Sunday, January 29, 2012

Skiing with Wyatt

We had about five inches of fresh snow on the ground a week ago but it all melted away in the last few days.  Everyone I talk to says this is the mildest winter they can remember.  I've been around 41 years and this is the highest average temperatures I've seen in winter in Ohio.  Saturday was crisp and clear but very windy so we decided to stay close to home and go for a winter hike and save the skiing for Sunday.  Skies were clear and sunny again on our way to the ski area and while we were on the hill we watched a snow squall move in from the West.   

Down in the valley you can see grass.  Not the typical January in North Central Ohio.

Today was Wyatt's third time out and I am very proud of him.  He rode the highest lift in the ski area and skied down the main run "Mt Mansfield" named after the nearby town.  Sharing this time with my son and watching him learn a new skill has been awesome and something I won't soon forget.

We have a family trip planned in a few weeks to Pennsylvania to ski on a bigger hill yet so after today I think Wyatt is right on track to take it to the next level.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Winter Hike

This afternoon Wyatt and I went for a winter hike.  Windy and cold but beautiful.

Friday, January 27, 2012

War is Hell Boys!

I was checking out the blog of my friend phattire who was reminiscing about those little green army men we all played with as kids.  His macro version of Hamburger Hill reminded me of some fun my son and I had with a few of his green soldiers last summer.  We didn't tell these troops they were expendible but did hint around that the action might get a bit hot.

The brave souls held their line and army man shape for a suprisingly long time before transforming into gooey lumps.  Getting these macro shots from only five or six inches away was nearly too close for comfort.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Special Event Station W0CS

Special event stations on amateur radio all have one thing in common and that is to celebrate a unique person, place or thing.  A special event station can be a single operator working low power (QRP) or a club station working multiple bands and modes.  Events can be a one day affair or month long or longer marathons.  I like making contact with special event stations and always enjoy reading about the event's purpose.  Working these stations is yet another way to learn something new using amateur radio besides the usual name, QTH and signal report exchanged between hams over the air.
I received this QSL card the other day from a successful CW contact on the 7th of January.  The 28th Annual Bald Eagle Watch was presented by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Clinton Community College of Clinton Iowa.  Naturalists and volunteers set up at Lock #13 along the Upper Mississippi River complete with spotting scopes to aid the public in viewing the bald eagles.  The Clinton Amateur Radio Club ran their event in tandem with the viewing as a great way to spread the word.

From the information page included with my QSL card:

"The American Bald Eagle visits the Upper Mississippi River and National Wildlife & Fish Refuge lands each year from late fall through early spring.  As many as 2500 bald eagles winter along the Upper Mississippi River from St. Paul, MN to St. Louis, MO.

Did you Know?

That our national emblem was threatened with extinction in the lower 48 states because of DDT (a type of pesticide) poisoning.  Protection under the endangered Species Act, together with reintroduction programs, brought populations up, and the species was reclassified as Threatened in 1995 and they were delisted in June 2007- a true conservation success story.

There are eagles all over the world, but the American Bald Eagle only lives on the North American Continent.  The Bald Eagle is not bald it develops white head and tail feathers around the age of four or five.  They stand a height of 2-1/2 to 3 feet tall and weight about 10-14 pounds.  Their wingspan is 6-8 feet. 

Opportunistic feeder, but prefers fish.  Eats large birds, mammals, and carrion.

Engages in spectacular flight displays.  In the Cartwheel Display, a courting pair flies to high altitude, locks feet together, and then tumbles and cartwheels toward the ground, breaking off at the last moment."

Monday, January 16, 2012

Wyatt's First Ski Trip

Here in Ohio we have ski hills.  I've come to the conclusion that a ski "hill" is better than no hill. And to an eleven year old out for the first time on skis it may as well be a mountain.  Now that winter has finally decided to show it's face we geared up and took a short half hour drive east to Snow Trails for some family fun on the slopes.

Sharing new experiences with a child is one of the greatest rewards in parenting.  Seeing the excitement in his face after making a few slow and easy turns and arriving at the bottom of the practice hill without crashing is something money can't buy.  

