter. I sent him an email to let him know about our previous QSO and I told him again how much I enjoyed our conversation. He replied quickly and included photos of the 520 and the old bug he was using.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s as good as ham radio gets. Kinship, shared experiences, camaraderie and friendships. I worked him on Saturday and look at me, still smiling about it on Wednesday morning.

Radio isn’t always magic, but when it is, it’s good for the soul.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Monday, January 7, 2019

It was a fairly productive weekend in the SKCC K3Y event. I’m only lacking a couple of areas for a US States sweep.

My goal was just that, all the 0-9 call areas confirmed. Once that’s in the bag I’ll try to work some of the DX zones, but at a more relaxed pace. I already have EU and expect to add one of the Canadian stations (NA) sooner or later.

Beyond that, I’m going to need a big favor from the propagation gods…

I do still need ten more SKCC numbers (T&S) to achieve Tx7 and move on to the final leg of the journey to Senator and I figure the added K3Y activity will help me reach that level by the end of the month.

Friday, January 4, 2019

I came home from work a little early last night and had decided to make a short journal entry about how poor band conditions had been the night before. I had spent about 30 minutes trying to add at least a few K3Y stations but there was nothing to be had, not even on 80 meters.

I heard a couple of weak stations calling, but they didn’t hear me. It was a complete shutout and the first time in a long time that I couldn’t even work a neighbor. Play sad trombone sound here.

But before I got around to writing that journal entry, I took a look around and what a difference 16 hours had made. Parked on 7.056 MHz was a tremendous signal that turned out to be Bert, F6HKA. It was easily the strongest European signal I’ve ever copied. I waited my turn and worked him which covered me for K3Y-EU.

F6HKA has always been a beacon from across the pond. According to my log, last night was our 20th contact and Bert is one of the top CW operators in the world. Still, given the silence of the previous evening, I was gobsmacked to copy him pounding in here like that on 40 meters.

As the evening wore on I worked a couple more K3Y stations and even managed a nice ragchew with K3RNC in Maryland. It was a complete turnaround from Thursday night and now I’m glad I held off making the sad journal entry that had been cooking in my head all day at the office.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

You can help keep ham radio in space and it won’t cost you a dime…

When making a purchase from Amazon you can select a charity and Amazon will donate 0.5% of a qualified purchase to that charity. Select smile.amazon.com when making your Amazon purchases and make Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (AMSAT) your chosen charity.

Having selected a charity, when you got to amazon.com you will be prompted to go to smile.amazon.com. However, you can put everything you want in your cart at the original Amazon site, then leave there and go to smile.amazon.com and all your items will still be in your cart.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Perhaps it was fate, or the magical ionospheric bump often seen in the wake of big contests and popular on-air events, but Straight Key Night (SKN) was a special treat this year. That much CW activity is rarely seen these days. It was almost like a throwback to some bygone radio era.

I enjoyed several interesting conversations over the few hours I participated. One was with N0TLW. Ours was a QRP-to-QRP straight key contact. Tom and I both happened to have been licensed in 1977 though he dropped out at some point and only just returned to the hobby a few months ago. He’s 72 now and a rock climbing instructor at a local gym. An interesting fellow, I hope to work him again soon!

I also managed to find and work N8XX on 40 CW. Hank was activating the Fred Meijer White Pine Trail Linear State Park (KFF1555) at Howard City, Michigan. I spent some time looking for N2CX who was activating a couple of parks in New Jersey, but I never found him. I really enjoy working these park operations and look forward to a lot more of it as both a chaser and a field station during this New Year.

With SKN behind us now begins the month-long SKCC K3Y event. I hope band conditions will be kind enough to permit me to pull-off a mini-sweep before the end of the month. With no more holiday time to rely upon this now becomes an after work in the evening and weekend only chase for me.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The time has come to rip another page off the calendar and move into another New Year. Resolutions will be made and soon enough discarded. I plan to avoid that by not making any hard and fast rules for 2019. But change is continuous and it wouldn’t do to avoid setting a few goals.

