Sunday, June 27, 2010
Sunday, May 30, 2010
No bother, as operating time was very limited thanks to that stinkin’ great weather. So, in between power washing the deck (amazing what it looks like after blasting off ten years worth of wear and tear), and pulling grass and weeds out of a badly neglected garden, I managed to work a grand total of 50 stations over the course of the 48 hour contest. On top of that the bands seemed to, how do I put this delicately…..well suck, much of the time. I see ole’ Sol was somewhat active this weekend, which may have worked out well for the 6 meter folks, but it didn’t help out 20 meters too much, at least while I was tuning around. Most of the stations worked were the garden variety A, K, N, W & VEs, but I did manage a few DX contacts with I (Italy), 9A (Croatia), a couple from EA8 (Canary Islands), F (France) signing with a TM prefix, CT (Portugal) and CE (Chile) using the prefix XQ.
I’ll have to check the contest calendar for the next good CW or digital contest. Anyone know a good rain dance?
Saturday, May 22, 2010
The first pack contained a number of cards for VE3GJS, my original call…so I knew these were hanging around the QSL bureau’s in-box for some time! Sure enough, most were for contacts made in 2001 and 2002 (I acquired the VE3CH call in 2004). The second batch of cards that arrived just a few days later was for more recent contacts. Last year I blogged speculating whether hard copy QSL cards were a fading aspect of the hobby. I’ve never been an overly active QSLer. While I do my best to respond to cards sent to me, and will take the effort to send a card when I’ve worked a new country, I’ve not felt the need to collect as many as possible. I’m not an award chaser, so maybe that’s part of the reason for my lackadaisical attitude towards QSLing. None the less, it’s always a nice little surprise to get a pack of cards in the mail. Better than the other pieces of mail which seemingly consist of only bills.
Sunday, May 9, 2010
This contest has been around 44 years and is named in honour of Alessandro Volta, an Italian physicist who died back in 1827 but is credited with developing the first electric cell in 1800.
There are a number of RTTY contests throughout the year, and I try to dabble in as many as possible. I’m still a neophyte in this mode, having sent my first ‘ritty’ signal maybe five years ago. As with many of the digital modes tough, I find the operating quite pleasurable, primarily because these modes are well suited to modest stations with lower power. I’m able to make decent contacts, across North America or across the oceans without too much trouble. Running between 60 and 80 watts into my simple windom, I was able to work some decent Dog-Xray from the Hawaiian Islands (KH6GMP) to Poland (SP3GHX), the latter on 40 meters, where I find it difficult to make a DX-haul on phone. I even managed a contact with a station in Sardinia, which according to my logging software is a separate DXCC entity from Italy, so I also got to chalk up a new country (better dust off the QSL cards!).
Hey, I just received two packs of QSL cards via the bureau this past week. Perhaps we’ll chat about that next time.
‘til then 73 & keep the RF pumping.
Saturday, May 1, 2010
It’s May now. Ironically, summer isn’t exactly prime time for traditional HF contacts as the longer daylight hours means less good DX opportunities, especially on bands above 20 meters. Alas, that’s when things at work back off a bit for me and I have a little more time for RF pursuits.
For my throngs of readers out there in the Blogosphere (okay I’ve probably lost everyone with the posting drought, but maybe someone will stumble upon it from one of the hotlinks out there), here are what few radio highlights I’ve had since last fall.
Christmas DX to the North Pole
My little '2nd harmonic' Kaden (turning the big 0-5 in a few weeks!) had a contact with Santa Claus back in December. We even used his callsign VA3KDN for the occasion. No he doesn’t hold the Guinness record for being the youngest licenced amateur radio operator (who is the youngest licenced tot anyway?), Daddy decided to get an auxiliary callsign a few years ago that kinda works with his name. Should he actually want to pursue his ticket down the road, I can transfer the call to him. He may very well not be interested in the hobby (my older son didn’t take much of a shine to it), but imprinting positive ham radio experiences at a young age like a talk with big guy at the North Pole can’t hurt! Kudos to the guys with the ONTARS net who make this very special contact possible every year for many young hammies.
