Housekeeping

Really Simple Syndication - RSS use has been in steady decline since the death of Google Reader. These days even when a feed is provided it’s often just a snippet that lets you read the first 50 or 100 words then you have to visit the site to finish what you started. I refuse to read or subscribe to sites that provide only partial feeds. Every word of the last ten posts are served up in the feed here. Having no advertisements or appeals for donations I don’t care how or where you read my content. I use a now defunct application to collect and read blog feeds but you can use your favorite news reader. Enjoy!

Navigation Tip - I made a minor content adjustment on the site this week. All of the last 20 posts appear on the main page, but eventually these scroll off as new posts appear on top. But the older posts are still available. Click the archive link at the top of every page to reveal quick links to all of the content.

Twitter Purgatory - my twelve-hour banishment has ended and I have full-access to my account again. I want to be clear that while I thought the action was silly, I understand it was the result of over zealous AI bots. I harbor no hard feelings, but you may have noticed that I almost never mention my Twitter account here. That’s because I’ve been on the fence for a long time about whether or not to close the account. I don’t want to create links here that won’t age well. This is my motivation to flee social media in all forms…

About - just an FYI that I have recently updated the About page with a few brief details about myself. It’s my least favorite thing to do as I hate writing about me. It’s not an easy thing to do and I cringe whenever I read a bio written in third person. “Jeff enjoys German beer and fly fishing” is an abomination that I won’t countenance. But a few details seemed necessary so I put something there and I probably won’t update it again anytime soon.


Purgatory

I was ordered to serve 12 hours in Twitter purgatory today for a tweet that violated its terms. I had posted what I thought was just a little funny, but I guess not everyone saw it that way.

I’m not complaining, I understand it’s their sandbox and they can do with it whatever they want. I understand even more that there is a lot of misinformation out there (about everything) and Twitter is just trying to scrub it up as best it can.

They told me if I would remove the tweet they would unlock my account for regular use again after 12 hours so I did.

This hasn’t caused me to look deep inside to see why I’m such a terrible person, I still think what I posted was funny - and perhaps a backhanded slap at the crazy conspiracy theories embraced as “facts” by millions.

Still, I will forego anything that even looks like humor on Twitter from here out.

By the way, here is the message I received from Twitter and in it you can see the horrible thing I posted that got me locked out of my account.

But be warned, you might be shocked and for that, I apologize.


OzarkCon

A few years ago my wife and I attended our first OzarkCon, an annual QRP Convention conducted by the Four State QRP Group. The event took place in Branson, Missouri and didn’t require much arm twisting to get my wife to come along. We both had a great time and made plans to come back again, but the virus made other arrangements. The event was canceled last year and won’t be conducted in real life this year either.

But now plans are set for Virtual OzarkCon 2021 that will take place on Saturday April 10th. Registration is open (over 200 have already signed up!) and proceeds from the sale of kits will fund the event so there’s no cost to attend. The agenda is in place and it looks like another great lineup of speakers.

Special event station K0N will be active daily April 4th thru April 10th 2300 UTC to 0300 UTC to celebrate the convention. Look for that action on 7.122, 3.564 or 14.061 MHz.

4SQRP is a friendly group who like to have a lot of fun with radio. It may be one of the last QRP club that still produces new and innovative kits for low-power enthusiasts. They maintain regular nets, publish a newsletter the Ozark QRP Banner, organize events, and offer awards. I’ve been a member (#127) for quite awhile, you can join the fun too!


Wilderness Sierra

Somewhere back in my long ago I got involved with the QRP world, a time when there was always another kit that needed to be built. One that caught my fancy was the Wilderness Sierra, a QRP multi-band CW transceiver whose appearance was precisely the way I imagined any real ham radio transceiver should look.

This transceiver features a low current drain superhet receiver and VFO controlled transmitter. It all fits into a 2.5”H x 6.2”W x 5.5”D box done up in two tone blue. It was designed by Wayne Burdick, N6KR and was kitted and beta tested by NorCal. The NorCal rig was such a hit that Bob Dyer, KD6VIO (now K6KK) formed Wilderness Radio to market the Sierra.

Best I recall (that was more than 20 years ago) I discovered the Wilderness Sierra around the same time that Elecraft was formed and announced the K2. I opted for the K2 and was not disappointed. I built #524 in 1999 and was absolutely captivated. I still have the K2, the only transceiver I’ve ever kept, would never sell, and intend to be buried with.