I expect to spend less time on the air this year. That might seem weird given that many resolve to operate more. The most cited ham radio resolution being to “make at least one contact a day for the entire year”. But I’ve operated enough and with these band conditions now seems a good time to catch up on other things.

Like building a new workbench and assembling a number of kits that I’ve collected but never built. Remodeling the shack is high on my to-do list. I feel like I could spend months liquidating a large cache of equipment that has stacked up over the years and it really needs to go.

I would like to plan several radio adventures from the field. My son and I have also been talking about renting a cabin on a few weekends in the coming year and making them all about ham radio. Plus, I need to get back to working the amateur satellites. I have everything required to do that and just need to get it done. VUCC via satellites was a 2018 goal that never materialized. Maybe it will happen in 2019.

Bottom line. Less time on HF and more time working around the edges of the hobby with some emphasis on portable operations including chasing the birds. What did I say last year? More fun, less stress. Yeah. Want that.

Ham Radio Prognostication

Making predictions for the coming New Year has become a tradition with the caveat that I get it wrong more often than not. My crystal ball was dropped in 2009 and the resulting crack has made it harder to see the future than in days gone by. So this year, I’m reading tea leaves floating in a very large call sign coffee mug:

  1. We will not hit solar minimum in 2019. Despite best wishes and hopes for better propagation you’re just going to have to grin and bear it. Find other things to do that aren’t dependent on sun spots. Even stalwart QRP/CW enthusiast K3WWP who has made at least one QRP CW contact a day for the last 8,916 days without fail has taken up another hobby (model railroading) because life at HF has become about as much fun as watching paint dry (my words, not his, but I can read between the lines of his diary). Expect that to continue for a long, long time.

  2. FT8 will continue to dominate as most favored mode in all of hamdom in 2019. Yeah, I know, you hoped it was going to be a short-lived diversion but it has only fortified its position as most popular mode. It’s easy to use, free, and works wonders. Waiting for hams to lose interest in FT8 is like waiting for teenagers to lose interest in sex.

  3. The number of licensed hams in the US will begin a long period of decline in 2019. We’ve enjoyed peak ham radio in the US over the last decade but we’ve about run out of steam. It’s becoming impossible to sustain growth through disaster prepping and pitching emergency communication opportunities. The infrastructure has become more robust and while there will always be exceptions, that line about “when all else fails” is rapidly going the way of “Dy-No-Mite!” and “Where’s the beef?”

  4. The ICOM IC-9700 is going to be the “it” transceiver of 2019.

  5. And finally, many ARRL members (and even those who aren’t) will soon discover that “throwing the bums out” and infusing the ARRL with “new blood” will have almost ZERO impact on changing the organization.

Bottom Line for 2019: Continued poor band conditions at HF, more FT8 dominance, decline in licensees, one sizzling hot new transceiver, and disillusioned ARRL members.

In other words, business as usual in the world of amateur radio.

Monday, December 31, 2018

On the very last day of 2018 I sit in a Starbucks early on a rain filled morning trying to remember the most notable parts of the expiring year.

I’m looking at my station log for a little inspiration and see that (not including any activity this evening) I logged 1225 total contacts during the last year. That’s down about ten percent from the previous year and probably the result of this bottomless solar minimum.

Of those, 521 were made using CW, 19 SSB, and 685 via FT8. I started last year intent on ignoring FT8 but later jumped back in the waterfall and made those 685 contacts after June 1st.

That activity resulted in my being ranked #8,918 world-wide and #82 in Indiana in the ARRL International Grid Chase.

The log shows I worked 49 DXCC entities in 2018, none were ATNO’s but several were new for band and modes. My LoTW return rate has ticked up ever so slightly to 51 percent. This has caused me to re-consider the value of logging altogether. I prefer CW but these contacts yield such paltry LoTW returns (30%) that it seems a wasted effort to continue.

