Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My Year In Review, 2014

Massachusetts Setup
I figured it was as good of a time as any to address my year in review. As with any year, there have been ups and downs professionally, personally and hamally (Okay, just keeping with the theme). Since this blog is mainly about ham radio, I'll focus on that. My personal life has a direct effect on what I would consider the most rewarding hobby I have ever participated in, that being ham radio. Working in Boston for well over a year was a great experience. Leaving Alaska for Boston was (for me) going from one extreme to another. Something like working the HF bands (or trying) with ½ watt and an indoor basement antenna and then being able to work the HF bands at one of the many contest super stations across the country with stacked beams nearly reaching the flight paths of most 737's. Even though my job was essentially the same, that was the only similarity between the two locations. My radio (or shack time) was cut dramatically and I found little time to play radio when we headed east.

857D & My Navy Flamerproof
In looking at my logbook, I made approximately 298 QSO's in 2014 from my old QTH in Massachusetts, most QRP. The highlights were working the ARRL January VHF Contest, something I had not done in many years. Now mind you, I was working with an indoor antenna but it was fun to once again operate on 6, 2 and 432. Another highlight was playing in the ARRL DX Contest as a QRP entry. I've blogged about both of these so I won't go into details here but even with a limited station, it was fun. I got on as often as I could and I think I did pretty well considering my setup. I found the propagation on the east coast much better for QRP operation so that also made the experience much more enjoyable. As many contest stations will tell you, it's about location, location and location. 

When my wife and I relocated to Oregon, it has allowed me a bit more free time to play radio, for now. Oregon is a beautiful place but I find my current QTH is not as QRP friendly as my last. Being surrounded by mountains and operating QRP with my same indoor setup has been much more challenging here. To date, I've made a whopping 28 QSO's from my new 7'land QTH. A mix of digital (JT65A) and Morse Code (CW) contacts. But, I'm thankful for those 28 contacts and my goal is to make many more as we enter into 2015. Plans can change but maybe I can put up an external antenna and get a bit more serious about operating as I once did from Alaska. I miss contesting.

Afternoon Commute
Having experienced life in the city, I'm excited about my new western adventures. I don't miss the traffic, the commute or the expense of Boston, but it's a very neat city. I experienced several firsts for me there having grown up in a small town community in the Midwest. I no longer need to use my WAZE app on my cell phone to find the least congested way home. People actually stop at red lights here and there does not appear to be a 5 second rule (increased from 3 seconds in the Boston area I believe in 2012). This year certainly has ended much differently than it began on all aspects for me. When opportunity knocks, sometimes what lies on the other side of the door is just what you're looking for. That door took me (us) 3,000 miles west. And of course I leave Massachusetts when I finally learn how to spell it. 

Probably the biggest highlight of 2014 for me was being able to finally attend the Dayton Hamvention. I won't dwell on the details as they are found elsewhere in this blog but hitting Dayton with my long time bestest of friends Sean, KL1SF was at the top. We have talked about it for many years and it finally happened. I don't see myself going back anytime soon but it was great to put faces with callsigns of other hams I talked to on the radio over the years.

Our Family Beagle 1999-2014
In life, we often times take things for granted and I'm guilty of that. My wife and I decided on getting a family pet many years ago. I just happened to be traveling down a back road (which I normally did not use) and I saw a sign that read "Beagles For Sale." I've had a love for this breed since I was very young. I stopped and spoke with the owner. A few days later, I stopped back with my wife and this one little tri-colored female won our hearts. We laid claim to her and it was not long before I was picking her up and taking her home. Like any young puppy, it took her awhile to get used to her surroundings but soon she ruled the house. When we began camping, she loved to go along and experience new surroundings. When we moved to Alaska, she toughed it out (her outside potty times were shortened dramatically during the winter months) but she loved to sniff and play in her new environment. When we moved to Boston, it was obvious her age was catching up to her. 2014 was the year that she would leave us and I think of her often with a tear in my eye. That was by far, the lowlight for me in 2014 and just writing about it leaves a lump in my throat. 

With the New Year nearly upon us, there is plenty of "New" for me in 2015! New friends, new coworkers, new QTH, new surroundings, new places to enjoy the great outdoors, new...well, the list goes on. These new things may take away from my operating time but I believe I can achieve balance and harmony when it comes to ham radio and the rest of my humanly obligations. At least for me, living out here on the western side of country makes it more possible. Life already seems so much slower and I'm enjoying every second of it. 

So, what else is new for me in 2015? After much thought, there was at least one more "New" for me to do. That is pictured below. The New Year really does symbolize "New" for me and in many ways. I'm looking forward to flipping that calendar over and jumping feet first into 2015. I see myself being a 7'lander for a long while. Just like AK2MA (Alaska 2 Massachusetts) had a meaning, this next vanity callsign has a more personal meaning. Dedicated to two things I miss greatly, Alaska and our family beagle. Enjoy today because you don't know what tomorrow will bring. Where does this winding road of life take me next and where do I go from here? Chapter 4 of course and it would be great to have you along for the ride.    