But I never forgot about the Wilderness Sierra and always counted it as one that got away as it was eventually discontinued.

I mentioned this in conversation with a friend who lives nearby who also happens to be a fellow CW and QRP enthusiast. Turns out that a friend of his had pulled up stakes and moved to Florida a few years ago and when he did, he left my buddy with a pile of old gear and a few unbuilt kits. He was pretty sure there was an unbuilt Wilderness Sierra in that pile. He said he would check and if so, I could have it.

If you have no friends like that I suggest you make some!

That conversation was a few weeks ago but yesterday he drove by my house and dropped a package off on the doorstep. It was the Wilderness Sierra kit, unbuilt and unopened. I opened the bag with the front panel to get a better look at it. It seems to all be there. Bags of unopened components all marked with the original packaging stickers…

I’ll first do a complete inventory to see if anything is missing of course, but my hopes are high at this point. It’s a rare find and a unique opportunity to turn back time and I have no intention of rushing through it.

Right now I’m trying to decide if the assembly should be accompanied by bourbon or a good wine, and if so, what wine? And what tobacco should be burning in my pipe while I’m winding so many toroids?

The workbench will be updated. This build deserves new tools and test equipment. I don’t know yet when the work will commence or how long it might take, but the journey to assemble this kit into a working transceiver will be a joy and I intend to savor every moment of it.

Besides, if it takes three months or a year, does it matter?


Morse On a Red Planet

Don’t over think this. Let me do that for you.

The NASA Perseverance team included a hidden message on the space frame that landed on Mars this week. An image of the Earth, Sun, and Mars in proper orbital relationship and inscribed on that glyph a message to the heavens written in Morse Code: “Explore as One”.

Interesting that Morse holds such noble standing in the human zeitgeist. And to think amateur radio is practically the sole remaining custodian of an ancient language that’s literally gone interplanetary. CW men and women are the druids of this present age. Keepers of ancient wisdom and eternal knowledge.

I don’t know if the dreamers at NASA had this in mind when they designed that plaque. Perhaps it came to them in a dream or from a notion buried deep within that they cannot explain. After all, had they wanted to appeal to popular culture they could have included a golden disk with a video recording of the popular television program Dancing With the Stars.

Of course that would provide an alien race with good reason to destroy us so…


WWII Amateur Radio Films

Readers with an Amazon Prime Video account may be interested in this free viewing from a bygone era of amateur radio.

WWII Amateur Radio Films is a collection of what appears to be at least three separate ham radio related documentaries stitched together into a single video loop.

A collection of historical films documenting the importance of amateur ham radio communication during WWII. Also includes a look at the Military Affiliate Radio System during the 1970s.

The whole thing was interesting, but it might be especially so for anyone who appreciates vintage gear. The first segment details the conversion of a popular amateur radio transmitter being modified for military use by The Hallicrafters Company during World War II.

Sorry if you’ve already seen it, but I thought it a swell way for any amateur radio enthusiast with an appreciation for radio history to spend 78 minutes on a Friday evening. Enjoy!


Sixty-Two

Another quick trip around the sun and I’ve turned 62. Old enough to begin collecting social security if I wanted. Last year I was in Layton, Utah on my birthday. The year before that and more birthdays than I can remember before that were spent on the road. I swore an oath last year that I would be home for my birthday this year even if that required me to quit my job. That wasn’t necessary. All it took to keep me home this year was a global pandemic.


Quando Omni Flunkus Moritati

(When all else fails, play dead)

I quit the practice of paper QSLing about five years ago. It’s a costly endeavor and the never ending rise in postage makes the whole thing seem unsustainable. Besides, LoTW is right there, free for the taking and accepted by ARRL for award credit. Why wouldn’t we use that instead of having postcards custom printed, affixing postage, and dropping them at the post office on a regular basis?

The answer is simple: it’s a tradition.

Radio hams have been trading QSL cards for a century and the practice has been stamped into our DNA. Besides, when I stopped using paper cards I was making thousands of contacts a year. Now that my annual QSO total is closer to 500 it feels affordable enough that I’ve decided to reverse course and begin trading paper via postal mail again.

I’m happy to QSL the old-fashioned way - print via mail. No SASE, green stamps, or IRC necessary. Send me a card and I’ll send you mine. But for Straight Key Century Club contacts I’ll continue to use the SKCC Bureau and encourage you to do the same.

