Autumn Equinox - Alban Elfed

The name for the festival of the Autumn Equinox in Druidry is Alban Elfed, which means ‘The Light of the Water’.

The Wheel turns and the time of balance returns. Alban Elfed marks the balance of day and night before the darkness overtakes the light. It is also the time of the second harvest, usually of the fruit which has stayed on the trees and plants that have ripened under the summer sun.

It is this final harvest which can take the central theme of the Alban Elfed ceremony – thanking the Earth, in her full abundance as Mother and Giver, for the great harvest, as Autumn begins.

This Feast is known by many names to many people, for the Truth is reflected from many mirrors. It has been celebrated as Alban Elfed and Harvest. Our ancestors called it by names long forgotten, and our children will call it by names as yet unconceived.

At this time, our ancestors saw the Sun, for the first time in half a year, be unable to outshine the Dark. Although he still shines with strength, his strength grows weaker as the days grow shorter.

Today he holds the Darkness in in equal measure to the Light, but he is struck in his season with the wound of Time and from day to day the darkness will grow as the Lord of Light sinks into his Age, for the wound is grievous and will not heal. This is a time of farewell and gratitude for the summer that has been.


AMSAT BoD Election Results

The number of votes cast for each candidate is as follows:

  • Mark Hammond, N8MH - 707
  • Paul Stoetzer, N8HM - 703
  • Bruce Paige, KK5DO - 667
  • Howie DeFelice, AB2S - 550
  • Bob McGwier, N4HY - 534
  • Jeff Johns, WE4B - 429

Accordingly, pursuant to Article III, Section 4 of the Bylaws:

Mark Hammond, N8MH, Paul Stoetzer, N8HM, and Bruce Paige, KK5DO, have been elected as Directors of the Corporation for terms ending in 2022.

The members have spoken and hopefully this will close the door on a particularly ugly campaign season and we can finally quit arguing and get back to the primary mission, keeping ham radio in space.

I look forward to GOLF and a return to higher orbits.


Morning Brew

I woke early this morning. I don’t sleep well in hotels and this morning I was wide-awake at 5am in South Carolina. There’s a Starbucks across the road from where I’m staying and I was waiting outside when they opened. I haven’t been to a coffee shop in six months due to the pandemic and this won’t become routine but strong coffee was necessary at this hour.

Long before the run for coffee I was listening to traffic on QO-100 via the WebSDR at Goonhilly in Cornwall. The time difference makes listening in the evening (my time) less productive but early mornings here, especially on the weekends, usually results in a busy transponder and this Saturday morning was no exception.

There were many conversation streams to choose from and several were English speaking. One was particularly interesting because Lutz, PA/DL9DAN was operating portable from Ameland Island (JO23VK) as he is nearing the end of his two week IOTA holiday there. His portable station for the satellite consists of an RSP2pro SDR and an IC7000 with an SQ-Lab transverter and amplifier along with a 40cm dish.

I caught him working several stations and snipped a bit of the audio. Listen here. He expects to be on the island through September 25th if you need EU-038 and have access to QO-100.

Whenever I listen to this satellite I wish we had a similar resource available in North America though it would be less interesting to me if it only covered the Americas. The geostationary orbit provides a stable platform and significantly reduces requirements on the ground, but nice as it is, the fixed footprint doesn’t provide the global communication opportunities we had with the P3 birds.


Easy Sats

I’ve read some of the collected ignorance about how working the FM satellites is just like working another repeater. Of course that’s silly, I’ve never had to track a repeater’s location while continuously adjusting the frequency to compensate for Doppler, etc.

But that doesn’t make for a snappy comeback.

This printed on the back of an AMSAT T-shirt does a better job of making that point:

I had a QSO on a repeater that is 4 inches square, traveling 17,000 MPH, 1,400 miles away, using 5 watts, in outer space. Easy.

Yeah. That’s much better.


QRP Expectations

Almost all my low-power HF activity takes place in the field. It’s usually the KX3, a battery, and the Elecraft AX1 portable antenna.

