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Whiteout

I’m home from a few nights in Toledo where a lot of snow was expected, but only a portion of it showed up. It snowed for 36-48 hours without stop but the ground was warm enough that most of it melted on contact. There was about three-inches on the ground when I left there this morning, but it had stopped falling.

But somewhere on the three-hour drive home I passed through a 10 mile area that was a complete whiteout. Visibility was nil with many cars and trucks having slipped off the road. When I emerged on the other side, it was all sunshine and clear skies.

I see where plans for another DX operation are being changed due to Coronavirus quarantines. The CDC now says it’s inevitable that the pandemic will visit the US and probably in a big way so they are telling people to “be prepared” which sounds like good advice but I’m not sure exactly what we can do? Suggestions from a multitude of articles on the subject say things like stock-up on hand sanitizer and make plans to stay home for 14 days which all seem a little weak to me.

The federal government seems minimally engaged at this point as Trump is more concerned that negative news will tank the stock market and that could cost him votes in November. So the threat is being downplayed which has set off all kinds of alarms in my head. If Trump says it’s not bad then it’s probably already terrible and we’re facing viral Armageddon…

Despite having prepaid for a lot of Hamvention related activities, I’m going to wait and see how things look before deciding for certain to hangout in close contact with 30,000 radio enthusiasts from around the globe.

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Sixty One

Woke this morning in Salt Lake City. Yet another birthday spent on the road. I’m alive, healthy, cheerful, and still earning a living so it’s all good, but I’m going to make this the last birthday I’ll spend working away from home. Retirement is around the corner.

I’m certainly not the youngest guy at every ham radio club meeting and event the way I was not so long ago. While I don’t consider 61 to be “old” my judgement about what is old seems to advance with the passage of time. Truth be told, sometimes it’s hard to remember I was born in another century, another millennia for that matter. Having lived 41 years in the 20th century I’m fond of declaring that century was much better than what I’ve seen of the 21st, at least so far.

These days I’m much less concerned about obtaining the latest hardware than I am about exercise, weight loss, and a better diet. As it turns out, fiber is more important than code speed, meditation more important than QSLing, regular checkups more important than band fills.

Ours is mostly a sedentary hobby that involves a lot of sitting. Heck, every contesting forum I’ve ever attended includes tips and hints about how to spend MORE time in the chair. This once seemed like wise counsel, but when I hear it now, all I see in my head is that traffic jam of electric scooters at Hamvention…

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Inspired

Steve, K9ZW recently wrote about inspiration on his With Varying Frequency blog.

Got me thinking about what kinds of things inspire me. The actions of others often inspire me to try new things or to work harder, but we seldom would learn of these without it being in some written format. My interest in amateur radio was actually kindled when I read a book that had been published ten years before I was even born. To be certain, I would have never approached this hobby, and my life would have turned out much differently had I never found that old book in the high school library.

Yesterday, I read the obituary of Dale Strieter, W4QM and was immediately inspired by his amazing life. The words that briefly told his story were reason enough to hope that at the end of our days, something equally inspiring can be said about us.

Harmon D. Strieter, W4QM passed away on January 6. Born in Unionville, Michigan in August of 1927, he was the 9th of 11 children. He graduated from Unionville High School in June 1944 and joined the US Maritime Service. He attended boot camp and a 6-month course in Radio Technology and sailed as a 3rd Radio Officer on board a vessel in the Pacific Theater during WW2. He attended Michigan State College in 1947 through 1951 and received a BS in Electrical Engineering. He worked his way through college by sailing as a Radio Officer in the Merchant Marines or working in construction during the summer months as well as part time jobs during the school year. He obtained his Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering in 1954 and was a Graduate Assistant at MSU during that time.

Harmon worked in the Lansing, Michigan area as an Audio Engineer and moved to Cocoa Beach, Florida in 1958 to work as a Missile Guidance Engineer with General Electric and was the Guidance Engineer on the Mercury and Gemini manned spaced programs. After 20 years, the contract was terminated and in 1979, he returned to sea as a Radio Electronics Officer in the Merchant Marines. He retired in 2002 at the age of 75 after 23 years sailing on various vessels.

