Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Walked into the shack last night (0100-0200) for an hour of fishing on 80, 40, and 30 meters using FT8. Not a hardcore digital session, my goal was to simply make just ten contacts. The bands were kind this night and I ended up putting twelve in the log.

I spent the next hour visiting the QRZ bio for each of the stations worked, which I find as enjoyable as the contacts themselves. I always learn something new and interesting in this process. I really need to put something on my my own bio page one of these days!

Signals on 30 meters were light at this early hour and as is often the case, all emanated from the same geographic region. Tonight it was SE Texas and Louisiana. It’s an interesting band to be certain.

And is the usual case with digital operators, most have already confirmed via LoTW.

Monday, November 12, 2018

I managed to get my IRLP node back up and running this weekend. Other than some minor configuration issues the only real challenge was forwarding some ports on a router that was new since the last time the node was online.

The new router was provided by Xfinity when we recently upgraded our service. Port forwarding is considered an “advanced” task, especially since the target device was a Raspberry Pi. But once I found the information it was as simple as logging onto an Xfinity Web site and making a few changes.

Despite having digital capabilities with DMR and D-STAR available to me, I’ve missed the old IRLP network where I’ve maintained a node since 2003.

Now I need to figure out where and when some of the old nets are meeting so I can try to catch-up with friends - I’ve been away since the node crashed back in April of this year.

Drop in sometime and let’s chat. 4212 is enabled whenever I’m home to monitor it - so weekday evenings would be best or send me an email and let’s set something up.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Kenwood has discontinued the TS-2000 transceiver with no immediate plans to replace it. Just like some years ago when Yaesu discontinued the FT-847 without replacing it.

These “home” station transceivers with extra features for satellite use fell out of favor after the loss of AO-40 and were never replaced. You can’t blame the big boys for bailing on the dwindling AMSAT crowd.

But nearly two decades later it’s inexcusable that there’s only one FM handheld transceiver capable of full-duplex operation. Resilient and resourceful hobbyists with a desire to touch the edge of space from their backyard have worked up all manner of duct-tape and workarounds to make it so.

But they deserve much better. Look at it this way, if they go away because of the lack of readiliy available, high-quality handheld equipment, then eventually Yaesu and the others will have no one left to buy their $13,000 HF transceivers – and that’s exactly what they will deserve.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Having just cleared the front yard of 14 huge bags of leaves I can confirm that it’s officially “Fall” in Central Indiana. I came home today from a short out of town trip to find that the two really big maples in the front yard had turned loose and the leaves were a foot deep. It’s good now but this was only the first big batch of several more to come.

While out in the yard I kept looking up at the old center-fed zepp. I’m planning to take it down soon. I’m finished with HF activity from the house and need to make room for several planned VHF and UHF antennas - something I should have done months ago.

The newly configured SD card for my non-working IRLP node arrived while I was out of town. I’ve already cloned it and put the clone away for safe keeping but won’t get around to getting the node back up and running until the weekend.

Rain is moving in here overnight and could turn to snow tomorrow morning. Little is expected but if it turns into a messy weekend then I’m just going to goof off and catch-up on all the AMSAT videos from the Symposium.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

I published a weekly ham radio letter a few years ago. That was an enjoyable and interesting medium for writing. But work related projects got in the way and after just fifteen months I closed the curtain on that project.

Being a few steps closer to retirement my work schedule has become much more predictable and I’ve been thinking about bringing the weekly letter back for another run. But then I discovered that the service I used to manage the letter has been absorbed by another company and that simple and inexpensive service is no longer available.

After some digging I found a replacement service that looks promising. I’ve got more work to do before re-launching but I think the first letter will begin hitting inboxes next week.

If things go well I’ll announce how to subscribe to the letter in a post here on Friday. I never charged for the letter and don’t plan to do that this time around either. It’s just another low-key publishing project that provides another unique outlet for sharing the gospel of amateur radio.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The 4SQRP Group continues to make available interesting kits for the amateur radio community. One example, the NM0S Murania for instance, is a simple transistor radio kit (broadcast) that’s easy enough to be a perfect “first kit” project for builders of all ages.

Meanwhile the 40 and 20 meter versions of the K1SWL Hilltopper are high-performance CW transceiver kits, a great solution for portable operation - small, lightweight, and low current drain. A custom silk-screened PCB enclosure is included with the kit and no drilling or cutting is required.

