Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Arctic Buddipole

If you have been following my blog you will have read where I took the plunge and am planning on doing some portable QRP operating. I have purchased my rig (Icom 703Plus) and I opted for a Buddipole antenna system. I was looking for something light weight and versatile. I can carry this antenna system either on my ATV or while hiking. There are so many great places to operate around Denali and it combines my love for the great outdoors and my hobby. What could be better?

I have been a bit busy but after ordering my Buddipole, it arrived here shortly after I clicked the submit button. I was surprised at how light and small the antenna is but how well constructed it seems to be. We have lots of wind here so I wanted something that could stand up to not only wind but our cold temperatures.

I decided to become familiar with my new antenna system. I started to put the antenna together last night in my garage but once I got it assembled, I wanted to get the thing outside to see how well it looked and raised. That had to wait until the sun returned. So this afternoon, I had my first Buddipole raising party (yep, I was the only one in attendance but my wife observed it from indoors). It was single digits outside but sunny. It was a breeze to raise the mast and soon my antenna was 9 or so feet above me. I stood and enjoyed the view and began to imagine all the fun I'm going to have with this antenna in the coming months. You thought I was excited about summer arriving before, well that was nothing!
My next step will be to tune the antenna to the various bands and take some notes which will save me a bit of time in the field. I also picked up a few end fed wire antenna's that I plan on using from the mast when not using the Buddipole. I need the temperatures to get a bit warmer so the coax will cooperate. Until then, I have already decided on a few more accessories that I will need and I hope to place that order in the very near future. I'm hoping to do some operating yet this winter but I can assure you one thing, it won't be long before you hear KL8DX/P operating QRP from someplace around Denali.

Friday, January 22, 2010

What's a Ham to Do...

When the bands get knocked out by geomagnetic activity? I monitor HAARP here in Alaska to see how absorption will effect my passion, working stations all over the globe. Often times, high absorption rates mean I won't hear much on a band or at the very least, signals will be much harder to hear. At these times, signals may be accompanied by a excessive fluttering sound or echo. And other bands can be much better leading up to, even during, or after such solar activity. During solar minimums, you will always here ham radio operators talking about sunspots. Hams need sunspots like truck drivers need coffee.

Recently sunspot 1041 showed promise with lots of activity. It released several M-class flares that began on January 18th. Those flares effected the radio waves here on earth by causing a few minor radio blackouts. This activity was recorded on HAARP's website. The graph to the left shows the amount of absorption. We had the sunspot activity, and earth saw an increase in the solar wind due to the effects of a Coronal Hole from the sun. With all this going on during solar minimum, it always leads to some extra excitement.

When the bands fade away on a cold winter night, what is a ham to do? Well, I enjoy taking to the outdoors to photograph the Northern Lights. When we see the increase in solar winds or see the
direct effects from solar flares, this can cause a beautiful light show overhead. Being this far north, it is often directly overhead! Some nights, the aurora will be low on the horizon if it's a minor display, from 20 degrees to 45 degrees. This night, it just so happened that the aurora was visible low on the horizon. The conditions were just perfect for photographing the aurora. The skies were clear, we had the increase in solar wind (about 495 km/s) and a crescent moon, which helped illuminate the landscape. The local temperature was -11F, so it was not too cold.
I noticed the Earth's magnetic field dip to the south as noted on, so I quickly gazed outdoors. Sure enough, the sky was starting to light up with the ever familiar green ribbon of light. I got my camera ready and after grabbing my cold weather garb, it was outdoors I went. These photos were taken from our street. We are lucky not to have much light pollution. The only light pollution would be from the small town north of here.

I purchased an Olympus E-520 about a year ago and I'm attempting to get familiar with the perfect settings for the aurora. I wanted to experiment with a foreground for the depth of field and also an attempt to put the light show in perspective in relation to the angle and how low on the horizon this show was. Camera settings were ISO 200, F/4 and a 30 second exposure. I started with ISO 100 and went as long as 60 seconds but ended up increasing my ISO and decreasing my exposure setting. I'm hoping for a few more solar winds to not only make the ham bands a bit better but to also help me bond with my DSLR. Each camera I have owned had it's own sweetspot when it came to good aurora photos. I'm not there yet with this camera, but I'm getting close. I just need Mother Nature to cooperate for a few more attempts. The aurora is only visible here during dark periods, which leaves summer out due to our length of daylight.

