Three Contacts

I try to make at least three CW QSOs every day, but some days it’s harder than others. Tonight, for example, I got on after the CQ WW DX contest ended at 0000Z, but band conditions were really not good for domestic contacts.

For example, I worked N2ATB near Philadelphia, and in our previous five contacts he was 599 every time. Tonight, however, we struggled to keep contact.

The band must have been long, though, as I logged EA6UN for the third time. I also heard–and called–DL0CI. Even though he was 569 here, he didn’t come back to me.

Oh, well. I did manage to make my three QSOs in spite of poor conditions.

SkyWarn Recognition Day – Saturday, Dec. 3, 2005

I worked this event last year, and it was a lot of fun…Dan

From The ARRL Letter, Vol. 24, No. 46, Nov 25, 2005

ARRL-NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE SKYWARN RECOGNITION DAY IS DECEMBER 3

The seventh annual SKYWARN Recognition Day (SRD) special event will take place Saturday, December 3, from 0000 until 2400 UTC (ie, starting Friday, December 2 in US time zones). Cosponsored by the National Weather Service (NWS) and ARRL, SKYWARN Recognition Day is the Weather Service’s way of expressing its appreciation to Amateur Radio operators for their commitment to helping keep communities safe. During this 24-hour special event, teams of radio amateurs set up stations at local NWS offices to contact other hams across the US and around the world.

“Ham radio operators volunteering as storm spotters are an extremely valuable asset to National Weather Service operations since they are cross-trained in both communications and severe storm recognition,” says SRD organizer Scott Mentzer, N0QE, the Meteorologist-In-Charge at the Goodland, Kansas, NWS office, home of WX0GLD.

Last year, 114 NWS offices participated in SRD, logging more than 15,000 QSOs during the 24-hour event, says David Floyd, N5DBZ, the Warning Coordination Meteorologist at Goodland. The object is for amateur stations to exchange QSO information with as many NWS stations as possible on 80, 40, 20, 15, 10, 6 and 2 meters, and 70 cm. Contacts via repeaters and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) modes, such as EchoLink and IRLP also welcome.

Operators exchange call sign, signal report, QTH, and a one or two word description of their weather, such as “sunny,” “partly cloudy,” “windy,” etc.

According to Floyd, in typical SKYWARN operations during severe weather, direct communication between mobile spotters and local NWS offices provides critical “ground truth” information for forecasters. “Spotter reports of hail size, wind damage and surface-based rotation in real time greatly assist the radar warning operator, since that information can be correlated with Doppler radar displays,” he says. The result may be a more strongly worded statement to convey greater urgency or issue a tornado warning a few minutes earlier than would otherwise have been possible.

“While NWS offices utilize the real-time reporting of severe weather events to assist in warning operations, hurricanes Katrina and Rita have shown us that ham radio operators are equally important during the recovery phase of natural disasters,” Floyd points out.

Floyd also cites the example of the Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) on 14.325 MHz. He notes that the HWN, which organized in 1965 during Hurricane Betsy, started out as an informal group of amateurs but has since developed a more formal relationship with the National Hurricane Center in Miami via its Amateur Radio station WX4NHC (formerly W4EHW). HWN ham radio members and volunteers at WX4NHC work together when hurricanes threaten to provide real-time weather data and damage reports to NHC forecasters.

So far, some 75 NWS offices in the US are planning to participate along with the Prairie Storm Prediction Center in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. An official EchoLink/Internet Radio Linking Project (IRLP) reflector is expected to be available for use during SRD.

An 8.5 x 11-inch certificate is available in exchange for a self-addressed, stamped envelope with a list of NWS stations worked. Address requests to SKYWARN Recognition Day, 920 Armory Rd, Goodland, KS 67735. Separate stations also will issue individual QSL cards. For more information, contact Matthew Mehle, KC0TER.

Last Weekend on the Radio at KB6NU

Well, last weekend started out poorly here at KB6NU, as I got word that I had failed to win the election for vice director of the Great Lakes Division. As several people pointed out to me, though, my opponent had previously been elected to the position (although he wasn’t the incumbent), and had even served as director for a time. So, lots of people knew his name, whereas I was much less known throughout the division.

