This guy makes it look easy

Working FO-29 with a single FT-817, 2.5 watts. Very impressive.

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First NPOTA station in the log

The National Parks on the Air initiative has been a non-starter for me for the past few weeks. Several of our club members have been activating two of the local NPOTA units and having a blast. I do intend to activate them myself at some point, but not having an HF mobile unit, I’m going to need to partner up with some other folks, and we just haven’t organized the effort yet.

I’ve been coming home from work the past few weeks and attempting to work some NPOTA stations as a chaser. I’m guessing a lot of these guys are operating QRP, or with some sort of compromised antenna, as I haven’t been successful in even hearing the activators — at least not well enough to manage a QSO.

I was at the radio this afternoon and noticed Sean, KX9X/1 on the cluster, operating from WR16 in Connecticut (Farmington National Wild and Scenic River National Wild and Scenic River). I tuned over and he had a very readable 55-56 signal. Naturally, there was a pile-up. After a few attempts I managed to get heard. I made the QSO just in the nick of time too, because KX9X QSYed not long after.

As I logged the contact, I realized there was something familiar about Sean’s callsign. Of course: KX9X is Sean Kutzko, who I’ve heard on the ham radio podcast, 100 Watts and a Wire. Sean is also the ARRL Media and Public Relations Manager, which I should have remembered, being that I’m the PIO for our club!

I tried to work a few more NPOTA stations on the cluster, but again, I couldn’t hear them. I really need a beam antenna! Nonetheless, it was nice to finally get on the NPOTA scoreboard.

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.

Another ham radio comic book

ham_radio_comic

It’s new comic book day, otherwise known as Wednesday, and hey, there’s a new ham radio comic out there.

Some folks over in the U.K. have published a comic called “Alex Discovers Amateur Radio” and it can be downloaded over at their site. I took a quick look through it and it’s well done and informative and probably any new ham would get a kick out of it.

Personally, nothing is going to compare to the ARRL’s “Archie’s Ham Radio Adventure” from the early 90s. Heh.

Not a lot happening in my shack

Wow, October flew by and now we’re into November. Consequently, the number of updates on the blog for the past month represents the exact number of times I’ve turned on my HF rig. No time spend on the air = No updates. About the only thing I’ve done is checked into the local net a few times, and did some 70 cm simplex with a friend. Nothing particularly advanced or interesting.

That’s not to say I haven’t been busy at least thinking about radio. Back in October I gave a presentation on software-defined radio at a very well-attended meeting of the Columbia Amateur Radio Club. I demoed the RTL-SDR dongle with SDR# software, and I brought my SoftRock Ensemble II RX for show and tell. I would have loved to provide a live demo, but we haven’t managed to run a feedline into our meeting facility yet. I did show a few videos I recorded of the SoftRock in use for SWLing, CW and SSB operation, and demonstrated how to monitor a 2-meter net with the RTL-SDR.

Overall, I think folks enjoyed the talk and several guys were inspired to purchase the RTL dongle for further experimentation.

In other news, I’ve been elected treasurer of our club for the third year, despite my best efforts to nominate others for the position, hehe.

There have been some interesting bits around the web lately, which I’m sure many readers have already seen:

  • A great article on Wilco’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” album and its connection to shortwave over at The SWLing Post. It’s safe to say this album is one of the factors that interested me in ham radio, in particular, numbers stations. (Check out the album on Spotify) The SWLing post has been writing about music and shortwave this week, with previous articles about The Clash’s Joe Strummer, and Peter Gabriel.  Excellent web site.
  • KB6NU, who should be no stranger to any ham owing to his “No-Nonsense” study guides and excellent blog, has been working on an excellent series of articles titled the “CW Geek’s Guide to Having Fun with Morse Code.” Oh man, these are good: Learning the Code | Choosing a Key | Abbreviations | Q-Signals | Prosigns | CW Clubs. I’ve learned quite a bit from reading them and it’s safe to say his articles are better than the ARRL’s recent CW beginner book (Overpriced and underwhelming in scope. All the information it contained could have been found with a few Google searches and had scant information on actual operating).
  • I was sad to learn of the recent passing of Julian, G4ILO. I always enjoyed his blog and his expertise will certainly be missed in the community.
  • The Manfred Moon Memorial Mission (4M) wrapped up yesterday. The window to listen in on this probe was very small and I was obviously undergeared for the task (a high-gain directional antenna with azimuth and elevation adjustments was recommended), but apparently 29 amateur ops did report in. The probe transmitted messages on 145.980 MHz JT65B with 1 watt of RF power. Fascinating stuff!
  • Somehow I won the South Carolina section for the single-op, mixed mode, low power category of the 2013 IARU HF World Championship. I couldn’t remember participating, so when a certificate arrived in the mail a few weeks ago I figured someone made a mistake at the ARRL. Thanks to the magic of this blog, I went back and discovered I’d made 50 QSOs during that contest. That doesn’t sound like a lot of QSOs, but I suppose it was enough for the wallpaper. Even stranger, I completed those QSOs using the old FT-847, as I hadn’t ordered my K3 at that point.

