Sunday, January 29, 2012

That's Just Cold!

January 2012 Monthly Temps at KL8DX - KL8SU's QTH
2012 has started off with some pretty cold temperatures. Alaska has been breaking lots of weather related records this year. This includes total snowfall and of course the bitter cold. Due to our somewhat elevated location, we don't see the deadly cold temperatures that some due around us. It's hard to believe what even a 1,000 feet of elevation will do for temperatures. With that said, since we are above and south of the town of Healy, they see some bitter cold temperatures there. When Sean, KL1SF lived in Healy, I could always check his weather station and it was not uncommon for his station to be showing 10-18 degrees colder than ours. There is truth to that rumor that cold air sinks. We have had been under the influence of high pressure here in the interior that has kept us clear and cold. The downside of this is the cost of heating our igloo and keeping the lights on. I know, in a previous blog or two I was complaining about the wind. Truth be know, I will take the cold over the wind any day. I don't have to worry about the cold blowing my tower over.

Even though Alaska is one of those oil rich states, our fuel costs here are some of the highest in the country. We use heating oil to heat our house and garage. We also use propane for our stove and hot water heater. Propane is delivered out of Fairbanks, which is 2 hours north of our location. Heating oil is delivered from a company in Nenana, which is an hour north of here. We received deliveries this last week and propane was $4.599 per gallon and heating oil was $4.215 per gallon. Propane can be a challenge as propane's boiling point is -44F. So anything colder than that, it will not make gas and our propane appliances won't function. Thankfully our heating oil blend keeps flowing at that and much colder temperatures.

Electricity is bittersweet here. When we lived in Ohio, it felt like any wind or storm would effect our power by knocking it out. Here in our part of Alaska, the infrastructure is outstanding. As an example, we receive wind gusts exceeding 60 mph here on a regular basis and the power does not even blink! The downside to this is our current price (which just went up in January) is that we pay $0.2366 per KWH.  

In looking at our weather station data above, the difference between the high and low January temperature shows 78.7 degrees. Our high temperature was just a few degrees above freezing. So needless to say, when our temperatures are this cold for this long, it has a lasting effect on the wallet. Fixed costs are obviously a priority, so my amplifier, which is in dire need of repair, will not likely see use again until mid to late summer. Just to ship it back to the factory (one way) will be roughly $125.00 - $140.00.  I could have $300 invested even before the factory cracks the case.

Just like winter is tough on the budget, solar winds can be tough on the bands. Living so far north, geomagnetic activity can hamper signals dramatically. Lately, I have "tuned the bands" and not heard even one station in the evenings. It's been very hard to even work the daytime high bands with just 100 watts. Then factor in a few DXpeditions that are going on right now, I could really use the AMP for a bit more horsepower. But, every squirrel finds a nut someday, right?  I was excited to work VP6T on 15 meters a few nights ago. Thankfully once again, there is not much between them and me but open ocean. I still had to make it through the pile-up and I was excited to hear them come back to me! Determination pays off.

I had high hopes of working some QRP the last few weeks but the band conditions have made it rough to even work with 100 watts. But like the weather, better days are ahead. You gotta take the good with the bad. Just like living here in Alaska,it's still worth every penny. I'm thankful that we (my wife and I) have jobs in today's economy but I'd much rather be living paycheck to paycheck in Alaska than on easy street in some place and I did not want to live. I know that this lack of propagation will end before long and I will once again hear strong signals on 10 meters. When we lived in Ohio, I could normally find activity on some band during the day or evening hours. But, it's worth a few propagationally challenged days to live here in Alaska. Even when I open up that large heating bill or tune the bands and not hear one station, I just remind myself of how lucky I am to live and play here in Alaska. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Uploading The Past Part Deux