I did manage to spend the odd half-hour here and there making a few contest contacts. The bands were swarming with QRM in March as one of the “biggies” took place…the ARRL DX contest, SSB version. What was the most often heard expression on the air for this one?... “5-9 Kilowatt” I don’t know why the H-E-double hockey sticks I bother with these contests. With a mere 100 watts into a wire, the frustration level often runs high. But every so often, my pip-squeak signal manages to find its was through the ether to a far off land. If lucky, I won’t have to repeat my call sign ten times using every variation on phonetics I can think of…. “Negative, it’s Victor’s Eating 3 Crazy Hamsters!" Then, or course, getting my 5-9 signal report (err, why did I have to clarify my call and exchange 18 times then?). I particularly enjoyed working those seemingly few DX stations that were running just 100 watts (kindred spirits!). Most of the time their signals were maybe S3 or 5 (yes…I gave them a 5-9!), but in most cases they probably had the advantage of a decent directional antenna.
CW vs. Phone & special calls
I’m starting to prefer the CW contests, where it seems I have a much easier time making contacts, although I desperately need a better CW filter than the stock one that’s in my little FT-897.
Hopefully I’ll be able to spare a little time for the Continuous Wave version of the WPX contest coming up later this month. I don’t think there are any special prefixes available to Canadian hams this year. Last year I signed as XM3CH. Actually in the SSB WPX recently I made a handful of contacts as VG3KDN (borrowed the kid’s call!). The special prefix was to commemorate the Vancouver Winter Olympics.
Managed to miss the Ontario QSO Party in mid April due to a family commitment. I used to really enjoy this contest, but haven’t seriously taken part in the past few years. I think it was 2002 when I actually managed to scoop the award for my county. Then again, I think I was one of maybe three stations on from ‘HAS’ (Hastings County).
I did a presentation recently at our local ham club on EchoLink. I operate an EchoLink simplex link at the college’s amateur station VE3ALC. It’s been on the air a little over a year now only a few of the local hams had checked it out. Of course with EchoLink you can operate directly from your computer. The local simplex node is usually connected to a small network of other links and repeaters in the greater Toronto area, Niagara region and even to a couple of repeaters in British Columbia. All you need to do is key the mic on the local 2-meter frequency on which I have it operating…and every once in a blue moon, someone will actually come back to you! I’ve noted from the systems electronic log that there have been some interesting users connecting from places like Hong Kong and Indonesia…places I can only dream of working on HF! Unfortunately these stations were connecting in the middle of the night local time, so I doubt that they got a response to any call.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Consequently, there hasn’t been much time for ham radio. The light in the shack might get switched on about once a week for a quick dial spinning session. A few 2 meter contacts in the car to the local guys, or the occasional mobile EchoLink QSO via the local node I operate, and that’s been about it. As the season progresses, and the weather dictates we keep ourselves sequestered in the warmth of our homes, I suspect there may be a bit more time to get on the HF bands more often.
Back to the blog…I have no shortage of ideas for topics….just a shortage of the most precious commodity of all….time!
I did have the opportunity to partake in a time honoured ham tradition this weekend…. the ham radio fleamarket. It’s actually been a couple of years since I made a pilgrimage to one of these events, so I was quite enthusiastic to gas up the mobile, fill the travel mug with some java from a favourite coffee emporium, and head west-bound 401 towards Markham, a suburb of Toronto for a flea market hosted by the York Region Amateur Radio Club.
It’s about a two hour drive from HQ, so hitting the road by 7am was essential to get there in time for the 9am opening. Let’s face it, if you can’t get there within an hour of opening time….don’t bother! Reminds me of the first such event I ever attended 22 years ago, a few months before getting my licence. Not knowing anything about hamfest culture at that time, and seeing the event was advertised to be open from 9am to 2pm, I decided to drop by about 12:30pm. I found it odd that there was no one at the main entrance to collect to admission fee, and then disappointed to see most of the vendors had either left, or were in the midst of packing up. Lesson learned.