Sunday, December 28, 2014

30 Meter WSPR...A Successful Failure

30 Meter WSPR 
I had my station set up to transmit and receive WSPR on 30 meters last night. I was able to get the software to transmit and I began to receive a few stations. My plan was to let it sit and listen for several hours however, Mother Nature planned otherwise. With a fresh batch of snow accompanied by wind, we experienced several power outages last night and even into Sunday. The first few times the power went out, I set everything back up only to have it shutdown when the power went out. This would normally not be an issue as I have battery backup supplies for all of my shack. Sadly, they are all still in storage. So, it was fun while it last but I decided to switch modes back to CW today and do more monitoring than transmitting. For my indoor setup, the bands have not been very favorable for DX'ing. Hopefully things will get better as I'm very excited about Straight Key Night, which is fast approaching. Not sure where this year went but it's nearly over.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Rim & Back

I believe this was actually the second day that I got to wear sunglasses at work since we arrived at Crater Lake. And tomorrow, we are forecasted to get back into snow. Went from shoveling loads of snow to a few days of rain. So, with the sunshine making an appearance, it was time to get outdoors a bit. Off to Crater Lake Rim Village area to stop at the store and hike around a bit. I ran mobile APRS from our parking spot at the office to Rim Village. We were not the only ones taking advantage of the nice day as many other people were doing the same. I had a 1x cell signal with my Verizon phone but I have much better APRS coverage. 

Crater Lake December 23rd, 2014
Like an Alaskan with cabin fever in April, I'll be looking forward to spring and summer here. I can't wait to experience the outdoors during the summer months and do some portable operating. I've been thinking of getting a portable that will do APRS. I may have to finally take the plunge. I'm also looking forward to seeing how many other APRS stations show up in the neighborhood. Either way, now that the sun is on a slow trek back north, I plan on enjoying the much warmer winter weather which will hopefully yield some outdoor winter radio operating opportunities as well.    

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Pouring Rain Outside, CW Inside in Straight Key Style

AK2MA Oregon Set-up
The many inches of snow changed over to rain overnight and its been pouring for most of the day. I decided that it would be a great day to get back on the straight key and attempt some QSO's. As I've mentioned, my portable set up is parked on the table with my Buddipole set up nearby. Not the best of configurations but it seems to work for my QRP efforts. (See photo)

I checked into the K3UK SKCC Sked Page and I was only there a short time when I received my first QSO request. I received several more requests and I was able to make good on all but a few of them. Since I'm running QRP with my indoor antenna, the other stations were doing most of the work. It was fun spending nearly an hour making contacts. Several I've worked many times over the years. I very much enjoy the SKCC Club and many a friendship has formed upon my joining their ranks. It's obvious that I was a bit rusty on the straight key and I needed to do some adjusting to my Navy Flameproof but I'll work the bugs out. By the end of the afternoon, I worked the following stations with my set-up; VA5CW, W2NRA, AA7WU, AA4H, KD8DEU, AH6AX, K4DJ, K6III, KZ5OM, WS1K and W6UT. East coast to west coast, 20 meters allowed me to have a bit of Morse fun today. One things for sure, I had no plans of spending time outdoors. 

My QRP, JT65A Saturday Effort and Snow!

Crater Lake Snow
Prior to moving to Oregon, I did a bit or research on weather. I still very much enjoy winter (my mother once told me, the older I get, the more I will dislike winter) and after 9½ years living in the Interior Alaska, I really never minded the bitter cold temperatures that I experienced. Even for the year or so we lived in central MA, we still saw cold winter temperatures with the coldest being about -19°F. I think the most snow I've ever experienced in my lifetime (till now) was the big Blizzard of 1978 in Ohio. When I began reading the average seasonal snow fall totals for Crater Lake National Park, I knew I was in for an entirely new experience. My wife was never a fan of the darkness during the winter months in Alaska, and certainly not the bitter cold -40°F to -50°F temperatures. So, this was a great compromise location to live. I could still enjoy winter, the days are much longer and the temperatures are much warmer. Marital harmony at last? Only time will tell. I do enjoy the much slower pace here over the east coast.  

JT65A on 20 Meters
Getting back in the shack saddle, I decided to fire up some JT65A on Saturday. My shack computer is packed away with the rest of our stuff in some storage building here in Oregon. I brought along our little Dell Inspiron Desktop computer which I loaded some ham radio programs onto. It suffers from the usual small computer configuration by only having one identifiable USB-serial port. This becomes a bit of a problem when you are trying to set up multiple programs to run at the same time and still want full rig control. I'm not really worried about it, as this won't be my main shack computer. I'm only putting software on this computer to get me on the air until we get settled and our stuff arrives. My Icom 703+ communicates fine, so sending and receiving JT65A signals work, I'm just not able to feed frequency data to the JT65-HF software when I'm operating. 

If you've read my previous blog, you will see my second story open concept shack layout. It includes internal Buddipole antenna, my Icom 703+ set up on the kitchen table (I do have an understanding licensed but non-HF operating wife) along with many other odds and ends. I'm manually logging QSO's at the moment but just started to load some logging software onto the computer. I still need to update my LOTW data to include this new location but I have time. It's time to get on the air and play a bit. Been a long several weeks. 

I tuned up the rig for 5 watts of output power and after setting up the JT65-HF software, I was CQ'n. I managed a handful of contacts and a couple answered but never came back. It was a successful first run of this mode here and I'm ready to move on to doing some PSK31 next.

More than just a rig's power setting...
One of the things with good weak signal software is some don't realize how much they can wipe out the band when running hot! There is more to running this mode than simply a power setting. When trying to copy weak signals (such as myself using an indoor antenna, as many are weak anyhow, depending on band conditions) it does not take much for me to lose a QSO if one of those hot running stations are nearby. And to top it off, the line you see just under -500 is my computer monitor. My widescreen is very nice but I'm unable to change the displays refresh rate in Hertz, so it's stuck at 60. Being able to change this setting could help eliminate this interference but again, this is not my shack computer so I need to deal with what I have. The screen also broadcasts numerous birdies across most of my bands. Sacrifices we sometimes have to make.