The large user community means support is just an email away and 4SQRP supports these kits as evidenced by this recent note to buyers:

“It had been brought to my attention that we have shipped a Normally Closed switch with with the latest shipment of Hilltoper 20 and 40. We are currently reordering the correct switch, and will be shipping them to the recent buyers of these kits. Sorry for the inconvenience”.

Mistakes happen. Volunteers assemble, package, and mail the kits. But that sort of candid honesty and online support are why I always look forward to whatever kit the group comes up with next.

Monday, November 5, 2018

The 36th Annual AMSAT Space Symposium took place this weekend. The event has been named in honor of Bill Tynan, W3XO. Tynan, a founding director of AMSAT, passed away at the age of 91 earlier this year.

As usual, much of the event was recorded. The Saturday sessions are already available via YouTube and no doubt more will follow over the coming week.

The Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation, or AMSAT, is a worldwide group of Amateur Radio Operators (Hams). It was formed in the District of Columbia in 1969 as an educational organization.

AMSAT’s goal is to foster Amateur Radio’s participation in space research and communication. The Organization was founded to continue the efforts, begun in 1961, by Project OSCAR, a west coast USA-based group which built and launched the very first Amateur Radio satellite, OSCAR, on December 12, 1961, barely four years after the launch of Russia’s first Sputnik.

Friday, November 2, 2018

AMSAT’s 36th annual Space Symposium got underway today in Huntsville, Alabama. I last attended in 1995 when the event took place in Orlando where we were able to see Phase 3D at its integration center.

The new ARRL Contests landing page is live.

I just finished the book The Brasspounder by D.G. Sanders who worked 50 years for the Pennsylvania Railroad as a telegrapher and block operator. It was recommended by someone on a radio mailing list recently so I snagged the Kindle edition for a couple of bucks.

The author begins the book this way:

“This is the story of how it used to be in the romantic days of railroading, when the entire force, from the policymaker at the top to the track laborer at the bottom, took pride in a railroad’s service, its efficiency, its safety, and its personal appearance … and ‘on time’ was a religion.”

I like railroads and I like the telegraph. There’s a lot more of the former in this story but I still enjoyed every bit of it. You will too.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Despite a whole lot of rain we had more trick-or-treaters stop by last night than I would have imagined. I think maybe they were brought in on a bus or something. Not that I minded, it was just unusual since the number of creepy visitors had been tapering off year after year until this year.

I’m not anti-Halloween or anything, but it is one weird religious holiday. People dressing up like dead or seriously injured people, ghosts, goblins, and monsters. And then there’s the matter of sending your kids to beg for candy from strangers - what could possibly go wrong?

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Having a spare hour on a weekday evening is rare and when I got one, I wanted to spend that time fishing the SKCC waters in my continuing quest for Senator level. I’m close to achieving Tx7 but the closer I get the harder it gets. As it turned out, it didn’t matter. Blame it on band conditions or the CW ops all took the night off, there was no SKCC ops to be found on 80 or 40 meters.

The waterfall told the tale. Zilch activity - except for the thick rope that’s omni-present on the FT8 frequencies. I jumped in on 80 and quickly put thirteen in the log. Canada, PA, MS, TN, DE, NJ, CT, MI, MA, FL - nothing spectacular but the band wasn’t dead.

If it hadn’t been for FT8, there would have been no ham radio for me last night.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Who wouldn’t want to be a 10GHz rover after reading this amazing soapbox from K1RZ:

“My First Rove. OK it was really my first Portable Operation on 10GHz. NOW I appreciate so much more what so many of you do to-do-what-you-do - go portable in the ARRL 10GHz and up Contest. For the August weekend I went northeast to join up with Dale AF1T and Mickie W1MKY on one of their favorite spots on Block Island RI at FN41ee…”

Sharp ears took note that Ray Novak, N9JA from ICOM America mentioned that he would have the mythical IC-9700 “in his hands” in March of 2019 while co-hosting a recent edition of HamNation. Let’s just say the new all-mode tri-band/satellite transceiver should arrive sometime over the next few months. Having pre-ordered one from DX Engineering nearly a year ago, I’m just pleased to hear any news at all about its impending release.

A little more investigation into my “dead” IRLP node revealed that it was the SD card that became corrupt making this another painful lesson in making back-ups. A newly formatted and configured memory card is ordered and on its way. This one will be cloned as soon as I get it and the clone will be stored in the vault.

I hadn’t thought about it before, but I have an older embedded node that died a few years ago. The computer components are no longer available to be replaced but the IRLP card in it remains usable and I could employ it with a spare Raspberry Pi to build a second node for use or for sale.

