Winter Field Day is back

I received word from Tom, WD8MBE, last night that Winter Field Day is back on and under “new management,” so to speak.

I was grousing here earlier this year about how I wished WFD had more participation. I’ll tell anyone who will listen, that WFD is the event that initiated me into the world of HF — so it’s an event that I certainly have strong feelings about, and I want to see it grow. Sadly, the event’s organizers, the Society for Preservation of Amateur Radio, have seemingly vanished. No one was able to submit logs for the contest this year, as the e-mail address we were sending them to was gone.

I don’t know what happened to SPAR, but as with so many hobbies, “life happens” and people have to re-shuffle their priorities.  With some of the life changes I’ve experienced this year alone, I can certainly sympathize.

The good news is, a group of dedicated hams are picking up where SPAR left off, and hopefully WFD will fire off without missing a beat this year.

The new Winter Field Day Association’s website lists all the rules for the contest. The exchange has been somewhat simplified — a welcome change in my opinion. More importantly, the leadership seems energized (there’s also a Facebook group), and I believe this is shaping up to be an excellent event.

As a side note, I am now president-elect of the Columbia Amateur Radio Club, and I’m pleased to say that our club’s first non-service on-air outing under my leadership will likely be Winter Field Day.

E-mail scam targeting ARRL addresses?

An e-mail landed in my inbox this morning that was from the “Arrl Webmail Admin” that mentioned so-called changes in the ARRL mail system. Like a lot of ARRL members, I have my e-mail forwarding active for my callsign, so I assumed this was some change to the ARRL system. Since I was reading the mail on my phone as I was rushing out of the house for work, I decided to deal with it later.

Taking a closer look at this e-mailed raised a lot of red flags. For one, it wasn’t from any ARRL domain, and second, the content didn’t make a lot of sense:

This message is from messaging center to all email account owners. We are removing access to all our mail clients. Your email account will be upgraded to a new enhanced web mail user interface provided by

Effective from the moment this email has been received and response received from you. will discontinue the use of our mail and our mail Lite interfaces.

To ensure your e-mail address book is saved in our database. Please click the reply button and enter your

username here ( )
Password here ( )
City ( )
Country of Residence ( )

Well, ARRL has never offered any sort of “client” or webmail as far as I know. Furthermore, the e-mail asked for username, password, city and country — yeah, this is definitely looking like a scam.

I don’t know if anyone else has received one of these. I didn’t see anything on the ARRL website about it.

If you examine the header of this e-mail, you’ll see a very suspicious “reply-to” address,

Don’t let ’em fool ya!

Three quick things…

This will be quick:

1. The South Carolina QSO Party is this weekend.  I intend to operate throughout the day exclusively on RTTY. Unless, of course, no one responds to 100 CQs, in which case I will switch to SSB.

2. I’m currently 13 confirmations away from DXCC. I should have been done with this by now, and when the summer began, I was trying to finish it off, but as with many things, I became distracted and ham radio hit the back burner. At least my K1N confirmations finally arrived!

3. More fun with Python. Here’s my “new and improved” Summits on the Air util. This one will load up the last 10 spots from and display them in glorious 16-color ASCII/ANSI. The arrow keys can be used to scroll up and down through the list. Improvements include the scrolling routine, it pulls 10 spots instead of just 5 (I could pull more…), a command to refresh the listing on the fly, and some slicing to tame very long comment entries.

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On Winter Field Day; more Python fun

I received a comment on my grumpy Winter Field Day post from earlier this year. It seems some other hams were a little frustrated with their WFD experience and have branched out to create a “Winter Field Day Association.”

I think many of us who participated this year were frustrated by SPAR’s handling of WFD. As it stands, no participants have been able to submit logs from the January 2015 event, as the e-mail address for log submissions seems to be broken. If I recall correctly, our club made a decent effort during the event and logged more than 60 QSOs. We certainly hate to see that effort go to waste.