Heard and Being Heard
It's great to be able to see where you are being heard where you are hearing and how strong. The PSK Reporter website is a fantastic digital visual reference tool for any digital operator. Left is a screen shot of my Saturday operation (query ran today, Sunday). With the technology we have available today, it can sure help any operator understand propagation, adjust their rig settings and see the big picture. Obviously this would not be possible without the website owner and those who click their software checkbox to feed the data to the website. One of my other favorite digital reporting sites is HamSpots. HamSpots also allows for live operator keyboard interaction with the chat feature. 

My digital days are just getting started again and I hope to get on a few other modes as I get the software loaded onto this computer. My all time favorite is RTTY and I miss operating that mode, especially in contests. Hopefully as we get settled, I can put up a few exterior HF antennas and get back into contesting once again. With the holidays fast approaching, I'll have a few more days off to play radio. I'm hoping the bands cooperate and who knows, maybe I can bounce some weak signal JT65 off of Santa's ionized trail this week.  

Sunday, December 14, 2014

To The Rim, Finding My Grid Square And Then On To 20 Meters.

Crater Lake
Since arriving to our new surroundings, the weather has been very overcast with rain in the lower elevations and snow up here in the higher elevations. Relocating to Crater Lake has one more check box marked on my bucket list. And when the sun finally came out on Saturday, it was time to go explore my surroundings. My wife and I made a morning of driving up to see what Crater Lake had to offer and she did not let us down. A breathtaking landscape surrounded by her mountainous rim. After taking lots of photos and hiking where we could (no snowshoes as of yet) we headed back to the house for lunch. Afterwards, it was time to break out the portable HF ham radio equipment to see what I would be able to hear.

First things first. I have been impressed with the APRS coverage here primarily due to the STUKEL Mountain Igate and KFALLS Digi relaying APRS data from up here at Crater Lake. As mentioned in my previous blog, I have an old Garmin GPS III in my truck that has been losing its memory (hopefully due to needing batteries replaced). I have a Garmin GPS III Plus that I use when I'm operating portable. I love the old Garmin units as they show our highly used Maidenhead Grid Square Locator. I'm not sure if there are any more modern units that do the same but I snagged a few of these a few years back on eBay just for this reason. I fired up my Garmin and set it in the snow bank in front of our residence and after finding the satellites, it was not long before I had my Grid Square! 

Internal Antenna Setup
I snagged my Buddipole out of its case and began to assemble the antenna. I ran this same indoor setup at our previous residence in MA, and it seemed to do pretty well considering. I had it set up in the 2nd floor hallway back there and thankfully, our current residence has an open floor plan on the second floor which works well for my current indoor setup. While at the Dayton Hamvention this past year, I picked up a few accessories from the Buddipole booth. I was excited to finally put them to use. 

Assembly went well and before I knew it, I had the antenna ready to be hooked to my Icom 703+. Since most of my equipment was still in storage with the moving company and many of my tools were in the tool compartment of our camper, I only realized my oversight when I was ready to tune the antenna. You see, I wanted something smaller than my MFJ-259B to use when I was portable. For obvious reasons, the MFJ uses a Kazillion batteries and it's very easy for the power button to be depressed when you are carrying it in a backpack. It's saddening to find out your MFJ has no life left by the time you get to your operating location. Been there, done that.

Enter the iP60z Portable Antenna Analyzer! I looked at a few small analyzers while at the 2014 Hamvention and after talking with my friend Steve, wG0AT at Dayton, I opted for this model. Ironically, my mini screw drivers and 9 volt batteries were back in our camper which was about an hour away from our residence. So, for my Saturday operating, I would have to resort to tuning the antenna the manual way. Having an antenna indoors makes tuning an antenna a bit more challenging so I was hoping to have my iPortable analyzer to help me. That now would not happen until Sunday, when I made the trip to get batteries and screw drivers (I now have a dedicated set with my portable gear box). 

Anyhow, I was able to tune my Buddipole antenna indoors and I first listened to 10 meters. More irony as the first station I heard on 10 meters happened to be W1NA, in my old state of Massachusetts. But signals seemed low and not that strong but not uncommon with indoor equipment. Since this was the first time I had set up the equipment here, I've not had the time to grasp what normal propagation sounds like from this location. After listening to 10 meters for a bit, I jumped up to 20 meters where I originally tuned the Buddipole.

J-37 Straight Key with Icom 703+
It was so nice to once again hear the activity on the ham bands and be decoding Morse Code (CW). My main focus was to make a few contacts in the SKCC Weekend Sprintathon. Thanks to Curt, WA2JSG for posting reminders to Facebook! I enjoy manually sending code just about as much as I enjoy higher paced CW contests. No records broken here and I only logged a few manual contacts with my first being Tony, K6ELQ. Tony was very strong (in California) so it was an easy QSO for me. I followed up by working Ed, W7GVE in Arizona, John, K0AE in Colorado, the power station Ted, K8AQM in Michigan and finally, Brian, WB4IT in Alabama. Not bad I guess, considering my indoor antenna and rig set at 10 watts. When I checked the antenna SWR on Sunday, it was a bit high (see iPortable photo above) so in all reality, I was nearly QRP.

Drivers Seat
Even though I only made a handful of QSO's, it was great to finally get on the air from my new QTH. My goal is to get on the air more frequently, especially since I won't be stuck in a vehicle for several hours a week commuting to and from work. That can now be transferred to radio time! But I still have plenty to do yet as we continue to get settled at our new location. I'm hoping this will be the last move for a very long time. Now to work on finding a place where I can put something more robust together and get back into contesting. Not that it can't be done with my current set up, but I prefer external antenna's and computer aided contesting accessories (again, all of which are in storage at the moment). 

