Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Year in Review - Out Like a Lion, In Like a...Ham?

NOAA Denali Forecast 
The weather for our part of Alaska has been pretty quiet for several weeks. Or at least, until recently. We have been effected by a Chinook system moving in from the south and it not only brings strong winds, but much warmer temperatures. The warmer temperatures are a welcome break from -20F to -40F that we have been experiencing. But as ham radio operators know, high winds are not ham friendly. That being said, my HF beam has been nested just above my roof level as we were forecasted to receive 80 mph wind gusts, as seen in the forecast listed to the left. Thankfully we did not see gusts that strong but anything above 55 mph has me lowering my antenna. The latest system is exiting but there is another system on it's heels that will bring strong winds once again for New Years day and probably into the night. Since my strongest gust today was only 45 mph, I took advantage of a snow blown roof and warm temperatures to tighten my driven element and then crank my beam back to its 43 feet normal operational level. 


Cell Photo by KL8DX
The view to the right is from the 25 foot level or so (standing on my roof getting a beams eye view) looking ENE from my QTH. As you may notice, the trees around here are not very tall. Also, just visible are the two overhead power lines that cut through the heart of where I would run many of my wire antennas, if I could. Not only do I have these lines which run to a neighbors house to contend with, I also have my own service line which is not seen in this photo. In looking back, placing my tower on the south side of the house would have been a much better choice, for various reasons.


Cell Photo by KL8DX
The view to the left here is looking south toward Mount Healy. Denali National Park has a great information page detailing Mount Healy (Unit 24) and in the top photograph on that page, you can see Otto Lake, or the reverse of what you are seeing to the left. My home is on on side of this mountain and my office is on the other. I took these photos just before noon and as you can see, there is no direct sunlight. This time of year, I can tell by the clouds the sun is there but we won't see direct sunlight here at this QTH until February. The happy thought we keep is that the sun is slowly making its way back toward Alaska and the midnight sun will once again be filling out days with warmth and funshine!


Club Log Stats for KL8DX
When looking at my 2012 statistics available to me using Club Log, I've worked 106 different entities and had a grand total of 8,184 QSO's. As you can see from the graph to the right, I'm not a big SSB operator however, I do find my microphone from time to time. As mentioned in a previous blog posting, I did hit my personal milestone of 50,000 QSO's recently operating from here in Alaska. I've accomplished DXCC but have yet to apply. I've managed to work 203 towards my 2nd ARRL DXCC Award and 177 of those Entities have wonderfully been confirmed via Log Book Of The World (LOTW). With US postage rates climbing again in January of 2013, I'm a firm believer in electronic QSL'ing with LOTW. I will always maintain hard QSL cards. I enjoy receiving them and will return QSL for those who follow my instructions on QRZ, but my days of sending direct for each new Entity worked are long gone. Especially if it requires the always rising return postage fee, typically running $3.00 USD or more nowadays, from outside the United States anyhow. I don't chase new ones like I used to either. After moving to Alaska, my focus has changed to more of a contesting perspective than DX'ing perspective. Not that you can't accomplish both of these at the same time but basically, I spend less time "on air" during the weekdays chasing, and more time on the weekends being chased. Life of a double multiplier can be stressful but fun!


Twitter QSO with Martin, W3MLK today
Bringing in the New Year like a Ham is simply getting on the air and operating and for me, Straight Key Night (SKN) is just the ticket! I love CW anyhow and I've really grown attached to my Navy Flameproof keys. And heck, my Icom 756PRO, by today's electronic standards, is nearly vintage! I don't own anything that will chirp or has tubes that give off a warm glow. But that's what I love about SKN, hearing all that manually generated Morse Code and hearing those old radios come to life. Martin, W3MLK asked me what SKN stood for as I had mentioned it in one of my previous "Tweets". This was my personal explanation to him, highlighting the festivities about to begin in a matter of hours. I had worries of missing it this year due to high winds and a 24 hour bout with the flu bug. Thankfully, it appears I will be making contacts and enjoying a fresh new year enjoying the hobby I'm still addicted to after 25 years! 

In a day of live news feeds that seem to carry mostly bad news, ham radio is a way to escape all that, for me anyhow. Sharing bandwidth with those all around the world who enjoy the same, fun through ham radio. I don't know what 2013 will bring, but it will have its ups and downs I'm sure. We can hope for more ups though, nothing wrong with hoping! I appreciate those who read my ramblings on with this blog as I sure don't do it for me. As long as someone is interested, I will continue to detail my Alaskan radio adventures as I experience them. Thanks for all the QSO's and I'm hopeful for many more in 2013. I'm not sure on a theme for 2013 yet, but I have a few hours left to think about it. Not only does the wind around these parts bring warmth, something tells me change is in the wind as well for next year. Happy New Year my friends!       

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Santa - Are You a Ham? A Ham, I Am!

Merry Christmas (Photo I took of my wife's village one year)
Christmas is just a wonderful time of year. Sadly, with our parents gone and family members thousands of miles away, this time of year is a bit tough for us. Living in Alaska has been a wonderful, unforgettable experience but, it has its drawbacks. The main one being that it's extremely expensive to fly most anywhere from up here and we are so far away from our close friends and families. But someday we will be much closer and will be able to once again, share these joyous times of year with our siblings, kids, and now grand kids! I can't wait to see our grandchildren's reaction on Christmas morning, after Santa has worked his magic, leaving presents underneath the Christmas tree. I always wanted to stay awake all night long, just to catch a glimpse of that jolly old bearded man but I would always fall asleep. As a child, I would awaken to a packed stocking laying by my feet at the foot of my bed. I would dash downstairs and I could not wait for my wrapping paper assault to begin.  

