Wednesday, December 29, 2010

QSL Bureau

Yesterday I found a nice surprise waiting for me in the mailbox.  These QSL cards are the first ever batch of DX confirmations received at KD8JHJ via the QSL Bureau service.  The majority of these contacts I made during my first year as an amateur radio operator.

19/05/09   UR5ZEP          Ukraine                       14 MHz  CW
06/03/09   EB7ABJ          Spain                            14 MHz  PSK-31
01/11/09    EA7ACU         Spain                             7 MHz  PSK-31
21/11/09    PE0TS              The Netherlands     21 MHz  PSK-31
09/04/09   DL6KVP/p    Germany                    14 MHz  PSK-31
07/02/09   DD3FS            Germany                       7 MHz  PSK-31
24/10/09    DL8SDS         Germany                      21 MHz  CW
12/02/09    TG9AHM      Guatemala                    7 MHz  PSK-31
02/01/10    EA1EVA        Spain                            14 MHz  CW
23/01/10    HB9AAA       Switzerland                14 MHz  Feld Hell

QSL Bureaus are volunteer staffed organizations found in most countries that allow amateur radio.  The bureau system allows hams around the world to exchange QSL cards for a minimum postage cost.  The more avid the DX'er or card collector the more beneficial this system becomes.  

In 2009 after I began digital operations at KD8JHJ and had accumulated a dozen or so DX contacts in my log I filled out QSL cards for each foreign station I had worked.  I then sent the cards all together in one envelope to the out going bureau at ARRL headquarters in Newington, CT.  My cards were sorted by country and shipped in bulk with other QSL cards.  Once the bulk shipment is received by the Foreign bureau the cards are sorted again by callsign and delivered to the individual operators.

Here in America the incoming bureaus are divided up based on callsign areas.  Callsign areas are designated by the numeral that appears in all callsigns.  I had previously sent my QSL manager a half dozen stamped, self addressed envelopes to keep on file.  Once the bureau had received a dozen cards from foreign hams confirming contact with my station the QSLs were packaged up and mailed in one envelope.  Obviously saving me a bundle in postage.  The only caveat to using the bureau is the one to two year lead time as the cards work their way through the system.

The QSL Bureau is an ingeniously devised system and another unique facet of my favorite hobby- amateur radio.         

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

SKCC December Straight Key Sprint

Yesterday morning I surfed over to the SKCC website and noticed that the SKS was scheduled to happen later that evening.  I'm glad I looked or I probably would have missed the sprint entirely.  The SKS is a bit of a different animal than the more relaxed Week End Sprint that offers a whole 24 hour period to make contacts.  Until recently I have not participated in very many of the 2 hour sprints because the speeds are much faster than I am used to.  Many of the regular sprinters use bug keys and now that I have some experience under my belt I am beginning to enjoy the faster pace.  I stayed on 80 meters (3.5 MHz) for the whole event and used my Vibroplex Original bug and 75 watts of power. 

December SKS 80 meter (3.5MHz) Log

3.547     WT2W          New York
3.553     KB4QQJ       North Carolina
3.554     K8IJ              Kentucky
3.551     N2JNZ          New York
3.551     W8WTS        Ohio
3.549     W2AGW       New Jersey
3.549     N8BB            Michigan
3.547     NE0S            Missouri
3.550     K0LUW        Nebraska
3.552     K0RWL        Missouri

Although I am always meeting new club members during the sprints one of the most interesting aspects of contesting is working some of the regular stations and observing how propagation affects familiar signals from one event to the next.   For example I heard Randy KB4QQJ calling from North Carolina and he was loud.  I remember thinking to myself he must be at his club station using 100 watts or an amplifier maybe.  Randy is a hard core QRP operator usually running five watts or less.  After reading Randy's soapbox comments after the sprint I was amazed to discover he was running only 1 watt!  In contrast,  Werner N8BB, another QRP'er in Michigan whose 1 watt is usually perfectly readable here in Ohio was so low down in the noise that the only way I recognized him was by the sound of his unusual call sign.

My ten contacts put me at about the middle of the pack out of 79 entries in the contest.  As I have mentioned before I don't concern myself  much with my score I just enjoy the fast pace QSOs and handing out some points in the events that the club organizers work hard to put on each month. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Cross Country Skiing

Colder than usual temperatures have kept the 5 inches of snow that fell over the past week loose and powdery.  Midday Sunday I was able to get away for a couple hours on my back country skis.  When it's too cold to ride my bike I break out my skis, poles and boots and head outside for some winter recreation as I have done for the past couple decades.  The best way to avoid cabin fever I have found is to stay out of the cabin.