There’s no magic in the AX1 and similar antennas abound. The only thing unique about it is that I’ve yet to be skunked using it but that will eventually happen. Five watts (or thereabout, I’m not a purist) and a compromised antenna during an extended solar minimum is bound to disappoint on occasion.

But it can also delight, and that’s why some of us keep doing it.

When I take the portable radio outside I don’t care who I work, so long as I make a contact with someone. I never expect that the next contact will be some rare DX or an all time new one. The precariousness of my setup makes even small victories feel larger than life and that’s the secret sauce of QRP.

To be sure, there are those who win enough awards to paper the walls of the shack using five watts in contests, etc. but almost every one of these are using large enough antennas to make a big amplifier blush. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s the antithesis of the fellow at the opposite end of the scale.

You take a small, battery powered radio into the field and make a half-dozen CW contacts with anyone, anywhere, and you’ve done something impressive. It won’t seem at all remarkable to the majority, but those who understand the minimalistic frugality of QRP in the field will be grinning with you from a distance.

As it turns out, he who dies with the most toys doesn’t win, but the guy with the most QRP fun in the bank is the real winner.


More on JX0X 2021

Mea culpa! In my previous post about the 2021 Jan Mayen Island JX0X DXpedition I failed to include pertinent information about the location and how to support the operation.

Jan Mayen is a Norwegian volcanic island in the Arctic Ocean, with no permanent population. It is 55 km long and 373 km² in area, partly covered by glaciers. It has two parts: larger northeast Nord-Jan and smaller Sør-Jan, linked by a 2.5 km wide isthmus.

The preliminary plan is to leave from North Norway on September 15th (PM) in a chartered Polar-designed vessel. Arrival is expected three days later depending on sea conditions. The island is also controlled by the Norwegian Armed Forces who authorize the camp setup and require the vessel to remain on stand-by outside Jan Mayen during the operation to ensure the safety of the operators.

During three weeks, from September 15th until October 5th, 2021 a small group of operators will be heading for Jan Mayen Island (71 degrees North) and during 14 days operation be active using the already confirmed callsign JXØX.

The team will run four stations simultaneously, aiming for 24/7 operation. The main modes will be CW, Digi, and some SSB. This expedition will focus on the low bands (160, 80, 60, 40, and 30 meters) with a big ear toward North America among others.

According to Club Log data, Jan Mayen (CQ Zone 40) is currently number 70 on the most wanted list. To date there has been no recorded data activity from this entity on 160, 80, 60, or 6 meters.

JXØX 2021 Jan Mayen Island DX-pedition

The proposed budget for the JX0X operation is $100,000 USD. More than $25,000 still needs to be raised. There are various levels of support available, check the DXpedition site for specific donation details. Keep in mind that donated funds will be refunded in the event the operation is cancelled.


Jan Mayen JX0X News

One of the DXpeditions I most look forward to in 2021 is the JX0X Jan Mayen adventure. It would be an ATNO for me, plus at just a tad north of 70 degrees in the Arctic Ocean, it’s one of my favorite parts of the planet. The operation has been raising funds with plans to be on the island by mid-September of next year.

But now some question has arisen about the balance of the funding required given that Erik, LA2US (aka JW2US) has announced he will be working on Jan Mayen from October (2020) through March of 2021 and plans to be QRV in his spare time as JX2US with an emphasis on CW and FT8 on 160, 80, 40, and 30 meters.

Of this new development, JX0X team leader Kenneth Opskar, LA7GIA wrote on Facebook:

We received the news yesterday that LA-DX-Group member Erik LA2US is going on a 6-month work assignment to Jan Mayen. His trip has been unknown to us. This puts our project in a difficult situation. While there are several differences between a 6 month single-op trip and a 2 week tent and generator DXpedition, for us this is a matter of if we are:

  • able to raise the remaining funds
  • willing to sign an expensive vessel contract with all the added uncertainties

With this added info we are hesitant to sign the vessel contract without knowing the result of the support from the DX community.