Digital JT65A
Taking a bit of a break from listening to CW, I hooked up the mini laptop to decode some JT65A. It took me a bit to get the laptop tuned and the clock set for decoding but it was not long before I was seeing stations populate my software screen. I made sure I was uploading my reception reports to PSK Reporter and it was fun to see how far away I was hearing with my indoor set up. I decided to just decode and not attempt to work any stations. Again, getting acquainted with the propagation in this neck of the woods is my first strategy. I believe there was a bit of solar activity this weekend that did not help but at least I know I can make contacts! 

PSK Report for AK2MA
I would classify my Oregon maiden voyage onto the ham bands a success, although not earth shattering. As time allows, and now that I have a battery in my iPortable iP60z, I plan to get on as often as possible and play on the HF bands. I will tune the antenna for the best SWR possible and make my first QRP contacts. Because my antenna is indoors, I have no desire to run anything more than what my Icom 703+ will exhaust. My Yaesu FT-857D will remain in it's box until I get outdoors and do a bit of portable operating from some local vantage point. 

Since we won't be going any where for the holidays and we are across the country from our families, I expect the next few weeks will allow me to spend even a bit more time than normal on the bands. Straight Key Night is not far away and since I missed it last year, my plan is not to miss it this year. There is just something exciting about communicating using one of the oldest forms of communication. Since that first message in 1844, it's still a very popular way to communicate. Even with all the high tech forms of communication we have available to us at this time, just listening to any contest weekend will make you realize that Morse Code is far from extinct. And manually sending Morse Code to me is like driving a car that has the high beam switch on the floorboard, a separate key for the trunk and an 8-Track radio!  Okay, maybe a crude comparison but you get my point. Either way it's fun and it's certainly nice to be back in the game!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

APRS Broadcasting and Life Over 3,200 Miles and 6,300 Feet Later

AK2MA-9 now in 7'Land
Seems I've been having issues with my old Garmin GPS III lately. I use it to feed location data to my Kenwood TM-D700A while mobile. In a recent cross country trip, I was able to troubleshoot the issue with the help of my long time friend and APRS Guru Sean, KL1SF. Once we get settled, I need to replace it with a spare GPS III that I have or my V if the issues continue. I like the GPS III as it does Maidenhead grid location so it works great as a mobile unit if you want to work some HF/VHF and need your grid square. I was only able to broadcast my location during the final third of our trip due to my GPS III losing memory data.

With that said, there has been very little time for ham radio over the last several months. A career move to 7'land has landed me at our new QTH. The cross country trip went extremely well and the weather cooperated for all but the beginning of the adventure. But I am temporarily settled and I'm looking forward to getting my portable set up working here in Oregon. I think the elevation should hopefully help my QRP signal and I'm looking forward to once again hearing those strong Pacific signals that I used to hear when we lived in Alaska.

Having worked at sea level for the last year or more has me moving a bit slower at this higher elevation. Once I get on the air, it may take a week or more for my CW to get back up to speed. Primarily due to the lack of oxygen getting to my brain that passes those dots and dashes to the straight key through my upper extremity. I'm sure my decoding skill will be effected as well but probably due more to being inactive for the last several months. The time I spent commuting to and from work in Boston can now be used for the HF bands. 

Now starts the tedious process when one relocates with all the changes that need to be made. But one thing never changes, my love for the hobby and Morse Code. My equipment is still in my camper but my plans are to bring it all up here this weekend. With any luck, I will have my Buddipole antenna out of the bag and sending and receiving radio signals on the HF bands once again. My wife has been warned, it won't be long before coax is once again strung through the house and the sweet sound of CW will be heard throughout. Stay tuned for photos and propagation reports.   

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Double Hop

The Road of Life
Having enjoyed Boston and this history rich area, I've missed the remote and open country we had in Alaska. Since Alaska is not yet back in the cards, remote locations however will once again be. Thankfully, radio travels easily and it won't be long before I'm signing AK2MA/7. I never put up anything permanent while living here on the east coast. And honestly, I've had little time for radio and I seriously miss the activity on the bands. As I've mentioned many times before, that's the great thing about this hobby, it's waiting for you when your schedule allows. But life sometimes gets a bit busy and priorities become a bit different. Missing another contest season is tough but maybe someday we can settle down enough for me to put up another average station. 

As my job takes me to new adventures in a new part of our beautiful country, I'm hopeful that I will find a bit more time to get back into playing on the CW and digital portions of the ham bands. I will have my portable set up as we travel across the country but I'm sure winter weather and time restrictions will limit my activity until I once again get settled at our new QTH. Like propagation, our double hop move will be exciting but like many moves, this one is bittersweet. Leaving behind new friends and of course, we will be farther from our long time friends and family (most). But, some old friends await our arrival to our new QTH and it will be fun reuniting with them. 

I'm thankful for my career opportunity and I'm looking forward to the months ahead. As I put 1'land in my rear view mirror sometime in December, I will be leaving behind many a fond memory of this propagation rich part of the country. And with that, it's on to Chapter 4...  

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Warm, Humid & Busy with the ARRL DX CW Contest in the Rear View.

Winding (Grinding) Road of Life
Here we are at the end of August and normally, I'd be excited about the upcoming contest season. The reality of it is, there has been little time for ham radio. That does not appear to be changing any time soon. My last QSO was a contest QSO during the CQ World Wide WPX CW Contest on May 25th, 2014! I knew it had been awhile but I did not know it had been that long. 

Living down here in the lower 48, it's still very warm and humid. Back in Alaska, they have snow in the forecast and it's weather I was used to this time of year. Summers seemed short but with the 24 hours of daylight, you packed in many an hour of summer fun before the September snows arrived. Here, summers are much longer as is fall, so there is more time to spend doing things outdoors, if you have the time. 

