Monday, 27 February 2017

Guess Who's Turning 150?

In Canada this year and even more so, it seems, in the nation's capitol, Ottawa, we are celebrating 150 years as a nation.  Everything taking place in the city this year seems to be bigger and better because of this celebration but that's not what this post is about.  I had a brief QSO this evening on 30M with station W0N.  Apparently Nebraska is celebrating 150 years as a state this year...March 1st to be exact.

I heard the "CQ NE150" call from a member of the Lincoln Amateur Radio Club loud and clear on 10.129.  Since they were coming in 589 I made sure my power was down to 1 watt.  They came back to me right away with the standard 599.  I wonder what the real RST was.  I would have liked to drop to 1/2 watt just to see.  As it was, the contact was 1264 miles per watt from my inverted vee.  I was glad to work this special event station and I believe it was my first Nebraska QSO.  Even just 1 QSO in a sitting makes my day.

Cheers es 72/73 de Scott ve3vvf

Monday, 13 February 2017

A Great Read

I have to tell you about a book I have got to re-read.  If you like suspense, true crime and factual radio from the turn of the century (20th century, not 21st) you will really want to read Thunderstruck by Erik Larson.  This is the true story of Guglielmo Marconi and how he developed his version of the wireless.

The story follows him from his early years on through his trials and tribulations evolving wireless to a point where it was commercially practical.  It's extremely interesting to see the approach he took and the lessons he learned along the way.  Intertwined with the Marconi story is a true crime story from England of murderer Hawley Crippen and the two stories come together in an very exciting fashion.  The book is definitely worth the time as the story is captivating and extremely informative for we radio junkies.  The fact that it is true makes it all the more interesting.  You will not be disappointed with this read.  Here are the details:

We All Love Maps

Maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration but most hams I know are very fond of maps.  I would think it is because we all like to know where we are talking to and seeing new places we haven't heard of before but I know I love maps.  I used to have maps on the wall in my shack and then before too long they start to sag as the thumb tack holes in the corners stretch. Then you make a new hole with the tack and before you know it you have something that resembles a sieve and a saggy map to boot.

In my new shack I will be putting up 2 maps which I bought 2 years ago and have been sitting in the tube ever since.  I didn't want to ruin them as I have in the past but I also hadn't found a way to mount them that was inexpensive but effective.  I finally stumbled upon this post and now I think I am ready to mount these maps.  For the most part all you need is some rigid foam insulation (like the pink or blue type) large enough to mount the map on, some spray adhesive and some duct tape.  And it will take push pins if you so desire.  I'll post some pictures when I'm finished.  Hopefully the cats will let me do this without them "helping". :o)

Cheers es 72
de Scott ve3vvf

CW and its frustrations

I can only imagine what it must have been like back during the war when radio operators would sit for hours on end just receiving and recording Morse transmissions.  They would have had to be good at copying and also transcribing what they hear.   Fast code is something you will clearly get better at after hours of copying but writing the text, especially if it's encrypted and the characters do not form logical words.  I guess the OPs would have no choice but to get better hour after hour.  I do not know how fast code was transmitted back during then but no matter the speed the OPs would surely be capable of keeping up.

I would really like to start improving my copy speed to about 20 wpm or better.  I know with practice this will come but I do not operate often enough to just "get better".  Logically, plain language text is a lot easier to copy because your brain works to predict what word is being spelled and most common words come up more frequently.  The problem is that point where you cannot write fast enough to keep up with the transmission.  I can copy higher speed contest call signs after I hear them a time or two but I have difficulty in a standard QSO if anything "out of the ordinary" is causing me grief.  When I say "out of the ordinary" I really mean "ordinary" because QRM and QRN are there more often than not.  As well, an OP with strong swing or who runs his words all together with very little space between them is quite common and that messes me up every time.  Operators who do not slow down to my speed cause me grief and don't even get me started on all the abbreviations.  It seems there is always one to stump me.  All these things which occur regularly are the things I need to work on to improve.  Incidentally, here is a link to abbreviations and Q codes and more.

The real stumbling block, for me, is that transition from hearing the "letters" to hearing the "word".  I'm not sure at what point that "a-ha" moment will come but I'm pretty sure it is the key (no pun intended) to copying the faster OPs.  More on air time will help but practice with a code generator or listening to QOTD* podcasts at a higher speed is the thing that will put me over that line.

QOTD or Quote of the Day is a series of daily podcasts at various speeds of CW.  They are real language sayings converted into CW and last for a few minutes each.  You can subscribe to them with your Podcast player and they are delivered to you.  I really need to get back to those.  If you are interested in them you can search with your player or go here.

Cheers for now
es 72 de Scott ve3vvf

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Wind Is Not Our Friend

at least not if you're a minimalist QRP operator with wire antennas.  I have a couple dual band "Fan" style dipole antennas up and at this new QTH I have quickly discovered this winter that it is a very windy location being surrounded by farmer's fields.  A wire dipole in an inverted VEE set up is sensitive to position as far the angle of the legs goes.  Add to that the interaction between two sets of legs and the SWR can change continually as the wind blows.  When you operate QRP you tend to try and get away with smaller wire because you can since the power is so low.  The problem with that mindset is that when you are securing the wire legs you perhaps don't pull them as taught for fear of breaking them should the wind come up...especially if they are tied to a tree that will sway.   I made this mistake this past fall in setting my antennas for the winter.  One fan dipole for 20 and 40 was too flimsy and broke off on 2 different occasions at the center support.  A second antenna for 30 and 17 was constructed out of much more robust wire and a factory made 1:1 current balun.  Because of its robust construction I did not have the problem of breaking wires which is great but I did have the problem of the legs wrapping around each other in the wind.  This, of course, ruins the SWR and I had to go and fiddle with the legs.   Of course being winter it is not easy to tighten the ropes when one end goes down through the snow to a peg in the ground.  The solution I will employ this spring to avoid this problem is to offset the legs from being all in a straight line (north-south for example) to having one set of legs north-south and the second set of legs offset by 5 or 10 degrees.  This should eliminate them getting tangled up with each other.  I will replace my flimsy (read cheap) 20-40 fan dipole in the same fashion and hopefully have 4 bands I can use without interruption.

We are always in search of the best antennas or the simplest antennas.  I use tuned dipoles to avoid the bother of using a tuner which I chalk up to my minimalist ways.  I have one that I will use camping sometimes but it just seems like extra loss of QRP power when you can use a tuned antenna and avoid that problem.  I may be wrong there and feel free to set me straight.  I have also contemplated using ladder line to feed the dipoles as I have heard that it is a much better route to take due to low loss but then a balun comes into play and my coax run is quite short at less than 30' from my second floor window.  I'll still look into that as we are always trying to improve.  First order of business is to get that 20-40 antenna back up.  With the condx being so crappy lately I need all the options I can get.

That's all for now,
cheers es 72/73