And of the funding still needed, Kenneth added:

We offer 100% refund of all donations in case DXped is cancelled. We expect a final decision to go will be taken in a few months, dependent on the financial situation.


AMSAT - Changes Required

The last few AMSAT election cycles have been painful. Opposing views on how things should be done is healthy and to be expected. But something other than normal ham radio club contention has descended like a mist over the organization and is leaving considerable damage in its wake. It’s time for a few fundamental changes to the bylaws as well as the rules regarding certain member services, like the mailing list.

Excessive drama has been promulgated by prospective new board members who have launched an organized, scorched-earth campaign for control of the Board. This naturally manifests itself on the mailing list where members are continuously assaulted with campaign rhetoric over an unnecessarily extended period of time. The result is member fatigue and bad feelings on the part of everyone as opposing factions line up annually to take sides.

That this plays out for three or four months every year is not healthy and shouldn’t be tolerated as the new normal. The primary business of AMSAT is in keeping ham radio in space, not constantly dealing with the politics of the organization. To be certain elections are essential and important, but these seem to have become the main event. All eyes are fixed on the debacle that electing new board members has become and this needs to end.

Here are a few changes that would relieve the current situation while improving the long-term health of the organization:

  1. AMSAT should make available on its Web site a page (2,000 word limit with one photo) for each nominee to introduce themselves and make their case why members should vote for them. No other form of promotion should be permitted, including private mailings (and would disqualify candidates) and certainly no candidate should receive an address list of members - duh.

  2. BoD voting should take place online only. Prospective directors should be announced on August 15th and voting should end 14 days later with results announced the next day. The current July 15th to September 15th period drags out the process unnecessarily and was probably set in the bylaws in the era before online communication when the Pony Express needed months to deliver ballots to HQ.

  3. Rules regarding the use of AMSAT-BB should be modified so that it cannot be used for campaigning. Violators would be banned for one year. No exceptions. Zero tolerance. AMSAT-BB should be a year-round resource to discuss and share satellite operations, news, science and exploration without being used as a bully pulpit for those intent on making their case about politics, etc.

  4. A second mailing list could be created (I suggest AMSAT-BS) that would serve as the wild west for discussing politics, conspiracy theories, takeover attempts, the Deep State, mole people, alien abductions, endless self-promotion, whatever. It could be activated from July 1st until election results are announced each year and be disabled outside that time period.

In short, the current election process is too long and drawn out and everyone is exhausted by the seemingly endless campaign bickering. The good news is this isn’t rocket science and can be easily solved. And NOW is a good time to do something about it since there isn’t a single AMSAT member who doesn’t long for this situation to just go away.

– Jeff, KE9V is a Life Member of AMSAT-NA


Unfinished Business

Although I’ve spent more than forty years in the hobby and have managed to stay enthusiastically involved for all that time, until only recently I was never concerned with awards. I’ve always considered myself a casual radio operator who enjoyed ragchewing more than anything else. And to be honest, I always thought the serious paper chasers were obsessed without good reason.

But in this season of life I’ve become interested in accomplishing things that will require some paper. I’ve squandered a lot of valuable time and now the achievement of certain goals will require more attention to detail and considerable effort.

That’s why I’m preparing to make a run at the DX Marathon next year. I don’t expect to “win” anything, but I expect the focused effort to be valuable in other ways.

For instance, when FT8 became a thing several summers ago i jumped onboard and spent the next 8 months working anything I could with the result being a log full of new contacts. And because digital operators are the best at using LoTW, I had WAS via FT8 in the first few weeks of that run. I wasn’t trying for it, but you work a few thousand stations and chances are good you’ve worked all fifty states.

Had I been smarter I would have only worked what I needed and saved a lot of time and effort. But my approach was casual, or better, haphazard. I wasn’t trying to achieve WAS on FT8 so it didn’t matter to me who I worked. The same has been true for most of my radio life. I’ve never tried to achieve a particular goal that would lead to some sort of award. That was the business of those odd, obsessive type radio enthusiasts, not me.