Yet another project on the workbench. It’s getting deep up in here…

Monday, October 29, 2018

I completely ignored the CQ WW DX SSB contest this weekend. Band conditions could have been good or bad, I never even checked to see.

My PiRLP node (4212) has been dead since April and I’m only now thinking about repairing it. Looks like the SSD became corrupted meaning a fresh install from scratch. I’ll get around to it one of these days but in the meantime I don’t think I’m missing anything, am I?

I (early) voted on Saturday because I expect to be out of town on election day. I’m hopeful for a tidal wave of change but I think the system is rigged and may no longer be workable or even fixable. Read The rigging of American politics and tell me why I shouldn’t be so pessimistic.

The MTR3b_LCD Mountain Topper portable transceiver is now available. It’s the same Mountain Topper MTR3b with new additional features. Steve, WG0AT thinks it’s the goat-berries for SOTA work - that’s a solid recommendation.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Now seems as good a time as any to explain what I’m doing here. I’ve been a ham radio blogger since 2002 and this current form is what has evolved over that long span of time. Blogging pretty much died around 2010 and those of us who continue to spew words blindly into the network just never got that message.

I maintain this site because I want to be able to share whatever I like without a dependency on another system. For instance, Google has a nasty habit of killing off its popular services and I’ve no confidence that a site built on its Blogger platform will be around next year.

Same goes for WordPress and other similar services.

For a while I thought we would all eventually migrate to Facebook or Google Plus. But that hasn’t turned out very well given the nefariousness of Facebook and Google+ never gained any traction. I’m not really a fan of social media anymore, I think it’s over, so I deleted my Facebook, Instagram, and Google Plus accounts this year.

I’m still on Twitter but I’ll probably delete it soon too.

So, this will be the only public spot that remains for my ruminations about amateur radio, personal technology, and growing old on a dying planet. And I don’t consider this a blog, it’s a journal. A record of my recent adventures shared with voyeurs who enjoy such things. It isn’t a front for a business and I’m not trying to sell you anything - I don’t need a donation. I’m not harvesting your information and I won’t even let you comment here.

This is my site, go get your own if you care to opine.

Lately I’ve been publishing five posts a week, Monday thru Friday and expect that to continue though that’s not set in stone. I’ve taken some weeks and days off and I suppose this could easily become a weekly or monthly publication. Because it’s a journal I don’t title each post with anything other than the date.

It’s mostly just plain text, if you don’t like reading, if you prefer lots of photos and video you won’t like it here.

There are nearly 400 posts in the archive as of today but only the most recent thirty make it to the front page before scrolling off. You can find older posts via the search page but given the nature of the content, I doubt there would be interest in anything older.

I provide a full RSS feed that includes the last ten posts, so you never have to visit here, the content will come to you if you know what you’re doing. You can link to an individual post by clicking on its title (the top day/date line) which will expose the individual post and its permalink URL will be revealed in your browser address window.

Who knows, perhaps you will find something worth reading here?

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Taking a walk off the well-worn path today. On the ride to work this morning, I got to thinking about (of all things) finding a new place to live. Retirement is getting closer with each passing day and our hope has been that once that day arrives we would move to some final QTH that will provide us with a little more room to stretch out.

I could publish an entire manifesto on my thoughts about location. Suffice it to say that anywhere we go will be north of where we currently live. Mostly due to climate change but I also dream about living in a much less-populated area. In my head I can see an eight-lane superhighway with cars bumper-to-bumper headed south while I’m in the lone vehicle heading north and that seems perfect to me.

Harsh winters are great population filters.

But as we advance in age we would also like access to quality healthcare services. So while I may dream of a cabin situated on a hundred lonely acres in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the reality is that we will likely end up in some small town with doctors and a hospital. The notion of healthcare access and remoteness are at opposition with each other and that’s why this requires considerable thought and planning.

There was an article recently about the The Best Places to Retire in America and while it looked at services and low-crime, many of the recommendations were smack in the middle of densely populated areas. Some of them even in places that wouldn’t exist without supernatural volumes of air conditioning.

That was a waste of the authors time to write it and mine to read it…

We’ve been exploring places hundreds of miles north of here in preparation for our exodus. Low-crime, decent healthcare service, access to large amounts of freshwater and the ability to hunt and fish have had us looking mostly at Michigan’s western coast. The area around Traverse City looks promising so we intend to make a few excursions there in the coming weeks.