The weeks are long, the weekends are short and life has been very busy. We (my wife and I) spend hours and hours commuting to and from work each week, at least fifteen hours per week. That right there is my radio time. My weekends are for home activities and when the weather allows, we hop on the Harley and head for less busy roads, normally into New Hampshire. The photo above was taken by my bridal passenger as we made our way down a less traveled road enjoying the lack of commuter mayhem. 

I like to compare my current life to a weekend contest. Fast paced, lots of interference or QRM (traffic), some great runs (early morning commutes when we beat the crowd) and some grinds, those days when you are stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, which is most afternoons. I went from apps that ran APRS to apps the help me find the path of last resistance, like WAZE. When we lived in Alaska, I never worried about traffic! Here, it's key to getting some of my life back. If you're not familiar with WAZE, it's a live representation of traffic conditions and it can help you find the least congested path to your destination. If I did not use WAZE on a daily basis, I'd be losing even more of my personal life. I have no affiliation with the company, only a satisfied user. 

Why do I miss ham radio? Seems most everyone is pretty darn friendly, with the exception being the 14.313 idiots. Hams create software that would cost hundreds and maybe thousands of dollars in the real world and we can download them for free! Nothing is free here in MA! There is a tax, a fee, or a process for everything!  My yearly license plate excise taxes would easily purchase that new HF rig I've wanted for years! I miss communicating with the different HF modes and here, people communicate with horns and hand signals. European pileups were cake compared to life in the Boston fast lane. Kudos to those that live for it and enjoy it, but like SSB contests, it's not really my cup of tea (Pun intended).

AK2MA Single Band QRP Effort
In reviewing my ARRL DX CW Contest results, I obviously busted a callsign or two. I'm not a CW expert nor do I claim to be. I do try to get each and every QSO accurately logged but like many factors in my life, I'm still striving for perfection. The screenshot to the right is from the ARRL Contest Results page. When I look back at my setup, I can't help but be happy with my score. Low power, indoor antenna, minimal effort and I wanted to send a few extra points to the Yankee Clipper Contest Club. I can only imagine what I might have accomplished if I had my AK setup down here! But any contest effort is better than none. So in the end, how did I do? My 3830 pre-log checking post is listed below. I think I did pretty well considering QRP in a major contest is normally a struggle but working with my setup tested my patience and operating skill like never before. I'm most pleased that I kept all my MULTS (multipliers). Hopefully future contests will be logged at ARS AK2MA, where ever that might be. 

3830 Post Below -

ARRL DX Contest, CW
Call: AK2MA
Operator(s): AK2MA
Station: AK2MA
Class: SOSB/15 QRP
Operating Time (hrs): 16.5
Band QSOs Mults
15:   150        57
Total: 150      57         Total Score = 25,650

Club: Yankee Clipper Contest Club


Since moving to MA from Alaska, I've spend the vast majority of
my time unpacking and getting settled back here in the lower 48.
My antenna's and equipment are still mothballed and I don't see
any real station for me anytime soon. I've pulled my portable
equipment out and that's my current station setup.

Spending 9½ years as KL8DX at Denali, this was a very different
experience for me. And to make it more extreme, I decided to give
QRP a try. That in itself can be challenging but what made it even
more challenging was operating with an indoor antenna. I decided
on 15 meters for my single band entry as I figured that would offer
me the best conditions and the most multipliers for my QRP effort.
My evenings were busy so my strategy was to get the best bang for
my QRP buck.

It seems the Alaska weather has followed me. As in the case over
the last few weekends, I spent a large part of this weekend clearing
10+ inches of fresh snow which took up the vast majority of my contest
effort. I did not get on the air until Saturday morning so I knew going
in, this was not going to be a all out QRP effort.

I won't bore you with the details of my QRP struggles but operating on
this side of the pileup and running QRP has been a humbling experience.
So many great stations / operators / receivers that pulled my weak signal
out for a contest QSO. I missed more multipliers that were loud but could
not hear me, but I expected that. I'm still satisfied with my limited
effort. Sorry to EC2DX & IB9T for the dupes. My filtered IC-703+ handled
the busy band quite well. Many European stations had my Icom bouncing on
the kitchen table they were so unbelievably strong.

73, Phil AK2MA

Station: Kitchen table setup consisting of IC703+ @5W or less
Antenna: Buddipole Deluxe in upstairs hallway
Sofware: Mini Dell using N3FJP's Contest Log

Work: http://www.nps.gov/bost/index.htm

Blog: http://ak2ma.blogspot.com/
Website: http://www.ourwindingroad.net/

Posted using 3830 Score Submittal Forms at: http://www.3830scores.com/______________________________________________
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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Dayton 2014 Part 2

My 2014 Dayton Purchases
My purchase moments while at the Dayton Hamvention® are those items you see in my photo to the left. My main planned purchase was going to be a portable antenna analyzer that could be easily carried with my current Buddipole setup. MFJ had one I was extremely interested in but I ended up with the iPortable IP60z. The early reviews on this unit were not very favorable but I know a few who have tested it with good results. So, I opted to purchase it. Things I like, this little unit covers the HF bands plus 6 meters. It is powered by a 9 volt battery so carrying a spare will keep me from finding it useless miles from the truck. And finally, the size and portability of the unit. I have the BIG MFJ analyzer but this will at least help me tune my portable antennas in the field. When you are running QRP, you want every watt to count. 