But having now rejected that notion, I want the awards and have started sleuthing through my log with an eye toward achievement and finding a lot of low-hanging fruit.

As an example, I have WAS on CW and Digital but not on Phone. That’s not surprising given my preference for CW and that I don’t do much phone work at all. Even so, looking through the logs I discover that all I need is Alaska, Idaho, South Dakota, and Utah confirmed on Phone to qualify for WAS Phone which would also yield the Triple Play WAS Award. Then I see 47 confirmed on 80M, 49 confirmed on 40M, 49 on 30M, and 48 confirmed on 20M. I’m very close on most bands with RTTY too.

And don’t even get me started on DX awards. It’s a crying shame what years of not logging has done to my permanent ham radio record.

Whatever aversion I once had to chasing paper has ended. There may not be enough years left in my life to finish big, but it won’t be for lack of effort at this point in the long adventure.


Follow Me on Twitter

Longtime readers are probably aware that I maintain a fairly active Twitter account (@KE9V) and you should consider following me if you’re not already, and here are a couple reasons why I say that.

First, I like to think that I get a little wood on the ball every now and then and post things that active ham radio enthusiasts might find useful, timely, and maybe even interesting.

Beyond that it’s a good place to publicly comment on these posts since there is no comment feature here. I generally read all the mentions there and am always more up to date reading Twitter mentions than I am email. Twitter beats email for reading comments from readers because of its enforced brevity and I don’t have to open them, I just scroll and read.

I might follow you back if I know you or your Twitter handle identifies you as a radio amateur. I won’t follow you if your account is locked for privacy since that prevents me from taking a look at your previous tweets to see if we have anything in common.

I definitely won’t follow you back if you frequently tweet or retweet about politics. I support your right to free speech, but I don’t want to read your opinions on politics anymore than you want to read mine. Let’s not fool ourselves, no one is changing anyone’s mind about who to vote for based on something you or I tweet so why waste the effort?


About That Proposed Fee

The FCC proposal to reinstate Amateur Radio service fees has certainly fired up the crowd. No one likes to pay for anything, especially when it’s been free for a long time. It’s not going out on a limb to suggest this one will receive a record number of comments from the peanut gallery.

I don’t pretend to know what impact these new fees might have on the growth of the amateur service. Early commenters suggest doom and gloom and of course, “what about the children” who will no longer be able to afford entry into our magical world of radio?

I don’t plan to comment on this proposal because I can’t seem to muster the outrage felt by many. Of course I’d prefer to never have to pay another fee, but you get used to these things living in America. What sort of government licensing comes with no fee? Drivers license? Nope. Fishing license? Nope. Hunting license? Nope. Concealed Carry Permit for a handgun? Not even the 2nd Amendment precludes the government from collecting fees for that.

Deadlines for comments and reply comments will be determined once the NPRM appears in the Federal Register. File comments by using the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS), posting to MD Docket No. 20-270. This docket is already open for accepting comments even though deadlines have not yet been set.

You can argue all day long whether these fees are necessary or reasonable but the bottom line is that if the government is going to regulate something, there will be some involved costs. And since not all taxpayers enjoy amateur radio, the question can be reasonably asked, “why should all taxpayers have to cover those costs for the few who do enjoy amateur radio?”

Why do ham radio enthusiasts feel entitled to a free ride when it comes to their hobby? I honestly don’t know. It would be easy to simply declare hams “cheap” except their spending on equipment, antennas, conventions, hamfests and travel to exotic locations to play in a contest belies that notion.

While the proposed fifty-dollar fee must be paid up front, it’s a ten-year license with the net result being a five dollar per year fee, hardly outrageous. The way I see it, so long as the amateur radio service offsets its costs via fees, we might not have to listen to Rand Paul someday point out how our service amounts to wasted tax dollars and should therefore be eliminated.

