Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Forth Quarter in Centennial QSO Party

No, I don't use paper any more....
We're now well past half-time. It's the beginning of the forth quarter.

Honestly, I'm amazed at the Centennial QSO Party. I have really enjoyed the W1AW-portable operations. I checked my records and I have made nearly 900 QSOs with W1AW-portable stations this year. 820 of those from Floyd County.

I'm kicking myself for not starting this right off the bat January 1, and pursuing these portable operations on every band/mode combination. Nope, I ignored these operations until February, and at first I was only trying to fill in bands - like 30m, 17m, and 12m - that I didn't have confirmed already.

Now, I'm having too much fun. I'm ducking into the shack each day to try and work a few band/modes that I can. It's been fantastic practice trying to break into the pileups.

I'm really, really impressed at how much I've been able to work with just 100 watts and wire antennas.

And the WARC-band WAS? I'm advancing. 30m - 45 confirmed, 17m - 40 confirmed, 12m - 29 confirmed. And there's still W1AW-portable logs that still haven't been uploaded.

If you haven't tried working these, there's still three months of fun left. Join in!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Yes! Found It.

I wrote earlier in the week about a disturbing amount of power line noise. It had sprung up sometime in the last couple of weeks and was a deafening S9++ on 160m. Not good at all for the start of the low-band season.

A day later, I had an opportunity to try scope it out. I found the noise was readily apparent on an AM broadcast radio. In my car, I tried to find the noise, but found it diminished greatly when I left the driveway, and returned once I parked my car near the church. This mean that it was very local, it wasn't something propagating along the power lines in the front yard.

Getting a little portable broadcast radio, the noise was quite loud in the shack, but diminished as I walked to the church. This meant the noise was likely coming from the parsonage itself.

Next step was to flip every breaker off in the parsonage as I listened to the radio. Of course, once I flipped the very last breaker, the noise disappeared. Turning all the other breakers back on -- no noise.  Then it was a matter of deducing what was being powered from that circuit breaker.

The circuit breaker in question, number 15, was powering a few outlets that supplied power to my internet router and other pieces of equipment on my wife's desk. A bit more unplugging found that the parsonage wiring wasn't the culprit, but something plugged into the wall. A bit more, and the cause was found -- it's a wall wart power brick that powers my AT&T Microcell.

When we got the Microcell back 3 years ago, the coverage underneath the parsonage's metal roof was extremely bad. Since then, it has gotten a little better. Until I can replace the bad power brick, we can live without the Microcell.

And no more noise on 160m. Hurray!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Crap. Line Noise

OK, perhaps I could use stronger language. Here it is, the start of the fall low-band DX season, and I have line noise.

In the three years I've been out here in Floyd county, the low bands have been very quiet, so it has been easy to hear other stations. You'd think being out in the country like this it would stay that way.

Well, something has changed in the last week or two. On 160m, I'm reading constant line noise 24/7. In an SSB bandwidth, it is S9+20. In a CW bandwidth, it is still S9. Terrible. On 80m, it is a little better, about S7 in SSB, and S5 in CW -- about the same level as the atmospheric noise. Above 80m, I don't notice it, really.

It's been very dry, as is typical of this part of the fall here in Georgia. However, even a recent downpour didn't silence the noise.

This is very bad. I guess I'll have to hunt down the source and tell Georgia Power about it. I sincerely hope they can fix it before the ARRL 160m contest.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Not One, But Two.

I've written my story before, about how I got started in the martial arts. At that time, I'd just started to train in Tae Kwon Do and Hap Ki Do.

Doing more than one discipline is difficult. While you'd think that the general principles of one would reinforce the other, there's also things that get in the way - prior learning that you have to unlearn and re-learn anew. It becomes a struggle to keep it all straight, to differentiate between styles.

You can't just rely on habit, you have to build new habits, one for each style.

I've kept at it. It's taken almost three years, but this week I tested for my Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do. I now hold two black belts - the other being second degree in Tang Soo Do. Not bad for a 53 year old guy who started training six and a half years ago.

Naturally, I'm not stopping. I'm going to continue to train so long as my body and my financial situation allows. There's still a black belt in Hap Ki Do to pursue, as well as higher degrees in these disciplines.

Find something you love doing, and keep doing it.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

It Pays to Think Out of the Box

I was trying to contact W1AW/7 in Oregon today on 10m SSB. He was operating simplex, and he definitely had a heck of a pileup. Of course, 10m skip being what is was, I couldn't hear most of that, so it wasn't so bad working simplex. It was nice and orderly, if a little slow.

Well, I'm getting beat out over and over, considering all I have is my 100 watts from the Elecraft K3/100, going to the 160/80/40m Inverted-L. Who knows what the SWR or radiation pattern is like on 10m.

Anyway, I'm just getting settled in, when he announces "QRX 5 minutes." Just my luck, I think -- I finally get this guy dialed in and he's taking a break. Well, I sit there for a few minutes checking up on Facebook or whatever while I'm listening. And he doesn't come back. I look at the clock, and it's been eight minutes. I figure, what the heck, I'll give him a call or two. I have nothing to lose.

