Field Day 2009: Stuart Makes His First Contact

One of the great things about Field Day are the stories. Every year, I add a story or two to my repertoire. This year is no exception.

Story #1 starts about 1:30 pm on Saturday. I was at my post at the public information table/GOTA station. We had been ready to rock and roll for at least a half hour, so a group of us were just sitting around chewing the fat when Stuart and his mother strolled up to the table.

Her son was a little on the shy side, so his mother explained that Stuart had seen a listing of our Field Day site on the Internet and had asked her to bring him out to see us. She mentioned that Stuart had been listening to ham radio operators on his little Yaesu handheld scanner for several years and was very excited to actually meet some ham radio operators and see ham radio in action.

Not only that, she said that he had taught himself Morse Code. A kid after my own heart! I quickly volunteered to give them a tour of our Field Day site. First, I showed him our VHF/UHF station, and he seemed really impressed with the five single-band radios.

Next, I took him into the 40m phone station. I asked how fast he could copy Morse Code, and he said 30 words per minute. I cranked the receiver down into the CW portion of the band, and sure enough, he could copy anything that I tuned in.

At this point, it was still only 1:45 pm, so I told him, “Let’s go over to one of the CW stations, and we’ll see if we can make a contact.” We marched over to the CW #2 station, and after getting clearance from the station captain, I tuned around for a clear frequency, then called CQ. Immediately, N5VV, replied.

At this point, Stuart was so excited, he was shaking a little bit. Since the contest was just about ready to start, I kept the contact short, but that didn’t matter. Stuart had finally gotten to see ham radio in action.

Stuart’s mother then inquired about taking the test. I explained that our Volunteer Examiners give the test every second Saturday of the month and gave her the URL of our website. She said that Stuart had been studying and was ready to take the test.

Unfortunately, they had to leave at that point. I told Stuart’s mother that we’d be there through 2pm Sunday and to come back any time. She said that they’d definitely be back the next day.

Stuart Makes His First Contact
Stuart and his mother returned about 1:30 pm on Sunday. He wanted to see the VHF/UHF station again, so that was our first stop. He took a couple of photos of the setup, and then I suggested we go over to the GOTA station. When we first got there, someone was at the mike, but shortly afterwards, they got up, and Stuart and I took the controls.

When we first sat down, I made a few contacts using my call to show him how to use the paddle. I noted that holding the levers down produces a series of dits or dahs, and that by tapping the other lever while holding down the first, you can produce a dit between dahs or a dah between dits.

Then, I asked him if he’d like to try it. He said yes, so just to see how it would go, I tuned up to above 7100 kHz. There was no activity up there, so I set the keyer speed to 15 wpm and told him to send my callsign a few times. He reached over with his left hand and sent it perfectly. Now, remember, this is someone who’d never touched a paddle of any kind before. Not only that, he even sent the K (dah-di-dah) iambically! That is to say that he held the dah paddle while tapping the dit paddle to slip in a dit between the two dahs.

Then, I asked if he’d like to make some contacts. He said yes, so I said, “Let’s switch seats.” We switched seats, and I said, “OK, tune around a little and find a strong station calling CQ.” We found K2ZR, and I coached him a little on how to reply. “Now, remember,” I said, “we’re going to use the W8PGW callsign.” When I gave him the nod to send, he reached over with his RIGHT hand and sent W8PGW perfectly! When K2ZR replied with our call and the exchange, I coached him to reply with “4A MI.” Not only did he do that, but he slipped in a “R” to denote that we’d copied the exchange. When K2ZR replied with a “TU,” I showed him how to log the contact.

That’s all the coaching I needed to do. After the first contact, I said, “OK. Now, tune around for another station calling CQ, and we’ll make another contact.” He was off to the races. As soon as he made a contact, he jumped up to type it into the log. His arms weren’t long enough to reach the computer from where he was seated.

When we started, the keyer speed was set to 15 wpm. After a couple of contacts, I asked if he might want to send faster. When he said OK, I bumped it up to 18 wpm. After a few QSOs with only a couple of mistakes, he asked if we could go faster, so I set it at 20 wpm. Again, only a couple of mistakes, so we bumped it up to 22 wpm. There, he started making more mistakes, but let me repeat, he never touched any kind of key before in his life. I have no doubt that with a little practice, he could easily do 30 wpm.