Given the parameters of our search, I don’t worry much about antenna restrictions, but I wouldn’t rule anything out. Stealth antennas are a fact of life for a lot of radio amateurs and portable operation away from a restricted residence continues to grow in popularity. Besides, I don’t plan to remain radioactive right up to the day I die. One of these days I will liquidate all my ham radio gear and go QRT.

No point in leaving that chore to my wife and kids.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

There was a time when I believed that great CW operators could send and receive at least 30 wpm code. I don’t know why I thought that, but it seemed challenging enough to be a target, something to strive to achieve. I got there after a few years, but decades later I’ve come to enjoy lower speeds and that’s probably due to changes in the shack and the way I’ve come to operate.

We didn’t have the Internet or personal computers in the shack in 1977. When I sat down in front of my HW-16 and clamped on the cans all my attention was focused on the portal opened by the magic of radio without distractions because there was nothing else to do.

Today the radio is connected to a computer, that’s connected to the Internet while one or more programs run busily in the background. During a QSO I’m busy multi-tasking, checking out a QRZ bio, filling in log data, keeping one eye on the DX cluster and the other on the Twitter feed and somehow still manage to reply to text messages on my phone.

Yeah, it’s probably an attention deficit disorder.

I’m certain that’s why 13-18 wpm is a more enjoyable pace for me now. I can easily head copy at those speeds while doing all sorts of other things in the shack but at 30 wpm I must focus on the singular task of decoding what’s pouring out of the headphones.

While I appreciate 13-18 wpm for the reasons noted code sent much slower than that can be tough to enjoy. I’ve tried to copy very slow stations, understanding they may just be starting out and I want to encourage new CW enthusiasts. But too slow renders head copy impossible for me because it’s tough to remember the previous letters sent if it takes too long to spell one word - and that means I must write down every letter sent which prevents me from multi-tasking.

Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears I’ve come to believe that code can be “too fast” or “too slow” while I want it to be “just right”.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The 4SQRP group announced the Hilltopper 40 transceiver kit over the weekend and I snapped one up. It should arrive on Thursday and will go into the Winter build queue along with the 20 meter version of the same kit that I picked up during OzarkCon way back in April. I’ve been a Dave Benson (K1SWL) and Small Wonders Lab (SK) fan since its earliest days and I look forward to turning back time to my early QRP kit days while assembling these gems that were designed by Dave and kitted by the 4SQRP group.

The Elecraft AX-1 portable antenna arrived yesterday. I had ordered it along with all the accessories, including the tripod adapter and whip bipod. I opened the bag, took a quick look, and set it aside. I look forward to trying it out on some portable adventure though nothing is planned now. I might just take the KX3 with the new whip antenna out to the patio the next time 20 meters is open and see if it works.

And therein lies the root of my clutter problem - as quickly as I toss gear out the back door more stuff arrives via the front! Reducing the clutter has been an ongoing effort and I have made some headway. I hope to unload the IC-7300 along with its power supply, external speaker, and AH-4 external auto-tuner at the Ft. Wayne hamfest next month. After that, I’ll be down to just the KX3 station and a small collection of QRP transceivers tucked into a cabinet in the shack.

My shack is tiny (10 feet x 8 feet) but it’s at the center of my radio universe and needs to be properly outfitted.

Monday, October 22, 2018

We got home from our trip to Winnipeg on Friday. Had a great time there but Friday was a long travel day that started at 3am. Getting to the airport two hours early for a 6am flight really hurts so I had nothing left in the tank for the Zombie Shuffle later that evening and I hate that I missed it. I think it took place a week earlier than usual this year for some reason.

Having been away for a few days there were plenty of leaves and fallen branches to clean up along with the usual chores so there wasn’t much time for radio this weekend though I did work a small handful of stations in the New York QSO Party.

Eleven to be exact covering nine unique counties. All on 40 meters SSB at 100 watts for a whopping total of ninety-nine points. I even submitted a log this time because organizers provided a method to manually enter each contact. Having only eleven contacts made that easy, had I been more prolific I wouldn’t have gone to that trouble.

That brought my annual total of SSB contacts to thirteen. I guess I’m not much of a phone operator.

Friday, October 12, 2018

My ISS APRS attempt tonight was a rainout.

Since we’re traveling to Winnipeg on Sunday one of items on my checklist this week was to see if I needed a roaming plan. We’re ATT customers and I was told that I would have to pay ten bucks a day, per phone, for service in Canada.

An alternative was to modify our service to an “unlimited” level of service which would only amount to ten dollars more a month than I was already paying. The idea was to upgrade to the service for one month, then fallback to my previous plan thereby paying ten bucks for all the service we wanted in Canada and this option seemed like a no-brainer.