Next is my Buddipole Choke Balun which will help keep any unwanted RF from traveling down my feedline. I do on occasion run more power than QRP so this should help keep my audio from sounding funny and my rig from glowing. I purchased both from the Buddipole booth at Dayton. The highlight was purchasing these items from Steve, wG0AT. In 2010, I had some work related training in MO. My wife and I flew into MO and afterwards, we hit Ohio to visit friends and family. From there, we headed out to Colorado for a few days on our way back to Alaska. I had dropped Steve a note asking if it was okay to stop by. Steve gave us the thumbs up after getting approval from Rooster (SK) and Peanut. It was such an honor to spend a day with Steve and the goats climbing Mount Herman! Steve did a great video of our operation and I have to say, I was bitten by the QRP bug from then on! Thanks, Steve!!! I detailed a bit on my KL8DX blog

My final purchase was the interface and software by rt Systems which will allow me to easily program my Kenwood TM-D700D radios. I can now keep everything on my computer and when traveling to various locations easily upload my saved frequency information for various repeaters and simplex frequencies. Sean helped me decide on this purchase so it came highly recommended. 

Now, hitting Dayton was extremely memorable but it was great to finally put faces with callsigns. It was a pleasure to finally meet the BIG HAMMER himself, Tim KG8OC. With Tim, was his wife Sandy (KB8WJT) so it was a pleasure to meet her, too! Also highlights were finally meeting Karen, W4KRN and Curt, WA2JSG. Like Tim, I got to QSO with those two pretty frequently when I was in Alaska during SKCC events. Also with Curt, was Jim, K8SSS who I also worked a few times on the straight key while I was in Alaska. 

Through Facebook, I set a sked with Craig, NM8W. I used to work with Craig's cousin back in Ohio. Also, it was finally great to meet up with Warren, VA3UG. I've worked them on the bands as well and it was sure great to spend a bit of stadium seating time with them. Craig had his son with him so I bet there is a future ham in that household!

Grand kids
After Dayton, we made a quick trip up to see or daughters and grand kids. The advantage of being many thousands of miles closer is being able to see our grandchildren more frequently. You can sure bet I will introduce them to ham radio when it's time. The trip seemed short but it was extremely fun. I didn't get to do all that I wanted to but there hopefully will be future trips. I'm going off of memory as to those I met so hopefully I'm not forgetting anyone. 

The culmination to our Dayton adventure was the Dayton Contest Dinner on Saturday night. Sean. KL1SF and I sat with a few of the Alaska group. It was great to meet Kevin, KL7KY! I've heard Kevin on the bands for several years so it was nice to actually chat with him off frequency and meet him. Kevin was accompanied by Jeff, KL7JVD and Tim, KL7WV (aka W3YQ). Tim and I have a mutual Buckeye State connection, Dan W8CAR. I actually ran into Dan after Contest University so it was great chatting with him, too. 

Of the Alaska group, I had my eye out for Rich, KL7RA. Rich invited me into the Alaska contest group shortly after I had arrived to the 49th and with their help, I was able to dive into contesting and never look back. Being affiliated with the group really helped me grow as a contester. I wanted to finally meet Rich and thank him personally for helping me and also for allowing me to be part of the best group of contesters I know. Mission accomplished! I owe much of my success to them and for that, I will be forever grateful. 

My APRS Alaska Departure
It's hard to believe that a year ago, I was on my way to the East Coast. The APRS map shows my final packets sent while leaving Alaska. I think about Alaska often and sadly, I have not made a contact in many weeks! Life is just so busy here and with long commutes, long work weeks and short weekends, it feels as if there is no time for ham radio. My weekends are booked for the next few months and I'm looking forward to putting to use those items I purchased at Dayton. Yes, they are still in the bag I brought them home in. Rest assured, operating day will come again but for now, I will throw out an APRS packet burst from time to time. That will be the extent of my operating but if I can pull out a few minutes on a nice weekend, I'm looking forward to some /p operating. Could be wishful thinking but only time will tell, or that lack of...       

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Hamvention 2014 Reviewed - Part 1

The 2014 Dayton Hamvention® is now history for another year. As mentioned in my previous blog entry, this was the first year that I attended this ham radio extravaganza. It was everything that I had come to expect and a bit more. It's hard to realize the scale of such an event until you actually take part. I've seen the articles, the pictures, the reviews but actually attending the Hamvention® put things into perspective for me. The highlight was attending with my long time very close friend, Sean KL1SF. Sean had been to the Hamvention® before but it had been several years. So together, we spent all day Friday and a large part of Saturday roaming the ham hallways both inside and out. 

Being this was my first ever Dayton Hamvention® experience, it was ham sensory overload. Like a new ham turning on their radio during a contest weekend, I had no idea where to start and it was a bit overwhelming. But like managing a pileup, we hit the vendor booths one at at time. This is the "Kid in the Candy Store" part for of the Hamvention®. Hams are encourage to touch and get up close and personal with all sorts of ham radio equipment. It's one thing to see advertisements in your favorite ham radio magazines but it's another to actually see your dream equipment sitting on a table or shelf directly in front of you. There are towers standing tall and antenna's erected inside buildings. The ham per square foot ratio is greater than any DX pileup I've experienced. At the start, it reminded me of Boston traffic!

I've owned and operated many an Icom HF radio over the years. My main HF radio is the Icom 756PRO, currently boxed indefinitely. Like most anything electronic, the radio is really not that old but in the electronic world, my purchased year 2000, 756PRO is vintage. With that said, if there is a day I build another station, I will be in the market for a second radio as PRO parts by then, will probably be tough to come by. The photo to the left is Sean, KL1SF getting some hands on time with the Icom, IC-7800. Yep, I would love to spend some quality time with that HF rig! But for now, being able to see it lit up like a Christmas tree and being able to give the VFO a test spin or two, will have to do. Either way, it's at the top of my would love to own list. 

