Sunday, January 25, 2015

Hard To Let Go, QSL?

As I continue to get settled and unpack many boxes, I find myself once again wondering how long I will be hanging onto my collection of QSL cards. I have each and every card I've ever received since hitting the power button on my brand new Icom IC-735 many years ago. As I continue to drag them along and as we begin to downsize, preparing for our retirement years (still have some time), I'm facing the same dilemma. Do I finally let go of my ham radio paper resume?      
This is my personal, hard copy, ham radio timeline and even though it has no monetary value (although I hate to think what I spent in getting many of them over the years) it has sentimental value that reaches farther than any country I've ever worked. I feel like a QSL hoarder and even though electronic QSL'ing is very big today, paper QSL cards are still very popular. Pictured here are just a few boxes of QSL cards and I have several more which I have yet to encounter as I unpack from my latest move. The QSL cards are not costing me anything and they only use up a bit of storage space in comparison to other items. But as we begin downsizing, every ounce counts. I keep asking myself, how long is long enough? Will I ever use these again? Not sure my kids will enjoy being stuck with them when I climb the mighty tower skyward. And as bureau cards continue to filter in over the next several years, the boxes will continue to grow.

For now, the boxes of accumulated contact confirmations will once again be placed in a closet or dark corner of a spare bedroom. I could easily recycle these to the curb but I keep wondering if it would be one of those actions I would regret later? Maybe it's finally time to live outside the box...   

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

On The Move (Local)

Portable Pack Out
Our more permanent accommodation has become available so it's time to pack up the portable equipment and head down the hill. Moving portable equipment is sure much easier than tearing down towers, antenna's, miles of feedline and everything in between. The drive to my office will be a bit longer but much less stressful than the last 1½ years. 

The rest of my equipment will soon be within reach and I'll be setting up the main shack computer. I need to update LOTW certificates, get to updating logbooks and it will be nice having more than one comm port to contend with. So, my new antenna's will get tested at the new QTH.  It will be nice to unwind, officially unpack and check out the propagation paths on the other side of the valley.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Fedz Up!

USPS Delivery
As mentioned in a previous post, I had ordered a few more of the Par EndFedz antenna's for my portable arsenal. I'm looking forward to deploying these, both here at home and in the backcountry. I've owned a 17 Meter version for a few years and have been very happy with the performance. I've now added 15, 20 and 40 Meters to the mix. This will hopefully allow me a bit more flexibility on those days when I'm out in the field operating portable. I will be putting them up at home for their maiden voyage and will post my results here when I have a chance to give em a workout. 


Soon to be living in a more confined corner lot (hopefully), I won't have the room to put all of these up, so I'll focus on using one or two. My goal is utilizing my 5BTV, allowing me multiple bands in the smallest amount of space. While in Alaska, I purchased a Hex Beam and I'm hopeful that can go in the air as well. The beam will give me a few of the WARC bands, which I enjoy running. I'm fully expecting the propagation to be a bit more cooperative as I'll be living on a hillside and should only have one somewhat challenged propagation path. The days of having my 40 foot tower with my large Mosley beam nested at the top are probably gone. As I approach retirement and having a plan of being a full time RV'er for a large part of the year, I'm now focusing on a smaller, portable setup. This will give me a few years to have it tried and tested. I'm also going to get back into working satellites, too. Next will be a portable UHF/VHF antenna for that (SO-50). I hope to put together a small array for working the HF birds from home as well. My dreams are limited by budget constraints but I'm hopeful that Uncle Sam will return enough to donate to my antenna improvement fund.         

Sunday, January 11, 2015

My DX Triangle

My DX Zone Examined
After spending several days studying the propagation here, I've found a consistent pattern to 20 meters. I've listened to the bands at all hours of the day and night and my study specifically of 20 meters has revealed some disappointing propagation. I've determined it's not mother nature, just my geographic location. I've watched stations all around me working each other and oftentimes, I'm not hearing a peep. But it seems that once the Zulu clock ticks 2300 to 0000, it seems propagation appears on the waterfall or emits from my speaker when listening to CW! That has been a constant pattern now for several days.

