Getting the Word Out

Friday evening, Mark W8FSA and I gave a demonstration of amateur radio to a group of Boy Scouts and their parents. I’d like to say that everything went perfectly, but of course it didn’t. Even so, I’d like to think that we did some good on Friday.

I carted my IC735 transceiver and power supply down to Lincoln High School, which was hosting the Boy Scouts. Mark brought his G5RV antenna. That worked out well enough, except that there was no place to really hang the antenna. Lincoln is a rather new high school, and none of the trees were very high.

About the only thing that we could do was string the antenna between two vans, but of course that meant that the antenna was only six feet off the ground. At that height, 20m was the only band that the antenna was usable on, and at 9:30 pm, the band was pretty dead. We weren’t able to make a single contact.

We were, however, able to show the kids the equipment and answer a bunch of questions. Also, just before I left for the high school, I found a new ARRL brochure aimed at kids. I downloaded it from the Web and printed a dozen copies. We distributed these, and the kids seemed very interested in them.

The fathers were also quite interested. Several of them took the brochures–on which I jotted down the URL of our website–and seemed interested in getting their licenses and attending our classes. We, of course, invited them to attend our meetings.

I think that we could and should do more of this kind of public outreach. Perhaps, giving a lecture to public service groups, such as the Kiwanis or Lions Clubs would be in order. The word is that the ARRL is coming out with a CD-ROM presentation that would be appropriate for showing at such meetings.

We also need to work on our demo station. It should be something that goes together quickly and can work in a number of different conditions. My transceiver would work just fine, but we need to come up with a more portable, multi-band antenna to accompany it.

Maybe this is something I can get our Technical Coordinator and Public Service Officer to work on. Hmmmmmm. :)

Callsigns I Should Have

Over the last couple of days, I worked two stations whose calls would be more appropriate for me, given my line of work:


Other calls that might be kind of cool for a web developer:


A Great Fist

In ham radio parlance, someone is said to have a “good fist” when they send code properly. Today, I worked a guy with a great fist — KB5AA.

It’s really a joy to work an operator with a good fist. You can concentrate on the message and not the code, and you can copy a lot faster, too, meaning more information flows in a shorter period of time.

I think the essence of a good fist is proper spacing, both of the character elements and of the characters and words themselves. Poor ops will “slur” characters together. You find yourself wondering, “Was that a ‘K’ or ‘NT’”? The problem is that ops who send like this make you think of the code and not the message. Once you’ve deciphered the code, you then have to read the message.

Proper spacing is also important for words. If you want the op at the other end to copy, “THE NEW,” for example, make sure to include a word space between the first E and the N. If you don’t do this, the op might copy your code as “THEN EW…”

It is also, of course, important to make as few mistakes as possible, but imho, proper spacing is more important. Just as a reader will automatically correct misspellings, so will an op correct missent characters as long as the characters themselves are sent properly. The reason for this is that the receiving op doesn’t have to decipher the characters you sent, but can instead concentrate on the message you’re trying to get across.

Would you like to recognize an op with a good fist? Just add a comment below. Tnx & 73!

Women Don’t Work CW

Of the 100 or so 20m CW contacts I’ve made since the beginning of the year, only one of them has been with a woman. And even that one’s questionable. The name I was given is “Toni,” and while that’s generally a nickname for Antonia, I can’t really be sure that Toni is a woman.

Here’s a breakdown:

  • 8 instances: Bill, Jim
  • 5 instances: Dick
  • 4 instances: Bob, John
  • 3 instances: Bruce, Dan, Dave, Doug, Larry
  • 2 instances: Dennis, Don, George, Phil, Tony
  • 1 instance: Alain, Bud, Card, Conrad, Ed, Earl, Ernie, Evan, Fred, Fritz, Gene, Glen, Gordon, Greg, Hector, Jason, Jeff, Jerry, Jiggs, Joe, Jon, Karl, Ken, Lee, Mal, Marcel, Mark, Maurice, Mike, Norm, Orin, Orv, Ralph, Rich, Rick, Rob, Ron, Roger, Roy, Skip, Ted, Toni, Tripp

Admittedly, this wasn’t a scientific study, but one thing I’m surprised about is that there were only four Johns in this poll. Another odd factoid: Dennis only appears in this list because I worked both of them today, one right after the other.

Seriously, though, where are the women?

Party Boy

I didn’t intend on participating in the North American CW QSO Party this afternoon, but I got sucked into it anyway. Silvia and I had gone out to the grocery store and got back just a little bit before 3 pm. I sat down at the rig, intending to make a few QSOs, and was a little astounded when I heard all the activity. Then, I remembered that today was the contest.

I’m not much of a contester, but I thought I’d listen for a while and see what was going on. I listened to a few QSOs and it seemed simple enough. All the ops were doing was exchanging names and locations, so after about 15 minutes I decided to jump in.

I responded to the first station I heard call CQ NA, and he came right back. Just like on Field Day, I was hooked.

After about five or six contacts, I decided I needed more speed, so I cranked up the keyer to 20 words per minute. Since I wasn’t calling CQ myself, only responding to CQs, all I really had to send was first my call, and then once the other station came back to me, “TU DAN MI”. Even I can send that at 20 wpm.

Also as on Field Day, I often had to listen to a station give his information more than once before I could log it. Towards the end of my two hours, though, I was getting good enough at it, that I only occasionally had to listen to a station twice to get the info.

All in all, I made 40 contacts over the course of two hours. Not a great feat, but it was fun, and good practice for Field Day. If I keep working at it, I may just be ready to crank out some points this June.

CW on the Road

Today, I worked two hams operating CW from their cars. The first one lived in the Houston area; I worked him in the morning on his way to work. The second mobile CW station was in Virginia. He was on his way to pick up his wife from work in the afternoon.