There are many who are keeping our borders, cities, towns, and citizens safe,  making it possible to continue with our way of life, both at home and abroad. Many of those are unable to spend time with their families and to them, I say "Thank You" from the bottom of my heart. I know there are those that are struggling and this is a much harder holiday than I could ever imagine. I'm very thankful for what I have and this is the time of year I reflect on the last 47 + years. I can't turn back time but I sure have the power to make the holidays more joyful. 


Click above to enlarge Santa's Poem
And in speaking of Santa, living so darn close to the North Pole, we are at the end of his route. Like a child who rides the bus home from school and who lives the furthest away, they have to wait for everyone else to be dropped off first. But, I know my turn will eventually arrive as Santa would never forget about me, or at least I hope he never does! Like the IRS, Santa knows where I live. Rudolf will guide his sleigh right to my QTH, I'm sure of it! What will Santa bring me? Does Santa speak ham-n-ese? Does he know what an Alpha amplifier is, or a K3? Does he realize when I asked for a SixPak, it was not a beverage consisting of 6 cans or bottles? When I asked for a Bug, I wonder if Santa realizes it's not a pet, but a Morse Code device? Does Santa know that a Hex Beam does not bring bad luck to someone? And does Santa realize that a Beverage antenna is not something that helps you find a soda machine?  Maybe I should of been more specific with my list? If only Santa was a ham, he might understand. 

My list includes such things as a Elecraft K3, or an Icom IC-7600. Or, if he did not have enough room or his sleigh was over weight, I would gladly enjoy a Yaesu VX-8DR with APRS antenna! Or even a new dual band base station vertical antenna for 2 meters and 440! Maybe I'm over reacting and I need to give Santa the benefit of the doubt. Socks and t-shirts two years in a row? I won't know for sure until Christmas morning. 

Merry Christmas!

Digital Version B&W 

       

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Yes Sean, It Was Well Worth The Wait!

Christmas comes a few days early
The ARRL Santa has been delivering these certificates all over Alaska over the last couple of days. My mailbox was no exception. It is always a very nice surprise to see a certificate in ones mailbox. When I opened the envelope, I was smiling with joy! Now, THIS is a contest certificate! What a beautiful job on the new design. I enjoy each and every certificate I receive obviously, but this new design by the ARRL is top notch in my opinion. So, even though these arrived a bit later than expected, it was well worth the wait! It will look very nice framed on the wall of my shack, for one an all a visitor to enjoy but I'll get the most enjoyment out of it. Not that I get that many visitors here in remote Alaska.


Sean, KX9X explains
In looking back at this contest, I remember it as being a challenging weekend. Of course, I never know what weather or propagation conditions are going to be like this time of year. Weather can put a damper on my operating and that was the case last year at this time. If it's a deep cold spell, I won't want to turn my beam to much. My rotor operates well below zero due to the fact of having it rebuilt and "greased" for arctic temperatures. It's my aging feedline that normally has me worried once the mercury (aging myself) heads well below zero. Or, as in the case of that weekend, we may have a Chinook blow through that increases my noise or forces me to lower my antenna to a height that is not optimum for 10 meters. With that said, I'm pleased with my effort last year (as mentioned in a previous post, I should have beat that this year) and just having any propagation on 10 meters is exciting! I've blogged about my love of that band and I'm glad I've been able to experience openings while living here.

My 3830 post from last year is listed. Once the log was washed and cleaned, my final score is reflected on my certificate above. I appreciate all the contacts that made this certificate possible. I also have to say a big "Thanks" to the ARRL for sponsoring the contest, for the certificate, and I think the new design is awesome! A sure winner in my book, Sean!

 ARRL 10-Meter Contest

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

Class: SO CW LP
QTH: Alaska
Operating Time (hrs): 15h12m

Summary:
Band  QSOs  Mults
-------------------
  CW:  883    63
  SSB:    0    0
-------------------
Total:  883    63  Total Score = 279,028

Club: North Coast Contesters

Comments:

My long time friend and old neighbor Sean, KL1SF made a return
trip to Alaska on a work related mission. I was hoping to get
him in the shack but his schedule never allowed it. He headed back
to AZ on Friday night, so I did not operate a few hours so I 
could see him off. 

We were forecasted to receive strong winds yet again from another
of our famous winter Chinooks. I had to crank down my beam from 
the 42-43 foot level where it normally sits, to about 20 foot. All of
my operation on Saturday was with my beam at 22 foot! We had wind
gusts here at my QTH to 60 Mph over the weekend so needless to say,
the lower noise was horrible and it was directly in my lower 48 
path. 

I was able to send the beam back up Sunday once the winds dropped to
a normal speed. For me, I think the propagation on Saturday seemed a
bit better than Sunday but of course, my beam was 20+ foot higher
too! 

I will post a full overview on my blog in the next few days. I want
to extend the very best of holiday wishes to everyone! Thanks for all
the patience as I continue to learn the ropes to this contesting
stuff. May 2012 bring you a wealth of DX to your logbook. I'm sure
hoping it will bring me DXCC on 10 meters!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Hell to QRP - My Weekend

QRP ARCI
This was a lite activity weekend for me and propagation turned out not being that great anyhow. I started the weekend operating a bit of Feld Hell. The Feld Hell Club had their 24 hour Happy Birthday Rudolph Sprint. Hell is short for Hellschrieber, and Rudolph Hell was the inventor. A fun mode with a bit of a slow pace. During a poor band, the font selection alone can make or break a contact. Not a great weak signal mode but plenty of fun to operate with a great group of hams keeping this mode active. A big congrats to Dave, KB9MLE who received his Feld Hell Club Worked All States (WAS) with that mode, which he more than likely finished up this past weekend.  