Until a friend mentioned that the ATT unlimited service does not include tethering. And sure enough, my iOS option to tether was missing once my plan changed. Not sure that’s a great loss as I only ever used tethering for my DMR hotspot and that ship has sailed for me.

Not being constrained by a data limit makes things a little happier since I can endlessly stream music and videos on my mobile devices without concern for generating unexpected charges. I’m beginning to think I’ll keep this unlimited service and add one of the new cellular iPad Pro’s when we get back from our trip.

I use iOS for almost everything now and it’s beginning to feel like an inflection point has been reached in my computing life.

Going to put the journal on hold for the next week or two. 73 es see you again on the “other” side.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The temps have dropped as predicted and it finally feels like Autumn in Indiana again. I’m happy about the end of summer but the chill in the air (and maybe frost tonight) reminds that time is growing short for antenna work before the snow flies. I’ve decided to remove the Cobra antenna that has been a reasonable radiator for the last two seasons and install an Inverted-L.

I believe the foreseeable future of HF will be at 160-80-60-40 meters with occasional openings on the higher bands. Given that, my antenna choices will focus on whatever can best fit on the lot that will provide more opportunities for success on the low bands.

Apparently there was an article in a recent issue of CQ Magazine by someone who claimed that the current solar cycle may not hit rock-bottom for another year or two, and then the next few cycle will be more anemic than this one has been, even going so far as to speculate that the solar cycles may come to a complete stop for some extended period before resuming the more regular pattern.

I don’t subscribe to CQ and haven’t read the article, neither do I know who the author was or what his qualifications might be. I read about it from a discussion on a ham radio mailing list and wasn’t surprised that such speculation upsets a lot of people.

For the record, I think the theory is likely to be correct. I expect conditions at HF to remain in the dumpster for the rest of my life if not for much, much longer. Sad as it seems, this is just the new normal.

What’s more, I think it’s possible that the cycle could decline to the point that even low frequency signals will fail to propagate. My antenna work is probably just my way of whistling past the graveyard until even the sounds of whistling can no longer be detected…

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Ham radio enthusiasts have been historically resilient. It just makes sense when you consider it in the context of the early days of radio. If some new design or concept didn’t work as planned and had that caused our predecessors to simply give up, we wouldn’t be here today.

When the “going gets tough the tough get going” is a phrase that sums up radio pioneers from a century ago and I believe it extends to this present day. As an example, then the bands don’t cooperate using well-known communication methods we don’t give up, we dream new ways to make contacts.

Also interesting to me is how one segment of the hobby has embraced portable operation because they can’t or prefer not to do their radio work from a home “shack”.

Advances in lightweight, high-performance equipment along with battery and non-traditional energy sources has been impressive. And then there are the many games we invent to challenge ourselves to make the most of the way we advance the art of radio from the field.

Here’s another phrase I’ve heard recently, “micro-adventure”. In the context of our hobby it often is used to describe operations from parks, mountain tops, or a floating vessel. These aren’t on the scale of a large, modern DXpedition but these include many of the same challenges only in a “micro” format. I really like the concept of the “Micro-Adventure” and that might find its way onto a printed tee-shirt or hat next year…

Just today I saw another similar phrase.

Elecraft will soon be shipping their new 4-foot telescoping whip antenna intended for 20 and 17 meter operation with the KX3 or KX2 transceivers. The efficiency of a very short antenna isn’t especially good, but it’s not unusual to trade performance for convenience. To this end, Wayne Burdick, N6KR wrote that there are times in the field when you can setup a larger, more efficient antenna, but this new ultra-portable unit was intended for pedestrian or “quick deployment field operation”.

That reminded me of my desire to carry my KX3 with only the internal batteries and attached key to a nearby State Park for frequent but brief thirty-minute operations from a picnic table.

Call it a “micro-adventure” or a “quick-deployment field operation” or whatever you like - we all make our fun wherever and however best we can.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

I’ve spent a little time after dark the last few evenings copying packets from the ham radio digipeater aboard the International Space Station. The first night I used only the stock rubber duck antenna with the Kenwood TH-D74 handheld transceiver. Despite the relative strength of the signal, I only managed to capture a couple of packets.

Last night I took the Arrow antenna to the backyard and had much better results.

Messaging via the ISS digipeater is popular because it’s relatively easy. Full-duplex isn’t required and the signal from the ISS is strong and easy to copy.