Since 1947 he was an avid amateur radio operator and served on the board of directors for Southeastern Division of the Amateur Radio Relay League for the period of 1969-1972. Strieter was a prolific DXpeditioner. After 20 years with GE, he returned to sea in 1979 as a radio officer in the US Merchant Marine on a ship generally anchored at Chagos. As VQ9QM, Strieter logged more than 200,000 contacts from nearby Diego Garcia, between 1986 and 2001. He retired in 2002.

He was a good neighbor and mowed 3 to 4 lawns until he gave it up at 91 ½. He liked to stay busy picking up yards or blowing off driveways in the neighborhood and was still pruning and climbing trees at 89 much to the dismay of his kids. He was big help to many of his neighbors after the hurricanes.

Every year without fail I re-read the seminal DXers inspiration, The Complete DXer written by Bob Locher, W9KNI. It’s packed with inspiration and written in way that makes it feel like an action thriller, but with enough tips for better operating results that the reader is unaware that they’ve been learning the DX game while enjoying the prose. Here’s a sample of Bob’s writing from a 1977 magazine article titled, The Far Horizon, An Evening of DX.

I start carefully tuning the receiver. A few dying signals from Europe are coming in; the band has been open to Europe all afternoon, but now the path is fading out. I tune on. There — there’s a nice signal calling CQ (looking for a contact). I recognize it immediately as a DX station. The tone of the signals carries the quirks of a propagation path thousands of miles long,

CQ CQ CQ CQ DX DE UI8KDA
UI8KDA CQ CQ DX CQ DE
UI8KDA UI8KDA

As I first read his call, I hit the switch on the 800-watt amplifier. I bring my transmitter to his frequency, and call him.

UI8KDA UI8KDA DE W9KNI
W9KNI W9KNI AR K

I listen — yes, there he is.

W9KNI W9KNI DE UI8KDA R R
TNX OM ES GE BT UR RST 579
579 BT QTH HR SAMARKAND
SAMARKAND BT NAME IS
BORIS BORIS BT HW CPY?
W9KNI DE UI8KDA AR KN

Samarkand! Sun drenched city in Soviet Uzbekistan where Marco Polo found an already ancient city, where caravans from East and West met to trade rare spices and costly silks for Toledo steel and Western gold. City of spectacular Mosques, where Tamerlane held forth. I’ve worked Samarkand a number of times, but it never fails to excite my imagination. Boris is like most Soviet hams — very brief in the contacts — partly due to lack of English, and partly due to the regulations of their licenses.

The band is now practically dead. A few South and Central Americans are coming in quite well, but it’s nearly midnight, so I decide to hit the sack. I turn off the switches, and clean up the table. Not a bad evening; one rare new country worked, several interesting contacts. Better than a lot of evenings, and maybe tomorrow night I’ll catch the Andamans, or even Wallis Island.

Books and stories about DXing can really get the blood flowing, but for the home-brewer, inspiration can also be derived in the pages of design books. Just recently I re-read parts of Solid State Design for the Radio Amateur and was surprised to discover this magically delicious inspiration for the non-appliance operator in a classic tech manual. It’s right there, in the opening chapter where the author details the intended audience for the book:

A third and important stimulus has been the amateur’s quest for knowledge of how circuits operate. Individual creative needs lure still others into the field of design, where the pride of achievement comes from the act of doing. Generally speaking, communication is for these fellows a means to an end – not an end in itself. This volume is aimed at those amateurs who are not disposed to sitting in front of store-bought equipment and simply communicating with others who are so inspired.

The evidence suggests we’re surrounded with inspiration, perhaps without realizing it.