Also on my target "To Do" list this past weekend was operating in the QRP ARCI Holiday Spirits Homebrew Sprint. Since winterizing our travel trailer a few months back, all of my QRP equipment is now fully functional in our igloo. I wanted to stretch my low power legs a bit and see how far 5 watts would make it this weekend in the sprint. The way the bands were, I was not very hopeful as QRP can be a huge challenge. Living here in Alaska, I've found 100 watts to be challenging on many occasions so 5 watts can be brutal. 


My Icom IC-703Plus
My QRP rig is an Icom IC-703Plus which I picked up off of eBay a few years ago. I'm a big fan of the now departed Icom IC-706 series and this is that rig, just a 10th of the power output. I like the ability to adjust my power output from 1 to 10 watts. I may have made one contact with this on SSB but otherwise, it's a 99.99% CW rig. I've operated this rig portable and while camping. As I mentioned earlier, when I winterize our travel trailer, this rig finds a home in the warm shack next to my Icom IC-756PRO. I have three different Morse Code Keys that I use with this rig, two straight keys and one Bencher paddle. I've thought about doing a bit of QRP contesting with this rig but have yet to take that plunge.


The QRP station 
I have a Dell Mini that I use when operating portable so I have it hooked up to the IC-703Plus. One of the disadvantages I have found with the Dell is the lack of COM Port assignments. It appears to only have a default of one, that being Com 3. I've been experimenting with virtual COM ports but so far, I'm not having much luck getting full interface capabilities between my contest, logging software and the rig. Something that I will continue to work with over the next few cold months. I would love to be able to do FSK RTTY with this set up and also have full functionality with Win-test but so far, I'm only half way there. As seen in the photo above, I also have an IC-706MIIG that I purchased from my CW Elmer, Ed, K8QWY. Ed upgraded to the IC-7000, so it was a great opportunity to get another 100 watt rig for the shack. And besides, I'm hoping to get back into UHF/VHF someday so this will come in handy sometime in the future.


Our Icom stack, double meter, to ensure 5 watts of output
In getting back to the QRP contest this past weekend, I managed only 13 QSO's (contacts) and a few were a bit of a struggle. I used N3FJP's QRP ARCI log to handle all of my logging but all CW was manually sent with my Bencher. I always have to reacquaint myself with the Icom's menu set up but once I started using the 703, it all came back pretty quickly. And now that it's winter, I can be operating QRP with a flip of an antenna switch. I will be using it a bit more often over the next few months. Unless the bands are HOT, QRP with a compromised portable antenna can be extremely tough up here. Having it hooked to my 4 element Mosley helps just a bit. My 5 watts at the rig is probably more like 3 or 4 watts by the time it makes it to the other end of the frozen coax but having the added 4 element bump makes up for it. 

The contest was fun and in the end, I only managed those 13 QSO's but I don't think it was half bad considering the band conditions. Funny thing is, I was working Bob, N4BP on 15 meters and we moved to 10 to try a contact. I figured I would do like I've done many times, tune to 10 meters and listen in vain. Well, that was sure not the case. As soon as I tuned over to 10 meters, Bob's great station was easily heard here in my part of Alaska, much stronger actually than I heard him on 15 meters! I think we both were surprised and once again, 10 meters showed why it's also the "Magic Band" in my band plan! 

I know QRP is not for everyone but my friend Steve, wG0AT was the one that sparked my interest. I'm sure he has done that for many a ham! As mentioned in an earlier blog, I had the privilege of meeting Steve personally and spending a day with him, which Steve caught on video and has on YouTube. So Steve, thanks for helping me realize how much fun QRP operating can be. It's awesome to be able to get outdoors with breathtaking views and enjoy the sweet sound of ham radio blending with the sounds of nature. 

My QRP ARCI contest summary as submitted, is listed below. Again, I hope to do a bit more of QRP in the coming months. As we approach the Winter Solstice, I can look forward to a few things. The return of the sun, however slowly it will be over the next few months. I can dream of those long days  under the midnight sun operating portable. Yes, it's several months away but until that time when I de-winterize our travel trailer and move my QRP equipment back to it's summer home, I will be enjoying some low power QSO's from deep inside our igloo. As our temperatures have been steady at -20F, I can think of no better way to spend a cold arctic day than to hibernate in the bear den and play radio. I've operated outdoors at these temperatures as well, but let me tell you, the Icom was able to handle it but the coax to my Buddipole was very unfriendly at those temps, unmanageable actually!  

Operating up here in this unfriendly propagational zone, I do have something I hope to add to my QRP equipment list. Maybe Santa will drop one off someday? I would love to have a portable beam such as THIS one! The recent reviews look much better than the earlier, but this would be nice for playing ham radio in the back country up here. My wants are bigger than my wallet but a ham can still dream, right?



QRP ARCI CONTEST SUMMARY SHEET

QRP ARCI CONTEST: QRP ARCI Holiday Spirits Homebrew Sprint     MODE: CW


CALL: KL8DX  S/P/C(QTH): AK  QRP #/POWER: 13835  ENTRY: All band


Non-Member QSO's = 1

Member QSO's = 12

________________________

| BAND | POINTS | S/P/C |
|______|________|_______|
| 160  |      0 |     0 |
|______|________|_______|
|  80  |      0 |     0 |
|______|________|_______|
|  40  |      0 |     0 |
|______|________|_______|
|  20  |     32 |     5 |
|______|________|_______|
|  15  |     25 |     5 |
|______|________|_______|
|  10  |      5 |     1 |
|______|________|_______|
|   6  |      0 |     0 |
|______|________|_______|
|Totals|     62 |    11 |
|______|________|_______|


  Total   X   Total   X   Power   +   Bonus   =      Final

  Points      S/P/C       Mult        Points         Score

      62  X     11    X      7    +        0  =       4,774 



TOTAL OPERATING TIME: 04:08:42


TRANSMITTER/TRANSCEIVER: IC-703Plus POWER OUTPUT = 5 Watts


RECEIVER: IC-703Plus (same)