There’s also a certain irony here. Many US hams identify politically as conservative and the Bill that could result in fees for amateur radio was Republican sponsored and signed into law by Trump in 2018. Decades of voting to send politicians to Washington to slash the budget and ferret out “waste” may have simply come home to roost.

It’s not unlike pigs voting constantly for bacon and then one day being suddenly surprised by the pain of the knife.


K3NG Rotor Control Server

I’ve been looking around for an interface for the Yaesu G-5500 azimuth-elevation rotor. While there’s plenty to choose from, I found it interesting that the LVB Tracker kit is out of production while the Yaesu GS232-B is just stupid expensive.

I mentioned that to a friend in an email and he replied that his development of an Arduino based project to do just that was coming along nicely. K3NG’s Raspberry Pi Antenna Array Rotator Control Server is precisely what I need. Given this hardware arrangement I can use the controller with my MacDoppler tracking software that will also communicate with the IC-9700 to automatically manage frequency changes due to Doppler.

While not required, I think I’ll use a Raspberry Pi and a small external display as shown in the video. Seems like a great way to automate and manage my satellite station. A GitHub repository contains the code and Goody maintains a Groups.io list for supporting technical discussions.

Here’s a direct link to the video in case you can’t view the embed above.

Also note his use of GPredict for satellite tracking. I last used that decades ago on Linux and had no idea it was still being developed or that it was available on multiple platforms. If you were looking for free tracking software I don’t know why you would look any further.


Gigabit

The fiber to home installation went smoothly yesterday. Only took an hour and I was back in business with blazing (1Gbits) speed. My service is Internet only, no television or telephone. We pay for several streaming services that provide all the content we care to consume.

The monthly savings is substantial with the added joy that I get to return all the Comcast/Xfinity hardware in person tomorrow.

I’ve had cable Internet service since it first came to town way back in a previous century and now 20+ years later we finally have another option. Cable was the only high-speed game in this area until ATT recently began installing fiber trunks in select areas around town. It’s nice to finally have another choice and really hope this works out well.


Begali Sculpture

Over these many years in the hobby I’ve managed to assemble a modest collection of keys and paddles. It’s an assortment of odds and ends but of those that have seen the most use two are from Vibroplex, two from N3ZN, and now I have a second precision instrument from Begali.

I’ve drooled over the Sculpture many times while at Dayton but never could quite bring myself to pull the purchase trigger. But since then the world changed and with the pandemic, who knew if the supply lines were even still open? I checked online and followed up with Bruna, Pietro’s daughter, and found I could still order a Sculpture and receive it in a reasonable amount of time.

I opted for the Titanium Nitrate finish in black and had my call sign engraved on it. It arrived today. I find it classically beautiful. An example of old world craftsmanship and a monument to Morse. It takes its place on my desk in the shack as my daily driver and one day an heirloom…


Expedition to the Edge

I’m a fan of any kind of program that includes frigid climates like ice breaking ship action, North Atlantic fisherman, polar exploration, etc. I’ve spent countless hours watching YouTube videos about winter camping and surviving sub-zero temperatures. For some reason, anything involving human survival in arctic regions is interesting to me.

Sunday evening (August 23) a new program, Expedition to the Edge will debut on Discovery Channel.

In 2018, Captain Clemens Gabriel, along with his young family and a group of modern-day explorers, set out on the adventure of a lifetime. They set a goal to cross The Northwest Passage - an Arctic ship route known for it’s historic dangers and deaths. Harsh weather and thick ice have caused the route to remain largely unexplored and uncharted.

Given my frosty obsession it’s not surprising that I have alarms set so I won’t forget it and the DVR is already configured to capture it.


Silly Notion

Amateur radio isn’t immune from conspiracy theories, speculation, and silly notions. But this one may be the silliest of all…

A large number of radio enthusiasts seem to have embraced the idea that when it comes to our radio spectrum, “if we don’t use it, we will lose it”. This warped bit of logic has been responsible for all sorts of efforts to generate more noise on our bands, a misguided effort intended to show that we’re making good use of the frequencies we’ve been granted.