KE8RO/KL7 LOTW Confirmations
As I had mentioned in my previous blog entry, I was on the hunt for my .adif file that would allow me to upload my 2002 QSO's from Alaska. Thanks to Sean, KL1SF for lending me access to his fine equipment! I was not sure if I signed /KL7 as a prefix or suffix and I obviously sent it as a suffix. So, after getting my file created, it was a matter of uploading the contacts and the confirmations are seen to the left. I was pleasantly surprised to see my friend Andy, VE9DX as one of my confirmations! So my quest to upload my previous logs has been completed. I have enough certificates now that I have to carefully pick the correct one when uploading my current logs. Not that painful of a process and extremely quick response back from LOTW (Logbook Of The World) and the ARRL. 

I have been working on logging all of my already confirmed counties from received QSL cards. I'm nearly through my current on hand batch of QSL's and then I will dive into my previous callsigns to see what I have confirmed. I've easily hit the 500 + confirmed mark but with well over 3,000 counties in the United States, I have a long way to go! But, ya gotta start somewhere, right? It just took a little nudge from Ed, K8QWY to get me organizing my files.

I received all of my ordered parts from Powerwerx so I'm ready to get started on my mobile installation of both my UHF/VHF and HF rigs. I'm looking forward to getting back on mobile APRS again. My last broadcast from the mobile was at the Ford dealership in Fairbanks, Alaska the day that we traded our F-150 in for our current truck. 

Since the current geomagnetic activity has rendered the bands useless as of this writing, I'm working on catching up on a few QSL requests and some backing up of logbooks and data.  On our trip home from Fairbanks today we got to see the sun in all its glory! So glad to see the fireball in the sky making a return. It will be many more weeks before the sun will be warm enough to melt anything up here but just knowing it's returning cannot help but put a smile on any Alaskan's face.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Uploading The Past

KE8RO/TF from 1997 & 1998
I recently was doing some computer work on the "family" computer and located some of my old .ADIF files from previous logbooks. Once I found these, I noticed I had logs exported from my previous Icelandic operations and also my visit to Alaska in 2002 operation. It was great that I got to experience both of these operations with my long time friend (hell, my almost brother) Sean, KL1SF. Our operation was from Keflavik, Iceland and my Alaska operation when I was a tourist, was from Healy, which is north of where I now reside.

With that said, I renewed my previous callsign first, KE8RO using TQSLcert with LOTW (Logbook Of The World). Once that was renewed, I then applied for my new TF (Iceland) operation under my KE8RO callsign using TQSLcert (TQ5). I submitted my request prior to heading to bed and it was waiting in my inbox the next morning! So, it took a bit of tweaking to my .adif file but after uploading, I had these QSO's (contacts) confirmed (see photo above)! Not bad considering the age of the QSO's. I uploaded a total of 278 contacts.

I'm happy that these contacts will now be preserved and hopefully this inspires some to upload their old logs. You just never know what's sitting there awaiting a confirmation. My only issue now is finding my KL7/KE8RO .adif file! That one has gone missing but I may have some software that can pull it out of one of my old logbooks which did not export .adif files. Either way, I'm on a quest to get those contacts uploaded next.

We just had another Chinook blow through with wind gusts exceeding 60 mph here at our QTH (location). On the backside of this system is the snow, which we are receiving now. I normally crank my beam down from it's normal 43 foot height but this wind was originally forecasted to gust only 40 mph and once it was upgraded, it was too late for me to safely lower the antenna. But, it appears all elevated metal came through with flying colors, thankfully! Many have commented about seeing the snow that some parts of Alaska has recently received, such as in Valdez and Cordova. We don't even get close to that type of snow amounts here and in seeing the pictures, it's just unbelievable what that amount of snow looks like! I'm wishing all the best to my ham friends (and fellow Alaskan's) effected by such crazy weather! I complain about the weather here from time to time but really, I can't complain when I see what others in this great state experience. Winds exceeding 100+ mph and unbelievable amounts of snow!