I learned how to alpine ski in Loveland, Colorado in 1990.  During the next three years while in the military I had the good fortune to ski down mountains in Montana, Idaho and eastern Washington state.  During that time I also learned about and enjoyed cross country skiing.  Through the Air Force MWR,  or Moral, Welfare and Recreation we could rent our equipment and hit the slopes. A full day lift ticket could be had for eight dollars for the nearby Mt. Spokane ski area, about a 45 minute drive from my Base.  After my military service I moved back to Ohio and knew I would pretty much have to give up downhill skiing.  There are a few ski hills around the state but elevations are measured in hundreds of feet instead of by the thousands like out west.  So for me it's just not worth it. 

However once back in Ohio I knew I could still have fun in the snow with boards strapped to my feet.  I did some research and settled on a type of ski called a back country ski.  These are a bit wider than the typical cross country ski and have a sturdy binding system.  The increased width, while making the skis slower, provide more stability off  groomed trails.  Think of them as the mountain bike of the skiing world.  I bought the back country versions without the steel blades mainly to save weight.  With a general lack of hills I did not think the bladed versions would be worth the extra cost and weight.  Without the blades it is much harder to carve turns telemark style but that opportunity doesn't present itself much in the places I ski.  The one time I wish I did have bladed skis is when I am traversing rugged wooded  country.  Often skiing through the woods one is crossing sticks and logs of all sizes and it would be nice to have the extra bite of the steel blades.

The place in the photographs is a park only five minutes from my home.  This area has a nice mix of wooded terrain and grassy fields.  I easily spent two hours and did not ski all the area available.  I was lucky enough to be the first person to put down tracks this year so that was rewarding.  I usually follow someone else's grooves when I happen upon them.  Cross country skiing is a great way to skip out on the gym yet still augment my winter fitness.  What I like most is the fact that after the initial expense of purchasing my gear 12 years ago I have not had to spend another dime.  After the first ten minutes or so I am fully warm and able to enjoy the peaceful beauty of the frozen landscape and the rhythmic swish, swish, swish of my skis through the powder.    

Friday, December 17, 2010

Vibroplex Iambic Standard

Santa Claus was correct in assuming it was high time for a set of iambic paddles at KD8JHJ.  This Vibroplex Iambic Standard I recently received from Universal Radio in Reynoldsburg, Ohio per Santa's directive.  This handsome key is of the latest production from Vibroplex under the new owner Scott Robbins, W4PA who moved the company to Knoxville, Tennessee earlier this year.  Remember Santa and the elves are very busy this time of year so he delegates gift procurement for us older kids to his trusted subcontractors and retail establishment.

Vibroplex began producing iambic paddles around 1978 after electronic keyers had become all the rage among radio amateurs.  As is the practice of Vibroplex The familiar yoke assembly was carried over from the bug line displaying the lineage of the Vibroplex family tree.  Unlike Vibroplex's Vibrokeyer,  with the iambic I believe the company really nailed the concept of what a dual lever key design should be.  The Vibrokeyer developed a decade earlier is basically a shortened bug key without the spring steel pendulum and the lever has the looser and more sloppy feel characteristic of the bug keys.   The iambic key differs mainly because of it's dual levers and it's symmetrical design.  By nature of it's use as a speed key I believe an iambic paddle must be a very precise mechanism.  The two identical levers each riding solidly on it's own trunnion provide the needed precision to allow for tight clearances of the electrical contacts and a crisp feel at the finger pieces.

The "iambic" title refers to the method of keying also known as "squeeze keying" that developed as electronic keyer circuits were invented and put into use.  I do not use the iambic technique but simple push left with my thumb for dots on one lever and push the other lever with my index finger for dashes.  Very much like when operating my bug key.  For a detailed analysis of iambic keying please read the article "Iambic Keying - Debunking the Myth" by Marshall G. Emm, N1FN who is very knowledgeable in the subject of Morse code and radio telegraphy.

My first on the air contact using the new Vibroplex Iambic Paddles  was Rick, W2QJH from Watertown, New York.  We had a great QSO for nearly 45 minutes exchanging our club numbers and general shooting of the breeze.  This was our second contact this year, the first being back in May.             

