Saturday, December 31, 2011

WSPR'ing in the End of 2011, SK'ing the Beginning of 2012

WSPR Mode December 31st, 2011
I have been running WSPR for the last 48 hours or so checking propagation to and from Alaska. I find this extremely helpful especially for a small station like mine. Gotta take advantage of the wave of propagation when it flows the best. It's been interesting that on several occasions, I can hear long before I am actually heard. I have been running 5 watts when operating this mode and the results are what I had expected since I have been operating up here for over 8 years now. Funny also is how it's very tough to decode anything over the pole even with a slight hint of aurora. I can see the traces but it just won't decode. I had a sked today on 20 meters for a county hunter who needed his last Judicial District here in Alaska. I'm happy to say our sked went as planned and I was able to give him his last, the 4th. I was checking 20 meters to make sure we could complete our contact.

One of the neatest times of the year is Straight Key Night (SKN). I worked several different modes today and I hung out a bit on the K3UK LOTW Sked Page giving out contacts to those that may have needed Alaska on a certain band or mode. Once the clock hit midnight UTC time and I had finished my digital QSO, I went off to hunt down my first SKN contact.

2012 SKN
While tuning across the band, it was full of straight key activity. January is a busy month for the Straight Key Century Club as they continue with their month long K3Y event. To me, this rings in the new year more so than seeing any ball or walleye drop!
I tuned around and heard my first strong SKN Night CQ. It was from AA8MI. It just so happens that Gene was at Perrysburg, Ohio! I lived and grew up not far from Gene in the small town of Lakeside-Marblehead. Gene was operating his Icom 746PRO and using a Kent Straight Key. We exchanged some great information back and forth including weather, radio equipment, age, ham status, and the fact that Gene and his wife hope to make it to Alaska to see the aurora once he retires. I let Gene know that this was aurora season and if his wife wanted to see the lights of winter, she had better dress warm as it was running -31F to -32F degrees. Our QSO lasted roughly 20 minutes and I signed with Gene.

So, 2011 may be exiting cold but 2012 is entering colder. I have to say, I think working Gene brought me good luck for 2012, as what would the chances be that I worked someone on SKN night who lived so close to my old home. Made my night for sure. SKN continues but we have festivities to attend and friends to share some time with. This last blog of 2011 will be continued in 2012 with probably an overview of my weekend activity. To all who read this blog, thanks for stopping and taking the time to read my ramblings. I am very blessed and I hope that 2012 brings you all that you desire and more. 2012 could be an interesting year for us with some potential changes and travels possibly coming our way. All we can do is wait and see. From a chilly Alaska, we send you our warmest greetings and Happy New Year!!!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

County Hunting in 2012, Means Digging Into My Past

6 Meter Grids Worked & Confirmed as KE8RO
I was recently gifted a membership to MARAC by my long time friend and CW Elmer Ed, K8QWY. I have been interested in county hunting for a few years but DX'ing and contesting to increase my DXCC totals has always been at the top of my priority list. I consider myself a DXer by trade and the rest is icing on the ham radio cake! With the additional gifting by K8QWY of the MARAC Logger, I have decided to start populating the database with what I have confirmed to date. Once I get all of my "on hand" QSL cards entered, this will give me a foundation to build on as I strive to achieve the Worked All Counties Award by CQ Magazine, and more.

Anyhow, in digging into my collection of QSL cards, I found some of my old award tracking records. At the time, I was using LogPlus to track my contacts and awards. To this day, I think LogPlus was the best logging program I have ever used. As mentioned in previous posts, the owner decided to throw in the towel on the program and never look back. With that said, I still maintained some hard copy records of my accomplishments and I still have my old version operational for look-ups. The photo above shows the grids I had worked / confirmed on 6 meters. Living in EN81om, it was a great location for UHF/VHF not to mention HF DX'ing! I achieved VUCC on 6 Meters prior to departing Ohio, and I was very close with 2 Meters and 432!

2 Meter Grids Worked & Confirmed as KE8RO
The map to the right shows my 2 Meter contacts. I was running a 13B2 at approximately 60 feet or so and I did manage to have a bit of help (when I needed it) from a Mirage 300 watt amplifier. Living on the shore of Lake Erie made for some great inversion related QSO's. I also enjoyed auroral QSO's as well and when there was aurora, you would always find me on 2 meters with my antenna pointed north. I would be listening for that distinct tone stripped sound of AU CW. I had lots of fun working the various UHF/VHF contests which not only added to my grid count, but yielded some great beam spinning fun! My rotor got a work out as I would hear grids in all directions.