Last weekend I participated in the SKCC Weekend Sprintathon as K3Y/KL7. I enjoyed exercising my Navy Flameproof Straight Key and passing out the K3Y and Alaskan multiplier. I was also impressed with the number of QRP stations I worked! Being a QRP (low power) operator, I always try to pause for those low power friends. When the high bands are in good shape, great things are possible with QRP. I will try to sign up for a few more stints as time allows. Oh, and I also got my brand new Yaesu FT-857D hooked up and a straight key wired for it (J-37 thanks to Larry, N1TX) and I'm looking forward to my first CW QSO with it. Not sure yet who will be my first CW victim but I have someone in mind. My first SSB contact will be with (of course) KL1SF/K7, in AZ. It will be short lived in the shack as it will eventually find a home in our truck.

I've been working on some recently received QSL requests and I need to decide on my next photo QSL card. I have used photos I have taken during my travels here in Denali National Park for all of my photo QSL cards to date. I change up my cards for each order, using a different photograph. Just gotta make up my mind as I'm nearly out but I do have a very nice stack of QSL cards from gg Graphics that I plan on putting to good use. Great service and very nice cards. I have 1,000 of them so chances are, if you work me, you may just get one if you QSL via the bureau. Since photo cards are a bit more expensive, I normally use them for direct requests and I have a second design for my thousands of requests I get via the ARRL QSL Bureau.

I have a busy weekend planned but I hope to do some operating in the NAQP CW Contest. I won't be able to operate the entire time but hopefully I can put a few of my Twitter followers in the ol logbook. Oh, and yes contesters, Alaska is a state in this contest!! Yea I know, it can be confusing at times, even to us...

Monday, January 2, 2012

Looking In the Rearview and my 2012 Theme - Doing More With Less?

In looking at the last few years of my activity, I can see that 2011 was a more active year than the previous year by just about 50%! I think the main driving force behind this is the great propagation experienced on the high bands. Once 10 meters began to open on a regular basis, it was like comparing the few over the air TV channels we get to satellite TV. It just made me sit back in amazement! I would dedicate hours playing on 10 meters, the band that has been so silent for so long. 2011 was all about 10, numerically speaking. The fantastic 10 meter activity led to my inactivity in other areas. My doctor keeps telling me I need to be more active and I took her advice! I made twice as many contacts in 2011 as I did in 2010! Something tells me that is not what she had in mind.

When I sit back and think if there was one moment that stood out amongst all the rest, I can't think of just one. So many great contests, several great DXpeditions worked, lots of repeat QSO's with friends from all over the globe. If there was one DXpedition that stood out I would probably have to say it was T32C. A group of fantastic operators who made lots of DX'ers happy all over the world. In recent years, there have been several "class acts" when it comes to DXpeditions and T32C is right there at the top in my book. Oh, and I'm running out of all space for framed certificates received from contest efforts. I have a small station and remember, you can't win if you don't enter! Send in those logs! I will at least send in a checklog unless of course I totally space sending a log in. It happens.

And in speaking of sending in logs, how bout that LOTW overload which began with what, CQ World Wide SSB? Now if that is not a sign of hot propagation, I don't know what is. I for one am a firm believer in electronic QSL's, specifically LOTW. With another postage increase in our future, I could not afford QSL'ing on my tight budget. I'm thankful these electronic services are available and the only cost is perks or award submissions.

And 2011 saw, what seemed to me, so many references to the DX Code Of Conduct. A good thing yes, especially if an operator takes these to heart. I have them now sitting next to my HF radio and reference them often. If anyone has been on the receiving side of a pile-up, they can appreciate them! Do yourself a favor, if you have not reviewed the DX Code Of Conduct, please do so. Just imagine how civilized the pile-ups would be if everyone followed them! Will that day ever come? I'm not holding my breath but I also want world peace.