Monday, December 13, 2010

News from A.R.S KD8JHJ

Photo by LeeAnn

This is what it looked like outside this weekend after the first major winter storm of the season past through.  I stayed warm inside and played ham radio.  On Saturday the Feld Hell Club celebrated the birthday of Rudolph Hell with the annual 24 hour Feld Hell Sprint.  Here's a list of  9 contacts I made during the event.  Not terribly impressive but one more than last month's tally.

Green-  3.5 MHz   (80 meters)
Blue-   7 MHz   (40 meters)
Red-   14 MHz   (20 meters)

3.573     K3QIA              Pennsylvania
3.571     KI4UKF            North Carolina
7.077     K0PFX              Missouri
7.077     WA2HOM        Michigan
7.078     W8LEW/qrp     Michigan
14.062   N7ESU             Idaho
14.062   KZ1Z                Florida
14.064   NX8G/5            Louisiana
3.584     WF7T               Tennessee
Straight Key Century Club Week End Sprint

Saturday evening the SKCC Week End Sprint started but we went out to dinner as a family to enjoy some Mexican food.  We got home late but I did head down to the shack to listen for a bit and see what was happening.  I heard a few stations on 80 meters calling the familiar CQ WES in Morse code.  I was tired and called it a night looking forward to getting up early and giving it a go on CW.

Amateur radio is full of awards and distinctions if one is so inclined to pursue these goals and the Straight Key Century Club is no exception.  The first certificate one can earn in the SKCC is the "Centurion" award.  Once an operator has contacted 100 club members and exchanged name, QTH (state/province/country) and SKCC member number he or she submits this log to the club's awards administrator.  Upon approval the operator amends their SKCC number by adding a "C" at the end. 

Once an operator has earned Centurion status he is worth an extra five points to any club member worked during the sprints.  The freshly minted Centurion now begins to compile a new log by attempting to contact other Centurions and Tribune members on the air.  Basic members don't count towards the Tribune award so it becomes a more difficult endeavor to attain Tribune status.  Once the Centurion has a list of 50 different C's and T's the award application process is repeated.  A Tribune member is worth 10 extra points to any member contacted during a sprint.  These bonus points are the incentive for complying with the paperwork aspect of the awards process.

After a year as a Centurion I finally got my Tribune award.  My SKCC number is now 4877T and this was my first sprint participation as a Tribune.  I was very happy to pass out the extra points.  The SKCC member list is up to 7,356 members and of this number I am only the 357th club member to apply for and receive the Tribune award. 

KD8JHJ Sprint Log  SKCC WES:

7.055    K8WSN              Michigan
7.050    W9DLN              Wisconsin
7.049    K0LWV              Missouri
7.050    K8KIC                Michigan
7.115    N8KZH               West Virginia
7.056    W9HLY              Indiana
7.056    WA8BIJ             Michigan
7.051    WA1AR             Massachusetts
7.051    WA2JSG            New Jersey
7.051    AA9KH              Illinois
7.051    VE3WMB          Ontario, Canada
7.051    N3EIN                Pennsylvania
7.112    VE3AKV            Ontario, Canada
7.111    N8BB                 Michigan
7.114    KU8L                 Michigan
14.053  W7GVE             Arizona
7.112    W4FOA             Georgia
7.054    KB2RAW          New York
3.554    W3NP                Pennsylvania
3.554    W4TMW           Georgia

Not a big log but still lots of fun working the stations with my NT9K Pro Pump straight key and Vibroplex Original bug.    

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Postage Stamp with Bicycle Racers

A cool stamp with vintage bicycle art.

When I was a kid I collected postage stamps.  I was never too serious and eventually moved on to other things.  However I did manage to hold on to this collection over the years and will eventually hand it over to my son if he is interested.  The other day I stumbled upon the stamps and by chance I noticed this one in a large envelope containing a thousand or more loose stamps from around the world.   

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Homebrew Antenna Update from A.R.S. KD8JHJ

Things are progressing slow but sure on my first ever homebrew amateur radio antenna project.  I documented this project earlier in a couple posts that can be found here and here.

I've constructed the sleeves that connect the two sections of the main mast and also made the fiberglass insulator that separates the main mast from the top mast.  This fiberglass section also acts as a coil form on which I wound the loading coil from 20 turns of #16 magnet wire.

I drilled an extra set of holes in the fiberglass tubes so that I could wind a coil with more turns for a lower frequency in the future.  Once the coil checks out and no further adjustments are needed I will cover the loading coil with shrink tube and silicon to protect it from damage once in use. 

Loading coil for 40 meters (7 MHz)