The amazing thing about this–or one of them anyway–is that they made fewer keying mistakes than I did, even though they were driving around while I was just sitting on my butt.

Phil, near Dallas wrote me about his setup. He says,

“I drive a Ford Taurus 96 Model. It has a center console between the two front seats, so I built a combination table and rig support out of particle board so it could be slipped in and out as required. I drilled four holes in the rig holding board for the feet of the rig to set down into and then I used a web strap with quick release snaps to hold the rig in place. I put a 1/2-inch thick piece of foam rubber (the same kind of rubber which hobby shops sell for surrounding gas tanks for the R/C powered model aircraft) between the rig and the board surface. This way, the road shock does not effect the rig. I used the same mounting technique for the key.

“The mobile station is comprised of a fully loaded Elecraft K2 with power from the car. The key paddle is a bencher black and chrome model and the antenna is a trunk lip mounted 20 meter or 40 meter Hamstick.

“I keep a note pad handy and only take down the call, and name. The rest of the information is in my head as I am copying code in my head also. It took me several months to get used to not writing everything down. Now, I am running between 20 and 23 wpm copying code in my head and remembering most.

“I do not carry a log with me and only record the results of the days conversation after arriving to work or home. A lots of times stations will tell me we have worked before, but without the log everything is pretty much a blur.

“Since most of my driving is freeway style driving, I simply key the rig with my free right hand. I have about an hour commute each way every day to work. I obtained my FISTS Century Award Certificate, Fists QRP Award Certificate and Fists Mobile Award Certificate all the same time by working FISTS stations QRP mobile only. My FISTS No. is 9352 and my CC No. is 1325.

“Currently I have over 225 FISTS contacts toward my next award. I have worked all but 7 states using the QRP Mobile set-up and over 25 different countries. My best DX, longest distance of over 8,000 miles with 5 watts, and the most interesting QSO was with an Australian VK7 station.”

Great Town Names

I’ve worked some really neat places lately. For example, just a half hour ago, I worked a station in Greenbackville, VA. With a name like that, there must be an interesting story behind it.

Also in Virginia, I recently worked a station in Spotsylvania. The first thing that came into my mind was the mythical country in the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. As it turns out, that country is Pottsylvania. Spotsylvania was the site of a famous Civil War battle.

Earlier in the week, I worked the Yukon–Yukon, OK, that is. When I told the op there, Will, that it was the first time that I’ve worked the Yukon, he said he gets that all the time.

Right after working the Yukon, I worked a station in Monk’s Corner, SC. Can’t you just picture a monastery among rolling hills with guys in long robes, making cheese or wine or something?

On January 3, I worked a group of stations in towns with people’s first names. In order, they were: Beverly, MA; Gary, IN; Roscoe, IL; and Tom’s River, NJ.

I think it’s fun to do Google searches and find out a little bit about the towns, if at all possible. For example, doing a Google search on “Spotsylvania” turns up a lot of information on the Civil War battle there. And a Google search for “Monk’s Corner” tells me that there actually is a monastery there.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find anything on Greenbackville, VA. Despite the colorful name, it would appear that nothing of note happened there.

More Cool Town Names, Jan. 25, 2003
Today, I worked stations in Melissa, TX and Cowpens, SC. According to the Online Handbook of Texas, “The town was laid out in 1872, when the Houston and Texas Central Railway reached the area. The settlement was probably named either for the daughter of George A. Quinlan, an official of the railroad, or for the daughter of C. P. Huntington, a prominent railroad executive.”

I wasn’t able to find out much about how Cowpens, SC got its name, but it’s probably self-explanatory. Every June, they hold the Mighty Moo Festival, in honor of the crewmen who served aboard the USS Cowpens aircraft carrier in WWII.

Cowpens was also the site of a famous Revolutionary War battle. According to the National Park Service, “The battle at the “Cow Pens” is recognized by historians as one of the most important of the American Revolution. On January 17, 1781, Daniel Morgan led his army of tough Continentals, militia and cavalry to a brilliant victory over Banastre Tarleton’s force of British regulars. It helped turn the tide of war in the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution.

“Coming on the heels of a patriot victory at nearby Kings Mountain on October 7, 1780, it was the second successive staggering defeat for British forces under General Charles Cornwallis. Only nine months after the Battle of Cowpens, Cornwallis was forced to surrender his army to General George Washington at Yorktown, Virginia in October 1781.”

Hammer Time

I felt like I had the DX hammer yesterday evening. My first QSO of the session was with an F5 who gave me a nice report. Next, was a CO6, although I’m not counting that as an official QSO because the signal faded before we could exchange info.

The final DX contact was with a ZS6 (South Africa). We had a nice chat about snow–or the lack thereof in MI and SA. Unfortunately, his signal began to fade, and the QRM got bad as well, after about 20 minutes. I hope to contact him again sometime.


I’m not exactly sure why this is, but my ground plane antenna seems to work better when there’s a layer of snow on the ground. Maybe the snow forms a better reflector? When the snow melted earlier in the week, the SWR was a little higher, and I didn’t seem to get out as well.

The Wireless Commons

There’s a movement in the Internet community called “The Wireless Commons.” As stated in their manifesto, the goal of the group is to “define and achieve a wireless commons built using open spectrum, and able to connect people everywhere.”

I think amateur radio operators should play a part in this effort, don’t you? After all, we have a lot of the technical skills that are going to be needed to implement these kinds of networks.

I’m not sure exactly how to get something started here in Ann Arbor, but I’m going to start asking around. If I find out anything interesting, I’ll let you all know. Perhaps we can even schedule a presentation–by someone more knowledgeable about this than me–on the topic.

Stay tuned.