Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Solar Superstorm of 2012

As we hams bemoan the fact that sun spots are sparse currently we can't forget the power of the sun. Below is a link to an interesting article, recently published, and  a video on what could have been a disastorous Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) in April of 2012.

It never hurts to have a back-up plan.

Monday, July 21, 2014

After 25 Years

Last February I celebrated 25 years in Amateur Radio. Unlike many who were licensed at a  young age, I didn't get my ticket until I was 32 years old. In fact I recieved my license the same day that my then 12 year old son,Michael received his. We had consecutive calls, KB5ILS and KB5ILT. We subsequently upgraded to extra and received AB5EA and AB5EB. My son kept the later call but I recieved the vanity call AD5A in 1996.

As a teenager my cousin exposed me to shortwave listening. As many of us will say, it was magic to be able to sit in my bedroom and hear signals from around the world. I was mesmerized. I couldn't wait for the mailman each day to see if a QSL card might arrive. However, there were no local hams, learning morse code seemed impossilble, so I never pursued my ham license until years later, when I came across a Gordon West course in the local Radio Shack. The course cover proclaimed that a novice license was good for 10 years and you could talk on 10 meters. I bought the course, my 12 year son listened along as I did, we learned the code together.

So fast forward 25 years, what has changed? I supposed in many ways things have changed a lot. Things like:

- Internet
- Email
- Enhanced Digital Modes
- Online Confirmations
- Equipment functionality

I'm sure I'm missing a few things, but the efficient access to information is much easier now. QSL routes used to be one of the great mysteries of the world, in fact, INDEXA used to have a net on 14.236 that dipensed the lastest QSL route news. Setting schedules required weeks/months of letter writing. Increasing your DXCC count meant turning the dial, find the pile-ups and then back down to figure out the split, find which DX station might be on and then jumping into the fray . Logging was manual and data mining your log for forgotten contacts was a laborious task, but just as rewarding. DXing news came in weekly newletters not daily emails.

But there are some things that haven't changed:

- The concern over how to fund expensive expeditions
- Frequency cops
- QRMer's
- Complaining about the cost of getting a real QSL card
- The thrill of receiving that QSL card
- The excitement of a new one
- The magic of wirelessly communicating around the world
- Dayton, Friedrichshafen, DXCC, IOTA, WABA, etc....

Like some many things, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Here is a toast to the next 25 years, God willing.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Who Needs Sunspots

I read that July 18th was the first day without sunspots since sometime in 2012. That's not a good sign for sure. I'm definitely not a solar expert, but I do know that zero sunspots is bad for propagation. That said, last night I worked VK5CZ at 0124z on 15m operating QRP from a summit in Australia.Then this morning I worked GW0PEB/P on 15m from a summit in Wales and a couple minutes later snagged HB9BCB/p on 17m from a summit in Switzerland. Not bad for having a spotless sun. Who needs them anyway?

Just in case, let's hope a few show up:-)

Sunday, July 6, 2014

European Vacation - Friedrichshafen

I am flying back to the US as I type this. Obviously I will have to wait to publish it when I get home, but I thought I would write these thoughts down while they are still fresh. I have been writing a little about my trip to Europe, but the trip has been very busy and I have gotten behind. So, I will go back in time a few days to catch up.

One of the reasons for this trip was to attend the Friedrichshafen Ham Fair. I was attending the convention for the first time and I was not disappointed. The Ham Fair has a large hall of vendors with all the major radio brands and the latest gadgets, a nice stream of lectures on a wide variety of topics, a nice flea market full of classic gear and hard to find items. But best of all the the opporunity to renew acquiantances with old friends get acquainted with new friends.

I was able to make acquiantances with some SOTA  guys from across the pond. In the picture above from the left, HB9DOT, HB9CST, MM0FMF (Andy from the SOTA MT)                                                , and myself. A tradition at Friedrichshafen is for the SOTA guys to meet at the QSL card wall at 12:00 noon on Saturday.

                                                One of the Flea Market Halls

A few things about the convention were notable. First of all, most of the national societies from Europe have booths there. Only a few had meaningful displays, but they all flew there flags proudly. Additionally          ,       in the flea market, there was an abundance of surplus WW II vintage radio gear. When you think about it, it makes sense. Only a small percentage of the gear used in the war made it's way back to the U.S. There were some very interesting pieces of equipment. You could have purchased a completely restored Enigma machine for 33,000 pounds sterling . The Enigma was a device that was used by the Germans during the war to code messages. There was a huge effort by the Allies to figure out how to decipher these coded messages. There is a museum commemorated that effort at Bletchley Park in England. 