The Beginning
This consistent pattern is noted to the right with my screen shot of my daily monitoring of JT65A, which this one happened to be from today. You can see how the propagation begins and I start to see some regular activity. Signals are not the strongest, but that's expected with an indoor antenna. I don't often see much above a -15 dB, normally. But with this mode, any of these signals are workable and that's the beauty of JT65 or JT9. There seems to be much more activity on JT65, so I favor that mode right now.   

Realizing the terrain is going to make my contacts very tough, I just need to monitor and take advantage of those times when when I start to hear stations. I have the 20 meter pattern down and more times than not, I don't hear anything else on the higher bands. I will also call CQ and see what the Reverse Beacon system says of my signal. 

It Ends Just As Quickly
And just as quick as it begins, I find the band drops just as fast, if not faster than it shows up. Not much in the way of DX being heard here but I'm beginning to think anything more than 3 states away is DX! By studying propagation patterns for the last few weeks, at least I know what I'm up against.

I've been in reception mode for several days and ironically tonight, I worked K3Y/KH6 (Max) on 20 meter CW. It was not easy as it took a few times for Max to get my information after a few repeats. I began running 5 watts but as I listened to my path to Hawaii fade, I cranked up my IC-703+ to 10 watts, the maximum output for my rig. Max once again showed why he is a great operator. Normally, a QSO to Hawaii should be simple from here (Oregon). I've worked Max for the last several years and I know he has great station. Max had all the work and he pulled it off allowing me to add the QSO to my logbook. 

I'm excited to relocate from our temporary location to a more permanent location which I feel will be much better for propagation. It will be a more populated area, so I'll be leaving one problem (lack of propagation) for another (QRN). Either way, no matter how challenging the band or conditions are, I will always make an effort to get on the air when time allows. It's an addiction that I've had for years and one I'm okay with.     

Thursday, January 8, 2015

My Thursday JT65 Heard List

JT65 Heard List
I left my Icom 703+ monitoring 20 meters today and it was nice to see several callsigns listed on my band activity screen while monitoring for JT65 signals. I was also pleasantly surprised to see a bit of DX on the screen as well. PY2XAT showed up toward the end of the afternoon as seen with my screen shot. It was also nice to see the 49th (Alaska) make it onto my heard list as well. That's an accomplishment considering the size of the mountain I have blocking that direction. I did notice that when the band folded tonight, it folded quickly. That time of year.  

I received notice today that my external antennas were apparently shipped so I'm looking forward to receiving those next week. I'm hoping the use of an external antenna will open up a bit more of the globe for me, as it should. 

As the weekend approaches, my plans are to venture across the bands and warm up my straight key in the SKCC Weekend Sprintathon. I hope to do a bit of digital as well. Just with today's listening exercise, it will help me plan my weekend activity while chasing the various K3Y stations. 

PSK Reporter AK7DD Heard List Visual Report
The PSK Reporter Map to the right displays geographically the station locations of those my station heard today on 20 meters. With such great resources available online, it's hard to believe not taking advantage of this data. I might not have a single bar of cellular coverage but I sure have some fair HF coverage even with a minimal indoor setup. A perfect example that you don't need much to get on the air and make contacts thousands of miles away. What's there not to love about this hobby! It has something for everyone.   

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

WSPR'ing on 20 Meters

WSPR Stations heard here
I decided to run a bit of WSPR on 20 meters today and the results were far from spectacular. Having an indoor antenna set up for that band yielded the following results. I'm still trying to get a grip on propagation paths here. But in looking at space weather websites like Solarham, I saw that there was some geomagnetic activity that may have effected what I could hear (or could not). To get an accurate estimation on propagation paths here, I need to look at signal reports over several days while looking at solar conditions. My main test was on 20 meters as I tend to spend a bit more time on that band than any of the others. It was also the band I had my Buddipole set up for.