2011 to me also saw myself becoming familiar with spots from W3LPL. I only wished I had half the receiving power of that station! You can run but you can't hide! I have run for nearly an hour without being spotted on the "packet cluster" (dating myself), prior to W3LPL. Now when you call CQ, you need to fasten your seatbelt and hang on. The pile-ups can be instantaneous. Yes, Skimmer has been with us for awhile but now DX spots feed directly into the web cluster and it's amazing how quickly you get posted when calling CQ. Depending who you talk to, this is either a bad thing or a good thing. One of the neat ways I like to use this technology is by typing my callsign in the  Reverse Beacon Network and this will tell me where and how well I'm being heard after calling CQ. Or even after being on the air in a QSO. I've been in this hobby for 23 years and the advancements I have seen just in my time are crazy. You can now look at a radio and see any activity on a band thanks to a spectrum scope! I no longer have to tune the band by turning my VFO looking for stations! I can just look at my spectrum scope and see it visually! The spectrum scope did for ham radio what remote control did for the television...well, kinda maybe?!

In sticking with my theme (aka: New Years Resolution) as I like to think of it ( maybe if I refer to it as a theme, I may stick to the plan?) I plan on doing something which to me, is as hard as the day I quit smoking. Do less ham radio. I want to focus on high activity times and spend less average operational time in the shack. Seems we are hearing that all the time these days, "Doing more with Less." So, I will try to make more contacts but with less time in the shack. Probably with contests and weekend activities. I figure I can accomplish this theme if I limit my "during the week" shack time. Something I'm sure my family may appreciate and if I actually do something with that time. The fruits of my labor may pay off in more ways than one. Until they come out with the ham radio patch, it's an addiction I find hard to walk away from without having side effects or withdrawal.

Trends or fads are a fact of life. I always wonder how there is still a market for TNC's when we have sound cards which come with most computers and not to mention new TNC's bring some serious coin! In today's economy, how is there a market for a $10,000 radio or a $5,000 dollar antenna? Cell phones are no longer cell phones and these funny square boxes keep showing up all over the place which tell our cell phones were to go! Go ahead, click on this one, I know you want to just to see where it takes you! If you don't know what this is, don't worry as you probably lead a simpler life and I'm envious. Just like the hair styles of the 80's, these will probably be a thing of the past in a few years. But wait, look how many things we grew up with that are making a come back!

So, I'm not sure if my ham radio diet will be successful but a leaner and more productive station is the plan. There were times I was thankful when I turned the radio on and heard nothing but static. It allowed me to give a large sigh and go do something that needed to be done around the house. But now I turn on the radio and I hear stuff on 10 meters, so it's so tough to just say no and walk away! I'm still trying to get it in my mind that we are already in 2012 and I'm writing about my 2011 reflections. But hold the phone!!!! The end of the world is 12/12/12, right? Or according to some anyhow. Forget it, I'm gonna play radio as much as possible! Come on sunspots, let's see days when 10 meters is open all day and all night long! I want to enjoy this great propagation as much as possible! If you lead this camel to water, it will drink! Pour me a glass of rare DX and I will sip it all night long! The sweet taste of DX success.

Ham radio, like a fine wine, is good in moderation. I've been DX drunk thanks to 10 meters for the last few months and I have enjoyed every opening. I appreciate all who read this blog and for those ham operators out there, I honestly hope that 2012 is a DX successful year for you. May your country (Entity) count increase twofold and may your bureau envelopes be bursting at the seams. I hope your LOTW and E-QSL totals climb each and every time you log into your account. Let's hope that your neighbors decide to do the right thing and donate their HDTV's to third world countries and replace them with LED and RFI friendly versions. Yeah, okay...remember what I said about world peace? I'm not giving up hope.

Happy New Year and all kidding aside, I hope it's one for your record books. I'm not sure if we will experience an all night 10 meter opening but if so, I'm crashing my ham radio diet. Until we can control propagation, I gotta do what I gotta do. I wonder if there is an app for that?