432 Meter Grids Worked & Confirmed as KE8RO
My 432 set up was a 17 element antenna just above my 2 meter antenna. 432 was a bit harder but I did have an amplifier which allowed me to push about 100 watts on that band. My 432 grids are shown to the left and I think this was one of my most favorite bands. I did not have as much QRN (Noise) on this band as I had on the other two, so my weak signal receiving ability was a bit better. I'm looking forward to the day that I can once again start collecting grid squares on 2 Meters and 432. When I arrived in Alaska, I sold off all of my UHF/VHF gear with the exception of my feedlines. I did not see a need to keep it and I figured by the time I got back on those bands, the radios would be a bit better than what I had so what an excuse for new.

So, what do you ask does all this have to do with county hunting? Well, since I don't have these bands keeping me busy, I guess I have some extra time to devote to chasing those I need. I am on the hunt for all of my stateside QSL cards that show counties and I am starting with all that I have confirmed with my 8'land callsign. Once I get those entered, I will then dig into my massive collection of stateside QSL's that I've collected since I began operating up here in Alaska. Since I had 307 countries confirmed by the ARRL prior to departing Ohio, I plan on organizing those QSL cards in a photo album after scanning them. Both great winter time projects.

My DXCC needed List from Ohio
And in speaking of DXCC, I am not chasing countries like I had before as it's so darn expensive just to get a foreign QSL card. I'm a fan of LOTW and I am trying to get as many as possible via electronic means first. When I decide to apply, I will then chase down those I need with hard copy QSL's. I don't expect to ever get as close to the Honor Roll as I was in Ohio. Those remaining on my needed list from Ohio are shown on the right. Even with my 9 years of activity here, I have only just under 180 countries confirmed via LOTW to date. Having moved to Alaska from Ohio, I had to wipe the slate clean and start all over again.

So, my desire to begin 2012 with a new challenge, that of chasing new counties, led me into my stash of QSL cards which led me down the path of memory lane. I have kept every QSL card I have ever received over the years from each and every valid contact. I'm hoping that once the dust clears and I get all of my on hand stateside QSL cards into the database, I will have put a nice dent in the number of counties I need to chase.  I will be a bit more attentive in the state QSO Parties in 2012 for sure. I have been lucky enough to receive some very nice certificates and a plaque from county hunters for helping them with the 4th Judicial District here in Alaska. I'm hoping to be able to do the same someday. But for now, I will be thumbing through old QSL cards from days gone by and looking forward to all those in my future.

The other great side effect of chasing countries all these years is the awesome stamp collection I have! I'm hoping my kids will someday find them as interesting as I do. Like many hams, my hope was to have them interesting in ham radio but sadly, their cell phones are the only communication devices they are interested in. I'm not losing hope though. Since becoming a grandparent, I have a new audience I can focus on in the coming years.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Windy Weekend Leads to New Video and Few RAC QSO's

Well, another windy weekend around these parts! With so much noise and
having to rotate my beam so the wind would blow threw it, my RAC effort was
sadly, minimal. My 50 QSO breakout is below;

Contest         : RAC Canada Winter Contest
Callsign        : KL8DX
Mode            : CW
Category        : Checklog
Overlay         : ---
Band(s)         : All bands (AB)
Class           : High Power (HP)
Zone/State/...  : 001
Locator         : BP53LU
Operating time  : 2h09

  160     0     0    0    0       0  0.00
   80     0     1    0    1      20 20.00
   40     0     0    0    0       0  0.00
   20     0    27    0   10     284 10.52
   15     0    16    0    6     170 10.63
   10     0     6    0    3      62 10.33
   50     0     0    0    0       0  0.00
  144     0     0    0    0       0  0.00
TOTAL     0    50    0   20     536 10.72
           TOTAL SCORE : 10 720

Dupes are not included in QSO counts neither avg calculations

Operators       :
Soapbox         : Checklog

Powered by Win-Test 4.8.0

Since my operation time was short, I decided to put a video together from
the ARRL 10 Meter Contest. It had been over a year since I uploaded a video to my YouTube page so I was long overdue. As Carl, WL7BDO said, it's my "Ten Minutes of 10".