I had nothing particular on my shopping list for this quest (the wish list….that’s entirely different). So my contribution to boosting the economy was limited to the admission fee (actually that was covered by my passenger…thank’s Dave, VE3UGT!), four tickets for the super draw (guys, I’m still waiting for the phone call), and some good quality wire and associated lugs, nuts and connectors to finally do a proper install on my mobile rig (the cigarette lighter adapter has been a source of embarrassment). Bought that stuff from a start up company specializing in such accessories, Armitron Power Products. Oh yea, the hamfest grub. I passed on the traditional hotdog for a muffin and some gawd-awful coffee (seriously, have you ever had good coffee at one of these things?....to the club’s credit this swill was free).
A few observations:
-The hamfests I’ve been to in the past decade or so are all getting smaller. Less vendors, and in some cases it appears less attendees. Ironically there have never been so many licensed amateurs, and the choice of amateur products has never been so plentiful.
-Some vendors of used gear need a reality check with pricing. I saw a few deals, but the asking prices on many of the used rigs seemed high. Why would I pay $125 for a 15 year old 2 meter rig, when I can walk over to one of the retail vendors and pick up a brand new one on sale for $129?
-The classic or ‘vintage’ stuff is way too expensive. I know some of these oldie-but-goodie rigs are sought after, but you have no idea of how many mods, or how much tinkering has happened under the chassis of these old gems.
-Too much stuff that has nothing to do with radio. Why in the world would I want a cell phone from 1990 that’s the size of a brick…and wouldn’t work on today digital systems anyway? Okay for some computer-related items, but really, who really would have any practical use for a Tandy or Commodore anymore!
-How do I say this gently?...Some (only a few but they stand out) should really consider a shower before coming to these events.
Hmmm….didn’t mean for all those to be negative in tone! Ham radio fleamarkets really are a part of the amateur radio culture that I hope will continue to survive. What beats a morning spent with an auditorium full of like-minded folks to paw through some gear, oggle the new stuff, and have some eyeball QSOs? Well worth the price of admission.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
I work at a community college, so I consider summer to be a four-month period starting the beginning of May. While my job entails me working throughout the summer months (except for three weeks vacation), the quieter halls and slightly slower pace makes it a time to treasure.
In this part of the world, folks did a lot of complaining about the “summer that never was”….weather-wise. I actually didn’t mind the cooler temperatures as I’m not a huge fan of super hot and humid conditions, but it did rain a little too much. On the plus side, my new rain barrel was never empty and I didn’t use a drop of city water on the garden (why my water bill was more than normal remains a mystery).
On the radio side, summer tends to be when many hams have less time to sit in the shack twiddling the dials…something to do with family commitments and yard work….sheesh. Although I was balancing that also, my level of activity was probably its highest in at least five years. My little 2nd harmonic is another year older, and while he still demands (and boy can he demand!) a lot of attention from myself and the XYL, it seemed I was able to steal a little more time in my comfy basement shack.
A few neat things that took place radio-wise for me:
-Acquiring a new (well, new to me) HT...the Yaesu VX-6R (still learning those menus).
-I took some time to try to better understand the characteristics of propagation and the solar cycle…exactly when will that promised Solar Cycle 24 start anyway??
-Speaking of propagation, I was able to log quite a few 6 meter contacts and give my relatively new tri-band vertical a bit of a workout. There were a number of impressive openings, and I was lucky enough to be around for at least a few of them.
-I also tried out a new mode. Again, I’ll say new-to-me as this is a very old mode…. Hellschreiber, Feld Hell, or simply Hell. Despite its sinister name (thanks to the guy who invented it back in the 20’s), it’s a fascinating way of communicating. I joined the Feld Hell club and have enjoyed a few contacts during its monthly sprint events.
-Field Day is always a highlight and I enjoyed my brief outing with the local club. Hopefully next year I won’t be asked to attend a family function the same weekend!
-I finally designed a new QSL card. Truth is, although I’ve had my present callsign since 2004, I hadn’t gotten around to getting a new card made up. I also began tidying up the backlog of eQSLs in my in-box.
-I casually took part in a few contests and finally installed some proper contest logging software.
Now, I did intend to do a little improvement to my main HF antenna, which is a simple Carolina Windom…but that’s yet to happen. Being a good ham, I’ll probably wait until the first snow to get that project done.
73 summer of 2009.