ANTENNA(S): 4 Element tri-bander, Mosley TA-34-XL @ 43 feet (A2)


COMMENTS: Bands were not QRP friendly but managed a handful of contacts. Was

          very surprised to get N4BP on all three bands. We moved to 10 meters
          after a QSO on 15 and Bob was very loud! I had a few I worked on two
          bands, W0UFO and K4BAI. Heard a few who could not hear me. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

25 Years Ago

Tune In The World 1987 Edition
As I have mentioned previously, this is my anniversary week of passing my Novice Exam and Morse Code exam 25 years ago. In a very early blog posting, I went into detail on how I ended up becoming involved in this great hobby of ours so I won't go into detail here. But, I have a few hams to thank for it. The first being Don, KF8FE and the second, Ralph, WA8GAK. Don planted the seed and Ralph was the first one to give me a full demonstration of ham radio and also got me the information on the American Radio Relay League (ARRL). I ended up ordering the book you see to the left from the ARRL along with my 5 wpm cassette code tape. Once I received them in the mail (no internet ordering in those days) I jumped right into listening to my code tape and studying the book. It was not long before I felt I was ready to tackle both tests, my Novice exam and my 5 wpm Morse Code test. 


The ad that sold me!
I remember opening up my study manual (pictured above) and on the inside cover was the advertisement you see to the right, for then new Icom IC-735! I was immediately in love! I knew that was the radio that I wanted! I don't remember what I paid for that radio those many years ago but it was not cheap. If I passed my tests, I had plans of ordering this radio. In those days, the Form 610 had to be mailed in and it would take approximately 6 weeks to get your license. You had to wait patiently for it to arrive and see what callsign you were issued. Since I lived in Ohio, I knew it was going to be a 2X3 callsign, or 2 letters followed by a number, which was followed by three more letters. I obviously knew that the number was going to be an 8 but the rest was a mystery!

I believe that Ralph may have given me the phone number of Pat Keating, WB8KWD. I phoned Pat and made arrangements to meet him at the Red Cross building in Fremont, Ohio. Fremont was not far from where I lived at the time, approximately 45 minutes away. I met Pat along with Ron Winke, WB8NMK in Fremont, on December 12th, 1987. I took my Morse Code test and passed with not only 100% (10 out of 10 questions) but also with 100% perfect copy! I don't remember the reason but I ended up going back to Fremont on the 14th of December and I was given my Novice written exam. I passed that with a 96%, missing one question out of 30. The form 610 was completed and sent off! 


Feedback Response from ARRL
Since I had passed my Novice exam, I ordered the Technician study guide and began working on that license. There had been an issue with my original 610 Form submission so my wait for my Novice license took a bit longer than usual. But, I continued to study and shortly after passing my Novice license, I took and passed my Technician license test (passed my Technician Theory test on January 9th, 1988) along with my General (passed my General theory on February 7th, 1988 and my 13 wpm on February 13th, 1988)! It took two attempts to pass my 13 wpm code test but I made it. And the way things had worked out, by the time I received each of my licenses in the mail, I had already taken and passed the next level license class. I went onto pass my Advanced Class on March 12th, 1988. After passing my Advanced Class license, I opted to change my callsign and I received KE8RO. I stuck with it until I moved to Alaska. I had my sights set on my Extra Class next. At the time, the ARRL was interested in what you thought about their training manuals. I made sure to write in after passing each level of license. It was nice to get letters back from the ARRL responding to my comments (see ARRL letter above). I thought it was a nice note from Larry Wolfgang, then WA3VIL. 


Certificate of Successful Completion
The final step of my license journey ended on April 9th, 1988. It was that day in Maumee, Ohio that I passed my Extra Class exams! One thing I remember about Maumee was they ran a tight ship! Very professional, no nonsense and by the book. I was not quite yet at 20 wpm with my Morse Code but I was able to get the answers by fill-in. Basically, I was not at 100% perfect copy but I copied enough to fill in the blanks and obtain the correct answers to the code test. 

It's hard to believe that 25 years ago this week, I was pacing the floor awaiting the arrival of my FCC paperwork telling me what my callsign was. My new Icom IC-735 and accessories were ordered. When my license finally arrived, I made my first appearance on the bands as KB8DVT! I chatted with several of the locals on 10 meters and it was not long before I was making contacts on that band across the country and beyond. I was bitten by the ham bug and I'm as addicted today as I was then. The nervousness has long passed but I continue to learn and enjoy what ham radio has to offer. Even after all these years, there are modes and bands I have not yet tried. One person who I need to thank is my CW Elmer Ed, K8QWY. Ed is the reason I enjoy that mode today. I was about burned out on Morse Code studying for my tests and receiving is one thing but sending was another. With Ed's patience and persistence, I eventually saw the light. CW was truly the Key to my DX success and still is today!  

Monday, December 10, 2012

The 2012 ARRL 10 Meter Contest - Like Eggnog

Pre-amped Up and listening for all I have!
10 Meters was tough sledding this past weekend for the annual ARRL 10 Meter Contest. Having to work late on Friday, by the time I made it into the shack, there was not a single station to be heard on 10 meters. Normally I can snag a Hawaiian station or a few JA's on Friday night but NIL. On Saturday morning while waiting patiently for propagation to arrive on 10 meters, I worked a few stations in the monthly SKCC Weekend Sprintathon on 20 meters. Once 10 meters started showing signs of life, my focus changed to that band. It was obvious that it was gonna be a tough weekend.

My first QSO was around the 1830z mark with W0AIH, who had a super signal into my part of Alaska. But as it would turn out, the lower 48 was going to be effected by a mixed bag of propagation for me. The Central & South American stations were booming in, which is somewhat typical on 10 meters here. By the end of the opening on Saturday night, the furthest east I had worked was New York. This meant that the harder W1, W2 and W3 stations had to be picked up on Sunday, assuming there was propagation! 