So, having this hobby that makes me pay a bit more attention to solar activity and its effects on our ionosphere have lead me to photographing the visible effects. We can't see airwaves with our naked eye, but we can sure see the aurora. So, what's a ham to do? TV has never been an option but I will gladly stand in sub zero temperatures just to get a few photos of what is one of the most breathtaking phenomena I have ever witnessed first hand. I viewed it several times from Northern Ohio, but not this frequently or this dramatic. You may be surprised what you see when you look north on a dark night. But here, I just need to look directly overhead. Yea, I'm spoiled.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


January 17th, 2010 will be the day my QRP adventures on CW officially begin. I did some local testing with my personal friend Sean, KL1SF on SSB. I had to solder up a connector to get my Navy Flameproof key working with my newly acquired Icom IC-703Plus. That was my first order of business this morning.

After getting my connector soldered up and my key hooked up to the rig, I tuned 20 meters looking for that first victim of my Alaskan QRP signal. It just so happened it was Bob, K8MXC. Bob was operating SKCC's special event callsign K3Y/8. As luck would have it, Bob caught me on my first call. After an exchange of the necessary logging information, a few minutes later I sat back with excitement as I logged my first 703Plus QRP QSO.

I had the IC-703Plus at 5 watts output to my 4 element tri-bander at 43 feet. The band was not that great as there was still some heavy QSB. Not only was this a first for me, but what made it neat was my QSO happened to be with K3Y/8. I am originally from 8land so that just made my first contact that much "cooler". Shortly after that QSO, I worked Ron, AC2C in Maryland operating K3Y/3. This can sure be addicting!!!

The used radio I purchased did not come with a CW filter so after this mornings first QSO, that will be at the top of my priority list!! Oh how you get used to hitting the filter button and the noise around you goes away. When you don't have that ability, you have to rely on your internal mental filtering. My internal filter is too wide for that kinda operation!

I'm getting familiar with my new addition before I venture out into the backcountry to operate /P. I had an Icom 706MIIG for several years but I have to familiarize myself with the menus of this radio yet. Once I get some operating in a controlled environment under my belt, I will venture outdoors and operate with the Polar Bears in a more uncontrolled environment!

Two thumbs up to Bob, K8MXC for making my first QRP contact a success and enjoyable. I always try to look for low power stations to give them Alaska but now the tables have turned. I will report my successes and failures but either way, I'm going to have fun and if anything, it will make me a better operator.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Jan 2010 NAQP CW Contest

North American QSO Party
, CW - January

Call: KL8DX
Operator(s): KL8DX
Station: KL8DX
Class: Single Op LP

QTH: Alaska
Operating Time (hrs): 8

Band QSOs Mults
40: 20........... 8
20: 392......... 52
Total: 412....... 60.... Total Score = 24,720

Club: North Coast Contesters

The NAQP CW contest format is one that I like. It's 12 hours long but as a single operator, you can only operate 10. It's a great weekend contest without taking up your entire weekend. The rough part about NAQP is the low power rule, nothing more than 100 watts. Rough to us northern folk with small stations but maybe not so rough on the lower 48 crowd.

20 meters for me, I would rate as fair. There were several stations on but some states had very few participants. I parked and called most of the 8 hours that I operated the contest on 20 meters. Toward the end, I tried a bit of 40 meters but me working 40 meters on low power is like shoveling a fresh six inch snow from your 300 foot driveway with a spoon. Yep, you don't get anywhere fast.

I'm thankful for the internal filters on my IC-756PRO as on more than once, I had a station just show up and park right on top of me running stations. I know he heard me (VE3) but I was not moving. I normally operate in the nosebleed section of the CW band and even though there seemed to be lots of activity, the band was not that crowded. But, that's one of the pains of contesting I guess, especially when running low power.