About four inches of snow recently fell and temperatures dropped sufficiently enough to allow the snow machines to make additional white stuff.  Here it is half way through January and all the runs are finally open.  The temperature topped out at 27 degrees F during our visit keeping conditions near perfect.

We rode up the ski carpet on the practice hill several times before venturing onto the lift. Wyatt was nervous but he made it to the top with a successful dismount by his mom's side.  Because LeeAnn has experience teaching I kept my mouth shut and let her play the part of ski instructor.  After a couple hours Wyatt mastered the snow plow and was starting to get a grasp on changing directions.  He took some spills of course but we all did when learning the ropes of this wintertime sport.  I look forward to watching his skills ramp up on our next trips to the hill.

Much bigger hills lie to the East in New York, West Virginia and PA all within a four hour drive. Traveling to those ski areas almost certainly requires an overnight stay and additional travel expenses so my wife and I consider ourselves lucky to have a place just a short drive from home where we can at least carve a few turns.

Friday, January 13, 2012

CW The Mode of Craftsmanship

Tom Bruzan, author of the blog The Radiotelegrapher posted a great piece yesterday in which he talked about the current state of affairs in amateur radio and specifically CW (Morse Code radiotelegraphy).  One statement really hit home with me:

"CW gives the operator not just the chance to buy something, but the chance to be something. CW is the mode of craftsmanship."

CW is the mode of craftsmanship.  I love that expression and I hope Tom doesn't mind my borrowing it as it reflects so much better what I wanted to say in this post than anything I could come up with.  Radiotelegraphy is really a two part skill set.  Copying or deciphering the received code either in ones head or by transcribing it to words onto a piece of paper is one part and sending the code via a telegraph key is the other.

It's the sending part of the equation that I want to talk about in this post.  A telegraph key in it's most basic form is nothing more than a simple switch.  It is also an instrument and a tool.  As  a woodworking enthusiast, guitar player and bike mechanic I have a deep appreciation for tools and those skilled in their use. 

In the past three years I have spent countless hours practicing the sending aspect of Morse Code.  Amateur radio transceivers have a feature called "side tone" when the rig is placed in CW mode.  Side tone allows the operator to press the key or paddle causing the radio to emit an audible beep while not actually transmitting a CW signal to the antenna system.  I like the side tone feature and always spend a few minutes "warming up" before going on the air to make contacts.  Often I don't plan on transmitting but simply enjoy practicing my sending skills with my various keys.  I flip through a magazine and send the article titles or text from advertisements or simply key the random thoughts off the top of my head.  I find these drills relaxing and even fun.  Herein lies the parallel to the musician or mechanic.  The more one practices with one's tools the greater the proficiency achieved.


Developing a CW fist.

The term "fist" originated back in the days of land line telegraphy over a hundred years ago.  In those days the straight key was king and each component of each character (dots and dashes) had to be formed by hand.  Over time it was found that operators developed distinct sending styles that were unique to the individual.  This signature sound became known as one's fist.  At first I took this notion with a grain of salt.  The CW bands sounded like a cacophony of random senseless beeping but now after a few years of experience I can easily pick out the individual fists as I scan across the band.  It is said that back in the day an astute operator could identify another before he sent his call sign just by the sound of his fist.

Today paddles and electronic keyers are widely used in amateur radio.  An electronic keyer forms perfect dots and dashes which removes much of the "slop factor" out of sending and has somewhat diminished the uniqueness of fists encountered on the airwaves.  At my station I use and practice with straight keys, semi-automatic bug and paddle/keyer configurations simply because I love them all.  Using the paddles and keyer on side tone allows me to hear the characters as they are supposed to sound.  This reinforces the proper character sound into my head so once I'm on the straight key or bug I can more accurately emulate proper code into my sending.

CW skill cannot be bought at the ham radio store.  Practice and use are the only way.  To me CW is like a hobby within a hobby and I am immensely proud of my accomplishments so far with radio's original mode.