But I don’t recall seeing anything in the FCC rules that pertain to our hobby requiring us to fill our bands with RF or risk losing them. Besides, how would that be measured? Do you believe there are FCC employees tuning across all of the amateur radio spectrum while keeping a running tally of the number of stations heard?

That’s not to suggest that ham radio frequencies can’t be re-assigned. Threats exist all around as RF spectrum has become like the last acres of remaining land in a new territory. It’s valuable and they ain’t making any more of it. But given the business friendly nature of government all any commercial interest has to do is make a request and it would be snatched from us in a heart beat. Even if there were a million of us occupying that desired slice of spectrum 24/7.

It’s really as simple as this: if some industry wants it, they get it and we lose it. If they don’t want it, we keep it. Period.

We’ve only managed to hang on to some spectrum for this long because we got 200 meters and down more than a century ago when the government thought those frequencies useless and some of them are still considered useless for commerce. For now…

Our highest frequency allocations continue to be picked over because business suddenly finds those deliciously valuable. For instance, the recent auction of a shared bit of bandwidth:

The FCC will auction sharing rights to the upper 50 MHz of the 3300 – 3500 MHz secondary amateur radio allocation to commercial 5G interests in the wake of the Department of Defense (DoD) agreement to share spectrum at 3450 – 3550 MHz. The entire band currently supports a variety of military operations, and amateur radio has a long history of peaceful coexistence with the Department of Defense as a secondary user of this spectrum.

There’s absolutely no reason to believe that if we were making more use of that spectrum we could have prevented this action. Commercial 5G interests wanted it, and the government handed it to them. It should be noted that radio amateurs were not consulted.

So while the old adage “if we don’t use it, we will lose it” might sound like good advice, it’s no more effective than that song and dance your Mother gave you about “starving children in China” when you didn’t eat the asparagus on your dinner plate.


Getting Vertical

I’m going to add a multi-band HF vertical to the “farm”.

I haven’t used a vertical in decades and I’m aware of the derision that comes with the antenna. They’re more susceptible to man-made noise and everyone says they “radiate poorly in all directions”. Doesn’t matter, I still need one.

HF propagation has been poor for years, but 20 meters has continued to support global communication for hours each day and I believe it will continue to do so.

That leaves me needing a low-angle radiator for 14MHz and I’m looking at something like the Cushcraft R-6000 which handles 1500 watts and covers 20, 17, 15, 12, 10, and 6 meters. It’s roughly 20-feet tall, and weighs 12 lbs. I’ll mount it on a 20-foot mast to get it above the roof. It doesn’t require ground radials.

Of course there will still be ground losses, these kinds of antennas aren’t above the laws of physics. But it should be worthwhile to have a vertical radiator with a 16 degree take-off angle on the most prolific DX band in addition to the wire antennas for the lower bands.

My only question has been the quality of Cushcraft products now that it’s owned by MFJ. But the reviews have been good and it matches my specific requirements, though I’ve not yet ruled out one of the multi-band verticals from ZeroFive Antennas.

I figure I have a month to make a final decision and then get it installed by the end of September to stay on schedule.


WVDXA

One day last week I came across this article from the West Virginia DX Association blog. One thing led to another (that’s why they call it the Web) and I ended up discovering a treasure trove of hints and kinks that will be helpful in my DX Marathon quest.

So much so that I decided to join the WVDXA to gain access to the collected mind share of that large group of active and successful DXers. Despite my residing outside their area, I’ve been warmly welcomed and now participate with the group via Slack, mailing list, and online meetings.

Collaboration with like-minded enthusiasts is a critical element to achievement in this endeavor. And the added kinship makes DXing feel much more like a guild than just another facet of amateur radio.


The Final Courtesy

“The final courtesy of a QSO is a QSL” - ARRL Operating Manual.

