Sunday, January 11, 2015

The End of MA & AK2MA

Follow The Path To Green Pastures?
My final post to this blog is only to inform those interested in following my QRP and QRO blogging adventures that you can do so at my 7'land blog site located HERE. As I did with my KL8DX blog, I like to keep my ham activation's separate. Now that I've assumed the callsign AK7DD, I'm excited about once again becoming active both at home and while portable. Now that I'm officially a 100% transplanted Oregonian, my plans are staying settled in 7'land for a long while. I hope you decide to follow along!  

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!