Statistics from ARS KL8DX
My statistics graph to the right from Win-test puts things into perspective from Saturday. I had one fair hour of contacts rolling in when I found a clear frequency and called CQ. It was obvious that this was going to be another contest that was all about location! Hearing some of the numbers DX stations were exchanging as I tuned across the band, hearing stations like PJ2T with over 700 QSO's or CW5W with over 1,000 QSO's this early in the contest made me jealous. I can only imagine what they were hearing so far south as I've never personally experienced propagation down that way. My passport is like my wallet, empty. Anyway, my Saturday night ended with just over 100 QSO's in the log, leaving me with that sinking multiplier feeling. Highlights were finishing up the day with two VK4'S, VK4WIL and VK4IZ, and then my last QSO being with AH0BT.


States & Provinces Worked (Blue) & Not Worked (White) 
When I woke up early on Sunday morning, I was hoping for some either North East USA or some Europe. I sometimes can get lucky and attract the attention of the NE stations when they are working Europe by busting through the back of their beams. Normally this is only effective with the BIG GUN stations but I was hoping to close the book on some of the harder NE states. To my amazement, the band was pretty quiet Sunday morning except for D4C. Wait, D4C? Was I hearing that right? It was obvious that he had a pile-up (all of which I could not hear). Peaking at times 599 here, really? Like playing the lottery, I joined in knowing full well I was not going to win with all those playing. I called several times but I realized the obvious. But I did get to hear Rich, KL7RA snag em! Either way, D4C was putting in an extremely impressive signal into the Interior of Alaska Sunday morning. After listening to that for a bit, I tuned around hearing a few 1's and 2's but I was not having any luck putting any in the contest log. I finally scored my first NE stations just before 1600z with N1IW and N2MM. Kudos to N2MM for pulling me out of the mud! It was not long before the band fell silent once again.

Sunday was extremely slow going but 10 meters started to show signs that it wanted to cooperate around 1930z. I was beginning to hear more and see more activity on the spectrum scope of my Icom 756PRO. Even though things were looking up, QSB was extremely tough! I had stations call me and when I sent them my exchange, on several occasions, they were either very weak or unreadable and I had to ask for a repeat. An extreme case of "Strong & Gone" as I like to refer to it. I would call CQ for several minutes without a single caller. I would begin to multitask and do a few other things and when I turned my attention elsewhere, someone would call me. I would have to quickly hit the "Escape Key" to get my repeated CQ to stop and then shamefully ask for a repeat or a partial call confirmation. It can be hard to stay focused during those dry periods. 

In the end, I made well under half of the contacts I did last year. I'm certain I did not work anything new to me this weekend but I was sure hoping. Running low power, I sure had plenty of stations CQ'n in my face but that's all part of the challenge when the bands are tough. But a bad day of contesting is still better than a great day in the office! This week is the 25th anniversary of me taking and passing my Novice test in Fremont, Ohio those many years ago. Things have sure changed just in my 25 years of enjoying this hobby. But in keeping with the theme of the season, when it comes to 10 meters and 10 meter contesting, it's like Eggnog...I can't get enough of it. The holiday season brings the return of Eggnog to store shelves and the ARRL 10 Meter Contest. Thanks to the ARRL for supporting yet another great contest! Thanks for all the QSO's, too! My 3830 submission is listed below with further comments. This might as well be my last effort in this contest from this QTH but God willing, it won't be my last 10 meter contest effort and with any luck, I can enjoy Eggnog and the ARRL 10 meter contest next year.

ARRL 10-Meter Contest

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

Class: SO CW LP
QTH: Alaska
Operating Time (hrs): 10h14m

Summary:
Band  QSOs  Mults
-------------------
  CW:  375    63
  SSB:    3      5
-------------------
Total:  375     63      Total Score = 94,500

Club: North Coast Contesters

Comments:

This will be a CW only submission but I did work a few
that asked me to QSY to SSB. I had to work late on Friday
so I also started out with NIL until Saturday morning.
My first contest QSO came at 1828z and last fell into
the log at 2342z, Saturday. Saturday was tough but that's
contesting. Saturday was even a bit harder due to QRN
as a direct result of 40 mph wind gusts that day. I
watched our temperature go from -21F to +20F in a matter
of a few hours thanks to the arrival of the SE wind flow.

The last four hours of Sunday showed my best rates all
weekend. I had higher hopes for the last big contest of
2012, as I didn't even hit the 50% mark from what I was
able to accomplished last year.

I think the most notable points with this contest was
the crazy propagation and QSB. The QSB was intense at
times and stations would call and then disappear. I was
low power so like many, I had multipliers CQ in my face
to no avail. I missed more than I care to list.

Happy Holidays to all and I hope to find my way into a
few logs as this contest season continues into 2013. I
have no valid complaints about this contest as 378 QSO's
are better than none, which was the case only a few years
ago. I predict that 2013 will be the year of change for this
station. But for now, it's time to enjoy the holiday season
and from our shack to yours, on behalf of KL8SU and myself,
Seasons Greetings from Alaska! May many new multipliers and
entities fall easily into your logbooks in 2013.