I enjoy doing these videos so hopefully it won't be as long for my next production.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

ARRL 10 Meter Contest - Half the Height, Twice the Fun

Chinook System December 9th & 10th, 2011
My long time friend and old neighbor Sean, KL1SF headed back to Alaska for a week on a work related trip here at Denali. Sean stayed with us and we got to spend a few hours with him last week. Sean arrived after our last blow and departed prior to this one on Friday night. As noted in an earlier post, I watch the Weather Underground Infrared data close for these systems. The last two systems will be ones you will be hearing about in next seasons Deadliest Catch and Ice Road Truckers not to mention maybe Alaska State Troopers and any of the other handful of Alaska reality shows. Weather is always a topic of these shows and winters here are tough on most everything and everyone. Weather can changed very quickly here so I check it several times daily. The map above shows the approaching system as viewed last Friday. I knew my weekend attempt in the ARRL Ten Meter Contest was going to be a challenge.

I started the contest off with calling CQ and working a few stations eventually moving upward doing some S&P (Search & Pounce) only to stop and call CQ again. At about 0205z, I threw in the towel as I wanted to spend a bit of time with Sean, KL1SF before he had to rush north to catch his plane. I also wanted to drop my antennas for the approaching storm. The band was still active with lots of JA's (Japanese stations) as well with West Coast USA stations.

The next morning, I waited for the band to open up and I got my start at 1739z or so. I basically S&P operated until 2004z when I squeezed into a hole and called CQ. The funfest began as it was not long before I acquired a pile-up. I ran stations until 2145z and I was surprised at what I could work with my beam at around the 20 foot level. The winds were cranking and I had lots of QRN (Noise) from local powerlines and other sources but I managed the best I could. Again, pile-ups are nothing like a DXpedition type but when you are not a seasoned contester, they can be brutal at times. Some of the frustrating parts were getting a partial call, then asking for that station only and others just continue to call. I even had a W2 station call me, I sent my report and then he wanted MY callsign prior to sending his exchange! I'm thinking to myself, aren't you supposed to know who you're calling before you call? I sent his exchange again and he once again asked for my call. I manually typed my callsign slowly and sent it twice and he sent his and then moved on. During these runs, I had stations move directly next to me, one a JA7 and another time a W8 station which forced me to finally move off and find another frequency. Not sure how they could not have heard me or the many others calling me. I knew low power was going to be a challenge but adding QRM and then QRN on top of it all made for a stressful weekend.

Saturday was good considering the weather, wind, and band conditions. By the time I ended on Saturday night, I was missing the following USA states; MS, MO, ND, and SD. Canada, I was missing several but that's not uncommon for me as I normally don't come close to a clean sweep of the Provinces. As far as Mexico, I had not even started to work those multipliers! I had the worst luck finding XE stations this past weekend and not sure why. It was not for a lack of looking for sure but I was happy a few called in.

Sunday started out then fell out. I heard W3UA on 10 meters working stations with a marginal signal. I tried call him but no luck so I just listened for a bit. KL2R was the strongest on the band, ironically. I listened to Larry call CQ for a bit with no luck. I then tuned the band and found it flat. It was that way until around 1740z. First station worked was K5KFT and after S&P'ing for a bit, I found a frequency to call CQ again. It was not long before the masses showed up and I was once again faced with working through a pile-up. I wanted to make an attempt to do more S&P'ing in hopes of finding multipliers in between runs. Each time I did, I added a few more to the log.

The highlight for me was working everyone that called! So many familiar weekend friends and it's always a pleasure to hear them on (too many to list). The cool DX contact was 9M6XRO calling me near the end of the contest. Over the course of the weekend I also seemed to have worked several new stations for the first time. Glad to see some new blood enjoying the CW mode.