The final tally was 3,033 to 1,263. The shame is not so much that I lost, but that so few members actually voted. By my reckoning, 4,296 is about 30% of the members in the division. I garnered about 30% of that vote, which I guess isn’t so bad.

I did learn a lot, though. For example, If I choose to run again, I’ll ask people to donate to my campaign to fund mailings and other election materials. I’ll also start earlier and make more of an effort to visit more clubs and more hamfests.

Now, it’s back to work being the Affiliated Club Coordinator of Michigan….

Off the Air
The rest of the weekend was spent visiting a friend in North Carolina. I took along my 2m radio just in case I needed it, but never did pull it out. I spent the entire weekend, as well as Monday and Tuesday, off the air.

Ending on a High Note
The weekend did end on a high note, though. In the pile of mail I dug out of my mailbox Tuesday evening was an envelope from W2WJO. That call didn’t ring a bell, so I was pretty sure I hadn’t worked him, so I was curious what might be in the envelope.

When I opened it, I was surprised to find a certificate for having the top score from the state of Michigan in the Mid-Atlantic QSO Party. Yet another certificate attesting to my championship contesting skills (he says with tongue firmly implanted in his cheek.)

Geo-Alerts on the Web

In the latest issue of the K7RA Propagation newsletter, Tad Cook writes that you can get the latest WWV geo-alert via the Internet and by telephone:

The alerts are transmitted at 18 minutes
after each hour, and you can also read the latest copy at
http://sec.noaa.gov/ftpdir/latest/wwv.txt. If you want it via
telephone, call 303-497-3235. The broadcasts are updated every three
hours, after 0000z, 0300z, 0600z, 0900z and so on.

This could be very handy next time the bands seem dead and you don’t want to run outside to see if your antenna is still up in the air or not. :)

QSLs!

Dennis, KT8X, really hates QSL cards. Some of that has to do with his battles with the 8th district QSL bureau, but some of it has to do with his dislike of paperwork. I share his dislike of paperwork, but I do like to get QSL cards.

Last Saturday, I got two cards for my collection of QSLs from stations whose callsigns spell words:

    W7WHO
    KE4RUN

I also received an envelope full of QSLs from the FISTS QSL Bureau. I was kind of surprised to find four DX QSLs in the pack, including cards from G3CWW, G3UAA, PA0OI, and PY1MK. There were also 11 U.S. cards in the pack, several with very colorful pictures on them.

SOS Radio Network?

This is a little late as far as news goes, but while it’s an interesting idea, I’m not sure that it’s workable….

“National SOS Radio Network” ready to start, based on millions of FRS “Family Radio Service” radios already in use plus 675,000 ham radio operators across America.

“National SOS Radio Network” provides instant, reliable, emergency communications for everyone. Designed to eliminate communication breakdown as occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Ready to go into operation immediately across America.

HARTFORD, CT (PRWEB) Oct 6, 2005 – In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it’s become clear that a major contributing factor to the tragic loss of life was the near total breakdown of communication systems. Once electricity, telephone, and cell phone services failed, people were unable to let rescuers know of their dire situations — and died as a result.

What could be a simple, instant, and virtually zero-cost solution?

“Establish a National SOS Radio Network (www.NationalSOS.com),” says Eric Knight, CEO of UP Aerospace, Inc. (www.upaerospace.com). “There are millions of ‘Family Radio Service’ or ‘FRS’ radios already in use by the public for camping, boating, and hiking, and there are 675,000 licensed ham radio operators in America — people renown and prepared for emergency communications. The output frequencies of FRS radios are easily received by the radio gear ham radio operators use daily. That’s the magic link in this emergency communication strategy.”

Knight went on to say, “The best part of a National SOS Radio Network is that it wouldn’t require new laws or any new legislation whatsoever. It could go into effect, today. Once the ham radio community is made aware to listen for the public’s emergency broadcasts on an FRS frequency, the national network will be up and running. It’s as simple as that.”

