Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring Arrives (Maybe) & Last Years ARRL International DX Contest - CW

There are sure signs that summer is not far away and spring has just made an appearance. As I write this, we are locally seeing temperatures in the mid 30's! Yea, that's like 50 degrees in the lower 48! I'm trying not to get too excited as I'm sure we will still have snow and cold days ahead.  I decided to start thawing out our travel trailer and getting things back in order for this summer. I'm looking forward to more camping and more portable operating once the backcountry roads are plowed, graded, and have dried a bit. I have been looking at some 100 watt rigs for portable use as well (when not QRP'ing) and I believe I have settled on the Yaesu FT-450D. I like this rig for many reasons but my close friend Sean, KL1SF/K7 has the "AT" version and it sounds good. The "D" having an internal keyer, CW filters, and tuner make it a good fit for me. Now I just need to scrape together a few bucks so I can purchase one! Shipping to my QTH (as recently quoted) is $60.00. One of the pains of living in remote Alaska, we don't qualify for any free ground shipping in these parts when it comes to radio equipment. I also have plenty of antenna work to get going on once the snow disappears a bit.

I received in today's mail my certificate for the ARRL International DX Contest (CW) from last year. This years contest is here and gone and with the 2010 certificate was an apology due to it taking over a year for the ARRL to send out certificates. I have always wondered why (especially now since we have electronic log checking and a very high percentage of electronic submissions) that it takes so long to find out results of contests. I know there are still those that submit hard copy but those days need to be retired in my humble opinion. I'm all for being green and saving a tree!

And speaking of saving a tree, I see in CQ that they will be offering a online version of their magazine in the near future (page 40 in the March edition)? What a grand idea! I would much rather have and electronic version I can download and keep for future reference. Having PDF copies of my monthly CQ and QST magazines would be just fine by me! I don't keep any of my magazines so to me, an electronic version would be perfect. So, I'm glad to see CQ doing this. Not only would it save in postal fees, but it would sure save a few trees.

Now that summer is approaching it will be time to hang the "Closed for the Season" sign on the shack door. I will be active from time to time but I'm sure looking forward to spending as much time outdoors as possible. We are stuck indoors all winter so taking a few months off from the shack would not be a bad thing. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Well, Are You Prepared...?

With all of the sad news out of Japan and as time progresses, it seems the news does not get any better.  I work lots of JA's in each and every contest and I have to wonder how many of those familiar callsigns I won't hear again. My heart goes out to Japan and all those effected by this disaster. Although not having to worry about the direct effects of a Tsunami, I do keep thinking about the next earthquake. Around these parts, it's not will it happen, but when it happens. Living not far from the Denali fault line always has me asking that same question. 

Before moving to Alaska, earthquakes were something I never experienced but heard lots about on the news. I have since felt several earthquakes and the strongest only rated around a 5.4 or so. I'm surprised at how many folks who live around here do not carry earthquake insurance, something I gladly pay extra for.  The Denali fault produced a 7.9 earthquake in 2002, the year before we arrived here. As much as we like to think we can predict such things, the truth is, we really can't. I think there are tell tale signs that researchers can uncover but in the end, we all expect the worst but hope it never happens.

I believe being involved in ham radio has given me a sense of satisfaction that when we do receive a large earthquake and my equipment survives, I would at least have contact with the outside world. I have been building my portable station along with different sources of power. With the wake of disaster in Japan, it got me thinking how ready my station really is. It seems it takes something BIG to get us thinking and many times, these events are tragic. Just like how we are reading and hearing all over the news how countries are reevaluating their nuclear programs.

Ham radio has been the key source of communication in many disasters and there is not doubt in my mind that hundreds of hams are ready at a moments notice. But, how prepared are you? If you lose your tower, do you have portable antenna's and portable power?  If you have no gasoline, do you have a way to charge batteries to keep your equipment running? Natural disasters are a sure thing and depending on what part of the world you are in may depend on the type (or types) of disasters you could face. My main concern here is earthquakes, extreme cold, and avalanches. One of the many things I have learned living in such a remote part of the state is being prepared. I am far more prepared living here than I ever was living back in Ohio. In Ohio, most anything I needed was just a few minutes down the road. Here, I have to drive 2 hours to get to the nearest Wal-mart, major grocery store, hospital, etc. Living here has made me grow up and see the light. Alaska, like many places, is about extremes, especially when it comes to the weather. 