From Tom, WD8MBE, yesterday:

Would like you know that WFD is still alive with or without SPAR support.
A Winter Field Day Association has been created and we are in the process of creating a website just for WFD. Soon, we will have the ability to accept logs, leave comments, etc.

We are hopeful that the 2015 logs can be resubmitted to our website for proper scoring.

And I certainly hope they are successful. There is also a “Winter Field Day” Facebook group active. Just search for it.

So it looks like some enthusiastic WFD fans are making some in-roads into getting this event back in shape. I couldn’t be happier. As I’ve said in the past, this was the event that really made me a ham radio operator.  I don’t want to give up on it!

Pooping around with Python

So I wrote a little about incorporating some Python coding on my Linux-based “old-school bulletin board system” in a previous post. A few days ago I finished my second ham radio BBS util, the “HamCall” callsign look-up tool. This one, as expected, grabs data from

This one was slightly more complex than the solar data util, as it needed some “exception handling” to account for missing data fields on some QRZ accounts. For example, if a user queried a callsign without a listed e-mail address, the program would bork. Similarly, I don’t like how QRZ stores certain info: License classes for example, are just E, G, T, etc., so I did some simple checks to produce a nicer output.

Some screenshots of it in action are below. I had to get a flying pig in there of course!

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A couple very random, yet ham-related things

I’ve been slacking on my ham radio duties because I’ve made a commitment to learn Python (or at least learn enough to do something useful with it, more on that later), but radio has still been at the forefront of my various hobbies.

clay_andersonExhibit one: A page from astronaut Clayton Anderson‘s new book, The Ordinary Spaceman.

I had an amazing opportunity last week to meet Clay and hear him talk about his time with NASA. I got in line to get him to sign my book, and I asked him about his use of the amateur radio station onboard the ISS. I wanted him to sign with his personal callsign, and it seems he left out a letter, but he was pretty busy signing books and taking time to talk to everyone. We also chatted about watches in space, and he told me he used one of the newer Omega Speedmasters with the digital/analog display. He also told me he was an ambassador for Giorgio Fedon watches (I’ve never heard of this brand), and was sporting a really cool chronograph from the company.

Exhibit two: My first Python “thing” — An ANSI-based tool for reading solar data from N0NBH.

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I woke up last Saturday with this idea in my head. But some background… I’ve recently put my old dial-up style bulletin board system (BBS) back on telnet, and since it runs on Linux, I can do some interesting things like run Python scripts right from the BBS. I want to create an entire suite of ham radio-related tools for the board, and I thought it would be fun to re-create Paul, N0NBH’s ubiquitous solar-terrestrial data widget as a BBS application.

A couple hours later I had the basics down, but I was struggling to bring in the HF and VHF conditions data in a pleasing way. I came back to the script Monday afternoon with a few new ideas and discovered a few different methods for dealing with Paul’s XML feed. I wanted to color-code the band conditions like the N0NBH web widget, so I learned a few new tricks to accomplish that. I also intend to change the sun graphic according to solar flux conditions, e.g., low SFI results in an “unhappy” sun!

I also created a tool to display the latest SOTA spots, and I’m nearly done with a lookup gadget that will hopefully present callsign data in a pleasing way. I’ve sort of halfway hacked together a DX cluster thing as well.

So I’m going forward learning Python by applying it to technology from 20 years ago. The irony is not lost on me.

FSQ – A new digital mode

I have been asked to give a presentation at our club’s October meeting, so I suggested maybe I could take a look at the new digital mode recently profiled in QST, “Fast Simple QSO” or FSQ. I played around with the software on the 30 meter band Sunday and it’s definitely unique.

FSQ attempts to create a “chatroom” or IRC-like environment. First of all, you don’t tune around to find FSQ. You go to the assigned frequency for your particular band and you “hang out there” waiting for action. You don’t live-type as with RTTY or PSK. You enter text in a box and hit enter. If the software doesn’t detect any signals on the “channel” it will key up your rig and send your message.

There’s some other neat stuff you can do, such as send SSTV images and query other users in interesting ways (For instance, you can query another user for his station information, what other stations are hearing him, an automated signal report, etc.