Knight has been a ham radio operator (KB1EHE) for over 30 years. To help spread the word about his idea to fellow hams, he said he plans to approach the Amateur Radio Relay League (“ARRL”, www.arrl.org), the national membership association for amateur radio operators. Knight said, “The ARRL is a wonderful organization. They knit the ham radio community into a network that fosters education, technology experimentation, and emergency preparedness and assistance. With a positive word from the ARRL, the National SOS Radio Network could spring to life immediately.”

FRS radios don’t require an operator license, can be used by anyone of any age, and are available for as little as $14 at all large retailers, such as WalMart (www.walmart.com). FRS radios can broadcast 2 to 8 miles, depending on terrain. And there are ham radio operators in nearly every community in America. (To see how many ham radio operators are in any city or town, visit www.qrz.com/i/names.html and type in a zip code.)

According to Knight’s proposed National SOS Radio Network plan, ham radio operators would rapidly relay the public’s emergency needs to local and state authorities — such as police and fire departments — as well as to national rescue and relief agencies. As a natural extension of the National SOS Radio Network, all elements of government could also incorporate FRS radios into their communications systems — for direct, immediate links to the public’s emergency situations.

“In times of public crisis, the basic recommendation is for citizens to set their FRS radios on Channel 1 and transmit their emergency needs, and for ham radio operators to tune their receivers to 462.5625 MHz, the frequency that corresponds to FRS Channel 1,” said Knight. “Specific operational details will evolve as the National SOS Radio Network gains awareness. To get the ball rolling, we’ve posted some operational ideas on a Web site we created: www.NationalSOS.com. We look forward to the ARRL’s ideas and feedback, too.”

“With the simple addition of a low-cost FRS radio to an emergency preparedness kit, a family in distress could literally reach out to the world — and get the help they need,” said Knight. “I can’t imagine a more powerful tool that could save so many lives.”

“The National SOS Radio Network blends very well with the overall mission of UP Aerospace,” Knight added. “It’s all about broader public access for a variety of services. We pride ourselves on providing low-cost access to space — particularly for the nation’s college and university students. Likewise, through the National SOS Radio Network, the public can have immediate, life-saving access to emergency and rescue resources. It’s truly a public service. We’re not looking to profit from it. It feels great to play a role at the grassroots level of America’s communities.”

This idea was recently kicked around on an amateur radio mailing list I subscribe to. I think the biggest problem with this idea is summarized by this conclusion to an October 14, 2005 story in Amateur Radio Newsline:

“There is one possible problem with Knights idea. Amateur Radio has the ARRL as a central focal point for leadership, guidance and political representation to the government. The Family Radio Service has none of this. It and other services like Class D CB operate at the whim of those who own radio gear. And, with the exception of the mass media, there is really no way to reach any of these groups. Just how Knight intends to let the users of F-R-S know about the SOS Radio Network without investing in a multi-million dollar ad campaign involving television, radio and the newspapers is unknown.”

Another ham opined:

All I can think of is 300 people trying to shout each other down. The very fact that these are commonly owned, consumer devices works against their being put to practical use.

I think it could be more like 3,000 people all jamming the channels at the same time. The FRS people have no idea of proper net procedures, and chances are you’ll hear nothing but chaos.

After Some Fancy Footwork, The Talk Goes Well

Last night, I was scheduled to give a talk on amateur radio at a meeting of the local section of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Being engineers, I thought that I’d skip a lot of the preliminaries and launch right into some of the cool, new things about amateur radio, including PSK31, computer control and logging, antenna modeling, etc. I figured that I could snag them more easily by dazzling them with the cool, up-to-date technology. I even titled the talk “Not Your Father’s Ham Radio.”

Boy, was I wrong. Almost immediately, one of the attendees piped up, “Why don’t you start from the very beginning….” So, I did a bit of slide shuffling, and instead of talking about the fancy technology, explained some of the basics of ham radio and the licensing structure first.

I’m going to have to work on this presentation to include more of the basics, such as the purpose of the service and basic ham radio activities. At any rate, here’s the presentation in its current form: Not Your Father’s Ham Radio.

