CW Nets

If you’ve read this blog at all, you know I’m a big proponent of CW. For me, it’s just a lot of fun. I ragchew, work DX, and participate in contests using CW.

One thing I have not done yet with CW is to operate in a net. So, I’m making it a goal to regularly participate in one or more CW nets. Now, the next question is how to find them. Well, one resource is the KI8DU CW Nets page. It seems reasonably up-to-date, although a few of the links to net webpages were broken.

One drawback is that most of the nets are on 80m, and I don’t have an antenna for 80m. (I guess I need to make that a goal for myself, too). There are, however, a few on 40 m, including:

  • Hit and Bounce Net (HBN): 7.042 MHz @ 8:30 am EST
  • Sunrise Net (SRN): 7.148 MHz @ 8am EST
  • K9YA Fast Net: first Wednesday of the month at 7:00 pm on 7.137 MHz. They also have a slow net on the second, third, and fourth Wednesday of each month.

Update 2-3-05: I’ve now checked into the Sunrise Net a couple of times, and can report that they are a nice bunch of people. The Sunrise Net is a ragchew net, meaning that formal operating procedures are at a minimum. You check in when the net control station (NCS) calls for check-ins, and then when he or she calls you, you swap a transmission or two with them. I suppose that the NCS goes around the list a second time, but I checked out after my first transmission.

Tuesday morning, Dortha N4SHE was net control (another one to add to my collection of QSLS from stations whose calls spell words). She was 599 here in Ann Arbor. This morning, Ralph K8KQ, was NCS. He was more difficult to copy as the skip was longer than usual in the morning.

Wednesday morning, I monitored the Hit and Bounce Net for a while. This is a formal, traffic-handling net. Not being that familiar with the protocol, and not having any traffic to pass, I did not check in to this net. I will continue to monitor it from time to time, though, and maybe jump in there one day.

I really should put up some kind of antenna for 80m. Not only are there many more nets on 80m, conditions on 80m are much better in the evenings than they are on 40m at this time of year. Late last night, I heard next to nothing on 40m, but plenty on 80m. I guess the skip is just too long on 40m.

Big Weekend for State QSO Parties February 5 & 6

According to the ARRL Contest Rate Sheet, there are five state QSO Parties next weekend:

These low-key contests are usually a lot of fun, and I know the hams in those states would appreciate it if you jumped in there and gave them a few Qs. While they do overlap in spots, they don’t overlap completely, so it may actually be possible to compete in several of them.

More Word QSLs

This week, I received two more QSL cards to add to my collection of “cards from stations whose calls spell words:”

  • N2BE
  • K7UP

John K7UP writes, “Dan–While I was in Australia as VK5SZ, I worked and received a card from OK1ASS!” Now, that’s a station I have to work as well.

Update 6-17-05: Just bagged K1KID, Carl in MA. He’s the first I’ve worked in quite a while.

Solder Safely

A week or so ago, I posted a notice about a sale on Weller soldering stations to our club mailing list. A short discussion followed on different soldering irons.

Dave, WB4SBE replied:

I would only like to add a caution to those considering some of the more simple soldering pencils out there. I found (the hard way) that they don’t necessarily offer good isolation from the power line. For the really cheap ones, depending on which way you have the soldering pencil plug inserted in the socket, you may have the tip connected to the hot side of the AC line, or if there is some insulation there, it may be pretty flimsy thin paper stuff that will wear quickly and present a hazard.

Don’t depend on polarized (or sometimes even grounded) plug arrangements, because chances are that someone, sometime miswired the socket, and you may not be protected.

Even if the tip is grounded, beware waving it around a circuit that may suffer from the same wrong-polarity plug-ness. Make sure that any item you are soldering on is unpowered and unplugged, for safety’s sake, even if you are soldering to the supposedly ground-potential chassis.

I stick to transformer-isolated soldering stations now, since that particular soldering pencil melted in my hand in a shower of sparks that one day, many years ago…

Klaus, N8NXF also chimed in with this advice

Yes, stay away from the real cheap soldering irons. I have done most of my soldering with soldering irons that do not have grounded tips. If the circuit you are soldering on is not electrically connected to ground, which would complete the circuit, no current can flow so no damage can be done to the circuit. The danger with grounded tip irons is that if you DO happen to touch something “live” with it you will get a shower of sparks on an unprotected circuit no matter how good the soldering iron is.

These days I feel the best form of protection is the ground fault circuit interrupter or GFCI. A GFCI will disconnect AC power the instant it senses a difference of just a few milliamps between the black and white wire in the AC line powering your soldering iron and any other equipment plugged into it. It can save your life and is required by code for new construction in wet locations and basements, etc. It doesn’t even require a third ground wire to operate. A GFCI outlet can be had for under $10 from most any hardware store and can be used to protect all outlets downstream from it. They fit into a standard box making it easy for a knowledgeable person to retrofit an existing power circuit. I have built up portable outlet boxes with GFCI’s in them for use when I work on unprotected or questionably protected line powered equipment.

Great advice, if you ask me.

Meeting With the MI Section Top Brass

As the Michigan Section Affiliated Club Coordinator, I now get involved in many different things. This weekend, I was invited to a meeting with the Michigan Section top brass. I learned a bunch of new things:

  • Michigan is the second largest ARRL section. The only one bigger is Ohio.
  • Michigan has 27 Official Observers (OOs). This is about twice the average nationwide. These guys are out there and listening. The most cited offense is lack of identification, followed by out-of-band operation and lack of a control operator.
  • The National Traffic System is alive and well in Michigan, almost in spite of the official policy of the ARRL. Two new traffic nets were organized in Michigan in 2004.
  • Although perhaps in a bit of disarray, there are many hams out there poised and ready to provide emergency communications. The Michigan Section leadership is determined to make the organization even better.