It’s a really intriguing mode that I have barely scratched the surface on.

Hmmm. No thanks, ARRL…


This landed in my inbox today:

Have You Heard? You Qualify for the ARRL Centennial Points Challenge Award!

No! You don’t say?!? Great!

Congratulations, you have accumulated points, worked new stations, made new friends around the world and qualified for the Centennial Points Challenge Award!

Indeed! Right on! That’s what I’m talking about. Wallpaper!!!!

The Centennial Points Challenge Award is based on the accumulation of points from qualifying QSOs made throughout 2014 and uploaded to LoTW. Recognize your achievement with a beautifully designed certificate to display in your home, office or shack!

Yes yes!! Tell me more. I need this!!

Centennial Points Certificate ONLY $16 US.

Uhhhhhh… hmmm $16 eh? (insert “womp-womp” sad noise here) All for a piece of paper with my name on it to commemorate something that required no skill to achieve? I think I’ll pass.

Oh and by the way ARRL, where’s my doodad/award/trinket/challenge coin for being a W1AW/portable operator back last year? I know at least three of my buddies locally who got one of these… I believe it looks sort of like this. I was really excited to learn about those momentos, since I was very proud to have the chance to operate as W1AW/4 for several hectic evenings/afternoons, but it seems I’ve been overlooked somehow. (insert “womp-womp” sad noise, again)

Good stuff on the net right now

We had our regular club meeting last night and I asked for a few moments to present a quick “field report” on my first SOTA activation. It seemed to be well-received — at least I hope it was. I mentioned to the crowd that doing a SOTA activation was on my “ham radio bucket list” … a term that I typically hate using because it implies I’m on my last legs. I also mentioned I’d like to try moonbounce and talking to astronauts, and once I completed those items, I’d be ready to pack it in.

Right on cue, blogger/ham radio op, NT1K wrote a post today about his ham radio bucket list, and it made me realize I still have some major accomplishments left to do. It’s a good read, so go check it out.

Other items of interest lately:

  • The Lid List. Man, I hope I never show up on this site. At least if you show up on there, you can e-mail the admin, admit your mistake and get removed from the Lid List. Basically, it’s a site that calls out bad ops. For example, a recent posting (which has since been removed) caught a KK6 station pulling the lid triple play: Operating out of band for his license, calling out of turn, and calling on top of a QSO in-progress. Ouch!
  • Facebook — what is it good for? Admittedly, I’m not much of a Facebook user, but W2LJ’s recent post reminded me that there is some valuable stuff related to ham radio on there.
  • Keep Calm and Move On. Maybe the best way to deal with Morse Code is to quit worrying about it. Great advice from KE9V on how to circumvent the most difficult parts of dealing with code and just use the mode.
  • Build your own CW decoder. Neat series of articles on how to build a CW decoder with an Arduino.
  • Jerry, KD0BIK, breaks PARP silence. Yes Jerry, your fans are still out here waiting! Jerry’s Practical Amateur Radio Podcast is one of the best. Listen to Jerry’s impressive backlog of podcasts if you actually want to learn something useful! (Soapbox: I must admit, I can’t even listen to Ham Nation anymore, and a new ham radio podcast that seems to be gaining momentum in the scene left me completely cold after several over-long episodes full of dry humor and inside jokes.)
  • My friend Bill’s company (Breadboard Radio) made it into the comprehensive radio kit guide once again. I’ve built his entire line of kits, and documented some of those builds here on the site.

That about wraps it up for me. I’d planned to operate for Islands on the Air this past weekend at Hilton Head, but with fairly miserable weather and a busy schedule, I never made it down to the shore with the FT-817 and antenna.

My First SOTA Activation: Sassafras Mountain (W4C/US-001)


The overlook at Sassafrass Mountain affords a beautiful view to the west.

Cross one more item off my ham radio bucket list: Activating a peak for Summits on the Air.