QSLing is weird on the face of it. You worked someone via radio but you still need “proof” of that contact. It’s as though you don’t believe you did what you just did. I’m all but certain the practice began in the days of spark when ‘Junior’ made a contact using Morse code and his parents seemed skeptical when he told them about it. After all, they couldn’t decode the weird sounds pouring forth from the loudspeaker.

But when a paper card was delivered by postal mail a few weeks later, the deed was confirmed and ‘Junior’ was vindicated. This may not be historically accurate, but I’d bet a growler of some tasty brew that’s precisely how the practice of exchanging QSL cards came to pass.

These days the price of postage can be prohibitive, especially for a very active operator who might make 10,000 or more contacts a year. QSL bureaus exist to offload some of these costs, but it takes time packaging all the cards and then it often takes two or three years to complete the exchange. Bureau use may be coming to an end anyway as it may not be be sustainable for a myriad of reasons.

I make use of Logbook of the World (LoTW), a way to electronically submit contacts (QSOs) for confirmation and ARRL award credit. This is fast and easy but the adoption rate is not terribly impressive to me.

At present, just 56% of the contacts I’ve uploaded over the last decade have been matched. Being a CW enthusiast most of those contacts were made using that mode and I’ve found CW operators less likely to QSL via LoTW. On the other hand, a high percentage (over 90%) of digital contacts that I’ve made have been verified via LoTW - often within hours of completing the contact.

We’ll circle back to these particular points in another post.

While the DX Marathon doesn’t require QSLs, my ultimate goal is to add to my DXCC totals and that does require some form of confirmation. Accordingly, I’ve decided to resume direct exchange of paper cards in addition to LoTW. I had ended that practice in 2015 but going forward I’m willing to reciprocate directly, even though I don’t expect that will be very fruitful.

I remain unwilling to pay for any confirmation other than electronic. For instance, I’ll use Online QSL Requests when expedient, but I won’t tuck a few greenstamps into an envelope sent around the world via postal mail, etc. as it seems a poor practice in the 21st century.


The Equipment

My shack is built around an ICOM IC-7610.

I’ve never owned an HF amplifier and am limited to 100 watts. I’ve no plans to add an amplifier this year, but if and when I do it would likely be a 500 watt solid state amplifier like the KPA500 from Elecraft.

The 7610 has a built-in antenna automatic tuner but it’s inadequate for the wire antennas I generally employ. That’s why I also have an ICOM AH-4 auto-tuner. It’s been a great purchase and handles whatever oddball aerial I’ve thrown at it. ICOM says it “covers all amateur bands from 3.5 MHz through 50 MHz with a 23 foot or longer wire antenna” and I’ve found this accurate. It’s designed for a variety of locations, outdoors, on a back porch but mine is installed in the shack.

An IC-7300 serves as a dedicated digital station as well as a capable back-up for the 7610. Everyone knows about the 7300, it’s an excellent performer and probably the highest-value HF transceiver currently on the market. It integrates with the AH-4 to share the wire antennas, but I’m going to add a new vertical so these can be used simultaneously though I have no clue (yet) how to multiplex transceivers with logging and contest software.

Finally, I have an ICOM IC-9700 for all-mode VHF/UHF/1.2 work along with an Elecraft KX3 for field work though the KX3 can also serve as a back-up as it arguably has the best receiver in the shack. These two probably don’t factor in my DX Marathon quest, but they round out the station and provide me access from 160 meters to 1.2 Ghz as well as pick-up and go radio possibilities.

That’s the primary hardware line-up and I’m certain it’s more than adequate for my needs in this journey. The WORK is going to be integrating and automating as much of this as possible, and making it all friendly to operate.


The Plan

If you don’t know where you’re going any road will get you there, but after more than forty years in this hobby, I’ve found it much more useful to have a plan.

Amateur radio is like an action movie with endless sub-plots. You might think it just a means to communicate with someone else but that’s an overly simplistic view. In order to keep it fresh and interesting for more than a century, radio hams have become good at making up all sorts of games and challenges.