That’s the relatively “easy” part.

The more difficult part, at least for me, is becoming adept at fiddling with the handheld transceiver, in the dark, to push the right buttons at the right time, to call or respond to the other stations heard.

This is harder than it sounds even using canned messages. But it’s only difficult, not impossible and I expect with a little more practice I’ll soon be making contacts via this unique method of communicating using equipment on an orbiting outpost in space as an intermediary means of signal propagation.

One more note on using the Arrow Antenna. Until I really started looking, I would have said that I should have much success using the Arrow in my yard. It’s not until I start pointing the thing that I begin to see all sorts of problems. The trees, power lines, and even the house itself. These all limit a clear view of the sky especially below a certain elevation.

The falling leaves will help a little but I’m going to start looking at alternate locations for some of the weaker signal work. For instance, my father-in-law has 25 acres on the outskirts of town with wide open spaces and a decent view of the sky. It’s a good option but one that requires I start thinking more like a portable operator with a ready-to-roll satellite ground station.

Monday, October 8, 2018

It’s 39F in Winnipeg Manitoba as I write today’s entry…

We’re now just a week away from to our trip to Winnipeg and things have shifted into a higher gear. Confirming plane tickets, hotel reservations, and making certain our phones will work there without the need for a roaming plan. I haven’t yet rented a car but that’s the only thing left on my to-do list other than pack. We’ve got tickets for NHL Jets games on Tuesday night and on Thursday night at Bell MTS Arena - a five-minute walk from our hotel.

There’s also been the matter of arranging pet sitters and the like. It’s going to feel good to sit down on the plane for the short hop to Minneapolis and then on to Winnipeg Sunday evening, but we aren’t scheduled to arrive until almost midnight Manitoba time, so Monday is going to be a lazy, sleep as long as we want day.

It’s 89F in Muncie, Indiana as I write today’s entry…

We had a tiny taste of autumn for a few days before this terrible hot weather returned to taunt us for another week. I’m not sure I still believe the weather prognosticators, but they are saying to expect cool, fall weather to begin later this week.

It will be welcome relief to be able to shut down the air conditioning and open the windows. A nice fire in the backyard along with a bottle of something red would be nice too. If only…

Friday, October 5, 2018

I’m KE9V and I approve this message…

The election for ARRL Director’s is heating up with more interest than usual in changing whatever the League is doing completely wrong.

I may be too unconcerned given I’m a Life Member, but certain data being cited by every new prospective board member is not only wrong, it’s deceptive. I’m talking about the faulty notion that since there are now over 750,000 amateur radio licensees in the US, an all-time high, declining ARRL membership is a clear sign that the folks in Newington don’t know what they’re doing.

What’s wrong with this line of thinking is that anyone who believes there are over 750,000 active, ‘interested in radio as a hobby’ licensees in the US is nuts.

We could argue endlessly over the what constitutes “active” but it doesn’t take much gray matter to comprehend that people who get a Technician license in a day and promptly become bored with their new handheld transceiver probably won’t be inclined to pay an annual fee to become an ARRL member.

Likewise with those who only got a license to provide emergency services in their community. Same goes with the preppers. And there are bound to be many other single-use interests that require a license but not a relationship with a national organization.

And don’t get me started on the number of records in the FCC database of dead hams, or those with a license who have long since been moved to some care-giving facility removing their ability to be “active”.

Fact is, the elimination of the code requirement removed a barrier to those who have a use for a license, but no real interest in getting neck deep into amateur radio as a hobby. That’s perfectly okay with me but to assume these should also become dues paying members of the ARRL is either naive or just stupid and I’m leaning toward the latter.

Using the “record high number of licensees” to highlight the League’s inability to recruit more paying members is weak sauce. The real number of active radio amateurs is probably more like 300,000 which means the ARRL still has room to grow, but it’s certainly not the dismal failure some are making it out to be - in an effort to get elected.

As century-old hobbies go we’ve got ninety-nine problems but this ain’t one.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

I dropped a link to the book, Radioman: An Eyewitness Account of Pearl Harbor and World War II in the Pacific back in August with only a brief overview. I bought this book assuming there would be some frequent references to military radio operation during the war but there were not.

In the end that didn’t really matter as it was very enjoyable reading.

My father is a WWII Navy veteran and I gave him the book after I read it and he barely put it down before finishing it.

He told me how accurate it was with his own recollection of that period and military service and it stirred a lot of deep memories for him. With a hearty endorsement like that, I thought I’d mention it one more time.