                    The Enigma Machine

          An Interesting Piece of Military Radio Gear

Lastly, the surrounding area around Friedrichshafen is beautiful. The town sits on the shores of Lake Constance. You can set on the shores of the lake and see the mountains of Switzerland and Austria.

For the American visitor to Friedrichshafen, you can feel comfortable that there is enough English spoken to get by on most things. However, it is wise to study a little basic German, expecially if you will rent a car, to understand traffice signs and to figure out menus. That said, it is not a big problem. The program of lectures will let you now what language the sessions are in, so you don't have to wonder if you can understand the presentations,

It is a very worthwhile trip for many reasons. I wiould highly recommend it.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

European Vacation Part 2

I was too busy and tired yesterday to update my blog, that's because it was a busy day. I attended the Ham Fair in Friedrichshafen for the first time and was favorably impressed. The Ham Fair is very well organized and in addition to the goodies I was able to meet some old friends and make some new ones.

Another thing on my mind for this trip however was to activeate three local summits. My primary decision was when would be the best day to do it. The forecast for Saturday was 50% chance of rain and Sunday was 100%. This made the decistion easy. So after lunch, my XYL and I went back to the hotel room, changed into activatoion clothes and headed out. My plan was to activate three summits:

DM/BW-348     Gehrenburg
DM/BW-349     Aacheck
DM/BW-350     Rinkenburg

All summits are within a 20 mile radius of Friedrichshafen. I activated them in numerical order.

I won't belabor the activations. They went smoothly for the most part, but a few observations. First, the surrounding area is beatiful. The drives down the narrow roads and paths that have existed for centuries certainly has an Old World feel.

      Summit of Gehrenburg, Summit Rock in Background

                            Summit of Aacheck

           Operating from Rinkenburg

All three of these mountains have large summits. The areas are heavily forested with plenty of nice places to operate. The last activation, Rinkenburg was heavily was more dense that the other two. I choise a place just below th summit in a meadow thath had been cleared by logging. As you can see in the picture, I used a stump for a shack desk.

Another lesson learned is that 40m is the best SOTA band for Europe. Forty metters defiinitely attracts  the most chasers and 20 meters is much less productive, 34 of 51 QSO's made in total or 66% , were on 40 meters.

So it was very good day. Friedrichshafen and SOTA points, enough said.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

My European Vacation

I am writing this from Zurich. This is the first of 11 days in Europe, a trip has a heavy radio theme. Tomorrow the Ham Fair in Friedrichshafen get's kicked of and I will be there. This will be my first trip to Europe's largest amateur radio event. I am excited about meeting some friends I've never met.

Next weekend is the 50th Anniversary of the IOTA Program. A celebration and conference will be held at the Beaumont Estates in Windsor, near London. I have participated in IOTA for over 20 years and will see a lot of old friends there.

I also want to activate a few summits as time allows, which brings me today's highlight. Even though I am jet lagged, I managed to activate Altberg, HB/ZH-015, which is worth 1 point. This summit has been activated 613 time counting my activation today. When I saw that, I thought this must be a drive up and an easy one at that. While this is not a difficult summit, it does require a 2 mile +/- roundtrip and 300 feet elevation gain. Very nice trail and a nice walk.

We had an interesting encounter with three elderly guys on the trail. None of them spoke a word of English and the only German I know it Guten Tag and no spreichten Duetsche. So imagine me trying to explain what I was doing on their mountain. I did finally get the concept across that I was a ham. I'll mispell this but is something like amateurfunk. We had all heard that word. The next obstacle was to explain my morse key. The term "morse code' met with blank stares, but when I said, "you know dit dit a di di dit". Ah, "morse' ya. They were having as much fun with it as I was.

My XYL, but with her camera, so we can't download them to iPads, but I did take a picture of my travel right. An MTR, 13' telescoping pole, 9V battery, ear buds and a micro key. I managed 12 QSO's and activated my first EU summit and my first HB9 summit.