Sean, KL1SF has been extremely active with APRS for many years. Sean actually got me interested in running it. Sean had an iGate in Denali for several years and is now running APRS and doing the same at the Grand Canyon. So, anything APRS catches his attention. I have two Kenwood D-700A's that I use. Here is Sean checking out the latest Kenwood APRS 710 series radio. Of course, of all the APRS rigs that are out there, the Yaesu FTM-400DR is the one we both were excited to look at. It appears that the unit is all inclusive and all you need to do is install and you are on your way! Internal GPS and APRS capability built under the hood. And they apparently went quickly as it was not long before they were hard to find. Had I not already had two Kenwood's, I'm sure Sean would of helped talk me into taking one home with me. That's what ham friends do!

Another rig that has been receiving great reviews is the Kenwood TS-590. Some have even been comparing it as an equal to the K3! And this radio was one I also had my eye on. I will never have a BIG station and I'm always looking for the best bang for my buck. Lower middle class buck that is. This rig, along with a few in the Yaesu line are what I would consider affordable. I'm still in awe today that there is a market for a $6,000-$10,000 radio! Me, I'm in the $2,500 or less, preferably less. As mentioned before, it was nice to get some one on one time with several radios at the Dayton Hamvention®. It's hard not to pull out the plastic and walk away with a large box but since I don't really have a station at the moment, it was much easier to resist temptation. Of course, like a good ham who is trying to support the economy, I had intentions of spending some money and that I did. But more on that later.

The big celebration at the Dayton Hamvention® was of course the 100th Birthday of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL). The Centennial celebration has been in full swing for several months. Even for the inactive ham like myself, I've been reading about all the special event stations and activities surrounding this special birthday. We spent a bit of time roaming the ARRL area. Sean, like many who are roaming the ham hallways, had is Handie-Talkie (HT) with him. The ARRL lab folks were on hand to give free testing for any and all HT's! What a service! The good news was, his HT was diagnosed as functionally clean and as his wife will attest, his transmitter was working just fine. 

Another perk of attending big events such as the Hamvention® was all the free stuff! Yes, us hams, we love our free stuff! Like the free food sample cart in Sam's Club, free stuff will draw a crowd and it can be like a traffic jam during rush hour! I came home with a small collection of free stuff myself. I only snag those things I will use or have a need for, leaving those I don't to others who do. Missing from the photo to the left is my Yaesu ballcap, probably because it was on my head and I forgot all about it. It was also nice to have a bag to carry around not only for all my free stuff but also the stuff that I purchased. Yep, everything I purchased fit nicely into one bag. And just because it was small does not mean that it was cheap! 

There were several more highlights during the Hamvention® all of which I will detail in my next blog, Part 2. I got to meet old friends and new. It was great to finally put some faces with callsigns. The eyeball QSO's were exactly what I had hoped for and as it turns out, there were a few I missed. Even though I probably won't be attending the Hamvention® next year, I'm sure there are a few other ham gatherings that I'll be attending which will allow me to continue to add to the eyeball QSO count. No uploading of data is necessary to confirm those QSO's and in many cases, it beats any award you could hang on the wall.  

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Dayton 2014 - Contest University

Crowne Plaza Home of The Before, During and After Parties
As our Dayton plans became a reality, one of the events I wanted to attend was the Contest University (CTU) which was held at the Crowne Plaza on the Thursday before the Hamvention. The plan was for me to spend the day here and by the time the seminars were over, my close friend Sean, KL1SF and his family would have arrived at Dayton. I was up early and had my wife drop me off about 30 minutes before registration began. It was a short night as we did not arrive until very late on Wednesday night. Our hotel was about 20 minutes away (normal traffic) from the Crowne Plaza hotel. Even though I was still recovering from our 13 hour drive and late arrival the night before, no snooze button was abused as this was a ham radio event I was excited to attend!

Once I arrived and picked up my Contest University bag of goodies, I grabbed a few small items from the breakfast buffet. I found my seat toward the front of the crowded room and enjoyed my wake-up cup of coffee and light breakfast. I then turned my focused on all those hams in the same room. I started looking at all the callsign badges being worn by all those in attendance. Like a quality control inspector candling at an egg packaging factory, my focus was on all those badges going by me.  

I struck up a conversation with Jim, K5ND who was sitting directly behind me. Jim is very active with Radio Scouting and it was very interesting speaking with Jim in regards to this part of the hobby he is very passionate about. You can find more information at the K2BSA website. I had been involved with scouting at an early age but sadly, nothing in regards to radio was ever discussed around our campfires.

Contest University began with Tim, K3LR welcoming everyone. Tim explained the days happenings and how things were going to play out throughout the remainder of the day. Tim was followed by Randy, K5ZD who discussed Radio Sport Contesting. This is the second time I've heard Randy talk about ham radio. Randy is a great public speaker and his topic, "Let's Do This Right - Radio Sport Contesting" was yet another fantastic presentation. The presentation focused on playing the game (contesting) honestly and fairly. 

Contesting Salon (Room)
For those who have never attended Contest University, there were four Contest Topic Sessions going on at the same time. You review the list (schedule) and decide which topic session (Salon or room) you want to attend. If there happened to be a conflict and two of your favorites were being presented at the same time, there was also a voted rerun of the most popular presentations later in the day. This made it possible (at least for me) to snag a session I missed earlier due to the time conflict. I actually looked at the list prior to leaving for Dayton, so I had my sessions picked out before hand. Each of these sessions are lead by well known contesters and subject matter experts. These sessions ran close to an hour in length and were packed with great information.   