When I was first seeking my license, I quickly discovered the cult that is SOTA. I believe it was Jerry, KD0BIK’s podcast that introduced me to the concept, but it could have also been many of the blogs I follow. Certainly, the famous videos posted on YouTube by Steve, WG0AT, probably played a role, as they are a ham radio resource that everyone seems to discover at some point. I was fascinated by the program and couldn’t wait to get started.

Not long after getting on HF, I purchased a Yaesu FT-817 and a Buddistick and started planning my first summit. Well, that was more than 3 years ago. Some while back I actually hiked from Rocky Bottom, to the 1,083 meter summit of Sassafras Mountain, the tallest peak in South Carolina, with the intention of operating, only to discover on the peak that I’d left my paracord home and couldn’t suspend the dipole I’d brought along.

I enjoyed a panel discussion on SOTA at a Charlotte Hamfest in 2013, and that was the day I realized I would need to make a serious effort to learn Morse code, as all the guys who presented operated strictly CW.

So now, some years later, this past Saturday, I finally found myself again standing on the peak of Sassafras Mountain with my 817, a dipole and a vertical antenna. This time around I was accompanied by fellow ham Steve, KI4VGA, who I’ve mentioned here before. We’re both nascent code operators trying to get better, and we both enjoy operating in the field.


There were once trees up here, but the peak has been deforested to make way for another overlook and trail amenities.

The once lush peak had been deforested since my last visit, so there were no trees of consequence to hang the dipole. The vertical was made for this, so I erected it and got down to business tuning the coil for 40 meters SSB.

I’d planned to use Rockwell’s SOTA Goat app on my phone to spot myself, but cellular reception was dicey to non-existent. I proceeded to call CQ on the phone portion to no avail. Many minutes of calling elapsed with no luck. I clicked up to 20 meters and tried again. Nothing.

Just for fun, I plugged in Steve’s Bencher key and called CQ SOTA. To my surprise, KX0R came back to me. I struggled mightily to copy his code though. He’s a big SOTA fan, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he were transmitting from a peak himself.


Yep, we’re going to use the Buddistick for this.

About that time my cell phone’s reception picked up and I was able to submit my spot to SOTAWatch, and noted “slow code PSE” in the comment field. Immediately, I had stations calling. It probably wasn’t a pile-up, but it sure felt like it. Between Steve and I, we were able to make out the callsigns of most of the stations. It took liberal use of the question mark to complete the calls, but most guys seemed patient. I was grateful for the 500hz CW filter too.

We had a nice opening to the west and logged Colorado, Arizona, Idaho, Missouri and more. I logged 13 QSOs back-to-back and went QRT. I was twitching with adrenaline and I realized I’d been in a trance-like state for the better part of 20 minutes. I tried 40m SSB once more, submitted a spot, and picked up a single Florida station. Perhaps it was the approaching storm, but the noise levels seemed high on 40, so I turned off the rig and began packing up, confident that we’d activated the four-point peak.

I’m amused at how I’ve come full-circle: I got serious with Morse code because of my interest in SOTA. Then, when all seemed lost on my first activation, using Morse code turned out to be the key to success.


Straight key, FT-817 and a paper log, a.k.a., “working with stone knives and bear skins.”

I realize now that I couldn’t have done this a few years ago; I needed the additional experience of several years to understand how to manage (if you want to call it that) several code callers, and how to stay cool, get the full callsign, exchange reports, and recover from huge mistakes. And well, I know I made a lot of mistakes. And it’s OK to screw up. After all, I’m sitting on a slab of granite, with a 5-watt radio, tapping out code on a straight key, on a fricking mountain!

Needless to say, I understand why people are addicted to SOTA and I’m looking forward to the next opportunity. South Carolina has very few peaks, but I’d enjoy hiking back up to Pinnacle, or Table Rock someday, maybe in the fall during cooler temperatures.

Two more ham radio bucket list items to go: Talking to astronauts on ISS and EME!

A “clean sweep” of the 13 Colonies


I guess a few years makes a difference. Back in 2012, as a complete ham radio newbie, I worked about 2-3 of these 13 Colonies stations. I think I worked a few more over the years, but never achieved the “clean sweep” — that is, working all of them during the five-day event.