Monday, June 23, 2014

SOTA Therapy: Five Summits, Two Days

I am a week delayed in documenting this adventure, however, I had to write about it. I went back to my QTH near Santa Fe on Father's Day weekend for some SOTA therapy. I needed to fuel my addiction. There is a great SOTA community in Santa Fe and the surrounding area. The area boasts four SOTA Goats (SOTA Progaram Activator Award), KT5X, KE5AKL, NM5S and the most recent K1JD. Needless to say any non-goats must understand that there are certain expectations. Accordingly, I hooked up with Doc, K7SO on the weekend to try to gain some ground on attaining, Goat Status.

On day one, Saturday, we activated three summits, Don Fernando (W5N/SS-024), 10900 (W5N/SS-019) and Greenie Peak (W5N/SS-015). These are all 10 point summits. My XYL, Cris, was also along to provide support and take few pictures.The equipment for the day was an FT-817, 20/40m EFHW for me and Doc had a KX3 with a 43 ft. random wire and a  9 to 1 balun. The weather was nice, clear to partly cloudy skies with 30 mph winds. The windy conditions put a haze in the air which dimmed the views a bit, but still not a bad day to be in the mountains.

The first two summits are east of  Taos, NM. Doc and I had done these summits before and with the coordinates where to park, getting these summits activated was a matter of course. Each requires relative short hikes to the top, but bushwhacking is the order of the day, with the ascent of Summit 10900 being the most diffiicult of the two. There are lots of downed trees that have to be navigated.

The main obstacle of the day was a recently fallen tree that blocked the road to Summit 10900. Not worry, my Jeep was able to get around the tree with a little off roading. A longer wheel base vehicle would have had trouble getting around. BTW, the jeep came in handy all day long, the roads we travelled had sections that the 4WD and high clearance came in handy.

We did see some wildlife during these activation, including several Elk, Whitetail Deer and some turkey.

Getting to Greenie Peak was more of challenge than we expected.  Greenie Peak is near Red River, NM, which is an hour plus drive from Summit 10900. I had done the peak in the past, but a friend had taken me there on a Razor, a two passenger ATV, and I didn't pay much attention. Consequently when the GPS sent us up the wrong road I willingly followed. This road was a 4WD only road, with warnings, and a sign that said "Exploration Road". Well, we were in search of Goat status, so onward and upward. The road was a one lane, rock filled, steep, hairpin switchbacks to a small summit only big enough to turn the Jeep around on. Sorry Doc, but this is not Greenie Peak. Back down we went. Finally found the road, made the Greenie Peak summit. To expedite the activation we only set up one rig and Doc and I alternated contacts. We worked the pile untill CQ's went unanswered and called it a day.

I had left my house at 7:30 am that morning to drive north to pick up Doc and finally got home that night at 10:30 pm. A 15 hour day of SOTA therapy. I was tired, but I did feel good about getting 30 activator points for the day.

Sunday was a new day, with two summits on the agenda. Barrillas Peak (W5N/PW-022) and Bear Benchmark (W5N/PW-014).  Doc was using this KX3 set-up again, but I swithed the the AT4-S, KD1JV designed CW only radio. The weather was a duplicate of the day before, but the wind had diminished considerably.

The hope was to get these two done and get a home alittle earlier. Barillas went off without a hitch. There is a firetower on top, with nice views. Propagation was good, but it was Father's Day, so I think a few of the chasers were occupied with other activities.

Getting to Bear Benchmark proved a little more challenging. My GPS is set-up for the shortest route which is good most of the time, but not for this day. We followed a road for several miles only to come to a locked gate with "No Trepassing" signs all over it. Bummer. It was getting late in the day and I felt that we wouldn't make the summit in time. We turned around, somewhat disappointed and headed back down. However, when we got back to the main road, I wanted to find the right road at least. We reentered coordinates and the GPS point us a different direction, which to make a long story short, was the right direction. Once on the right road, we decided to go for it and when finally reached the firetower atop Bear Benchmark, the determination was rewarded. We, again, only set-up one station, and took turns calling CQ until we had worked down the pile.

I made it home just in time to watch my favorite basketball team, the San Antonio Spurs put a beat down on the Miami Heat and win the NBA Championship. A good day indeed.

Below is a brief  video of our adventure. I must give credit to Cris who gets credit for putting this together.