And I’ll keep using LoTW for awhile, but I can see a future where I abandon the computer in the shack altogether and return to paper and pencil for station record keeping. Assuming I continue keeping any records at all.


No Pot of Gold

For several years all the space weather forecasts called for Cycle 25 to be every bit as anemic as 24. Then some scientific paper began to circulate suggesting that Cycle 25 might be the most active cycle of all time. And then we hit the bottom of 24 and signs pointed to the beginning of the new solar cycle. And sure enough, the SFI slowly began to rise a little and radio amateurs did a happy dance just before spiking the football and claiming a touchdown.

And then the SFI went back down where it has remained.

The only thing that most of us really know about solar impact on HF communications is that when certain measured numbers rise to some level, propagation on higher (HF) frequencies usually improves. I’m no expert, but I’m certain the hopes and wishes of radio enthusiasts on this planet can do nothing to change events on the sun. Whatever will be, will be.

And despite the overly optimistic projections of that lone scientific paper, I maintain the view that we’re in some sort of prolonged Maunder like event and that Cycle 25 will do nothing to reverse that trend. As the new cycle progresses there will be noticeable improvement from where we are now and we should celebrate better props whenever they visit us.

But there’s no pot of gold at the peak of the Cycle 25 rainbow.


RTTY Rag Chew

A print shop teacher at my high school who was an amateur radio operator was one of my first mentors in the hobby. Together we built digital readout frequency counters from an article series in QST which was no easy feat in the mid-70s. Bob took me with him on the two-hour journey to Mendlesons in Dayton one Saturday to find parts for that project.

At the time his primary interest in the hobby was RTTY. The odd thing (to me) was that he used it exclusively on two-meters. He had a friend in a town 25 miles away and they traded messages on nearly a nightly basis.

If that wasn’t unique enough, Bob had a tape punch machine in his classroom that he used on his lunch hour to compose long letters to his friend and then punch that out on the tape. He’d take the tape home and send the message via his Model 28 hardware to his friend. The hardware made use of an auto-start feature that permitted the machines to be switched into an idle mode until a specific tone was received which would turn the remote machine on and print out the decoded message.

The reply would come later and the entire asynchronous form of communication continued for many years.

This came to mind agin for some reason a few days ago and it got me wondering if anyone uses RTTY like this. Probably not as it’s now considered an old, inefficient mode and there are much easier ways to exchange messages like this in the 21st century.

Still, I’m curious if anyone uses RTTY for normal QSOs or has it become exclusively a much loved, but antique radio contest only mode?

I asked that question online and received several replies though none recalled ever hearing RTTY used for anything other than contesting. A few said they use PSK31 for casual QSOs though I contend even that has become rare to find on HF and none who replied had ever copied RTTY on VHF and above.

Packet seems an obvious alternative to RTTY in a similar fashion, but as modes go, it’s ancient now too. I used to have a terminal node controller connected to a dedicated two meter radio that was left running 24/7. In those days I’d arrive home from work and see the message light blinking indicating someone had left messages for me while I wasn’t home. That’s probably as close to doing what my old mentor used to do as I’ll ever get - and I last did that 20-30 years ago.

Still, I wouldn’t mind recreating that scenario (using software instead of big iron) using RTTY on VHF to exchange messages with a local ham.

For no other reason than it can be done…


DX Marathon ADIF Converter Updated

Version 21.1 of the ADIF to CQ DX Marathon conversion program has been released by Jim Reisert, AD1C.

I have released the ADIF to CQ DX Marathon conversion program for the 2021 Marathon year:

–> https://software.ad1c.us/marathon/

Click on the “History” link at the top of the page to find the download link. Simply download the installation file and run it to install or update your existing program.

Please let me know if you encounter any problems with the software.

73 - Jim AD1C

The CQ DX Marathon is an annual recognition issued by CQ Magazine. It is the sum total of the number of different entities plus the number of CQ zones worked in a given year.

This conversion program for Microsoft Windows reads an ADIF log file, extracts all of the unique entities and zones worked, and writes the corresponding QSO data to the official Scoresheet.

The current version of the conversion program is 21.1 and was released on 10 February 2021. This version will expire on 31 January 2022. This program has been tested on Windows XP and Windows 7, so it should function on any version of Windows, XP or later.


Heavy Duty Push-Up Masts

You probably can’t tell it with all the snow and cold, but plans are being made by optimistic radio hams in the northern hemisphere for a spate of antenna work that will be attended to as soon as the weather for that work improves. Discussing my plans with a friend, he relayed this information (see below) on a supplier of fiberglass push-up masts.