When you look at the USGS map of Alaska and see the amount of earthquakes we have here it's unbelievable. Most are small of course but even the larger ones do not make news because we don't have the population here that other places do, like California or Japan. When you have millions of people living in these seismically active regions, if something like that happens, it's BIG news because so many are effected. Anchorage alone is only home to 280,000 people as reported in the 2008 Census.

I hope the very best for our friends in Japan, and this is something that will effect the world for a very long time. I'm taking another look at my preparedness and my ability to operate during an emergency. It would not only benefit me, but it would benefit my community. Coming from an emergency services and similar background field, it's good to be prepared for anything but in the end, it's hard to be prepared for everything!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Aurora Invasion

Aurora at the QTH of KL8DX & KL8SU
We have been blessed with clear skies over most of Alaska for at least the last week or more. Couple this with the high solar activity and you have one great light show potential. It also brings the potential of the sweet sound of those unique aurora signals on 6 meters. I heard my first AU signals on that band this week as it has been ages since I heard that raspy CW sound on 6 meters! But, my attention was drawn to the great outdoors as I drug my Olympus to the front yard to snap a few photos of the event. And as any proud ham would do, I situated myself in such a way as to capture my trusty 4 element Mosley TA-34-XL in the foreground. With a warm cup of coffee and a fully charged battery, I stayed outside last night for over two hours taking various photographs of the aurora overhead.
Auroral Propagation

These events reminded me of the days when we lived in Northern Ohio, when I would race home and turn on 2 meters (144 MHz) along with 432 so I could work Auroral CW. That unique sound was mesmorizing to say the least and I could almost always work a new grid square by bouncing my signal off the aurora. The display would have to be pretty intense to visibly make it down to my old location so it was easy to play radio when the auroral activity peaked but here, you just want to head outdoors and watch the light show directly overhead. It may be cold outside but watching the green lights of winter will always warm the heart.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Solar Flux Index Leads to 10 Meter Fun!

What a great Monday it was! Monday can be a bit tough for anyone but a Solar Flux Index of 153 will sure make any Monday better. 10 Meters (28MHz) started off with several beacons being heard from various locations in the lower 48 not to mention several heard in Mexico. Once the beacon spots started to show up, the band came to life. I personally only made 9 contacts on 10 meters today.  I was busy working through my stack of QSL cards I had received from the Alaska QSL Bureau. I did more listening than hunting. I would normally go fishing (find a frequency and call CQ to see what I could catch) but I opted to just tune around and work a station here and there. 

I have HRD (Ham Radio Deluxe) set up with alarms that will text and email me should Alaska get spotted on 10 or 6 meters. Since I leave my logging program up and running 24/7, as long as I don't lose my internet connection, this is a great way to catch these types of openings. The only sad part is if a text is received, and you are nowhere near your radio.

The cluster is many things to many people. The beauty of the cluster these days is the ability to filter and set alarms for specific callsigns or countries. I was a bit miffed today when I saw the following message from the cluster;

HRD DX Cluster
DX Callsign ......: KL8DX
DX Locator .......: BP53
DX Country .......: AK-Alaska-Nome-KL7
Frequency ........: 28000.0
Date .............:  7-Mar-2011 1921Z
Spotter ..........: WD9DZV
Spotter locator ..:
Spotter comment ..: NO /B DX SPOTS ONLY!!

My first intention was to fire a response back but I figured I would be a bit more adult about the matter. Obviously, WD9DZV is the keeper of the world wide DX cluster system. The cluster is used for all bands, all modes, by amateurs all over the world. I see satellite spots, UHF and VHF spots, beacon spots, day in and day out. I, unlike WD9DZV, know how to use software to my advantage when it comes to filtering those things I don't want to see. And since when is Alaska NOT DX?  Last I checked, this 49th State is listed in the ARRL DXCC listing. I don't spot for me, I spot for those letting them know that there is a path to Alaska!  

Ten meters does not open into this part of the country very often so we take full advantage of each and every opening. I know I'm not the only Alaskan who enjoyed the fruits of the propagation tree today on 10 meters. Let's hope this is just a hint as to what is yet to come. I would love to finish my WAS (Worked All States) award for 10 meters not to mention get my DXCC on that band from this location. 

When you hear 10 open, don't forget to point those antenna's toward Alaska! Oh, and I will continue to post beacons in the hope that folks in those locations will do just that, point their antenna's toward the many hams in Alaska!