It was obvious in this contest there were a few dedications to silent keys. Bitter sweet, as it's great to hear the dedication (same name being used by so many stations) but always a sad though as to why. And then you have those that make things interesting and use a nickname or something off the wall.

One of the other things I like about this contest is the lack of exchanging a signal report, which are 99.9% bogus anyhow (yes, I use the industry standard canned contest report of 599, too). Just like the non English versions of instructions in manuals on any piece of electronic equipment, it means nothing to me.

As usual, 20 meters was my strongest band but I missed several easy multipliers to my surprise, those being HI, NV, WV, SD and SK in Canada. I need to rethink my strategy for this contest when it comes to multipliers. I did honestly check 15 meters but nothing was heard on that band at all!

All-n-all, it was a fun weekend as I then moved onto the SKCC K3Y event on Sunday (more on that later). Now that winter has moved back into the Interior of Alaska, it's great to have these weekend contests to distract us from looking at the thermometer. Logs will be uploaded to e-QSL and LOTW soon and QSL cards are always welcome following my QSL rules.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Changing With The Times

Recently, I started to shop for a new logging program. My most favorite logging program for years (still to this day) was LogPlus. This, in my humble opinion by far, was the best and it was a sad day when Bob Winters threw in the towel on that program. He left, returned briefly, and then jumped ship for good. It was a program you had to pay for but well worth every cent. The reason I liked it? It had it all! You could track awards, add fields, print QSL labels, user update DXCC countries, and the list goes on. It was such a program that I could still be using it today but the advent of Windows based programs, it made me move onto something else. My first disks of this program were on 5 1/4" floppy disks. Yep, that's been awhile.

The 2nd logging program that I decided to try was ACLOG. A very good program especially for the beginner. There are several things I like about ACLOG but once again, I was looking for something that was going to go to the next level. And from the comments and chatter on the reflector, it was obvious that ACLOG was going to stay "as is" for quite awhile.

I'm not a programmer but it's nice having a program where user input is considered when upgrades are written. As things change like; bands, rules, and modes, so does software requirements. How many of you are still using Windows 95? Probably not many and if so, you have old programs that may not run on a new machine so it's forcing you to lag behind. But I wanted a program that was "alive" now with what appeared to have lots of support. That took me to HRD, or Ham Radio Deluxe.

I operate mostly CW and digital, so I wanted a program that was all inclusive. I was getting tired of having two programs running when doing digital. Granted, I am looking forward to HRD supporting FSK RTTY operation so until that time, I will continue to use MMTTY, but it supports most of the other digital modes available all in one nice package. There are so many other "bells and whistles" that I won't even go into them here (not to mention I have yet to discover them). But, this program won me over. I have supported the author financially however, it's free to download. Who can't afford that?

Before importing my ADIF file from my ACLOG export, I used the ADIF checker available through the e-QSL website. I'm glad I did that first as it found several problem areas. Now my log is not that big but I have made nearly 27 thousand contacts since moving to Alaska. I wanted to make sure that HRD imported all my QSO's without any issues especially having so many. After correcting some problem areas, I exported my ADIF log file again and imported it into HRD. Come to find out, HRD also examines the file and identifies problems before you select to import it! In they went and the only issue I had was my custom fields did not import but that is suppose to be addressed in a future update.

So, I'm not going to get into a "Ford vs Chevy" debate when it comes to logging programs but this has what I'm looking for at this very moment in time. In twenty-one years in the hobby, this is only my 3rd logging program. I can only hope that this will be my last but I thought that with LogPlus V4. Either way, I'm converted and logging once again, learning something new that will help me track my thousands of contacts I make each and every year. When I have to pay for a program, I do expect a certain level of support and updates. But when I found that HRD was free and you still get all the advantages and updates, that's another selling point. Again, I donated money to the author and if updates keep rolling out, I'm sure it won't be my last donation. I will support it as long as it supports me.

***** UPDATE *****

Sean, KL1SF assisted me with doing a bit of renaming fields in the ADIF file I exported from my old log and with that, my custom fields in HRD now keep that data that I wanted.