Sunday, May 23, 2010

May Polar Bear Summer Picnic Event

On Saturday May 22nd, 2010 my wife and I headed out to the Denali Highway, which on this side begins in Cantwell, Alaska. She had no idea until that morning of my plans. I grabbed up my portable station, my Buddipole antenna while she packed our picnic lunches and off we went.

The weather was warm but it almost looked like it could shower but as it turned out, not a drop fell. This was our first trip this year on the Denali Highway. The Denali is known for chewing up tires as most of it is unpaved. The State of Alaska maintains the road during the summer months. There was very little traffic on the road and it turned out to be a wonderful day to hit the road.

After I passed mile 98, I found a nice spot off of the north side of the roadway to park our truck.
I decided since we left without our wildlife protection, we would stick close to the truck. The tailgate to our Ford was going to be my desktop and this was my 2nd outing with my Buddipole.

It only took me a few minutes to get the rig out and powered up and the antenna erected on 20 meters. The band came to life and I immediately headed for the QRP frequencies that the Polar Bear Club members hang out (CW). I was not hearing a peep from 14.060 thru 14.064! I tuned down the band and was very surprised to hear some very strong signals out of Japan and Europe. I figured it would be pure luck for me to work another Polar Bear, especially a portable operation to another portable operation but I was determined to try.

As the afternoon progressed, I continued to call CQ on 14.060, 14.061 and 14.062 several times with no luck. I then headed down the band and came across a big signal from Japan, that being JA1NUT. I answered his CQ and I had a several minute QSO with Shin. I have heard him many times and Shin is always loud into Alaska on most of the bands. Shin gave me a report of 549 and peaking a bit higher at times. After a great first contact from the Denali Highway, I continued to tune the band, call CQ, and listen to those in the "UN" contest. It was so nice not to have a hint of QRN on the band! What a difference there is to being out in the middle of no place, Alaska.
In the end, I never did hook up with any of my fellow Polar Bear members but I gave my Buddipole and portable set up a good going over. I recorded lots of small snips of video. I just downloaded some editing software so my plans are to join the video crowd and start uploading to YouTube. Like any new software, there is a learning curve. I will post on my blog when I get the video done but with a hectic week and holiday weekend looming, not sure I will have time to get it finalized prior to the holiday weekend. I'm looking forward to many more outings and also sharing video clips of our excursions. Even though the bands have been pretty poor lately, I knew this was going to be tough. In the end, even if there was not a signal on the band, just the drive and experiencing the great views of the Denali Highway would of made it worth the trip anyway. But when you have propagation, good weather, and beautiful views of mountains and wildlife, it just don't get much better than that! Nice to work some DX with a small herd of Caribou nearby.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Long Days and Summer Plans

The bands continue their poor conditions (at least at my QTH) but I'm looking forward to doing a bit of portable QRP when propagation allows. My future plans as of this writing is participating in the CQ WW WPX CW Contest followed by heading to Fairbanks and operating at KL2R for Field Day! After all that, it will be time for some antenna work (not to mention sending my trusty 756PRO to the doctor).

Since the winters are so long, dark, and cold around these parts it is hard to stay indoors and seated behind a radio anyway. The only summer excitement that I have regarding propagation is some good 10 meter or 6 meter openings. I have been watching the cluster a bit lately and see that 10 meters has been producing some activity (lower 48 way). This time of year, I will often leave my rig parked on 10 meters and after adjusting the squelch and leaving the audio cranked, I will go about my duties around the house. I have HRD set up to send me a text if any Alaskan station is spotted on 10 meters so lets hope I have it configured correctly. If there is an opening, I sure don't want to miss it. I would love nothing more than to work a great 10 meter opening for hours! I have yet to experience that on 10 meters from my QTH but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that someday I will.

I have been keeping up with my direct QSL card requests but I do have some catching up to do with my last bureau drop. I recently ordered my next batch of QSL cards so upon their arrival, I will make it a point to get those done and sent back off to the ARRL.