Contesting is one such “game”. Rules are made up and contest dates selected and at the appointed hour the bands light up with operators trying to make more contacts than anyone else within the constraints of the contest rules. DXing isn’t much different except the rules in the world of DX chasing can make a small cluster of rocks in the middle of the ocean a new “country” to be worked and confirmed.

Then when that game gets too small, there are embellishments. Say you’ve worked a hundred different countries, but have you done it using CW only, or RTTY only, on a single band, or at QRP? These kinds of twists and turns captivate the interest of those who consume each new challenge with a vigor that keeps them feeling refreshed, challenged, and coming back for more.

I’m not immune to the allure of these many sub-plots and here in the waning days of summer, in the year of the global pandemic, I’ve decided to follow a new radio pursuit, the DX Marathon. It’s a year long event that really resonates (no pun intended) with my radio interests. I’m not a competitive person and my aim is not to “win” in any category. I’m more interested in honing my radio skills and seeing incremental improvements in my score over several years.

I intend to jump into that fray on January 1st which affords me months of preparation and I need that running start. I’m presently working to remodel the shack and install new antennas. There’s a lot more that goes along with that. Like improved station grounding, lightning protection, ergonomics, new computer and software, and various hardware additions.

Lot’s of work ahead.


Colophon

Just a few more details about the site before getting started.

Navigation is simple. The latest 30 posts will appear on the main page in reverse chronological order. Clicking on the title of a post will take you to its permanent link and if you want to share a post elsewhere, that revealed address is what you should use. Get back to the main page by clicking the Home link at the top of the page.

A full RSS feed is provided for the last ten posts. Use the link at the top of the page to subscribe using your favorite reader.

I’ve designed this space to be as clutter free as possible. My preference is a plain white background with black text. You won’t find much in the way of graphics here. Where I want to include photos I’ll link to them. I despise advertisements and am particularly critical of those that pop-up, pop-under, pop-over or are plastered on a Web site like graffiti on the subway. I don’t use cookies and have no reason to track you. No music or audio files will automatically play when you show up here.

You’re welcome!

Links to books or devices that appear here might direct you to Amazon or some other retail site, but I have no affiliation with any of these and are for information only. I’m neither a shill or a grifter and don’t get paid to say nice things or to direct you to other sites with pecuniary interest. I’m not employed by anyone in the amateur radio industry and any endorsement made here is based on my direct experience (I own it) and is only a personal recommendation.

You’re welcome!

I’m using Google fonts (Oswald and Ubuntu) and Jekyll handles mobile rendering well. This site should appear properly on smartphones, tablets, and desktop computers. The Web server is running on Linode, a Linux virtual machine located in North America.

I can’t think of anything else to tell you about the site. If you’ve read this and the previous post I congratulate your interest in tedious details. I wanted to make this info available at the outset and an embedded part of the permanent record.


Prologue

I use a static site generator to create these pages. My input is plain text and the resulting output is formatted HTML.

Jekyll is the tool that makes this possible. Written in Ruby by Tom Preston-Werner, GitHub’s co-founder, it is distributed under the open source MIT license.

I’ve always preferred simple Web sites. Especially having spent several years using Wordpress. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, except for the databases, comment moderation, and frequent pesky updates to install. I would have opted for handcrafted HTML as I did for more than a decade, but I’ve grown weary of manually fiddling with CSS. I wanted a clean, uniform look across the site with as little hassle as possible.

Now I write posts and pages using plain text and Markdown in a text editor, run those files through the processor and upload the output. I keep the original files on my laptop and copies on my server. If that hardware is ever hacked or fails miserably the re-installation requires only a simple file upload and I’m back in business.

That’s why this site doesn’t look like the standard Blogspot and Wordpress templates that are widely used in the ham radio blogosphere. While I don’t want to deal with comments (too much hassle), I did want to present new posts in reverse chronological order and I wanted to generate an RSS feed for my content.

Jekyll automates all that simply and after a few months of shaking things down and getting it all tweaked, I’m ready to put this thing on auto-pilot and resume chronicling my ham radio adventures.