Friday, February 27, 2015

Chew the Rag a Little

Most of us these days are very busy. Especially for those who are working, raising kids and trying to do the best we can to meet our obligations, there doesn't seem to be enough hours in the day. Today's world is fast moving, with smart phones, iPads and other forms of technology it's hard to have any spare time. And so for many that translates to our beloved hobby, Amateur Radio, we just rush through our routine, work the station, 599, and get back to the hustle and bustle of life.

We use the spotting networks to save time turning the dial looking for DX, or that needed whatever, we may be chasing. Even the rare times that we may call CQ, it's a quick report and on to the next one. Because of our rush to get through our days, we miss a lot of the hidden treasures available to us in Amateur Radio if just take the time.

I'm as guilty as the next guy of all of the above, that's why I can write about it so easily. However in the last few months I've been taking the time to have real chats or "ragchews" with my fellow amateurs. CW is my preferred mode, and so I have set aside 20 -30 minutes in an evening, rather than watch some TV show I will forget about in a weeks' time, to just sit down and have a chat. I've met some really cool people and had many very satisfying QSO's. I have re-sharpened my CW skills and met some new friends.

So, call CQ instead of watching the spots and see what you get. Talk about your rig, the weather,  your paddle or bug and enjoy a relaxing time in your shack. You will feel refreshed to meet others who share this great hobby.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Closing in on Mountain Goat

It has been a busy year on several fronts. My day job has kept me extremely busy, my band competed in the International Blues Challenge (IBC), getting to play two nights in BB Kings on Beale St. in Memphis, TN to packed houses and I've been accumulating a lot of SOTA points.

Sometimes my busy schedule gives me opportunities to activate summits that I wouldn't otherwise get to activate. A case in point was travelling to the IBC in Memphis. My drive from San Antonio took me through eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas. Both areas are target rich environments for SOTA activators so I was able to accumulate a lot of points. So many points in fact that, when added to a recent trip to Santa Fe, NM and the Davis Mountains in Texas I am knocking on the door of the SOTA Mountain Goat award which requires 1,000 activator points. I am now at 965 points.

Not just because I am getting close to earning MG status, but I believe this is one of the toughest awards in ham radio if you factor in the physical side of it. Nearly all awards in the amateur radio world require you sit on your derriere for hours or even days at a time. You will never mistake a ham convention for a gathering of tri-athletes. Staying fit enough to do these climbs has me in the best shape I've been in  years. That said, you don't have to be in fantastic shape to participate in SOTA. There are mountains or hills  that qualify that can be driven up or just a short walk will get you there. But it does require that you get outside, which is a good thing. And I promise, the more you do it, the more you will want to do.

I've learned some much about portable QRP operating while working toward this award. It's been said that when you achieve MG status, you have a Ph.D in portable radio operation. When I think about my first activation versus the way I operate now, it's night and day. I travel so much lighter and my station is much more efficient. I can be operating within 10 minutes of arriving on the summit with a station that will generate a pile-up and make DX contacts on multiple bands.

So I am anxious to get the 1,000th point, which hopefully will be within the next couple of weeks. Below is a video and picture from a couple of summits I activated last weekend in the Davis Mountains of Texas. The Davis Mountains are the home of the McDonald Observatory which, as you will see below, is a dominant feature on the horizon in that area. BTW, Mount Locke, where the observatory sits, is a 10 pointer that you drive up, however you have to get of the house to get there. The picture is from Mt. Arabella, a fairly steep 8 pointer that will take the average person 30 -45 minutes to ascend. The video is from Peak 6411 outside of Ft. Davis. It also is a drive-up. I use the Alex Loop on drive up mountains, but End Fed Half Wave (EFHW) on hikes of any distance.

Since beginning my chase for MG my longest hike was doing Santa Fe Baldy, in Santa Fe, NM. A 15 mile roundtrip up to 12,000+ ft. ASL. The tallest mountain I've done is Mt. Sherman in Colorado at 14,036 ft. ASL.

I 'm sure I will make another posting to the Blog when I get the 1,000th point. I can't wait to become a certified Old Goat!

McDonald Observatory from Mt. Arabella

Saturday, February 7, 2015

My Plan for K1N

It's been said that if you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there. Said another way, it's always good to have a plan. As the K1N expedition was approaching, I had a look at my log to see what bands I would need them on. I was fortunate to work Navassa in 1992, so I didn't need this one for and all-time new one (ATNO), but I did need to fill a few band slots. But what did I need? Oddly enough I needed them on 20m. Navassa and North Korea are the only countries I need on 20m to have 'em all on that band. I also needed them on 160m, 17m, 12m and RTTY for a new mode.

My plan would've been relatively simple however I've been on a business trip the past week which has prevented me from chasing K1N. What's worse the trip was to Europe which is six hours ahead of Central Standard time, where I live. When I arrived back at my QTH at 7:00 Friday night, I was worn out. It was 2:00 am on my body clock and my body was ready for bed.

Ah, but I had a plan. However, to make the plan a little more complicated, my wife had foot surgery just seven days before and was basically confined to bed except for the very basic needs. So when I arrived home I relieved some of our family who had filled in during my absence. So, before I dare turn on the radio,  I got her squared away and comfortable then immediately checked the K1N spots. They were on 20m SSB and 160m CW. I figured I would try 20m as I assumed that demand had been worked down during the week. After just a few calls I had them in the log. Next, QSY to 160m for what I would figure to be an extended period. I quickly checked on my wife, all was good, back to the pile. After about 10 minutes of calling I had him in the log. 160m contacts are special to me. I only have an Alpha Delta DX-A attached to my tower at 50 feet. K1N was my 179th country with this set-up. So two bands down, 12m, 17m and RTTY would have to wait until the next day.

The next day dawned. First things first. Get some breakfast for my wife. Not hard, cereal and fruit. Make a cup of coffee, check the spots. K1N was on 17m RTTY and if I could log them there, that would be a two-fer, that is it would satisfy the need for the 17m band and the need for RTTY. I called for about 5 minutes and then the operator called for Europe. He would then work Europe for the next 6 hours. I would check back regularly, hoping he would come back to the states, but it wasn't to be.

During the late morning, there was a spot for 12m CW. I pounced on the spot and called for probably two hours off and on. I would periodically check on my wife, retrieve something she needed and then get back to it. The pile-up 20 kc wide and it was hard to find where he was consistently. Finally I found him and followed him up the band and got a QSO. Cool, now the 17m RTTY QSO would close the book on Navassa for me I could just manage that QSO.

Mid-afternoon sometime, K1N started working stateside again, but for the next hour would have software problems and they QRT'ed to fix that. When they got it fixed, worked stateside for about 10 minutes and then listened for JA. This was a little frustrating as most of the stateside QSO time had been used up by the software repairs. Finally. at 7:04 pm local time, 0104z, I was able to get the 17m RTTY QSO....Mission accomplished, all in less than 24 hours.

I haven't followed the entire K1N expedition, but, at least from a stateside view, the pile-ups are fairly orderly. They are still very large however. Whoever predicted the demise of ham radio, missed the boat. DXing seems to be as strong as ever.

One thing I like about the K1N expedition is that they seem to always have a station on 20m. I think that is a must to help calm the crowds who need a country for an ATNO. I also don't believe that it's imperative to have every mode on every band. I believe a major expedition should work the three main modes and operate on all bands, but not necessarily all modes on all bands. If in the final days  the pile-up diminish then start adding band modes. As I mentioned above, the 17 meter RTTY QSO checked two boxes for me, new band, new mode. More thought should be given to this approach.

So I still need them on 6m, but that's asking too much:-)