RADIOMAN is the biography of Ray Daves, a noncommissioned officer in the U.S. Navy and an eyewitness to World War II. It is based on the author’s handwritten notes from a series of interviews that began on the eighty-second birthday of the combat veteran and gives a first-person account of the world’s first battles between aircraft carriers.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

From 1988 until 1996 my amateur radio activity was largely focused on satellite operation. I had assembled a world-class ground station for use primarily with AO-13 though I was quite active on the 9600 baud PacSats as well.

Some months before AO-13 took its final fiery plunge we moved back to Indiana and I used that opportunity to sell off all my equipment and antennas with plans to buy new once we had settled in our new home.

Besides, I told friends, it would only be another year or so before AO-40 would be on orbit and I wanted to have the latest and greatest technology in place for it. As it turned out, Phase 3D wouldn’t fly for several more years and when it did, it blew up on orbit before it was fully commissioned.

That mostly ended my time as a satellite operator though I have made numerous LEO contacts using handheld transceivers and antennas since then. More recently, I picked up a TH-D72 handheld and Arrow antenna, made a handful of FM satellite contacts, and then put all that away.

My interest in chasing satellites again has sometimes ebbed, but I think that’s mostly because it’s not easy adjusting the radio frequency for Doppler correction while holding it in one hand and holding and pointing the antenna in the other. All the while tracking the position of the rapidly moving satellite across the sky and trying to log whoever I work.

It can be a LOT of work for the briefest of contacts.

But I do want to resume that action since there are many times when the HF bands simply will not cooperate. Besides, I support keeping ham radio in space. I’m a long-time member of AMSAT-NA and AMSAT-UK and I frequently donate to these causes.

And I’d really like to nail-down VUCC via satellite.

So, I’m assembling a few creature comforts that should make things a little easier, like an audio recorder and cables so I can record the entire pass and pick the details for logging out later. I’d also like to have a portable tripod that will support the Arrow antenna and permit me to easily move and rotate it without having to hold it.

I made a comment to that effect on Twitter a few nights ago when I wrote, “Curious why there are no commercially available portable tripods ready-made for mounting an Arrow antenna?”

I got a lot of replies to that, mostly folks sharing with me how they either built their own or modified a camera tripod to support the antenna. These replies were all good and appreciated, especially those who shared their how-to photos, but these didn’t really answer my question.

Given the fairly large number of satellite operators using handheld antennas, it seems an obvious product idea for MFJ or some other enterprising supplier - even the Arrow Antenna manufacturer - to offer for sale a slick version ready to use right out of the box.

I would buy one today but since it’s not available, I’ll spend some upcoming weekend putting something together myself. And then the chase for VUCC will get underway in earnest.

Tuesday October 2, 2018

Being the first of a new month, I was handling some logging chores last night after I got home from work and noticed that I hadn’t logged a single SKCC contact during the month of September.

That’s not good considering that I aspire to achieve the next step on the Straight Key ladder (Senator) and that requires a much higher level of activity than I’ve been putting in this year. I decided there was no time like the present to take it up a notch, so I went trolling in the SKCC waters and ended up making four contacts, three of them were new numbers of the proper flavor and that bumped my total up a little.

Notable (at least to me) was that three of them were with operators who happened to be younger than me.

Despite being nearly 60, most of the people I meet via CW are usually considerably older than I am. It’s not so strange to find old guys pounding brass but, in my experience, it’s a little unusual to find younger folks attentive to the key. There’s no breaking news here or inferences to be drawn from this sampling, just an observation that’s seemed a little out of the ordinary.

I’ve also noticed lately that 40 meters is going long much earlier in the evenings than usual. I worked these three not long after local sundown and they were all “out West”. Nevada, California, Oregon. These were easy 599 copy with solid signals. Meanwhile, I copied them working other stations within 500 miles of me whose signals were completely hidden from my receiver.

Hopefully time in the shack tonight will be as productive and as interesting as it was last night.

Monday October 1, 2018

Most of the weekend was spent working on house projects and catching up on yardwork but that still left a little time for radio. It was a QRP weekend as I used the KX3 and its internal batteries to add a lucky thirteen contacts to the log.

One of those was when I worked Joe, N2CX who was operating portable from some park in Maryland - I think. I haven’t looked it up yet. Joe has been operating frequently from the field up and down the east coast. I’ve worked him at least a half-dozen times and it always feels like a conquest since he announces his planned operations and I know he’s out there, somewhere, just waiting to be found.