I thought it worth sharing here since I’ll probably order a few of these for portable supports and see how they hold up. As usual, caveat emptor. I don’t own this hardware and this isn’t an endorsement - just sharing information.

–> Max-Gain Systems, Inc.

Announcing Max-Gain Systems, Inc.’s line of heavy duty (1/8 inch thick wall on all tubes … not the thin walled “glorified fishing poles” sold by some) … fiberglass push-up masts! Max-Gain System’s fiberglass telescopic masts provide the perfect platform to raise a multitude of different types of antenna to the required height. They are commonly used for mobile, temporary or even semi-permanent deployment of equipment.


Station Logging

There is a large gaping hole in my record of HF activities. That’s because we used to be required to keep a log and when the FCC announced one day that it was no longer a requirement, I took them seriously and ended the practice altogether.

It’s only been in the last ten years that I resumed actively logging and managed to patch together a few older records from a cache of paper logs I found. These days I use a main logging program though I also have some specialty applications for specific activities, but even these eventually filter into the main station log.

Even in electronic form it remains a lot of work, but the payoff being award credit. If I had no interest in awards of any kind would I maintain a log? I’m not sure. Though my current log is fairly detailed and much of it auto-populated, I’ve never been inclined to sit down and pore over the data in hopes of learning anything specific.

And then I read this on a mailing list this morning:

“I still maintain a log, including unanswered CQ calls and tests conducted because such distinguishes the genuine ham, the technical experimenter, from the crypto-CBer”

I guess some hams take logging a lot more seriously than me though the notion of more detailed data collection is an interesting one.

My handwritten logs from the old days did include more data points about my contacts though I haven’t logged failed CQ attempts since my Novice days. Recording things like the SFI or antenna used, etc. when making contacts might prove useful if I was ever on a serious log spelunking expedition.

I’m not certain such a logging application exists and creating a custom database might be the only way to do it. Then there is the matter of getting it to auto-populate fields from network sources and the radio. And the matter of one-click submissions to LoTW and Club Log…

It’s a tall order and one I’m inclined to pass on, for now.


Long Island CW Club

Every now and again someone asks how I learned Morse Code and the truth is I don’t remember the exact details. I had a 33 rpm long-playing practice record that was probably produced by the ARRL. I did have a leg-up in this endeavor because a neighborhood friend and I had a pair of walkie-talkies with the ability to send code back and forth and we learned to do that long before high school.

Here in the modern era there are many options for learning the code and while all of them seem better than the vinyl record I used, I’ve heard so many good things about the Long Island CW Club and their dedicated effort to teach Morse that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend that path to learning CW.

Talk: 8pm UTC, Tues 9th Feb - Long Island CW Club - learning and improving morse code for all

Howard, WB2UZE will be giving an entertaining and very informative talk on how to learn morse and to improve it. So have ever wondered about learning morse? Have tried it and struggled with motivating yourself?  Have you grasped morse but lack the confidence to go on air? Are you a morse wizz but would like to see how Long Island CW Club teach morse? Would you like to be entertained on any subject by an enthusiastic speaker?  Well, this talk could be for you. It should be a great night!

–> Streaming live on YouTube


SKCC Growth

An update message appears once or twice a month on the SKCC mailing list that introduces the newest members. I’m always impressed at the continued growth and note this month that Straight Key Century Club membership is approaching 24,000 worldwide. Those who run the show have done a fine job of maintaining a high-level of interest in group activities, but I think a lot of this growth is due mainly to a latent interest in CW.

It may be that a straight key seems a safer path to Morse usage given the typically slower speed of operation induced by manually creating code. It might be that the segments of the bands where SKCC members congregate are always populated. Or it could be that the group is a friendly lot always ready to lend a hand to those working toward mastering the key. These are all true.

But I think a lot of hams simply want to add CW to their resume. Sure, many try it and drop out along the way. But others, driven by the determination to acquire this skill, hang tough and find their place among those who testify after the ritual is complete that they now prefer Morse over any other mode.


Party Time

Punxsutawney Phil had nothing good to share with those weary of winter. His prediction was for six more weeks of cold, drab weather. But he may have missed the most obvious sign that this season is nearing conclusion - the return of the State QSO Party!

These popular events hibernate during most of the winter and then begin to slowly reappear as we round the corner to spring.

