Sunday, May 31, 2009

CW on the cranium

I spent some quality time with my radio and CW keyer this weekend, casually taking part in the CQ WPX CW contest. I say “casually” participated because I usually only have a few hours, here and there, over the course of a typical weekend to devote to such endeavours. In all, I managed 125 contacts. Pretty good for me…but keep in mind the serious contesters finish with contacts in the thousands. In fact I was number 2000 for the Hungarian station I contacted just before 8pm local tonight (and I worked a few with serial numbers in the 3000’s).

I’d be interested to hear from other CW operators…to see if you, perhaps have shared this rather strange experience I’ve had. I think I hear Morse code mixed in with the white noise that certain household appliances make. No…my transceiver wasn’t on autopilot and sending RFI into the toaster-oven. And, before you call the nice men in white suits to take me away to the butterscotch hotel with the padded walls….realize that I know there isn’t really CW emanating from the vacuum cleaner, hair dryer or air cleaner. But…my brain seems to pick up what sounds like high speed CW buried within that hum or whir of the particular household gadget. Luckily I can’t decipher anything…or I’d be checking myself into the loony bin (then again I’m not good at copying the high speed stuff anyway!). This phenomenon only seems to occur (thankfully) shortly after I’ve been doing some CW work. It reminds me of a time a few years ago when I was having fun working the FM satellites. I’d be intently listening to the downlink frequency with headphones a few minutes before the scheduled pass…and I’d swear I could hear the hint of voices buried in the static. But, it would be a few more minutes before the real voices started to fade up.

Yup, the brain can do funny thins to us hams. Now…if only the vacuum would QSL.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Signs of life at 28 MHz

I’ve been hearing some activity on 10 meters over the past week or so. None of the signals were bombing in, but anywhere from an S 3-7, and with next to no noise on the band, they were near-perfect copy. I was able to make a few quick contacts, which was very refreshing and gives me hope the band may be bouncing back as the latest solar cycle, slowly, slowly churns forward imparting its magic on the higher bands.

I’ve always had a soft spot for 10 meters. When the band was really hot back in the early part of this century (uh, that would be 2000, 01 & 02) I managed to work some of my best DX…with 100 watts into a wire…on that band, including my first JA’s.

I think right now many of us just aren’t checking the band regularly, and just as importantly, making a transmission. Give a quick CQ, regardless of what you are or are not hearing. You may be surprised at the results. If you want to check for propagation…don’t go by the lack of SSB signals…dial down to the CW beacon portion of the band, between about 28180 and 28300 kHz. Slowly scan and if you hear any CW signals, there’s propagation happening from somewhere. Even if your ability to copy code is rough….these beacons usually send at slow speeds and a couple of listens should allow you to copy. Alternatively, you could use some CW software to decode it for you. Look up the call on or one of the on-line beacon lists and figure out where your signal may go if you transmit. Here’s another trick to see whether 10 meters may be open: Dig out that old CB rig (come on admit it, you have one hiding somewhere) or just dial down to the 27 MHz range….and flip the mode to AM. If there’s any propagation in that end of the spectrum, you’ll undoubtedly hear those overmodulated, heavily exaggerated accented guys (could anyone really sound like that?) whistling and yelling into their Golden Eagles. Logic dictates if there’s skip on the ole Citizens Band, the band 1 MHz up is probably open too.

Why is ham radio sometimes the most fun when there’s a challenge involved? Hope to hear you on 10m.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Memories of Dayton

My one and, so far, only journey to Dayton was back in 1991 (please don’t tell me that’s really eighteen years ago). I believe every ham in North America should make the pilgrimage at least once. Many, or course, go every year, or at least semi-regularly. I hope to return one year, once life’s circumstances permit. However, by the time that happens, I may be restricted to one of those nifty motorized scooters.

I tried to watch some of the live streaming one ham had on his website, but all I managed to catch was a view of a canopy over a table of stuff, with people walking by, or a static shot of some parking lot. So, my hopes of living vicariously through this guy didn’t work out too well. Guess I’ll have to rely on my own Dayton memories of many years ago.

I traveled with four other hams. Let’s face it…this is the only way to go. Unless your XYL is a ham, she just won’t get it, and the kids won’t be amused when they find out there isn’t a rollercoaster. Only fellow amateurs would appreciate three days of traversing the isles and isles of used gear and plain old (but wonderful) junk, or to see all the shiny new stuff most of us can’t afford.

We made the trip from Oshawa (just outside of Toronto) to Dayton in an aging motorhome. Unfortunately it broke down while at the campground and our comrade and chauffeur Norm spent much of his time tearing the engine to pieces and trying to find a part for the carburetor.

My purchases were restricted to a few accessories, a mobile antenna that sort of thing. The purpose of the trip was not to snag the deal of the century on that hot new rig, but rather to experience what I had heard so much about. In the end, it pretty much lived up to all the hype. I saw a lot of neat stuff, met a lot of great folks (especially at the camp ground which seemed to be 100% filled with hams) and got a few deals on some modest things on my wish list.

On the trip back, we were busy compiling a list of purchases and gather receipts for the fine folks at Canada Customs. When we hit the border at Detroit/Windsor and the customs guy asked if we had anything to declare, Norm casually and in a cool manner just said “no”, and we were waived through. This despite the motorhome having ham call sign licence plates with that border crossing being the main thoroughfare for the hundreds of other Canadian hams who make the trip. Either that border guard was new or at the end of his shift and just didn’t care. Now, none of us had made a major purchase, so the government didn’t miss out on too much tax. Anyway a fine ending to a good trip!

Ahhh, maybe next year, or the year after. Hmmm, are they taking reservations for 2021? Or I could make it back down there sooner if they would just install that rollercoaster.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Lawn, RTTY & Auctions

Wow, where does the time go? Another weekend has wrapped up and we’re already almost in the middle of May. Not a lot of amateur activity for me this weekend, with Mother’s Day and some half-way decent weather Sunday to mow the grass. Yes the first cut of the season….only took 38 pulls of the cord to get the old beast puffing back to life for one more season. I keep threatening to replace it with an electric mower as I’m sure there are at least two or three holes in the ozone that can be attributed to the clouds of exhaust my old gas-powered job produces.

I did manage a little time Saturday afternoon to scan the HF dial. I was all set to check out the DX conditions on 20 meters CW when I heard an abundance of RTTY sounds. Turns out is was something called the Alessandro Volta RTTY Contest. I fired up the MMTTY software and away we went. European DX was abundant and the signals were solid. I love RTTY (and many of the other digital modes) because lower power (I was running about 75 watts) and a basic wire antenna can net decent DX without too much trouble. The best catch was T77NM from the teeny-tiny republic of San Marino. Actually not a new overall country for me as I’d worked it a few times on phone, but a new RTTY country.

The main amateur-related activity this past week was attending the annual auction held by one of the clubs in our area. I hadn’t been to it in a few years, so I took some cash and ventured out to see what could be had for a deal. Unlike a fleamarket, the auction approach means that everything in the room must go! For about 20 bucks I managed to snag a decent Yaesu SP-102 communications speaker with some built in audio filters. I was the lone bidder on an old piece of test equipment (cost me a buck). I’m not exactly sure what it does, but if nothing else it’ll make a good solid door stop. Actually I’ve been amassing test equipment from flea markets and auctions over the past several years, as I one day plan to start fixing up all those nice old broadcast radios I have gathering dust, and a couple of nice Hallicrafters boat anchors that work….but not very well. But with time always so tight, I’m afraid these may become retirement projects!
Waiting (and waiting) for refurbishment