WSPR 12 Hour Map
When I look at my station specifically over the course of 12 hours on WSPRnet, I got a visual perspective of the stations I was hearing. I was only receiving, and of course, propagation data needs stations transmitting as well as receiving. I also need to transmit my QRP signal to get the full picture as well. I plan to do that when I'm around the shack and most likely during the evenings or weekends. I also want to experiment with a few other bands.

All 20 meter activity in the same 12 hours
And in speaking of the big picture, I look at all the stations that were on 20 meters during that same 12 hours. I see several hops outside of the USA by those stations sending and receiving. Not seeing any DX in my world, but in following propagation paths and the sun, I did not expect to hear much outside our borders anyhow. I would imagine DX for me would be more of an afternoon / evening experience considering my set-up. I'll be curious to see how even an outdoor end fed antenna will help in my propagation experience result. I have a few friends I want to work on various modes and this will help me understand the best band and time to be successful on any future QSO attempts. With a beam and some moderate height, you can defy some challenging propagation. But when you are running as I am, an indoor antenna and QRP, it helps me to know what I'm up against. When you study for a test, you will more times than not, get a better grade. I'm studying...  

Monday, January 5, 2015

Straight Key QSO, Broke the Ice!

Straight Key QSO
I was not very happy that band conditions for me have been tough enough that I never made one CW QSO on Straight Key Night! I was really looking forward to some SK contacts. Nevertheless, I have been waiting for a good signal to make it to my radio. I broke out my Yaesu FT-857D just to make sure my receiver in my Icom 703+ was functional. I think my challenge is being not only indoors, but being at the base of a large mountain and others within a stones throw of my current QTH. I keep listening and waiting and my first CW (Morse Code) QSO happened on the 4th of January. I happened upon Kelsey in California running K3Y/6 on 20 meters, the SKCC Special Event Station. I called Kelsey with my Yaesu at 70 watts and a few minutes later, my first CW QSO made it into the AK7DD logbook. 

Log Search / Statistics
As the month wears on, I hope to add many more contacts with other K3Y stations. I've previously had fun operating K3Y from Alaska, but with my current situation and propagation challenged location, I would not even consider trying to run others here. I've ordered a few more antenna's, more specifically end fed wire antennas for 15, 20 and 40 meters. I have one for 17 meters and my uses will be running portable and also at the home QTH. I found the end fed antenna works well and normally is broad banded enough to not need a tuner. Another plus when dragging equipment out into some backcountry portable location as every ounce counts. I'm hoping to throw one up outside here which may help a bit and either way, it won't hurt. 

With a busy week ahead, I don't see much radio in my near future but hopefully next weekend will yield a few more contacts.  


Saturday, January 3, 2015

New - Times Three

Using software with a wanna be computer 
At the urging of fellow blogger Bas, PE4BAS, I decided to download WSJT-X and gave JT9 a run. Having operated JT65-HF software for awhile, it was a bit different but the basics were the same. Once I got the software configured, I was transmitting. One of the things I like about this software is that I can manually select my operating frequency and it still uploads my spots to PSK Reporter. Since I'm limited to only having one comm port, I can't have full functionality of the software. With JT65-HF, I could use Ham Radio Deluxe (HRD) to feed frequency information to JT65-HF. As long as HRD was running, I could not transmit. Once I shut down HRD, I was unable to feed frequency data to the software and transmit at the same time. Without the frequency data, it would not upload to PSK Reporter. I never attempted work around since I'm on a temporary computer.

First JT9 QSO
With receiving a new callsign on December 30th, I wanted to keep a bit of a tradition going with my first QSO. My goal was to snag Sean, KL1SF/K7 in Arizona. We've been friends many a year and I wanted to add him to the new logbook with QSO number 1 (not the first time). With my propagation challenged location, I asked Sean to try JT9. Like me, it was a new mode for him, too. Sean had to download the software and configure it. Once he got the rig married to the software and the software encouraging the rig to send on the air, the rest was easy. I saw that Sean had called and a few minutes later, QSO number one took place. It was my first QSO with the new callsign, my first QSO of the new year and my first QSO with JT9.  

