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.