Some of the lowlights for me are for sure the weather and of course the QRN on Sunday. I was able to put my beam back up on Sunday morning once the winds died down a bit. I had 60 Mph wind gusts here over the weekend so that really stirred up the neighborhood. I had a K9 station park next to me and his station sounded horrible. I could not filter out his very wide and nasty sounding station so I eventually had to move. All in all, it was your typical contest weekend with crowded bands. I always complain about dupes, which I again experienced this weekend and I myself owe N5ZK an apology. I called him after mistyping his callsign into my contest program. I typed K5ZK by mistake and of course, it said I had not worked him before. Well, after working him I realized my mistake. I always work dupes as I know it's gonna happen but the annoying ones are those who just yell and work me after clicking on a bad DX Cluster spot listing me as KL7DX. I think folks just need to listen for a second to verify the callsign before sending. I send my call after 99.99% of my contacts and this time, I even slowed my call down after sending TU after each contact to help pick out the "8" in my call but it seems it did not help. Sadly, I do this for them as it will be the other station most of the time that loses the points or multiplier.

So, Saturday was a blast, half the height but twice the fun as far as my antenna and operation was concerned.  It was great to get my beam back to its normal 42-43 foot mark on Sunday for sure. Oh, and I had to laugh. I had an 8 station call me and his old rig was drifting more than my driveway. I normally lock my VFO and hit my RIT button on my Icom when I'm running stations. I had to tune up the band and follow him just to get his exchange. I noted it in my notes log of the contest and had to chuckle when VE8EV also mentioned the same station in his 3830 post.

Contest overview from Win-test
Before each and every contest I, like I'm sure all the other Alaska stations have to do, is check the rules. Any good operator should check them before each and every contest for changes, etc. Alaska is one of those states that sometimes we are a state and sometimes we are DX. It just depends on the contest. I had a K6 station keep asking me for my "NR" in my exchange since in this contest, the exchange I sent was the canned "599 AK" and not a number like the DX stations had to send. It was frustrating at first but I just wanted the K6 to know, it's confusing to us at times, too.  So, before each contest not only do I check the weather, I check the rules. I would suggest the same :0)

My final score is listed below. I'm happy with it for the amount of time I was able to operate. I'm hoping next year will see a all night opening to Europe! Could be wishful thinking but after working the contest last December, I would have never guessed that this December was going to be this good! Even running low height and low power for most of the weekend, it was still a blast! I did venture up to SSB for a few minutes just to listen. That was enough for me and I headed south for the rest of the weekend.

Thanks to everyone for each and every contact! I want to wish you the safest of holidays and a DX filled New Year! It was one to remember for me and another busy one as well. The QSL's continue to flow in at a steady pace each week so the administrative work is a bit more than I would like, but all part of the fun.

So what's my plans for 2012? Gotta wait and see but we may take a trip back to Ohio and even considering Dayton 2012. I have family who lives nearby so having a place to stay is half the battle. At lot can happen between now and then but since our oldest daughter has made us grandparents for the very first time, I have a desire to head back and right around the Hamvention, would be perfect timing I would say. Just gotta wait to see what plays out with work and life as that's several months away. 73 my friends and thanks for a memorable year!

Contest         : ARRL 10 Meter Contest
Callsign        : KL8DX
Mode            : CW
Category        : Single Operator (SO)
Overlay         : ---
Band(s)         : Single band (SB) 10 m
Class           : Low Power (LP)
Zone/State/...  : AK
Locator         : BP53LU
Operating time  : 15h12

   CW      883   9     16     63     3532      4.00
  SSB         0    0      0       0       0         0.00
TOTAL   883    9      16     63     3532      4.00
         TOTAL SCORE : 279 028

Dupes are not included in QSO counts neither avg calculations

Operators       :
Soapbox         : 10 Meters continues to amaze me!

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Friday, December 9, 2011

What goes up, must come down, only to go back up again.

Alaska Weather via Weather Underground

One of the many weather extremes we deal with here in Alaska is wind. It's not uncommon for places in southern Alaska to see winds exceeding 100 Mph. For my area, winds in excess of 80 Mph is not uncommon, especially during the winter months. We seem to be in this repetitive pattern lately of Chinook systems moving in from the south creating strong winds. This was the case about a week ago. I live inside the northern shadow of Mount Healy, so I don't get the full effect of these south east winds however, I get my share. With the storm pictured here, we saw wind gusts to 65 Mph at my QTH on December 3rd and 4th. As any ham knows, wind does not play well with any type of outdoor antenna. Just knowing we had these weather patterns made me purchase the Hazer system for my Rohn 25 tower.