The highlight happened to be that we were both QRP and both portable. Sean was camping with his family at his favorite winter spot and I was running my indoor setup with my portable equipment. It's great to be able to decode and run either JT9 or JT65 within one program. JT9 takes up much less bandwidth and works well with low power and minimal setups like mine. You can see from the dB reporting in the screenshot above that I was not hearing stations very strong. Gotta love weak signal software. Living at the base of mountains that nearly surround me, I don't find the bands very cooperative. I believe it's time to install a wire or two outdoors which may help a bit.    

Thursday, January 1, 2015

My Ham Call AK7DD, The True Meaning

The Call
For years, ham radio operators have had an attachment to their FCC issued callsigns. When I was first licensed, as you upgraded, you were given the chance to check the box on your 610 Form to have a different callsign issued. If you were issued one you did not like, you just upgraded and requested the next sequential callsign. Licence classes back then were; Novice, Technician, General, Advanced and finally the Extra Class. A callsign reflected your "rank" but it was (and still is) not always a true representation of your license class. As an example, back when I passed my Extra Class examination, I had an Advanced Class callsign. I opted to keep my Advanced Class 2x2, even though I had upgraded. Why? I liked my call (KE8RO) so I felt there was no reason to change. So when I operated in the "Extra" portion of the ham bands back in the day, a few may have raised their eyebrows wondering if I was operating outside my license class privilege. Either way, back in 2009, I blogged about where it all began for me and those who helped me achieve my ham radio license. You can find that information here. I've stuck with the 2x2 callsign format and as of now, unless a person is in a restricted region, a shortened 1x2 or 2x1 Extra Class callsign can be very hard to come by and all have been previously issued at one time or another. 

Boston, Charlestown 
Since my blog link above explains my callsign decisions prior to returning to the lower 48, I won't bore you with those details again. When I moved back to "The States", I decided to part with my Alaska callsign just to save the typical headaches associated from operating from a different DXCC Entity (especially during contests) than where your callsign was issued. I applied for and received AK2MA, or Alaska 2 Massachusetts. I possessed a 2'land callsign while living in the 1'land call area. Pretty common anymore these days. It's nice knowing that if you have a callsign you like, you really don't have to part with it even if you relocate to another state or even a DXCC entity (such as I did when I operated a few times from Iceland /TF). 

AK7DD - Crater Lake
When I relocated to Oregon, originally I had no desire to change my callsign. I was even asked if I had plans of doing so and my answer simply was "No". But that planted a seed which began to germinate and eventually, I was giving it some thought. The thought went on to determination when I realized my old callsign (or the meaning of) really had no bearing on current events, not that it really matters. I was glad to put MA behind me so since I was changing my vehicle plates, my drivers license and my address I figured what the heck, why not change my callsign, too. Then began the struggle of what was available and what would I apply for? I knew I was going to stick with a 2x2 callsign but what would I consider?

Dempsey Dog
I started looking at "DX" callsigns again as I enjoy DX'ing. I've been there, done that (KL8DX). I knew I wanted the prefix to be AK for Alaska (I miss that state!!!), and it needed to reflect my proper call area, 7. So, the dilemma began, looking for that good "CW" or Morse Code suffix in  a callsign I had already determined what the prefix would be. For me, it had to roll off my finger and thumb nicely. Having a case of insomnia had me reviewing a tribute video I made of our 15½ year old beagle. She had to put down for medical reasons prior to us moving to Oregon. Anybody who has a heart and a pet knows how you become attached to a four legged family member. Her name was Dempsey, and she was originally named after a location in Ohio, whereas circumstances would have it, my wife and I first met. Often times when we called Dempsey, we just added the word "Dog" to it. It was not long before she was commonly referred to as our "Dempsey Dog" and it stuck.

My new callsign, which showed available at the time I was looking, had no record of being issued and was my only request on my Vanity callsign application. And on December 30th, 2014 my license was issued. And this is where the story begins. Welcome to Chapter 4...