Sincerely,

Phil - KL8DX
Suann - KL8SU
Dempsey (The Wonder Beagle)
Luna (The Grandcat)





Monday, December 3, 2012

Passing a Hamstone & Painful RTTY QSO's

RTTY Weekend
You might be wondering what a "Hamstone" is and rightfully so. A milestone is defined as a significant accomplishment whereas I'm calling my ham related "significant accomplishment" a hamstone! The hamstone accomplished this past weekend was my 50,000 QSO!  I've blogged previously about approaching this number and wondering who that lucky ham was going to be. It was a RTTY QSO during the Ten-Meter RTTY Contest. Now this is from my main logbook as I have worked many more QSO's than that obviously. I have operated during special events, mobile, at other contest stations and portable. But my main KL8DX logbook achieved QSO number 50,000 on December 2nd, 2012 at 2226z. Yes, I know, by some standards this is a small number and by others, it's a huge number. A BIG contest station can rake in 9,000 to 15,000 QSO's in a contest weekend! Now THAT'S an accomplishment. But for my small station, I think it's a pretty big number.

KL8DX statistics thanks to Clublog
I recently wrote about my venturing into the use of Clublog. It's a very valuable website and it allowed me a very nice visual presentation of my activity from here in Alaska. As the chart to the right shows, it gives a very nice detailed overview of my operation by the three standard modes. I obviously did not get serious about operating until 2007. That just happened to be the year that my Mosley TA-34-XL made it back into the air. Going from a ground mounted vertical to that beam opened up the world to my chasing pleasure. I also became involved with the Alaska contesting group and I for the first time had the confidence to take my contesting to the next level thanks to their help and encouragement. I had always been a Search & Pounce (S&P) contester prior to moving here. That all changed with my first CQ once I got my tri-bander in the air. I actually had to work a pile-up, from the receiving side! I'll be honest, that was a bit intimidating and it can still be stressful! Now with reverse beacons and the like, pile-ups happen instantaneously! So, there was a huge learning curve going from chasing to being chased. Being a double multiplier in contests can sure make things crazy. Anyhow, it's no secret from the chart above what my favorite modes are.

KL8DX DXCC totals from Clublog
Even with all that operating I've only worked 203 entities, actually 202, but one has since been deleted. And I've not been actively chasing entities either. I was working hard toward the Honor Roll when I lived in Ohio and had around 306 approved by the ARRL prior to leaving. Quite honestly, I don't have the desire or finances to chase that again. I started all over after moving to Alaska. So, I take em as they come and when I can, I will chase DXpeditions landing a few new ones from time to time. And to top it off, I have yet work all Zones from here! I'm still missing Zones 22 & 34! I did not realize most of this data until I uploaded my logbook into Clublog. If you use it, please consider donating and if you have not, you really should give it a try. When I uploaded my entire log, it was surprising how many of my entities were incorrect in my logbook. I think most of this was due to contest logs & software misidentifying the entity and it fed into Ham Radio Deluxe incorrectly. Either way, I've corrected all the wrong data and I feel statistically refreshed!

A hamstone is not nearly as painful as other stones, like gallstone or kidneystone, but it does require passing lots of time on your Keyster (actually spelled keister, but I think my spelling is more ham appropriate). It can be painful dealing with the hours of "Butt Glue" that is required to stay in the seat and operate. Extreme stationary Gluteus Maximus for Contestmania.  It can also have painful family consequences as many contests are 48 hours in length and take up an entire weekend. But I have a secret weapon! I've never shared this before but my numbers are directly associated to this one thing. That secret is...Arctic Winters! It also helps with the large amount of QSL requests that are directly related to this stationary operating position. I literally had to get a larger Post Office Box at a second Post Office (my Denali did not have a large box available) to accommodate the hundreds of direct requests not to mention the bursting bureau envelopes! 

Arctic Winters are long and cold and with all the Alaska shows on TV, I don't think that's a secret! Even though I live a nice jaunt from the Arctic Circle, at times I would not know it with the temperatures and weather we experience here. Our winter actually begins in late September when our first snow normally arrives and it runs through basically mid May. What is there to do outdoors when the outdoor temperature is -40F or colder? Well, to many who live here, the cold does not stop them. People camp, ski, snowmachine and more when it's that cold. Yes, I have spent plenty of time outdoors at those temperatures but I prefer to enjoy the warm confines of my igloo. It just so happens that Arctic Winter Season corresponds to Contest Season!! With that said, I find it very easy to spend hours at a time in my shack working contest weekends. My activity drops dramatically during the summer months (almost NIL) as most Alaskan's are outdoors enjoying 24 hours of daylight and temperatures that are 125 degrees warmer than their coldest winter day! Do you blame us?

High Ground
Okay, enough about Alaska and my hamstone, time to get back to the weekend activities. I played around a bit in the Tara RTTY Melee but I had my heart set on the 10-Meter RTTY Contest. Let me tell you, 10 Meters was extremely disappointing and painful this past weekend. The indexes did not support propagation at all and I only ended being able to make 55 QSO's! From those 55 contacts, 9 were unique State & Provinces and I managed 4 DXCC entities! It left me wondering what we can expect for the upcoming ARRL 10 Meter Contest next weekend? I can only hope that conditions are much better next weekend. The photo above shows where I had parked and called CQ. The band was so rough with so much QSB, I did not want to interfere with anyone so I ended up in what I like to call the nosebleed section. I had a handful of JA's call in Saturday night with respectable signals but Sunday was a bust for the most part. Some welcome surprises were LT0H, LW5ER and HC2UB. But my path to Central and South America is actually pretty good here often times opening before I hear the lower 48. 

So much talk of the Fiscal Cliff in Washington but it appears like I will be purchasing 4 new tires for our truck in the next few weeks approaching my own Fiscal Cliff. They have a 2-3 week delivery time so I've decided I won't have them installed until after December 21st. No reason to pay for them if the world might end, right? So, assuming we are all here and survive that weekend, I expect to once again be broker than broke after having to purchase tires and all the Christmas presents that will have to be shipped. Hopefully the gifts will arrive 3,000+ miles to their destination before Christmas. And if 10 Meters does not come back to life this coming weekend, I will begin to think we are feeling the effects of a Propagation Cliff. Maybe the Solar Cycle peaked last year and we didn't know it, catching us by surprise.   I'm already experiencing my Twitter Cliff as of late. I'm following so many people on Twitter that I can't keep up with the timeline! 

