Winter Cometh

I have been off the air for much of the last year, but there’s a good chance that will change soon.  There is no noble reason for my lack of presence on the ham bands: it was lawn mowing.  I still haven’t buried the coax running from my house to my antenna and in the past my landlord took special care when mowing the lawn to stop his zero-turn mower, move the cable over a few feet, and thus keep the lawn maintained without cutting the cable to shreds.  Now that my wife and I have actually bought the house rather than rent it, the mowing has fallen to me.  I am, apparently, more lazy than my former landlord.  I disconnected the cable, coiled it up to the house, and went to town with my lawn tractor.  Then I dragged it (my butt, not the cable) back into the house without reconnecting the antenna.

Mowing season is over, though, and the antenna is connected once again.  We shall see how much I’m on the air but if I had to predict in advance, I will likely be on digital modes this winter.  My sleeping schedule is out of whack and talking assertively into the microphone is more likely to interfere with my wife’s sleep, so the digital modes have a certain appeal.  Will I get my act together in time for digital contests?  We shall see…

Site Upgrades

I have taken some initiative today in adding new features to the site. The first, and most major from a “proper conventions” standpoint is that I have installed an SSL certificate on the server. This means that if you make an account to subscribe to my posts, your login info is perfectly safe. It’s really just about bringing things up to industry standard. A big shout-out to the people at Let’s Encrypt who are a free-to-use certificate authority, compared to the ludicrous $70+ a year other services want to charge.

The other new features are the front page’s propagation and maximum usable frequency infographics. Thanks goes to Paul Herrman, N0NBH for providing a technique to embed these graphics such that they update as new data comes in.  The only downside to the images are that the default means of delivery leads to browsers giving security warnings on an HTTPS site such as mine.  Some extra scripting fixed the problem, so I hope folks find the new resources a useful addition to my website.

I Still Exist…So Does My Antenna

We in grid EN91xe had some brutal amounts of wind last night! My shack’s base station is connected to a GAP Titan DX antenna which is 25 feet tall on its own. However, I mounted it to a 10-foot mast because of some recommendations I saw online, along with making it much easier to mow, harder for idiots to reach while transmitting, etc. So I have a 35-foot behemoth in the backyard.

I have guy lines to help stabilize the antenna because 35 feet makes for a very large lever should it start bending. The antenna and mast both have a small cross-section when it comes to wind, and using guy lines is technically optional, so I used some large tent stakes to secure the guy lines. Well the wind last night, for the first time since constructing the antenna, was so strong that one of the stakes was ripped completely out of the ground! In fact, the ground was so thoroughly torn up and loose from the stake ripping free that I couldn’t just drive it back in, I had to move the stake by about 5 feet.

I guess I will be looking for even sturdier anchors to drive into the ground. More alarming, I may need to move the quick-mount for the entire antenna in case it was loosened too.

Worked All Continents Achieved

Worked All Continents WS3S

WAC Certificate

As I try to catch up on my websites, I have to post about getting my WAC award.  I should have been able to complete this achievement about 6 months prior but a DXpedition made me wait to finally confirm our communication because I would not send them about $50.  So in my first four months of operation, I managed to contact someone on all 6 inhabited continents.  Antarctica does not count towards the award due to its special circumstances.

I’m sure I still have much to learn, and can probably continue to tweak my equipment to get it set better but I can talk around the world already, which is certainly a good sign.

A Special QSL Card

Unlike the others I’ve posted so far, this was not from the 10-meter contest.  Rather, this was my first contact on HF.  I got the courage up to actually try transmitting and as luck would have it, my signal was received over 3,100 miles away.

I'll have an ARRL "First Contact" certificate soon thanks to this card.

I’ll have an ARRL “First Contact” certificate soon thanks to this card.

RTTY Roundup 2015 Results

I’m not the best contest-participant yet, I’m sure.  I spent the first half hour realizing my RTTY setup wasn’t actually correct.  When I monitored my own transmission, I just heard a piercing squeal, not the telltale RTTY sounds obvious from all the others in the contest.  It took just a little searching around to find a webpage explaining how the MMTTY program is actually supposed to be configured.  Sure enough, things were fixed and my signal sounded exactly as I would have expected.

I only managed to participate for just over 10 hours of the 24 hour maximum, but managed a 6,625 score (assuming I did the score right, I erred on the low side with DX countries) with 125 QSOs and a multiplier of 53.  I seem to have a knack for a high density of multipliers, so maybe when I can get really invested in the contests my luck will hold out and I’ll have some higher scores.

For what it’s worth, here was my “strategy.”  I started on 10-meters since DX worked well for me in the 10-meter contest.  I scanned and looked for people parked on frequencies.  It was interesting how long into the night I was still receiving signals.  I was surprised at how fast the activity ended though, an hour or two after sundown while I went to get a snack, all activity died.  I switched to 20-meters to see what propagation was there, and managed contacts for several hours.  Once it was fairly late, I switched to 40-meters since my readings suggest it’s a “nighttime band.”  The bulk of my contacts were on 40m.

Ultimately I got tied up with what progress I was making with the Worked All States award and decided to park on a frequency and see if people would come to me.  I made over 30 contacts that way, most of them states I still needed!  I don’t know yet how well 40m is supposed to perform on DX, but I managed to reach a handful of European countries, with Romania already confirmed on Logbook of the World.

A small stack of QSL cards ready for sending.

A small stack of QSL cards ready for sending.

All in all, I must say I’m a fan of RTTY contests.  They may be too mechanical for some, but I’m a computer scientist so I’m possibly biased in favor of it.  So my experience includes a phone contest and a data contest.  Next stop, maybe I can manage some ragchews…

First Oregon

Reaching Oregon during my first 10m contest made me realize my other long-distance contacts weren’t just flukes.

I still send paper QSLs but also use LoTW, as suggested.

I still send paper QSLs but also use LoTW, as suggested.