Then on Saturday evening I was trolling 40 meters when I heard a mystery call sign down around 7020 calling CQ. 6D50I sounded exotic and I worked him, but it turned out to be a fellow in Mexico using a special call sign and not some rare DX.

The other eleven stations logged were all playing in the Texas QSO Party. By the time these were logged the batteries were starting to give up the ghost in the KX3 so I pulled the big switch.

The kids came over for Sunday dinner then we all watched football for a few hours and relaxed. Nice weekend, great weather, got a lot accomplished. No regrets but now back to work for another week. Sometimes it seems it never ends - but who would want that?

Friday, September 28, 2018

About a week ago, while looking for something online I stumbled across the NEQRP Club Web site. I hadn’t visited there in a long time but wasn’t surprised that the site was still intact. I don’t really know the current status of that group. Like a lot of the QRP clubs born in the explosion that began the Second Turning of low-powered radio enthusiasm, things have gone mostly silent and many of these kinds of sites have remained untouched for some time.

While clicking around there I discovered a partial archive of the the old club letter still available for download. Called the “72 Newsletter” it’s first edition appeared in January 1992. Face-to-face with such a treasure I spent the next several hours reliving the good old days when I first discovered the Joy of QRP.

It was a bittersweet discovery as many of the familiar old calls from that era had long since become Silent Keys, but it also sharpened some of the memories that had either become fuzzy or been completely lost. Any old QRPer would appreciate that archive.

And I always thought the NEQRP logo (designed by Jack Frake, NG1G) patch design was one of the best I had ever seen. It perfectly captured the mood and the movement that swept so many of us into this facet of the hobby. I had always intended to order one of those patches but never got around to it. I remember when it was first offered, four dollars for one or six dollars for two of them but I just never got around to it.

That prompted me to wonder if someone, in some corner of hamdom, might still have one in pristine condition that they would be willing to part with. I knew it was a long shot but I posted a message on the QRP-L mailing list to find out and sure enough, one kind soul replied in the affirmative.

I received a very nice email from W2APF informing me that he did indeed have a patch and would be happy to send it to me at no charge - in his own words, “I’ll consider it my penance for purchasing a liberal amplifier this year”. It arrived yesterday in absolute pristine condition and I can’t believe I have this perfect NEQRP logo patch just one week later.

He also sent along a “bonus” patch from the Michigan QRP Club so I was doubly blessed by his generous act of QRP Kindness.

This story would end there except that he also stuffed in a few QSL cards for good measure and it turns out that Thaire Bryant, W2APF is quite the radio operator. He’s traveled around the world operating mostly QRP from the field in more places than I will ever visit. Have a look at his QRZ bio and you’ll see what I mean.

And there was more…

“The call sign W2APF was formerly held by David “Uncle Dave” Marks from the 1920’s until his death on January 11, 1992. “Uncle Dave” founded “The People’s Radio Store” in the early twenties. It became “Uncle Dave’s Radio Shack” in the early thirties (advertised in QST) and later was called “Fort Orange Radio”, all in Albany, New York. He loved people, travel, and Ham Radio. I married his granddaughter in 1978 and he infected me with the bug (amateur radio that is). My call sign changed from KA1MJR to W2APF on August 16, 1996 through The FCC vanity call system. W2APF is back on the air!”

I got the patch I was looking for plus one other and I got to discover this wonderful radio heritage. Was it worth the time spent spelunking thru PDF archives from somewhere back in our long ago? Absolutely. If our hobby was only about yakking on the radio I’d have grown bored with it decades ago.

But we have this amazingly rich history whose exploration never grows old.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

“What does a freezer full of underwear, 2,914 nautical miles and a little red rubber boat have in common? A remote island in the middle of the Pacific called Baker Island National Wildlife Refuge (NWR)…”

So begins this compelling report on the KH1/KH7Z Baker Island operation by Don Greenbaum, N1DG writing in the Autumn 2018 edition of the Northern California DX Foundation newsletter.

Download the letter here and read all about it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

SKCC’s QSO Party - October 6-7

The SKCC QSO Party aims to bring together operators with different skill levels in a informal operating event lasting 24 hours. The event starts at 1800 UTC on Saturday, October 6th and runs through Sunday, October 7th, 1800Z.

SKCC members who participate in the QSO Party must use straight keys, sideswipers (cooties), or bugs. Waivers from this policy are possible. For details, see the club’s policy on approved keying devices here. Because this event aims to include newcomers to CW as well as experience brass-pounders, operating speed should be adjusted accordingly.