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General

Scrambled Eggs

In the shack a couple hours before sunrise this morning. But with no antenna other than a wire in the attic it’s not like I’m trolling for DX on the low-bands. It’s 30F outside and though a snow/rain mix has been falling since midnight, there’s no real accumulation, the ground it too warm for it to stick. Before walking in here I put chicken in a pot in preparation for the noon meal, made a pot of coffee and stuffed the last of my Plum Pudding barrel aged tobacco in a sure-enough Mark Twain Missouri Meerschaum. Mornings like this are made for low-band DXing but I’ve settled on eavesdropping on a few friendlies on 75 meters while shaking off the cobwebs with the first cup.

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Sometimes I wonder if Sunday mornings will still be this enjoyable after I retire?

I purchased tickets for the SWODXA DX Dinner (Hamvention) online last night. The hotel has already been booked so the plans are nearly complete. I’ll be at FDIM on Thursday and plan to spend Friday at Xenia then that evening I’ll be at the DX Dinner. I’d like to visit the Air Force Museum on Saturday, assuming its open then. I’ll be home late Saturday evening and that will end my 39th excursion to Dayton.

Best wishes for a speedy recover to Bob Bruninga, WB4APR who told the APRS world he will be out of action while doctors determine how to best treat the football-sized tumor in his gut.

Over the last month everyone around here has been sick, including yours truly. Some weird bug that has us coughing without end and feeling a little under the weather without fever. We had avoided the flu so far. Until this week when one of my daughter-in-laws went to a doctor who diagnosed her with Influenza Type B. It’s fairly late in this flu season so hopefully it will pass without much more difficulty. Our immune systems need to recharge given that the new coronavirus appears destined to span the globe. We’re overdue for pandemic, perhaps this will be that?

Having foolishly waded into the shallow end of the ARRL CEO controversy, I’ve become disillusioned with the response. Life is too short for ham radio politics. I’m an ARRL Life Member but I’m done with the organization. I’m not sure why the internal strife of a shrinking non-profit organization gathers such an interested, rowdy crowd but there’s plenty of dysfunction to pick at if you’re so inclined. I remember well the days when 73 magazine would arrive in the mail and Uncle Wayne’s monthly column would often take up a quarter of the magazine with complaints about the ARRL. I dismissed those as chumming the water to sell magazines but maybe he was on to something. One thing is certain, he’s grinning from ear-to-ear with this latest soap opera drama in Newington.

I’ve been engaged in a long conversation with a couple of radio friends about where we’re going with the hobby. These conversations almost always conclude with some minimalist definition of a simple, off-grid, low-power station, using wire antennas and CW only. More recently the discussion has warped a little to include publishing original content via AX.25 packet over HF. So not just off the power grid, but off the Internet too.

Yeah, I know, it’s foolish. Everyone knows ham radio can’t work without the Internet…

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General

ARRL Stumbles

The practically new ARRL CEO has been shown the (revolving) door. According to the terse announcement from Newington:

At its meeting this weekend, the ARRL Board of Directors did not elect Howard Michel, WB2ITX, as the ARRL Chief Executive Officer. Beginning Monday, January 20, Barry Shelley, N1VXY, will become interim CEO. Mr. Shelley was ARRL’s Chief Financial Officer for 28 years and CEO during 2018 before his retirement. The board has created a search committee to select the next CEO. More details on this and other matters which took place at the board meeting will be released shortly.

http://www.arrl.org/news/barry-shelley-n1vxy-to-become-arrl-interim-ceo

This one will be difficult, if not impossible, for the ARRL to explain to members. If it was a personnel issue we will never hear it as those are not disclosed. If it was a lack of confidence by the BoD for the CEO’s bold new direction, then there’s so much uncomfortable explaining to do that no one at HQ will be likely to do that either.

It’s no secret that members have been generally impressed with the new direction proposed during Michel’s short tenure to grow the organization by enhancing member services. Apparently, he’s also been busy trying to mend rifts between the crusty old dudes (who members won’t stop electing) and newer Board members who have ascended out of growing member frustration.