One thing that I noticed at this meeting is that little, if any, attention is being given to the recruitment and training of new hams at the state level. A couple of the guys, for example, lamented that the practice of “Elmering” seemed to be falling by the wayside. Also, the report of the ASM for Education and Training mentioned emergency communications training, but said little about license classes and other forms of basic training.

I have a partially-baked idea. I have proposed that the Section Manager appoint and Assistant Section Manager (ASM) for recruitment and elmering. This person would be the main resource for folks doing license classes and recruiting people to teach classes (I’d love to see another ARRL appointment created for these people). AND those classes don’t have be associated with a particular affiliated club.

Here in Michigan, for example, there are many boaters. A lot of these folks would make good hams and amateur radio fits in nicely with boating. One of our ARROW members is involved with the Ann Arbor Power Squadron. I have talked to him about teaching a Tech class for the Power Squadron, although we haven’t actually done it yet.

That’s just one example. Schools are another. It might also be possible to teach classes during lunch hours at local tech businesses.

Don’t Put Your Lips On It

After yesterday’s club meeting, a bunch of us were standing around, talking about different things. The topic somehow turned to physically small antennas and their efficiency. One guy remarked that not only were they not very efficient, but the voltages could get quite high. To which another replied, “Yeah, you don’t want to put your lips on it.”

I think that’s great advice. Whether it be an antenna, power supply, transceiver–just about anything related to ham radio–you probably don’t want to put your lips on it.

Be Careful When Copying Names

I had lunch with a friend, Dennis KT8X, yesterday, and he told me a funny story. Dennis is a big contester, and he was telling me that he’ll often use a name other than Dennis when operating a contest. When I asked why, he said that throws off the contestants that use a name database.

“Name database?,” I asked. “Yeah,” he said, “some guys use a database of calls and names to automatically fill in the name field of a contest log so that they don’t have to actually copy the name. So, since contests don’t require that you use your own name, I’ll sometimes use something different. If they don’t actually copy what I’m sending, they’ll lose the score for that particular QSO.”

I laughed, first because it never occurred to me to use a name database to make logging easier, but also because of one of the names he has used. “The last time I did this,” he said, “I used the name ‘Putz.’” He said he’s gotten a couple of nastygrams for doing this, but he just blows them off, reasoning that it’s their responsibility to actually copy the name being sent and not his to send a name that they have in the database.

He’s right about that, too.

Contest Simulator
Want to improve your contesting skills? Dennis also provided me with the URL for Morse Runner 1.4. This software simulates contest conditions, testing how well you can copy contest exchanges. It will also simulate various band conditions, including QRM, QRN, QSB, flutter, and poor operators. Another cool thing is that it’s free.

This Weekend on the Radio at KB6NU

On Saturday, I worked the CW version of the North American QSO Party. I hadn’t worked a contest for a while so I thought I’d give it a go. It was amusing enough, but I don’t really have a good setup for contesting. I gave up after about an hour and a half, having made 44 contacts with 23 multipliers for a score of 1,012.

When I say I don’t have the setup for contesting what I really mean is that I don’t have the antennas. More than once, I’d try to pounce on a station calling CQ, only to be outdone by another station. Several times it took me three or four calls to work someone. Maybe someday I will have a QTH where I can put up a tower.

Two XFs
Later that evening, I tuned to 30m and made a few regular QSOs. The last QSO of the evening was with K8XF, Mike down in Tampa. Mike is someone I’ve worked many times. He’s memorable as he and I grew up on the same side of Detroit (the east side) and his brother went to the same high school I did (De La Salle Collegiate).

On Sunday, my first contact of the day was with W6XF, Tom, of Reno, NV. Conditions weren’t very good, but I really wanted to work him in order to get two XFs in a row. It won’t get me an award, but hey that’s cool.

More Word QSLs
On Friday, I got a QSL card from KI4HEX, while on Saturday a card arrived from W2SEX. W2SEX is the call sign of the Amateur Radio Assn of the Tonawandas. I worked its trustee, Dex W2VCI, during Straight Key Night. On the back of the card is an interesting bit of history is that the original call was actually W8SEX, and it was issued to Berton Salefske, a founding member of the club. When that area became part of the 2nd call district in 1946, Salefske was issued the call W2SEX. The club applied for the call in 1968 when Salefske passed. Dex told me that the club has been using the call for Field Day and other special events since 1954, and it always seems to generate a lot of interest.

Hams Help in India

Ham Radio Operators Become Lifeline for Tsunami-Stricken Indian Islands

Hams lend a helping hand

Click on the story titles above to see how hams are aiding tsunami victims in India. It seems to me that the Indian government would do well to speed up their approval process.

Getting All We’re Due

Most clubs collect membership dues at this time of year. When I was our club’s treasurer, I was often disappointed that so many members did not renew. There are many legitimate reasons for not renewing a membership. A member may move away, for example, or they may have lost interest in amateur radio.

Often, however, a member may not renew simply because he or she isn’t aware that the dues are due. Putting a notice in the club newsletter or sending an e-mail to the club mailling lists are a couple of ways to reach members, but a single notice or e-mail won’t do the job.

This year, the newly-appointed ARROW Membership Chairman Jeff Zupan, W8SGZ, has done a great job “re-upping” the membership. Jeff started early, passing out renewal notices at the November meeting. He mailed renewal notices to those who were not at the meeting, and has reminded members at every club function since then that they need to pay their dues. He also sent notices to those who were members in 2003, but had not renewed in 2004.

His efforts have really been paying off. Renewals are up, even though ARROW raised its dues $5 this year. He has even lured back several lapsed members.

Thanks, Jeff!