Overall, he made 12 contacts in the 21 minutes he operated the station. Not a bad rate for someone who’d never sent a character of Morse Code in his life, don’t you think?

As it turns out, Stuart can’t take the test in July, but his mother said that they would definitely do it in August. He has even picked out a vanity callsign. The kid is going to make a great ham radio operator. I can’t wait to get him in the operator’s seat next Field Day.

Connector/Cable Wiki Helps You Make Connections

Thanks to Frank, K0BRA, for pointing this out via the AMRAD mailing list. He writes:

Now there is a Wiki on connector pinouts [and cable wiring]. If you are into making cables to hook this to that and need pin numbers you may find this makes it quick and easy. There is a lot of obscure stuff out there and this is the place to find it. If you don’t, then add it.

Looks like a good resource, and because it’s a wiki, you can add connector pinouts and cable wiring lists that aren’t there. Shall we start a ham radio cable category?

Block Capitals for Clear Copy

Mike, K5MGR posted this chart to the ARRL PR mailing list.

blockcapitals
Click image to view full-size image.

He writes:

Hello everyone!

I posted the image below as available after a fellow on the “boatanchors” listserver asked for a copy of it.

It’s from my 1957 copy of the League’s Learning The Radiotelegraph Code.

The League got it from earlier Signal Corps publications.

It shows the “right” way to form block capitals for speed and clarity when copying code.

Remember, military nets generally went at about 15 wpm since copy conditions were so variable, and so much of what was sent was cipher groups rather than “plain text.” Plus, other personnel had to be able to read the copy.

If you’re going to have any CW operation on any Field Day or other event you’ll be publicizing, a “blow-up” of this chart, a little text of explanation, and you’ll have an interesting, informative display piece.

Does Your Club Have an Elmers List?

Whilst looking up information on this Sunday’s hamfest in Monroe (http://www.mcrca.org/hamfest.htm), I came across their Elmer page. On it, they list a variety of topics with the name, call, and phone number of someone who can answer questions on that topic.

My club something similar once, but it was less than successful. I think that the problem was that we asked people to fill out a form on our website if they needed any help. That information was e-mailed to one guy, who then forwarded it to the appropriate Elmer. There was just too much time lag between the time someone asked for help and when they got it. Or, it may have been that filling out the form was just too impersonal.

We are going to try it again, though, using the format that the Monroe club uses. I’m also going to give it more billing on our website, and push it more at meetings and other gatherings.

The topics the Monroe club lists on their website are:

  • Antennas
  • Buying First Radio
  • Code Practice
  • Computers
  • Packet
  • County Hunting
  • DXCC Awards
  • Rag Chewers Club
  • Worked All States
  • DX
  • FM
  • Homebrew
  • Testing
  • Public Service
  • Technical Q&A
  • Traffic
  • Tube Radios

We already have Elmers for several of these topics. I, for example, would be more than happy to volunteer to be the Morse Code/CW Practice Elmer. We have one member who is an avid County Hunter, another who restores vintage gear, and yet another who’s been spearheading a statewide effort to set up a packet network throughout Michigan.

In addition, I think we should add or modify several of the categories. For example, Computers might become “Computers/Software” depending on who volunteers to be the Elmer. We should also have Elmers for VHF/UHF, Contesting, and possibly a bunch of other topics.

We’re now in the middle of discussing what topics we should add to the list and recruiting Elmers. I’ll update this topic when we’ve finalized our list.

Does your club have an Elmer list? If so, does it have topics that I haven’t thought of yet? How do you get newcomers to take advantage of the knowledge and experience of your Elmers? And, finally, what topics have you volunteered to be Elmer for?

NASA Scientists Blame Dearth of Sunspots on Sluggish Jet Stream

According to a report on the Science@NASA website, researchers think they have discovered the reason behind the dearth of sunspots. At an American Astronomical Society press conference yesterday in Boulder, Colorado, the researchers announced that a jet stream deep inside the sun is migrating slower than usual through the star’s interior, giving rise to the current lack of sunspots.

The good news is that according to their measurements, the jet stream is now finally reaching the critical latitude of 22 degrees, meaning that conditions should return to normal. In other words, no Maunder Minimum, or prolonged period of low sunspot activity, this time around.