Hopefully things will settle in Washington and propagation will return. Ham radio is a great escape from what seems to be endless bad news coming from media outlets. Thankfully, I've found the ham community world wide is very friendly and it's a great escape from our daily grind. I'm thankful for all that I have, all that I've done and for all those that have made it possible. 

Oh, and in case you are wondering, NG6S gets the prized #50,000 QSL card for our RTTY contact in the 10-Meter RTTY Contest. I know there won't be a 100,000 from this QTH but I've sure enjoyed each and everyone I have had so far and looking forward to many more. 

   

Monday, November 26, 2012

CQ World-Wide DX CW Contest - The Morning After

Comparing CQ WW CW 2011 / 2012
This past weekend was the annual CQ World-Wide DX CW contest and from the perspective of many, is the biggest contest of the year. From Multi-Operators to Single, many plan for this past weekend months in advance. Many operators in the US,  still feeling the effects of large amounts of good food on Thanksgiving followed by breaking their bank on Black Friday, hit the airwaves in anticipation of logging many contest QSO's. I for one, wish my holiday calorie to QSO count were much closer to one another. Sadly, it never fails that I consume many more calories on Thanksgiving Day and the days following, than I can put QSO's in my contest log. On the positive side, Thanksgiving leftovers work wonderfully at keeping the body fueled for countless hours of VFO turning and the keyboard pounding fun of this contest. 


ARS KL8DX Claimed Score & Summary
In my previous post, I mentioned working the November Sweepstakes as part of the Multi-Operator effort at KL2R. In looking at how Larry, N1TX had Win-test set up, the previous years effort in the Targets Tracking Window was a great motivator (photo above). I know, I'm one of those operators who is not using my complex software to full advantage and I had never used this function before. It did help me keep focused. I spent a little extra time setting up Win-test the night before (I know, the night before, really? When will I learn?) but I still need to get into using ESM (Enter Sends Message) mode with this software. But, I'm getting there. I'm still an F-Key abuser and it would save time and I'm sure would increase my rate. 

My score breakout summary is listed directly above and it just so happened that I beat my last years effort although, not by much! My claimed score last year was 792,396 and logging 1,852 QSO's. The main difference last year was that 10 meters was my money band but this year, that turned out being 15 meters. Had 10 meters come to life, my numbers would have looked very different. The CME that impacted Earth must have sent 10 meters packing (see graph below from HAARP's Magnetometer). I'm not a propagation guru but I do know 10 meters did not provide a fraction of the contacts it did for me last year. Last year, I worked 971 QSO's on 10 meters alone!


Magnetometer from HAARP
In speaking of the CME that shook up the Ionosphere overhead, it made for a bittersweet weekend. It obviously effected the propagation and it made the polar path on Friday night extremely tough and Saturday night was no picnic either. I'm running low power these days as I have yet to afford getting my AL-1500 repaired. Shipping to and from the lower 48 alone would be costly and that does not include the repair. It just means I have to pass up more multipliers or try harder and longer to get them, or wait until Sunday. Regardless, it was memorable working European stations on Friday night while gazing out my shack window and watching the auroral display dancing overhead! Now mind you, I've experienced the aurora overhead for several years but I still get excited and enjoy photographing it. Friday night was no exception, I had to stop what I was doing in the contest, costing me valuable 3 point QSO's with Europe (surprising we had a path with aurora being so active) to head outdoors at -17F to snap some photographs! I was outdoors for well over an hour just enjoying the light show overhead. I'm easily distracted and I needed Bonnie and Fannie here from team KL2R to keep me focused. 


Auroral display CQ World-Wide DX weekend © KL8DX
Like many hams, I have more than one hobby. My second favorite is photographing our adventures here in Alaska. I love sharing it with friends and family in the lower 48, many of which have never been to Alaska. We arrived in Healy at our friends house (KL1SF & KL1MF) on the 25th of November, 2003. We moved into park housing during December of 2003, and a few months later, we purchased our current home. Now mind you, I did experience the aurora from Northern Ohio and even photographed it a few times but such events were rare. Here, the "Northern Lights" are viewed nearly all winter long. This alone helps ease the pain of winter however, it's normally very cold outdoors during the prime viewing times. 


Auroral display CQ World-Wide DX weekend ©KL8DX
If you dress warm and have an understanding camera and tri-pod, it's not hard to capture these breathtaking events. The photo above and to the left, are those I took on Friday night showing the auroral display over our QTH. Now mind you, this is after it had subsided a bit. Our shack window (shown illuminated in blue on both photos) is the best viewing window for the aurora as I keep the shack mostly dark. I'm not one for enjoying copious amounts of light both at home or at the office. My office for years has been nicknamed, "The Cave." My wife made a rare appearance in the shack over the contest weekend to enjoy the light show to the north while I was chasing European stations on 15 and 20 meters. If only I could get her to upgrade and be interested in a Multi-Single effort. Nah, more fun for me! All kidding aside, her support and supplying necessary nutritional needs goes without saying, these contest weekends would not be successful without her support and understanding. Like many a ham, I'm lucky to have an understanding spouse. 

