Saturday, March 22, 2014

Laid up

Well it's been a busy week so far.  After passing my General Class exam last weekend, I've only made one contact on the 20m band, and that was with W1AW/07.  I think my major hold up on getting contacts is my antenna.  I'm currently using a hand built 10m dipole connected to my HF rig, and trying to autotune that.  Although I can hear some folks on the lower bands, I don't think it works quite like it does on 10m.  And the 10m band has been flaky the past week or so.  But all of that is ok, since I just had surgery on my knee the other day.  I've been spending a lot of time on the couch, researching Amateur Radios.  I have to say, I've become quite curious about the more digital modes, like D-STAR and EchoLink.  D-STAR sounds like a fantastic idea, which mixes ham radio with the internet.  Originally I thought it sounded like "cheating," but I've seen come around a bit, and considering it more like an extension of ham radio.  Besides, for Amateur Radio to continue to grow, I think we need to embrace all modes that come into existence, but remembering where we came from.

Which, brings me to my next topic: CW or Morse Code.  Besides attempting to DX, and now looking into the digital modes, CW is next on my plate.  I've already started to learn it, using a method based on Koch and Farnsworth.  The idea is to take the code, play each letter at the speed with which you want to be at; in my case I'm looking at 30wpm, and then slowing down the spacing between the letters, which I've set to 5wpm.  What this does, is to train your ears to hear the characters as the speed you want, but slowing it down enough that you don't get overwhelmed.  Then as you improve, you can increase the speed between characters.  What you don't want, is for your brain to try to hear dits and dahs; rather, you want to hear the patterns that the letters make.  It's like learning a language. You don't learn the individual letters in a word and sound out each letter till you know the word, what you do is to hear the whole word and repeat it back.  It's the same with Morse Code.  Although I'm only 5 letters in, I can see the value in learning with this method.

I'm also looking at getting another radio.  I currently have two radios, one HF rig IC-761, and a Bao Feng HT, 2m/70cm.  And they both work exceptionally well.  Especially my HT, which I hook up to a mag mount antenna while I'm in my car.  However, this is not the best solution.  What I am interested in now is an ID-880H.  What this will do for me, is replace my HT for in-car use, on the 2m and 70cm bands, but will also allow me to do D-STAR.  My thought, is that I can mount the radio is such a way, that it is easily transferable from car to shack.  While in the car, I can use it as I have been using my HT, but also make distant connections using the D-STAR mode.  But, I'll also want to be able to do this in my shack.  What I don't want to do, is to purchase 2 radios, when one will do the job.  Although, what I may find is that it is too much of a hassle to move it, and I may find one location for it to rest at.  If I had unlimited funds though, I would want this radio in my car exclusively, and an IC-7100 all mode (including D-STAR) in my shack. The 7100 would allow me to work in the field as well, in a mobile fashion, without having to lug around a big radio like my 761.  I will tell you this though, I'm pretty sure that ICOM is going to be my company of choice from now on.  They seem to have fantastic quality, good user reviews, and D-STAR built in.

Ok, so...what else is new.  I'm contemplating working on my Extra Class exam.  This would allow me to get a shorter call sign, such as a 1x2 or a 2x1, making exchanges even easier.  I'm also going to try to do a contest tomorrow, very early, with Kazakhstan.  I don't know if I'll even be able to make any contacts, but it's worth a try.  Worst case is that I'll lose some sleep...

Our club is coming around, we've got a call sign KD9AOQ, we have an official name through the state of Indiana, Off the Grid Radio and Electronics Society, INC., I've applied for ARRL membership, and we've made it through the initial stages of that; and lastly, we've got a bank account and multiple cards for our founding members.  The next steps are to get our non-profit status, and begin recruiting members.  Which speaking of, we have a few of those in the works.  I'm so excited about where our club can go, and what we'll be able to do once we grow a little.

In closing, I have to say that I am surprised at how absorbed I am into this thing called Ham Radio.  I tend to flit around from one thing to another, but Amateur Radio seems to have caught my attention more than things usually do.  I'm hoping some of this excitement continues to rub off on others as well.

Thanks for listening, and 73!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

ok, here we are, Brandon (kd8vdx), David, and I. Just 30 minutes from taking our Amateur radio exams. Brandon and I are going for our General Class license and David for his Technician. After a solid breakfast at Granma's restaurant, and some great conversation, I think we are definitely ready for this.

see you on the other side.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Propagation can be interesting!

This weekend was definitely interesting, when talking about HF radio signal propagation.  Of course, I'm sure some of the ol'timers out there wouldn't think twice about what I experienced, but that's what is neat about Ham Radio, when you are new at it, everything is a neat experience.