This Weekend on the Radio at KB6NU

This was a low-key weekend on the radio here at KB6NU.

It started out with an ARROW board of directors meeting at 9 am, Saturday morning. I called the meeting to discuss the slate of officers for 2006. To be honest, I was kind of worried that we’d have to really do some finagling to get guys to take positions. I’m planning to step down as president, and there’s a good possibility that our current technical coordinator will be moving.

I was heartened, however, that two guys previously not on the board volunteered to serve, and with a bit of shuffling of the other board members, it looks like we’ll have a full slate of officers, and a good slate at that. I do have to find one more sucker, errrrr I mean volunteer, but I have a good list of possibilities to fill that position.

Sweepstakes a Bust
Even before I got started, I was ambivalent about working the CW Sweepstakes this weekend, but I turned on the rig for a bit anyway. I should have left it off. After making 20 contacts, I just lost interest and pulled the plug. Oh well, tonight is a Spartan Sprint, and that should actually be more fun anyway.

Small, Small, Small
Since it didn’t look like I was going to do much operating this weekend, I had to find something else to do. So, I thought I’d build something.

A couple of months ago, I bought an Icom CI-V interface kit from Mark K5LXP, who moderates the IC-746PRO mailing list. It’s a very nice kit–the whole thing fits inside a DB-9 connector shell. The catch is that all the components are surface mount devices.

Boy are these components small! The only way to work with them is to use a tweezers and a magnifying glass. A couple of weeks ago, I bought a pair of tweezers at a hamfest, and last week I bought a magnifying task lamp at Brookstone. Both were good deals–I paid $3 for the tweezers and only $50 for the lamp. Some of the other lamps I was looking at were going for $100 and up. (I’d give a link to the Brookstone website, but I couldn’t find the lamp on the website, which I thought a bit odd.)

Anyway, working with these parts is a real challenge. The first challenge is to read the markings on the components. The 10 kohm resistors were clearly marked “103,” but the markings on the diodes was nearly unreadable. After some e-mail consulting with K5LXP, I think I have it figure out, though.

Then, the trick is to hold the component in place while you melt a bit of solder on the lead and pad. I have the two 10k resistors soldered in place, but the solder has flowed onto the pads where the other components are to go. I think this is going to make it difficult to hold the component flat while I solder it down. We’ll see.

I would like to get this working as I think it will be very cool to have the rig interface to the computer. For one thing, the N3FJP logging software will then be able to read the frequency and mode directly from the radio. I’ll also be able to set the frequency and mode from the computer.

Amateur Power?

On the ARRL PR mailing list, there’s been a lot of talk about an artice in Fire Chief magazine. The article advocates the licensing of firefighters so that they can use amateur radio repeaters in case their fancy, new 800-MHz systems fail or become overloaded in an emergency. Some on the list have noted that several jurisdictions have done this already, even going so far as to set up and operate their own repeaters.

This brings up a number of interesting considerations. For example, is this kind of operation legal? The rules clearly state that amateur radio cannot be used for business purposes, but don’t say anything about government agencies using amateur radio.

One guy noted that if these repeater systems are closed repeaters and not regularly used, there’s a good chance that they won’t work in an emergency. Regular amateur operation is a continual check on a repeater’s availability, and helps ensure that when needed, the repeater will work.

This same gentleman also noted how complex modern radios can be. He wrote:

I encountered a Director of a Health Dept. who had the idea he would buy [amateur radio] equipment and license his employees too. Then I asked him how many of them would use the equipment on a regular basis so that they would be familiar with the equipment when the disaster occurred. I showed him how complex the equipment can be with various menus and controls. Then I asked him if his employees would be trained to conduct net operations and handle message traffic. He decided to rely on Hams.

I’d like to think that this is an opportunity for Amateur Radio to move to a higher level of cooperation with emergency services agencies. While this will happen in some cases, I’m not hopeful that this will really be a boon for ham radio. For this to work, government officials must enlist the help of the amateur radio community at large, and the amateur radio community must be willing to step up and help. I don’t see this happening in lots of places…..but it might.