So far this summer is shaping up to be pretty nice. It appears the wildland fire season is off to a good start as we have smoke in the air this weekend. I'm hoping that we won't have another smoky summer. I have spent way to many hours indoors over the last several months, now I want to get outdoors and play!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

63 Degrees of Loud Silence

Image from HAARP Riometer 05/08/2010 @ 2250z

Living in Alaska is awesome to say the least and it sure is a land of extremes. So many TV shows have attempted to capture life in Alaska. We have DSL and we have satellite TV but there are times when we have very little HF propagation. Thanks to HAARP these radio challenged days are easily identifiable when checking the HAARP Riometer. This alerts us hams to absorption of radio signals. We talk all over the globe when our signals bounce off of the ionosphere but when we experience lots of absorption, it makes for lots of quiet.

Since returning home from vacation the HF bands have been extremely poor. I looked at the last week of HAARP data (seen from the graph at the top left) which explains everything. This was one of the eye opening propagation experiences I had after moving up here from Ohio. In Ohio, it seemed I had propagation most all the time, to some part of the world anyhow. Up here, that's not always the case. When you factor in the Solar Flux Index along with the A&K indexes lately, it is a grim reminder that living so far north can be propagationally challenging. Thankfully, the midnight sun is returning so there are other things to keep a ham occupied up here. But what I tell everyone is, "When HAARP shows red, the bands are dead". And that they have.

I'm not totally heart broken because of the poor band conditions as I have plenty of other things to keep me busy. The snow is nearly gone and the lake ice is giving away to open water. The Robin's have returned and spring / summer is a sure thing now. I am working on getting our ATV's running for another summer of fun. Oh, and I can't forget about spring cleaning!

I just put the final touches on my next batch of 500 QSL cards as I change my card each and every order. I am also about to design my /QRP QSL card. This last drop from the bureau will use up the remaining batch of cards that I have on hand so it was time to put in a fresh order. I go through QSL cards pretty quickly here due to my level of activity and where I live. I have been itching to get out and do some /QRP portable operating but if I'm not hearing anything at home, I sure won't be hearing anything operating portable. So in the mean time, I'm keeping busy doing other things and working on some radio projects. Just because you are not hearing Alaska it doesn't mean that we have all packed up and left for vacation. As the weather can effect our plans, spaceweather can do the same for our radio time. It's great to see that the sun is waking up and the solar cycle is becoming more active. Let's just hope that all of these days of quiet bands will yield some super fun activity in the near future. If anyone is taking orders, I would gladly order up some 10 meter fun with a side of 6!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

7QP & N1MM

I decided to give N1MM Logger a run on CW this weekend. It took me just a few minutes to switch the station over to CW and get N1MM working with my IC-756PRO. Soon I was sending CW and after tweaking my macros, I was set to give it a try.

With several logging and contest programs available today via the web, N1MM has to be the most popular in my opinion. This is due to the numerous contests that it supports. Also, this program continues to be supported and sees upgrades more than any other program I have used over the years. It's free to use but anyone using it should support the author with some kind of monetary donation.

The program worked wonderfully in both S&P (Search and Pounce) and running modes. I did encounter one station who was mobile and he was not sending that he was mobile. I worked him the first time and when I ran across him the second time, I realized only then (he had a good signal into Alaska) that he was a mobile station after he sent his new county location. When I entered his callsign and new county, the program recognized it as a new multiplier but did not give me any points. That was not that case with a station running /7 who was mobile. When I logged multiple contacts with him, it scored it correctly. Just those little things that you need to watch for. Not any fault of N1MM by any means. I wish those stations who don't sign that they are mobile would do so. I log them as I hear them.

N1MM's rig control worked smoothly. I also connected to the local Alaskan Packet Cluster and it worked great. I had to update the internet address as the one listed in the program was wrong but once that was corrected, it stayed connected and posted my spots when sent.

This was my first run at using N1MM with rig control in a CW contest. There has been another release since I downloaded my last version, which I intend to grab here in the near future. It may take a few minutes to get it working with your station using rig control but my basic set up using a Rigblaster Plus works great on FSK RTTY and now CW. N1MM has a huge help file accessible under the menu at the top. A quick search finds most any answer to your questions. All in all, N1MM and the 7QP were lots of fun. I did not make hundreds of contacts but both the software and contest made for lots of fun. I did not do the multiple QSO Party run with it but that may be my next adventure. It happens pretty often when there is more than one contest a weekend that I would like to participate in. I made a screen shot of my software settings for future reference so I'm looking forward to future fun with N1MM.