I believe it was Wednesday night when I clicked on the rig and stumbled across the event. I grabbed nearly half the stations that night, and a handful the next night, including the bonus station, WM3PEN. Friday morning/afternoon I closed the gap down to two, and that evening I grabbed the rest. Overall a low-stress, fun event.

I’m fortunate that I can easily switch between digital modes, CW and voice, because all three modes came into play to knock out all the stations, particularly, the New York station, which never came in strong on phone, but was an easy grab on RTTY.

Here’s my final breakdown:

  • K2A – New York – 40M RTTY
  • K2B – Virginia – 40M SSB
  • K2C – Rhode Island – 40M SSB
  • K2D – Connecticut – 20M SSB
  • K2E – Delaware – 40M SSB
  • K2F – Maryland – 40M SSB
  • K2G – Georgia – 40M CW, 40M RTTY
  • K2H – Massachusetts – 20M PSK31, 20M SSB
  • K2I – New Jersey – 20M SSB
  • K2J – North Carolina – 40M SSB, 80M SSB
  • K2K – New Hampshire – 20M SSB
  • K2L – South Carolina – 40M SSB, 40M RTTY, 40M CW
  • K2M – Pennsylvania – 40M SSB
  • WM3PEN – Bonus station – 40M CW, 40M PSK31
  • 20 QSOs total

Just some quick soapbox comments: Two resources were helpful for locating the special event stations, the website, and the 13 Colonies spot page. While I didn’t hear a lot of rude behavior in the pile-ups, there was no shortage of snark on the spotting networks, particularly on DX Heat, where some operators used the service as a chatroom or sounding board for their frustrations. This seems to be happening a lot lately. There is really no excuse for anyone to use the cluster to comment on an operator’s abilities (e.g. “OP is deaf,” “NEW OP PSE,” “Turn the beam,” etc.), or to rant and rave about pile-ups, or to make requests (e.g. “Why no CW????”).

An effort like the 13 Colonies is stressful enough for the operators without stuff like this. I think all the stations I worked did an excellent job in some very busy, very noisy conditions.

DX in the nick of time

I typically try to get on the radio by about 5:30 in the afternoon right after work, make a few contacts, and be out the door on my daily 4-mile walk by 7 p.m., at least in the summer months, when daylight is plentiful.

I was on the rig Friday and couldn’t locate any particularly interesting stations out in the aether. I heard someone on 10 meters blasting away in a foreign accent, but by the time I had them tuned in, they had disappeared and didn’t return. 12 meters was similarly dead and 15 had some action, but nothing worth chasing.

I clicked through 17 and up to the usual watering holes on 20 meters and encountered HB90IARU out of Switzerland with a 59 signal. I believe I’ve worked Switzerland before, but never received a confirmation, so I tossed my call out a few times, got picked up on the second shot and went on my merry way.

Back down on 17 meters, the only station of interest was a fading station out of Kuwait, Ali, 9K2WA. I’ve worked a station in Kuwait before, but didn’t have a QSL for him, so I was keen on grabbing 9K2WA, a Logbook of the World user.

Ali’s signal grew somewhat stronger, a 57 at least, but still rather grainy. I listened for perhaps 10 minutes, waiting for an opening to toss out my callsign. He wasn’t calling QRZ between stations, and I couldn’t hear any of the guys he was talking to owing to propagation skip, so I had to assume they were tail-ending his QSOs.

I glanced down at the clock and realized it was about 6:57. I only had a few more moments to play before hitting the asphalt for the evening walk. Ali announced that conditions were fading, so he was only going to take a few more stations. I needed to make a move, so I tossed my call out once.

His response: “The station ending in sierra-delta?”

Got him. He gave me a 55 report and I sent 57. After we exchanged 73, he announced he was going off-air and the frequency fell silent.

The time was now 6:59 and I headed for the door to walk in the heat with a minute to spare!