This weekend comes the Vermont and Minnesota QP’s. If those don’t keep you busy enough there’s also the British Columbia QSO Party along with the North American CW Sprint among others.

So even as the Polar Vortex begins to descend across the nation, ham shacks across America have plenty of reason to remain warm and occupied. Just turn on the heater and ON THE AIR sign and get cracking.

It’s party time!


Coming of the Law

Rewind more than a century ago when the radio frequency spectrum was literally a wild wild west until the “coming of the law”. The impetus for passage of the Radio Act of 1912 was the sinking of the passenger ship Titanic off the coast of Greenland and subsequent rumors that amateur radio interference hindered relays of the distress call.

The 1912 act provided for the licensing of radio operators, a separate frequency for distress calls, absolute priority for distress calls, and 24-hour radio service for ships at sea.

Fast-forward to this present day and “the coming of the law” has hit the hobby drone space in an eerily similar fashion for much the same reason:

Understanding the New FAA Rule on Remote Identification

On December 28, 2020, the FAA released 800 pages of new drone regulations spread across two rules. The rules were officially published on January 15, 2021. The first rule requires drones to remotely identify themselves (beginning in September 2023); the second enables operations at night and, in more limited cases, over people (beginning later this year).


Straight Keys

When I was a Novice I had a straight key that I used with a Heathkit HW-16. That combo, along with a wire antenna installed just inches from an overhead power line was my introduction to CW. After a few hundred contacts someone told me I really needed to move to paddles if I was to get serious about chasing DX.

From 1980 to 2013 there wasn’t a single CW contact in my log generated by a straight key. I never even joined in Straight Key Night festivities over all those years. But from 2013 until today there are thousands of additional CW contacts in my log and a little more than half those were made using a straight key.

What changed?

I became active with the Straight Key Century Club. Though I had become a member in 2007, I didn’t jump on the manually produced Morse bandwagon until six years later when I was looking for some CW activity one evening and bumped into a weekend sprint already in progress. I had to dig out the old straight key and look online to discover my SKCC number.

I enjoyed that event and started congregating with that group and now prefer using a straight key. This transformation didn’t happen overnight, but over the course of the next few years I noticed a definite preference for using the straight key.

Adding a few high-quality keys helped. Complaints about sore arms from using a straight key are often attributable to using lousy hardware and now I have several high-quality straight keys that give me no such complaint.

The real charm in using a straight key for me is that it forces me to slow down. I can’t send faster than 20 words per minute with a straight key, and even that is on the edge of becoming a chore. Turns out, about fifteen words per minute is a sweet spot for me. And at that speed using a high quality instrument, I have zero issues with a glass arm.

The slower speed is not suitable for contesting of course, but when I use a straight key I’m less interested in sending speed and more focused on good sending and on the QSO in progress.

Sure, it takes a little longer, but where am I going in a hurry?


Arctic Outpost Radio

Streaming music from a better era. Something about this genre of music soothed, comforted, and brought a little joy to a nation during a World War. Maybe some of its restorative mojo can provide similar relief during a global pandemic?

Arctic Outpost Radio AM 1270

Spinning the 78’s from the top of the world.  Playing great shellacs from 1902-1958. Big Band, Jazz, Swing, Vintage Country, and Blues.


Melting Snow

The big snowstorm fizzled a bit. While they were calling for 6-8 inches of heavy, wet snow we have 2-3 inches on the ground best I can measure in this pre-dawn morning. More might have fallen, but it’s melting quickly. Unless we get a lot more today I think the driveway will take care of cleaning itself.

Odd Lots

I caught the latest edition of the SolderSmoke podcast yesterday, always an enjoyable dose of ham radio. I used to wish they would produce this more often but have come to believe that part of charm and success of the program is its scarcity. It’s kept me coming back for years.

The Four State QRP Group is out with another handy new kit, the N5IB Crystal Spotter:

Designed by Jim Giammanco, N5IB, the Crystal Spotter uses a classic Pierce oscillator circuit to produce a signal at the series resonant frequency of a quartz crystal. The signal can be heard in a nearby receiver without any electrical connection to the receiver. It is useful for locating a crystal’s operating frequency in uncalibrated receivers, or for checking whether a crystal is active.

If you missed the 2021 Propagation Summit last weekend the video is now available online. Each presentation begins approximately on the hour and you can advance the video to the presentation you wish to view.