The sessions I attended during the morning and early afternoon are listed below. Of course there were a few sessions I would of liked to attend but I've never perfected being in more than one place at a time. So, I was SO1R, Single Operator 1 Room. Here are those sessions that were at the top of my list to attend;

  • The Best Hints to Becoming a Better Contester - N0AX
  • The Essentials of RTTY Contesting - W0YK
  • Advanced RTTY Contest - W0YK
  • The DX Cluster, CW Skimmers & The Reverse Beacon - N6TV

Signing the Attendance Poster

The first session was very informative and Ward covered the basics of becoming a better contester. Anyone starting out in contesting would find Ward's presentation full of great information. The 2nd and 3rd presentations I attended covered my favorite contesting digital mode, RTTY (Radio Teletype). Ed's RTTY sessions were extremely packed with information with little time for Q&A. Thankfully the afternoon sessions were an open discussion format for getting any questions answered that one might have. The Advanced RTTY session was similar to the Essentials of RTTY Contesting session but did expand on a few topics a little bit more. After Ed's Advanced RTTY Contest session, we rolled into lunch. Lunch was of the boxed variety and immediately after lunch, Doug, K1DG gave a presentation regarding the World Radiosport Team Competition (WRTC). It was then followed by Tim, K3LR speaking on Radio Contesting's Future.

During lunch, the highlight for me was meeting Kevin, KL7KY. I had heard Kevin on the radio during many contests while living in Alaska and it was great to finally put a face with a callsign. I sat with Kevin and a few of his fellow Alaskan hams at the Contest Dinner but I will expand on that more in a future blog post. 

The afternoon session by N6TV, Bob covered many of the current modern day spotting methods for Morse Code (CW) and how it all works. One of the things I was excited to learn about was the graphing ability, post contest, from data captured from the Skimmers and the Reverse Beacon Network. In short, it gives you a visual presentation of your signal in regards to how it was being heard around the globe. Also, like a traffic camera at a busy intersection, the Skimmers and Reverse Beacon Network are helping to curb cheating and those who are breaking the rules. Skimmers have sure changed the game in my humble opinion. I prefer contesting unassisted so the only impact I saw was the immediate and crazy pileups when I operated CW contests while in Alaska as KL8DX. You no sooner found a run frequency and the masses showed up. Kinda reminds me of hunting at a hunt club. You can now operate a large part of a contest without touching your VFO. You can continuously click spots on your bandmap and log contacts. But one must remember, not everything spotted is accurate. I bust enough of my own callsigns, I don't need anyone else's help ;0)

Graduate Certficate
I did not attend the entire afternoon sessions as I was more excited to see Sean and his family when they arrived. It had been a few years since we last saw them. They visited with us in Alaska a few years ago on one of their return trips. I did however listen in on a few of the question and answer sessions prior to my early departure. Even though I did not get to attend all the sessions I wanted, it was well worth attending Contest University 2014. The topics were great and the only thing that would of made the experience better would of been if I could have attended all the sessions. Each attendee took home a nice bag of goodies and you know us hams, we love our grab bags of stuff! In the grab bag of stuff was a Contesting University book which had the slides from each of the PowerPoint presentations. So even though I did not get to attend all the sessions, I can still go back and read through each of the slides when time allows.

A tip of the hat goes to Tim, K3LR and all the instructors. There is obviously lots of time and effort that goes into putting Contesting University together. It has something for everyone, even if you are not into contesting. Icom and DX Engineering along with other sponsors made this event possible. I can now cross one more event from my Bucket List.   

Monday, May 26, 2014

Doin' Dayton 2014

Dayton Hamvention 2014
This year was finally the year that I made the Dayton Hamvention. It was made special as it combined a family trip with a family reunion of sorts. Our long time Hamily (hams that are family) Sean, KL1SF and his wife Mindy, KL1MF met us at Dayton. We had not seen them for a few years so this made Dayton even more special.

My wife (KL8SU) and I left MA the Wednesday before the Hamvention as I had reservations for Contest University on Thursday morning. Sean and Mindy were due to arrive in Dayton on Thursday afternoon. The plan was going to be, the guys would do the Hamvention and the girls would do...well, what girls do when their ham husbands do radio stuff.  And that is exactly how it played out. I had surprised Sean with tickets to Saturday nights Contest Dinner. We would then wake up on Sunday morning, have a nice breakfast together and head our separate ways. Sean and Mindy were winding down on their vacation and ours was just getting started.

After Dayton, my wife and I headed to central Ohio and spend a few days with the kids and grand kids. From there, we headed to Northern Ohio to our old stomping grounds near Lake Erie to see a few more of our friends and family before heading back to MA over the Memorial holiday weekend. 

Dayton Hamvention led to some personal sensory overload but it was exciting to finally put faces to many a callsign I had worked over the years. In my next few blog entries, I will highlight most of my activities at Dayton. The weather could not have been better (we did get a little rain and hail) but no complaints from this ham. I did make a few purchases but I did not over overindulge so it was a financially successful trip as well. Unlike Sean, I was not limited to carry on so that is what I'm most proud of. I could have fit plenty in the back of the family car. 

As life gets back to normal and our daily grind is about to begin yet again, Dayton turned out to be the medicine that I needed. Spending a large part of my life living in the Buckeye state, it's hard to believe this was my very first time at Dayton. Better late than never, right? I'm sure it won't be my last trip but it was certainly fun seeing all the ham vehicles driving around Dayton. From hairdo's to vehicles, there were plenty of antennas roaming Dayton Ohio for the Hamvention weekend.