I must make an effort to get back on the radio, particularly if the Worked All Twitter effort is back on for the Thanksgiving weekend. But first, I need to check to see if my dipole is still in the air after high winds last week wreaked havok on my neighborhood. At least half the dipole is still up, but the longer section that runs into the woods behind my home may have become a victim of falling limbs (this has happened before!).

TIL: The Wouff Hong

A Wouff Hong is a tool used to “punish” Amateur Radio operators, who demonstrate poor operating practices

I don’t know how I missed this… but apparently the founder of the ARRL once invented a torture device to deal with unruly hams. I spotted this today over at the ARRL’s ham radio history page.

Legend has it that the Wouff Hong was invented by Hiram Percy Maxim (founder of ARRL) under the pseudonym, “The Old Man,” just as amateurs were getting back on the air after World War One.

Early in 1919, “The Old Man” wrote in QST “I am sending you a specimen of a real live Wouff Hong . . . Keep it in the editorial sanctum where you can lay hands on it quickly in an emergency.” The “specimen of a real live Wouff Hong” was presented to a meeting of the ARRL Board and the Board voted that the Wouff Hong be framed and hung in the office of the Secretary of the League.

On display at ARRL HQ today, the Wouff Hong is a constant reminder to Amateur Radio operators to be mindful of their operating etiquette.

No word on how it was intended to be used.

Build your own power distribution box; blue radio displays

Just a couple interesting links I wanted to make a note of:

dcboxI was calling the local 2M net Sunday night and one of our very new hams, Tom, KK4VWX, mentioned he had crafted his own power distribution box. I mentioned on-air that I was interested in checking that out, since these boxes are slightly overpriced for what they are. I do love the PowerPole system though.

So a day later, Tom e-mailed me the above link to the plans for the box, and he shared some experiences and tips from building it.

From Tom’s e-mail:

  1. Be sure to ‘bottom out’ the Faston connectors before soldering. I didn’t do that for one pair and I ended up pushing it in further when seating a fuse and ended up breaking the copper trace on the other side. Soldering both sides of the copper board might have helped with that. You might want to solder with a fuse in place to keep the alignment straight on both legs.
  2. Use a small screwdriver to loosen up the Faston connector. It’s much too ‘grippy’ when it comes out of the bag. Too easy to tear the Faston out of the circuit board when inserting or removing fuses.
  3. Get the LED holder for the power indicator LED. Much easier to secure it into the project top.
  4. Cutting the top of the box was not easy. I used the printout as template, but it still was not aligned properly for the fuses. Maybe practice makes perfect….
  5. The 12vdc source wires should be twisted along their length before adding the Anderson PowerPoles at the ends. The twisting will cause each conductor to rotate with respect to the other conductor as you twist. Twisting will reduce the RFI by a significant amount from the power leads.

Thanks Tom!

FT-8800 in blue to match my car?

FT-8800 in blue to match my car?

Elsewhere on the web, I ran across a link that describes how to change the LCD color of the Yaesu FT-8800. Now this is admittedly pretty wacky… but I’ve developed an obsession with having blue displays on everything (we all have our psychotic hang-ups I guess). I thought about buying the FT-350 for this exact purpose. Some rigs, such as those made my Kenwood, offer a choice of color. My FT-817 and FT-847 both have nice blue displays. I’m stuck with amber on the K3 and my new FT-8800. Or so I thought!