Now getting back on track with the contest, my goal was to log over 2,000 QSO's and beat my previous year score. I did beat my score (claimed) however, I did not break the 2,000 QSO mark. As I had mentioned before, had 10 meters been great, I would have easily manged that goal. As it was, attempts to get a run going on 10 meters was in vain and it worked out best for Search & Pounce only (S&P). The 3 point contacts were nice but I wanted more. But like with any contest, there were highlights and low lights. Me complaining about 10 meters was a low light but I'm thankful for my 199 QSO's on that band. Lots of radio friends encountered along with so many familiar callsigns. My low band antenna's stink and to those who pulled my signal out on 40 and 80 meters, hats off to you and your station! I took some notes during the weekend contest and here are a few unedited I had listed -


  • Getting to hate Saturday and Sunday mornings. I can't seem to get the attention of anyone on the East Coast as they are still pointed to Europe.
  • My morning strategy, chasing "Bleeps" on the Spectrum Scope while consuming copious amounts of decaf coffee. Yea I know, I get more out of the bleeps than I do the coffee. 
  • Saturday morning, 10 meters opened up briefly but then closed back down. 
  • Gray Line propagation working well and added some much needed multipliers.
  • Seriously PY3DX, I've been on this frequency for well over an hour! If you want it that bad, go ahead and take it! I'm working PY's right and left so I know you can hear me! Ugh!
  • Full break-in is a bit tough to get used to but necessary with as quickly as some stations call when I'm CQ'n.
  • Sunday, the return of propagation (somewhat), thank you!!!!!!
  • Is it me or does it seem like CW ops increase their speed by 50% on Sunday? Tryptophan must be wearing off, goodness!
  • EL2A, on 15 meters and logged?!! What just happened? That did!
  • Aurora is beautiful and I'm still able to work Europe? I must be dreaming!
  • Trying to understand why DX stations don't ID more frequently. If you work more than 5 stations and don't ID, I'm gone! If I was Assisted, I might know who you are but for now I don't, and really don't care.
  • Well, here come the DUPES so someone must have spotted me as something other than my callsign. Probably as KL7DX again. Surprising how many click on the band map and pull the trigger!
  • EF8M, you want me in your contest log but just don't know it.
  • Seriously Sunday? Normally I can work these multipliers today and they are no easier than Saturday! WTH?
  • Enjoying Twitter and the #WATwitter Hashtag spearheaded by Connie, NR4CB. She is the Bionic Nerd!  
  • 10 meters, where are you??
  • Pile-up's...I'm trying everyone, please have patience! I'm drinking decaf, remember?
  • It's 1655z and I'm at 1,355 QSO's and 554,222 points! I think I can, I think I can...
  • Damn, there are some strong stations out there! Size does matter!
  • I wish my score could count towards NCC!
  • Contest is over, I need Motrin!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • LOTW will probably need life support after this weekend...and next...and the weekend after that...LOTW might need Motrin!

That is my 2012 summary of the CQ World-Wide DX CW Contest as I experienced it. It was tough but enjoyable. My fellow Alaskan's were out in force and from the preliminary posts on 3830, not many should be missing Zone 1. I on the other hand, missed Zone 1 on 40 meters. I could not break the KL7RA pile-up. A huge thanks to all those that make this contest (and all of them) possible. I would write more but the 5 day deadline for log submission is here and I gotta get to my soapbox and log submission! Thanks for all the contacts, sorry to those I missed, and I appreciate everyone's patience as I still am learning pile-up management. Add many calling at the same time and the effects of the aurora washing out their signal, it can be extremely tough to just get a partial callsign, let alone a full one. I'm thankful for each and every contact and if I'm running and you don't get me the first time, please come back! Like my paycheck, my pileups are normally short lived.  

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Sweepstakes from Two Rivers Contest Club

In the Chair at KL2R
I had the privilege last weekend to participate in the Multi-single effort at the Two Rivers Contest Club north of Fairbanks. I was very excited about the team effort and being able to reunite with Larry, N1TX, Carl, WL7BDO, and Elaine, KL6C. 

I made it up there late on Saturday due to other obligations. The drive is about 2.5 hours from my QTH but as I drove north out of the city of Fairbanks, I could the see aurora overhead. Of course, that view is bittersweet to any ham. Viewing of the aurora is always breathtaking but it does not play well with HF propagation. It had me wondering what type of propagation we would be encountering for the weekend, if any.

Carl, WL7BDO working the masses
Each and every time I head to KL2R,  I learn something new. It can be about operating technique, software functions, propagation, equipment, strategy and more. It's also fun to play with a different radio and also hearing what propagation sounds like from a different QTH (location). I have lots of low band QRN (noise) so it was nice to actually hear and work weaker stations on 40 & 80 meters! Of course, superior antennas and equipment helps, too!

Since my close Compadre, KL1SF is no longer in the neighborhood, I don't have anyone nearby that enjoys HF radio contesting. Carl, WL7BDO is the closest and he lives in Nenana, which is about an hours drive north of my location. I've been to KL2R previously, with my last trip being to operate Field Day a few years ago. So, I was long overdue for a trip up north. 

Elaine, KL6C drawing in the contacts!
I was able to operate Saturday night and Sunday and it was fun to find the high bands active for the Sweepstakes weekend. It was also fun running high power as contacts came a bit easier than I'm used to since my amplifier has been mothballed. The antenna system at KL2R is far superior to mine and it was fun having two beam antennas on the high bands to chose from. Larry, N1TX has set the station up wonderfully and is a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to contesting and strategy. Larry is certainly one of those operators that I look up to and have the utmost respect for. Carl and Elaine are both outstanding operators, too. I get as much enjoyment out of watching others operate as I do operating myself. Operating single operator as much as I do from home, the team environment is contesting on steroids for me. We all feed off each other, motivate one an other and you can never go wrong spending countless hours with those who share the same passion as yourself. 

The November Sweepstakes weekend will be one I remember for many years to come. I love the KL2R contesting environment as it's competitive but low stress. Larry, N1TX and his awesome wife Connie, KL1BE are wonderful hosts and I can't thank them enough for their hospitality. I had so much fun hanging out and operating with Elaine and Carl once again. They both are so much fun to watch operate. They can be digging out the new multiplier one minute and have you in stitches the next. It's an honor knowing and operating with each and every one of them.