Whatever the reason, and whether members ever hear the truth about it, this is a massive failure for ARRL. Particularly, for the Board of Directors who only recently were “shaken up” and mandated to “fix” the many problems facing a century-old organization that appears to be shrinking right in front of a great cloud of witnesses. 

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Hobby Money

Editors note: I wrote this a few weeks ago intended to be a resolution for the New Year. The irony that I would publish it today, mere hours after ordering a GPSDO for my IC-9700, hasn’t escaped me. My only defense being that one-off equipment purchases will continue, it’s only the recurring charges getting the stink eye in this treatise…

Retirement appears larger in the viewfinder in 2020 and that’s got me paying closer attention to the budget as we adjust spending in preparation for the eventual retired life. There’s certainly a lot of low-hanging fruit in our discretionary spending that can be cut. 

Brenda and I chuckle when discussing the fees for mobile phone service, cable TV, and Internet access. That’s because none of these even existed when we got married! My expectation is that the three-hundred dollar a month Verizon and Comcast bills will be slashed as we either opt for lower tiers of service, or eliminate them altogether when we retire.

Multiple, individual streaming services, magazine and book subscriptions; all these little “ankle biters” seem like pocket change on their own, but when tallied together they begin to look more like the national debt.  

And it’s not just household items on the chopping block. When confronted with it on paper, I’m forced to admit that I spend too much on ham radio subscriptions and memberships.

I’m going to drop several of those as they expire this year, and the rest next year. I’m a Life Member of ARRL so that will persist along with QST, but everything else is subject to cancellation. I’m not particularly happy to end my decades long membership with AMSAT but the shenanigans of the current leadership team have made this a little easier.

And while it never amounted to much, I closed my Patreon account. No more tipping or donating to blogs, podcasts or YouTube creators. If you want to make interesting ham radio content that’s great, but you’ll have to bankroll it yourself, or at least without me. 

Of course a placeholder remains in the budget for ham radio. Equipment will need to be added and replaced on occasion and we look forward to retirement to allow us more time to travel to visit more hamfests and conventions every year.

But the non-essential fees and recurring subscriptions are going to be eliminated. Then perhaps at some later date I’ll discover something that adds so much value to my radio experience that I can’t live without it and will be happy to resume whatever that might be. 

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Be It Resolved

There’s a lot to be done in the New Year. I want to complete the shack remodeling, install several new antennas and all new feed-lines and a new ground system and appropriate lightning protection. Liquidating my slowly growing inventory of equipment that’s no longer in use is high on my list too. Oh, and I’ll finally add some bio information to my QRZ listing. I’ve always meant to do that but have never gotten round to it.

But those are just taken from my continuous improvement plans and are pretty basic. They aren’t nearly pretentious enough to be considered stretch goals worthy of being considered resolutions for a New Year. I only have a few be it resolved type goals for 2020:

  • Working stations via the Moon. EME has been on my personal radar for nearly a decade and it’s the reason I purchased the IC-9700. In my opinion, this is the pinnacle of amateur radio operation. It’s a technical challenge unlike any other facet of our hobby. It’s literally an out of this world experience and I intend to become a lunatic in 2020.
  • Meteor Scatter. Using the ionized trails of rocks falling from space to enhance radio communications may sound like something from a sci-fi book or movie but a cadre of radio hams practice this esoteric mode daily. In 2020, I intend to become a ping jockey and join them.
  • VUCC. I don’t collect a lot of wallpaper, but this is one I chased long ago before becoming distracted by HF activities and I intend to nail it down in 2020.

None of these seem impossible, but all of them will require a complete change in my current radio practices. Having been fully dedicated to HF for decades, I don’t have even a single VHF/UHF antenna installed. Ladder-line is the only thing that currently comes into my shack. My antennas are all supported by trees – not towers.

The pursuit of these New Years resolutions is a complete do-over from scratch for me. There is a lot to do and a lot more to learn. Progress may be slow at first but I believe achieving these in the coming year would be the absolute top of my lifelong ham radio adventure and I look forward to the new challenges!