I doubt I’ll be pulling my new (used) rig apart anytime soon to desolder surface-mount LEDs, but the prospect is certainly intriguing and wow, that blue looks beautiful.

Random bits: Ham radio in the Twilight Zone; fresh ham; radio on the web

"Now you boys don't happen to be ham radio operators do you?"

“Now you boys don’t happen to be ham radio operators do you?”

One of my favorite shows as a kid was The Twilight Zone. I would stay up until after midnight waiting to watch the old re-runs on the weekends. I’ve been watching an episode or two on Netflix lately, as the whole catalog is available there.

An episode titled “Black Leather Jackets” caught my eye the other night and it was one I’d never seen before. As an episode, it was horrible, but it did have some hilarious ham radio banter about 6 minutes in. The plot revolves around a group of aliens masquerading as a motorcycle gang moving into a quiet neighborhood. Naturally, they are plotting to take over the world.

Their first order of business is to erect a very strange antenna, which apparently jams the TV signals of the rube neighbor, prompting him to blame ham radio operators.

“Just our luck. Ham radio operators. You know what they do to radio and television reception.”

The episode can be watched in full here, or skip ahead to the ham radio bits in the embed below:

Also in the aether

We’ve had some decent postings over at our club website lately.

And I really enjoyed this post from Radio Artisan yesterday on the most infamous frequency in radio:

Creating/Elmering hams

I’m happy to welcome into ham radio my buddy Tom, KM4AEF (Yes, KM). I met Tom last November in another organization I’m a member of, and we hit it off when I mentioned I was a radio amateur. He has an uncle and a grandparent who are hams, and was interested in learning more about the hobby.

This past weekend, I was happy to work as a volunteer examiner and write up his CSCE after he passed the Tech. My friend Ronnie, W4RWL, presented him with a dual-band handheld as a reward for his achievement. His callsign showed up in the ULS on Monday and I know we’ll be hearing him on the air soon.

Saturday’s VE session went over quite well. We had eight walk-ins, resulting in five new technicians and three general upgrades. Everyone left happy.

World Necktie QSO Party

From the wonderfully strange and creative mind of my friend Jeff, K1NSS:

1492187_10200844967845922_38420843_oWEIRD TRICK REVERSES DECLINE OF HAM CIVILIZATION!

Can you still tie a necktie?

Then you can strike a blow against the barbarians of 14.313 ham culture. It’s not about a frequency so much as persistent, malicious, witless, misuse of the radio spectrum that has traditionally given so many of us so much civililzed pleasure.

What’s up with the Windsor Knot action?

Once upon a time, Real Old Men wore ties on the air. Not everybody did. But everybody didn’t need to wear a necktie because so many did, which kept the lids down. Neckties are Lid Kryptonite. And the hard cases felt the pain right through the aether.

Would it work again? Well, it’s gonna take a lot of ties and we don’t have much time before the barbarians have a beach head on every HF band.

Introducing the International Necktie QSO Party. We invite all licensed radio amateurs to post pictures of themselves wearing neckties in their shacks on Facebook’s 21st century aether.

Furthermore, given enough support, we hope to designate a day, night, weekend, some block of time as the 2014 International Necktie QSO Party, during which hams so attired may contact one another and spread orderly good cheer and fellowship.

There’s also a Facebook group!

ARRL Centennial Leaderboards now online

ARRL Centennial

As the ARRL promised, a leaderboard and suite of tools to track progress for the Centennial QSO Party are finally online at centennial-qp.arrl.org.

The site lets you see how many W1AW stations you’ve contacted and tracks your point totals for the Centennial Challenge. It’s interesting to see the score breakdowns: For instance I can check the details of my score and see that I’ve worked several past section managers, some ARRL staff members, a handful of QST columnists and everything from official QSL card checkers to plain old ARRL members.

Because I’m a public information officer for our ARRL-affiliated club, I’m worth 12 points to any station that works me. There’s also a callsign search that allows you to lookup point values on any ham.

I believe this site has just launched this week. We’ll see how it goes as the year progresses, but for now, it looks like the ARRL did a fine job.

EDIT: Well I guess I’m late to the party, apparently the leaderboard has been live since the 20th. I don’t know how I missed it considering how many times I jump on LOTW throughout the day.