Following is a scan of a transcription of copy I received while in radio contact with amateur station N2OH.  I've highlighted in orange some unsolicited positive feedback from Larry I was pleased to hear.  The text shown is all from the other station as my part of the conversation was direct from my brain to the key.

Larry "tail-ended" the QSO I was having with another station on that particular evening.  This means he waited until I had signed off with the other station and then quickly called me by my call sign.  I've developed a theory as to why stations tail-end.  While "copying the mail" or eavesdropping party line style the listening op hears that one of the stations has a pleasant fist or a strong signal or both and initiates a contact. So unless I have some dire emergency to attend to I always welcome QSOs with tail-enders.  Almost always a nice contact will ensue.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

News from A.R.S. W8MDE

Vibroplex Original Standard Bug

I've spent the last few weeks fairly radio-active putting the new Vibroplex Vibrocube through it's paces. Well at least all the pace my 16 - 18 word per minute CW skills allow.   With work and chores around the house to share in I don't have much extra time to devote to amateur radio but I steal away for some on air fun whenever possible.  

Saturday morning while tuning the bands I came upon a special event station in Iowa working CW.  I made contact and got him in the log.  My QSL card is in route as I type this and I'll post the details once I receive the special event card in return.

Later that evening at 00:01UTC the Straight Key Century Club monthly Week End Sprint got underway and I settled in to make some contacts using my straight keys and Vibroplex Original bug.  I worked my way down from 20 meters (14 MHz) through 40 (7 MHz) and finally late at night I bounced back and forth between 40 and 80 meters (3.5 MHz).  I enjoy the SKCC sprints.  For one thing the code speeds range from a slow 10 wpm to a blistering 20 wpm at the most.  I alternate between the bug and straight key depending on the speed of the other operator.  As I have said before what makes the WES stand out among operating events is the spirit of camaraderie evident in the friendly and relaxed exchanges between members.

SKCC January 2012 Week End Sprint Log W8MDE

14.053    K7VMK    Washington State
7.118     K1LEE    Connecticut
7.117     WA1VIL    Massachusetts
7.111     N6CMF    California
7.109     K3Y/4    Alabama
3.550     W3NP    West Virginia
3.554     K1LEE    Connecticut*
3.550     K3Y/9    Wisconsin
3.551     N3GJ    Pennsylvania
3.556     WA1VIL    Massachusetts*
3.549     K4BAI    Georgia
3.546     N3JJT    Ohio
3.550     KI0I    Missouri
7.115     F6HKA  France
3.550     AA2FD    Virginia
7.116     W7GVE    Arizona
7.118     KE4WKH    Alabama
7.123     F5JWH    France
7.116     KD5JHE    Mississippi
14.059    K3Y/0    Minnesota
14.053    K3Y/1    Massachusetts
7.120     K8JD    Michigan
7.117     K4CML    Virginia
7.112     N9OL/qrp    Indiana
7.114     W9HLY    Indiana
7.116     WB8YXF    Virginia
7.116     WD9DWE    Indiana
7.114     NG1O    Missouri
3.550     WB8YXF    Virginia*
3.552     NW2K    New York
7.114     K4AOA    North Carolina

*Worked station on 2 different bands

It's January and for the SKCC that means time for the month long K3Y 6th Anniversary Special Event.  As noted above in my sprint log I have four K3Y stations and last night I worked a K3Y/3 in Pennsylvania bringing my total to five.

K3Y/4    Alabama
K3Y/9    Wisconsin
K3Y/0    Minnesota
K3Y/1    Massachusetts
K3Y/3    Pennsylvania

Last year I posted the details of this interesting operating event here.

Until next time 73, from W8MDE... Over and out!

Friday, January 6, 2012

First Commute of 2012

The inch of snow we received about a week ago is almost gone.  The temperature this morning was 35 F and with a forecast high of 50 degrees I decided to make good on my new years resolution and ride to work.  While I would like to see a foot of the white stuff on the ground so I can break out my cross-country skis I'm not going to complain about the mild temperatures here in Ohio.  The snow will return soon enough.