    "Whiskey One Alpha Whiskey Stroke Seven from Alpha Alpha Four London Radio"

Silence. OK, one more time.

    "Whiskey One Alpha Whiskey Stroke Seven from Alpha Alpha Four London Radio"

    "Alpha Alpha Four London Radio from Whiskey One Alpha Whiskey Stroke Seven you're five-nine in Oregon ...."

And, BAM, I'm in his log. Apparently, they were just changing operators and I caught the new guy just as he was sitting down. Immediately after, the impenetrable pile-up cranks back up.

Sometimes, you don't need big power or fancy antennas, just being at the right place at the right time.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Pursuit of 5BDXCC II - 80m

As I wrote last year, I have DXCC awarded on 40, 20, and 15m, and have more than enough credits for 10m. I'll probably submit for 10m this year. For Five-Band DXCC, that leaves 80m.

Last year, I had 71/70 confirmed on 80m. Today, that stands at 77/76. So, in the entire winter season I only added six additional confirmations. That was only about one fifth of my goal.

The 160/80/40m inverted L has been a great antenna. I've been working the W1AW-portable operations since February. I really don't have much of a problem busting through on these bands even with just 100 watts. In fact, this antenna has really been my ONLY antenna since April, when the 80/40m trap dipole fell down.

So, why did I fail to work 30 entities? Well, part of the problem is that people just can't hear my 100 watts. I had many instances where really loud DX stations could not hear me, even after calling and calling.

I'm once again thinking of the things I can do to push toward that magical 100 on 80m, before fall gets here:

  • Inverted L - currently, it has 24 radials - Eight 125 feet long, and sixteen 62.5 feet long. That's 1500 feet of wire, and at about $45 for a 500 foot spool, it wasn't cheap. Could be that this is my last winter at the Floyd County QTH, so it might be worth putting down a couple of more spools for 32 more 62.5 foot radials.
  • K9AY - I talked last year about building a push-button controller. I've got that about half-way complete. Perhaps I can get that finished. The K9AY loops themselves will likely be suspended under a magnolia tree in the front yard. This would be close to the power lines, so I'll have to test to make sure I'm not picking up noise there.
  • Amplifier - At the moment, the AL-80A is busted. Something went pop and now the grid current meter reads funny. I've determined that the tube appears to be OK - no shorts. I think something in the metering circuit is toast, although it isn't obvious. However, since it is on the bench, maybe I can re-wire it for 120 volts.
  • Being There - While I've been active on the air much more this year than in the past, I don't think I concentrated enough on looking for 80m DX at the right time. I'll try to remedy that this fall. I really didn't make a habit of this last year.
  • Contests - I did work the ARRL DX CW as 80m single band. I've done that before, and I wouldn't be surprised if I win a certificate for my low-power token effort. I may do that again this year, if I don't wind up at NQ4I's multi-multi. Even if I go the all-band route, I do plan to emphasize some 80m operating time. 
Fall is always a very busy time. Wish me luck. If nothing else, I hope to get closer this year.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Half-time at the ARRL Centennial QSO Party

This logbook was last used in 2006.
OK, we are now half-way through the year, and that means we are half-way through the ARRL Centennial QSO Party, with portable operations of W1AW visiting all fifty states!

As I wrote earlier, the Centennial QSO Part is a great opportunity to get nine-band WAS confirmed, since all of the W1AW-portable operations are being loaded up to the Logbook of the Word (LotW).

So, it is half-time! How are we doing?

Well, I can say for one that I have been having a blast trying to work the W1AW-portable operations from Floyd county. With the dipole down, I have been forced to make all contacts with the 160/80/40m trap inverted L. The Floyd county station only has 100 watts (so does Gwinnett county as well, since I blew up the amplifier -- but that's another story).

Sometimes, I've been very successful working stations in every band and mode possible. Other times, it has been very difficult. Just recently, I worked the Alaska operation on exactly one band/mode. One. Conditions just weren't optimal for that circuit. Conditions can also be very weird. I had pretty good success with the W1AW/9 operation in Illinois, working them on all modes from 80-17m. But, I hadn't made any contacts on 15m or above. Then, yesterday morning, I worked them on 15m RTTY early in the morning. Late that the evening, at around 0200-0300z, I worked six more contacts for 15m CW, 12m SSB, and 10m SSB, CW and RTTY. Who would have thought that the band would be open on 10m two hours after sunset?

What's the secret? Well, you have to know how to bust a pileup. Other than that, it's just perseverance. Like working a Dxpedition, early in the week of operations, it is tougher to get through. By Friday or so, it is usually easier. By Sunday, they often are begging for contacts. I temper my patience by calling on Wednesday or Thursday, but I don't waste a lot of time.

And, how am I doing on the whole WARC-band WAS? If you remember, I had no states confirmed on 30m and one each on 17 and 12m when I started. Today, I have 34, 30 and 21, respectively. And there's still more logs to be uploaded from the last month of operations.

So, if you haven't jumped in to the fray, perhaps it is time. Enjoy.