I spent much of the weekend answering CQ calls and even sending a few myself.  The most prominent call I answered, was from Russia.  I even took a moment to say "Dobray Deyn" - and he ended the call with "Spaciba." - and then later on Saturday night, I was still on 10m's and calling CQ from I think 28.440 - and I got a few answers, one of which was making my first Canadian contact; and interestingly enough, I made a contact with someone who was only 10 miles away.   None-the-less, it was another exciting weekend on the radio.

I've got a lot to get done this week, as I study for the General Class exam, which is happening on Saturday at 9Am.  I've elected to use Dan Romanchick's No-Nonsense Study Guide, as well as an iPad based exam test study.  I'm hoping that these will prepare me well enough, since I'm not reading the real indepth stuff like Brandon (KD8VDX) is doing.  He purchased the exam study book from the ARRL, and will probably be better prepared than I am.  But hopefully we both pass it.

And then this morning, I submitted a request for a new Vanity Call Sign.  My KC9ZFI is kind of long, and seems to cause some trouble with people trying to copy it.  I submitted to get K1BBB - which I think should end up being a good call.  It's simple, straight forward, and I think should be easily copied.  Hopefully it goes through successfully.  That call has been available for a while, so I expect I'll get it.

I've also ordered some new parts for my radio, and will talk about those in the near future.


Friday, March 7, 2014

Frustration is setting in...

Ham radio is all about exploration and discovery.  But, I think the old hands have stayed away from new technology long enough.  We need to look at how to bring amateur radio into the new century.  There is a huge lack of support in the ham radio industry.  And what support is there, is scarce or antiquated.

I only recently got my license, and even only more recently got on the air.  Just last weekend, I ran a few calls in a contest.  Only a measly 20 contacts, with 17 countries.  That's barely anything in comparison with people who do this competitively.  What I find frustrating, is that in logging my contacts, there are various programs to choose from.  I figured using the ARRL's version or even's version, would give me the ability to convert my log to the proper version needed to submit those whole 20 contacts to the contest.  If there is away to do it, it must be hidden and secretive, because I certainly can't find how to do it.  Now I'm looking at a 3rd program, which might allow me to do what I need.  That'll be the 4th time I've had to record my contacts...

I've done IT support my entire career, and even ran a successful part time business supporting my clienteles' PCs.  Many times I run into problems that are new, or that I might have forgotten how to fix.  That's where the internet comes in.  You can find virtually any information you need, on the internet.  A simple Google or Bing search, will quickly bring out a wealth of answers.  UNLESS we are talking about Ham radio.  That's when we run aground, hitting the end of our travels.  I suspect that this is because we have an older generation, who for years was on the cutting edge of technology, but hasn't grown much for the past 25 to 30 years.  Rather than embracing computers and the internet, they have shunned it.  Granted this could be due to their age... but I have met many older folks who spend the time necessary (like us younger people) to learn their computers/OSs/the internet.  It's all about desire I suppose, not age...

I'm not sure what I can do about it, I'm only one man.  But, maybe with the help of our Ham Radio Club Off the Grid Radio and Electronics Society, we'll be able to bring about change, bringing a younger crowd in, who is more willing to use computers and the internet, and we can get more information about there to help support those who need it.

I'll admit that it is quite possible that I have missed something completely, while using these various logging programs, and it could be something very simple.  I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed, but I do have to say that if I'm struggling with this now, I can only imagine how a 70 year old grandfather would be struggling and give up because of the lack of support.  Or maybe not, maybe he would pull out his "Rolodex" flip through the pages until he found the guy he met 4 years ago, who told him about contesting, and call him for help.  Maybe this is all due to my preference to find out information digitally, rather than contacting someone one-on-one to get help.  But if that's the case, it only goes to show how much grater the need is to gather that information and get it "on the web" - or we risk losing the next generation.

Once I figure out how to do this Cabrillo thing, I'll definitely let you know... "on the web"!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

10m Contest

Wow, so this past weekend the airwaves were absolutely packed with "CQ Contest, CQ Contest," and I have to say I enjoyed my first time contesting.  I made contact with 17 different countries, as far away as Brazil and Ukraine.  The thrill of answering a CQ Contest call, and having the person recognize your call sign over the air: "KC9ZFI 5 9 K" is pretty cool; especially when you consider I was using a hand built wire antenna that is only like 15 feet in the air.  I might have even caught the contesting bug.  There are a couple contests coming up, and I plan to try to participate.

Here, take a look at my last 15 contacts:
KC9ZFI's Logbook

And here's the next contest I plan to try out:
Nauryz DX Contest 2014