Another reason this is good news is that while all this blathering has made for good blog fodder, I’m getting tired of all the complaining. To paraphrase Mark Twain, “Hams like to complain about the solar weather, but nobody does anything about it”!

SONs, DADs, and Other Callsigns That Spell Words

In the last five days, I’ve worked a bunch of stations whose callsigns spell words:

  • On 6/12, I worked Roy, WA2SON. A day later, I heard WB4DAD calling CQ , but unfortunately, he couldn’t hear me. I have worked him before, though.
  • On 6/13, I worked Chano, EA8UP, in the Canary Islands. I actually worked him on SSB. He was calling CQ in Spanish, or “say koo.” He called several times with no reply, perhaps because the stations here in the U.S. didn’t realize he was calling CQ. I even talked a little Spanish with him before signing.
  • On 6/14, I worked Don, AA5AT. He becomes my third “AT,” joining AA4AT and N0AT.
  • Just now, I worked Steve, KF2AX. Steve was running QRP with an attic antenna. Even so, he was Q5 here.

Now, to get the QSL cards.

UPDATE – 6/20/09:
This afternoon, while waiting a few minutes for my wife, I turned on the rig. In those few minutes, I happened to contact KD8ILL, who was working the WV QSO Party!

“Choosing a Radio” Guide Now Available

From the May 2009 issue of the ARRL E-Newsletter for Registered Instructor and Teachers:

As I reported earlier, the ARRL began developing a guide to help new hams choose their first radio at the urging of licensing instructors generally, and with special impetus from David Haycock, KI6AWR and Greg Widin, K0GW. The guide was recently finalized, and will be included as a supplement in the next printing of the 1st edition of the Ham Radio License Manual that has just recently gone to press. It also has been posted on its own Web page, where it is accessible to any member. Check it out!

Atlanta Station Invites First Chief Engineer to Throw Digital TV Switch

WAGA, Atlanta, GA, invited its first chief engineer, Paul Cram, K4IO, to throw the switch that cut the station over to digital TV. Cram will be 100 this year.

WAGA began broadcasting in 1949. See a short video of the switchover, which includes some history of the station.

One-Day General Class?

After the class yesterday, Scott, W1BIC, mentioned that now what we need is a one-day General class. I’ve always been more skeptical about doing a cram session for the General Class exam, but after batting the idea around a little, I think that there might be a way to do this. The idea wouldn’t be to teach the answers to all the questions in the question pool, but rather to focus on areas that the students were having trouble with. In effect, it would “get them over the hump” in a couple of areas.

With that in mind, we came up with a few ideas:

  • Focus on the differences between the topics covered by the Tech and General Class exams and cover only those topics. If it’s something that a Tech should know, then we just blow over it.
  • Have prospective students take three online tests and submit their results. After you take a practice test at aa9pw.com, they show you all the questions with your answer and the correct answer. Prospective students would have to print out and submit these before the class. With this information, we could tailor the class so that it focuses on the problem areas.
  • We wouldn’t take into the class anyone scoring, say, 50% or less on the exams.
  • Also, because the class would be “customized” depending on the students’ test results, the class would have to be pretty small, maybe four or five tops.

This is still a partially-baked idea, and I’d love to hear some others. Just as our current one-day Tech class is a spur to those that need a little prodding when it comes to getting their first licenses, this one-day General class might be the thing that gets some Techs over the hump.

One-Day Tech Class Passes Nine of Twelve

Yesterday, Bruce, KD8APB, and I taught yet another One-Day Tech Class. This time, nine of the twelve students passed.

One of the students that failed was a ten- or eleven-year-old boy who failed by only one or two questions. He says that he plans to take the test again at a regularly-scheduled test session tomorrow.

The other two admitted that they didn’t study at all before coming to the class, despite my exhortations to do so. While I hate to see them fail, I guess there’s nothing really that I could have done about that.

Overall, here’s our record to date:

Date Total Passed
7/28/07 11 7
5/10/08 11 10
9/13/08 13 12
12/6/08 10 9
2/27/09 10 9
4/25/09 9 8
6/13/09 12 9

All together, 64 of 76 passed the test, yielding an 84.2% pass rate. If the boy passes tomorrow, we’ll be 65/76 or 85.5%.