FYI - digital operators confirm via LoTW at a rate greater than 90 percent.

2018 was the year I abandoned interest in DMR and D-STAR. While I’ve typically been out front in evangelizing new technologies and forms of communications in our hobby, these faux radio systems are too commercial and remind me too much of local repeater activity that has been in steady decline for at least two decades.

I attended OzarkCon in April and Dayton Hamvention in May and then wrapped up the year at the Ft Wayne Hamfest in November. I wanted to attend W9DXCC and the AMSAT Space Symposium in 2018 but missed both of these due to work obligations.

I bought a brand new, fully-loaded Elecraft KX3 with a PX3 Panaptor that has become my primary station transceiver in 2018.

Check back tomorrow when I’ll highlight my plans for 2019 along with my annual predictions for amateur radio in the New Year.

Friday, December 28, 2018

The last working day for me in 2018 has come and gone and now it’s on to another long, holiday weekend!

Last night in the shack it was back to the key and trolling the waters where the SKCC gang usually toss their anchors. Well, the 80 meter waters because 40 just wouldn’t cooperate. It was raining pretty hard and the antenna has become finicky. But the thing was willing to play nicely on 80 and I enjoyed a nice evening of activity.

Then this morning in the pre-dawn hours before work I went back for a little more. The rain had stopped and 40 meters sounded pretty good. I had just enough time to put three more in the log before leaving for work.

Stolen moments like that are hard to find, but it was a great start to my day!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

One of the year-end chores completed this week was the renewal of my G-QRP Club membership. Despite the organization being based “across the pond” I value the quarterly publication SPRAT, the printed club journal. In fact, the Winter 2018/19 edition just arrived via postal mail yesterday and it was another stellar issue.

A couple of things mentioned by Steve, G0FUW in his editorial this time are worth repeating.

First, he commented on the significantly decreased level of interest in club awards and wonders why that might be, while pointing out that the same thing was observed and discussed in a recent edition of QRP Quarterly.

Perhaps the total number of low-power enthusiasts are dwindling, or maybe these wicked awful band conditions are causing many to lose interest in operating?

His other notable comment hit me like a ton of bricks. He said that G-QRP founder George Dobbs, G3RJV had taken a nasty fall a while back and was currently convalescing in a care home. Then he continued, “he is, sadly, also suffering from dementia”. His absence in the community has been obvious, but I assumed his age might just be catching up to him. I had no inkling he was dealing with dementia and am deeply saddened to learn of it.

I remember the Reverend Dobbs well from his many visits to the Four Days in May event in Dayton where he was always a valued speaker and noted author of many conference papers. His tenacious emphasis on the elegance of simplicity distinguished him in a hobby that celebrates the cutting edge of technology despite most not understanding it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

I’m back to work today after an extended four-day holiday weekend where I managed to check a few tasks off my year-end to-do list. More downtime coming this weekend (New Year’s) but first a few odds and ends:

  • Trouble getting started with LoTW? Check out this handy reference from ZL2IFB

  • On Saturday, December 29th Radio Amateurs of Canada (RAC) sponsors the RAC Canada Winter Contest. Amateurs all over the world are invited to participate

  • The “No-Excuses” 160 Meter Vertical. Stop procrastinating. Build this fun antenna and get on the topband train. by John Miller, K6MM

  • MeteorWatch.org is a central point of information for meteor events, International Space Station passes and a reference guide for astronomy and space related information

  • I recently received LoTW confirmation for a contact with J68GU last month. I’ve worked Saint Lucia several times, but this was my first confirmation of an FT8 contact with that entity so my Digital DXCC count incremented by one. Woot!

And finally… my oldest son closed on a new home a week before Christmas and we used some of our holiday time-off helping him get moved. It’s a nice place on the outskirts of town with a couple of acres. I’ve already picked out a tall tree near the back of his property where I plan to place a picnic table. With a vertical wire supported by that tree I hope to enjoy many warm radio days with the KX3 and a pitcher of sweet tea there next year…