Look what I found…

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I was at the Charleston Hamfest Saturday and found an old friend: My first ham radio, the FT-847, with my old desk mic and auto-tuner, was for sale at one of the tables there.

I sold this setup back last year. One of guys there, knowing I once owned an FT-847 pointed it out. I took a look at it and thought, “hey this is a good-looking 847” … then I looked closer and started seeing some familiar marks along the top. Then I spotted the LDG YT-847 tuner on the right, and the MD-100 mic. Yep, this was my old station.

I noticed the price they were asking was a good bit higher than I sold it for. Of course, at the end of the day, I saw the seller boxing it back up and carting it off without a sale.

Small world!

What a difference a year makes, Winter Field Day is better than ever

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290 QSOs, 40 states, plus Canada and Puerto Rico contacted, several DX entities. Winter Field Day’s 2016 effort was the best ever for our club, and most of us only operated for about five hours.

After last year’s Winter Field Day disaster, I figured our club wouldn’t even bother participating in 2016. We had a miserable performance, logging less than 60 QSOs, operating from permanent stations at a local EOC. After the event ended, we couldn’t even submit our score because the folks at SPAR had apparently disappeared, or just didn’t care.

I wrote a particularly scathing rant here on the blog about it. Other operators across the country were equally annoyed, and they decided to do something about it. The Winter Field Day Association was formed by an eager group, and they immediately began getting word out for the 2016 event using forums and social media.

The effort worked. We operated four stations on battery/generated power from a horse farm in Kershaw County. I worked from our trailer station, where we cleared more than 100 QSOs in several hours. I can only recall one instance in which we had to explain what Winter Field Day was all about. Nearly every caller knew the proper exchange, which has been simplified since the association took over the event. It was like operating during a lighter version of Summer Field Day.

As for our club’s attendance, we counted some 23+ club members and interested amateurs. Keep in mind, we held our event almost an hour away from the city of Columbia proper, so folks had to travel a considerable distance just to get to the site. The nice turnout may have also had something to do with the beautiful clear weather and high 60s temperatures.

The folks at WFDA should be proud of themselves for keeping Winter Field Day alive. I’ll be interested to see how many logs get submitted this year.

Photos from our club’s event can be found on our website.

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.

Extended duties = less time on radio

The first full week of the new year is already off to an interesting start. Monday, I conducted the first 2016 meeting of the Columbia Amateur Radio Club as the newly-elected president, and to be honest, I had a blast.

We dispensed with old and new business efficiently and got right into the program, which was a timely presentation on National Parks on the Air which segued into a quick update on the South Carolina QSO Party (we’re shooting for a “Carolinas Weekend” in February), and I closed the presentations with details on our Winter Field Day effort.

I started transitioning into my new role as the club’s president back in November, literally the day after I was elected. Since then, I’ve met with the club’s emergency trailer committee (we’ve since deployed the trailer several times to workout kinks and hope to use it in full capacity for Winter Field Day). I’ve met individually with our VP, and trained the incoming treasurer, and managed to get him on the bank account before the new year started. By comparison, when I was treasurer, it was more than a year before I was able to even sign a check.

I’ve tried to be as transparent as possible with our board. I’ve been using Evernote to share out agendas and other club paperwork, I’ve been looping in the entire board on e-mail discussions, asking for opinions and feedback, passing around forms to get an idea what kinds of topics our membership would like, and I’ve assigned work to our directors. I brought in a new net manager, and he’s taken it upon himself to experiment with the tired net script and bring some new life into the proceedings.

We’ve already had a contentious board meeting that had its share of disagreement and anger, but I think we’re better for it. There are likely to be more disagreements, as we have some strong personalities on our board. That’s a good thing.

One thing I wanted to focus on this year included a commitment to helping bring more of our members to HF. I think we’re going to make that happen as we bring the club’s trailer into the field for some operating days. I also want to focus on making the monthly presentations great again, and bringing some real value to our workshops and education sessions.

I also have to be mindful of our club’s public service commitments, which are numerous. To that end, we’ve created a special committee to exclusively handle event planning. Next on the list will be an examination of how we select events to work. There is at least one event we support that is neither charitable, or connected to any sort of awareness campaign. I don’t personally believe in asking our members to support events unless they have a public component, else our volunteers are little more than free laborers.

So, in short our club is busy. And that makes ME busy by virtue of the new responsibilities I’ve assumed. That leaves me less time for radio on my own, but maybe I can help some new guys learn the ropes.

I do hope to work some NPOTA stations and my SOTA buddy (and club VP), Steve, is already making plans for us to activate a nearby national park. I can’t wait!

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 arrl.net 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 arrl.net messaging center to all arrl.net 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 arrl.net.

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

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

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, accountupgradingcenter@bitscn.net.

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 sotawatch.org 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 QRZ.com.

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 QRZ.com 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.