December Chinook covering most of Alaska
Having the ability to lower my beam and wire antennas helps me sleep at night when we receive these types of weather patterns. The maps at the right are from Weather Underground and I specifically use the Infrared map to track these systems as they approach Alaska. Since living here, this last Chinook was probably one of the strongest we have encountered yet. These will normally last 48 hours before moving eastward. I lowered my antenna to the roof level with the approach of this system. Since I use my Hazer to attach the apex of my wire antennas, a few of these antennas will actually lay on my roof. With storms like this, we will see dramatic temperature changes as the wind brings warmer air! We can go from -25F to +40F in a matter of hours! With this storm system, we received the wind, then as it started to die down, we received rain, followed by brief freezing rain and then snow. It was not long before 12 inches of fresh snow blanketed the area. This left a nice layer of ice underneath all that fresh snow. 

Extreme gust close to my QTH
When it was time to send the beam back up the tower, I found that the resting foot of my Hazer was frozen and I was unable to release it so I could move it upward. I also found my hand crank was frozen, too. Thankfully I keep on hand a few cans of de-icer and with my XYL's help, about 45 minutes later, I was able to send the Hazer skyward. But, my problems did not stop there. My wire antennas were laying on my roof underneath 12 inches of snow and laying in a layer of ice! I also had one leg of my 40 meter inverted V wrapped around several branches in a nearby spruce tree. It took us awhile to get the antennas freed from trees and out from the ice but thankfully we were successful. The antenna was only up for a day and a half before the next system arrived early this week. Needless to say, down came the antennas once again.

As I type this, I see another Chinook moving in for the weekend. My antennas are still nested from this weeks blow which only saw wind gusts here at my QTH to 51 Mph. This next system is forecasted to have 60+ Mph winds yet again, arriving tomorrow (Saturday) late afternoon. Sadly, this will most certainly effect my effort in the ARRL 10 Meter Contest ! With any luck, I will be able to operate the first part of the contest but I'm sure Mother Nature will shut me down yet again before the end of the contest. But lowering my antennas will hopefully ensure that I can once again raise them, allowing me to participate in future weekend ham radio festivities. There should be lots of activity from the 49th this weekend. Best of luck to everyone and with any luck, I might get a few of ya in the logbook!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What could be better than a contest certificate in your mailbox?

ARRL 10 Meter Contest 2010
Contest         : ARRL 10 Meter Contest 2010
Callsign        : KL8DX
Mode            : MIXED
Category        : Single Operator (SO)
Band(s)         : Single band (SB) 10 m
Class           : High Power (HP)
Zone/State/...  : AK
Locator         : BP53LU
Operating time  : 8h10
   CW   311   3  10   35    1244  4.00
  SSB   124   0   5   19     248  2.00
TOTAL   435   3  15   54    1492  3.43
         TOTAL SCORE : 102 948

As the CQ World Wide CW Contest is history for another year (see previous blog entry) it's time to focus on a few contests that are coming up. It's always a pleasant surprise when I make the trip north to Healy and check our Post Office box there. My wife normally walks in to get our mail and when she exits the Post Office with a large white envelope, it gets my attention. When a contest award certificate shows up she normally says, "You got more wallpaper." This past week I received a certificate for my 2010 effort in the ARRL 10-Meter Contest. I knew that this certificate was coming as I read the results in QST but it never dampens the excitement of receiving the award. As my wife sorted through the mail on our drive home, she told me that it appeared I received more than one piece of wallpaper! Once I got home, I opened up both envelopes and I also received my certificate for my effort in last years CQ World Wide CW Contest! I operated all band but submitted Single Operator Single Band 10 Meters. My breakout is listed below.

CQ Worldwide DX Contest, CW 2010

Call: KL8DX
Operator(s): KL8DX
Station: KL8DX

Class: SOSB/10 HP
QTH: Alaska
Operating Time (hrs): 15.75

Band  QSOs  Zones  Countries
  80:    2    2        2
  40:  20    5        4
  20:  698    17      48
  15:  103    10      10
  10:  128    9      11
Total:  951    43      75  Total Score = 245,676

Club: North Coast Contesters

So, there is something better than receiving a contest certificate in the mailbox!  Receiving two of em!