Today, several odd things happened.
First of all, something odd happened with my new shack computer. I wandered down to the shack about 11:30 am, turned on the power supply, turned on the radio, and then booted up the computer. After the computer booted, I loaded the N3FJP logging program.
Right away, the computer gives me some error message about COM3, the port to which the USB CI-V cable connecting my IC-746PRO to the computer is assigned. I also note that the logging program is not recording the rig’s mode and frequency setting. I think to myself that I’ll just ignore that for now and troubleshoot that later.
I tune around a bit, and not hearing anyone, call QRL? At that point, all hell breaks loose. Windows start resizing and the mouse pointer starts jumping around the screen. It was as if the mouse, which showed no signs of RF susceptibility before this, suddenly decided to act wonky.
So, I disconnect the mouse, but I still get this odd behavior. Hmmmmmm, strange. I disconnect the audio in from the microphone jack on the odd chance that was causing the problem, but no, that wasn’t it, either.
At that point, the only other thing it could be is the USB CI-V cable. I unplugged that and the wonky behavior goes away. Not only that, I plug it back in, and the rig and the computer start communicating again. Really weird.
The next odd thing to happen is that the skip was really short this morning. The first contact I made was with a ham in Wyandotte, MI, which is about 30 miles directly east of me. The second contact I made was with a ham in Grand Blanc, MI, which is about 45 miles directly north of me. I think that these contacts were both made via sky wave, as a) both stations were S9 and b) ground wave signals would have been much weaker.
On the U-M net tonight, someone mentioned that such odd behavior could have been the result of the high solar flux index. This weekend, the SFI is as high as it’s been in a long time.
Odd transmitter behavior
Another odd thing this morning was the behavior of the Wyandotte ham’s transmitter. Whenever he would begin a transmission, the signal was very weak. As the transmission progressed, however, the signal would get stronger until it reached a peak of S9. It was almost as if a capacitor with a really long time constant was charging up, and as the capacitor charged, the output power increased.
The sun that did not roar. This is the height of the 11-year solar cycle, the so-called solar maximum. The face of the Sun should be pockmarked with sunspots, and cataclysmic explosions of X-rays and particles should be whizzing off every which way. Instead, the Sun has been tranquil, almost spotless.
Guest Rant: Ham Radio — Hackers’ Paradise. Bill Meara of SolderSmoke on why ham radio is a hacker’s paradise.
Maker Faire: When will we make cars and phones at home? The BBC covers the recent New York Maker Faire.
When I’m down at the Hands-On Museum, talking to the visitors there, I frequently get asked if the weather affects radio propagation. I normally respond that the weather has no effect on propagation at all. That’s true, of course, for HF radio propagation, but I now know that’s most definitely not true for VHF, UHF, and even microwave propagation.
Above 30 MHz, the troposphere, the lowest layer of the Earth’s atmosphere refracts and scatters radio waves. This effect occurs every day and can allow amateurs to make contacts of up to 500 miles, although typically the distance is about half that.
Normally, air temperatures are warmest near the Earth’s surface and decrease as you go up. Sometimes, though, weather conditions are such that a temperature inversion forms and the atmospheric temperature increase with altitude. When this occurs, a phenomenon called ducting can take place. The duct can act like a waveguide and propagate radio waves for long distances with relatively low losses. If a radio wave of the right frequency enters such a duct, it can propagate up to 900 miles. Sometimes these ducts can exist for days.
For more information on tropospheric scattering, you can read up on it in the ARRL Handbook, or go to the Web page, “Tropospheric DX Modes.” On that website, you’ll also find tropospheric ducting forecasts produced from weather forecasts.
Being an HF guy, I blew off learning about this phenomena. Even when teaching my Tech classes, I wouldn’t attempt to discuss this much. Instead, I’d just recite the answers to the questions and plead ignorance. Now that I understand this more—thanks to a great presentation by Russ, KB8U, at our club meeting on Wednesday—I actually find it kind of interesting.
As if on cue, yesterday while I was fiddling around with the Baofeng UV-5RA that I just purchased (more on that later), I heard a couple of guys from Buffalo, NY access the W8UM repeater EchoLink node. They’d access the link, then identify every minute or so. I thought that was kind of odd, so I called one of them directly. As it turns out, what they were doing is keying repeaters in areas where they thought a ducting path to Buffalo might exist. They would key the repeater via EchoLink and then listen for the repeater with their radios. They weren’t successful with W8UM, but they had been successful with other repeaters that they’d accessed. Very cool stuff.
LA Times – Sun’s bizarre behavior: Weakest solar cycle in 100 years touch.latimes.com/#story/la-sci-
Interesting stuff on Twitter this morning…….Dan
On the HamRadioHelpGroup mailing list, there’s been a discussion of solar activity and how it affects radio propagation. Several websites were mentioned, and I thought I’d record them here. I really have no personal experience with these sites, except maybe to take a quick look at them if the bands seem particularly dead.
- SunspotWatch.Com. This site is run by Tomas Hood, NW7US. He is the propagation editor for CQ magazine. Geoff, N7PGN says, “[Hood] as some very good information on his website and his propagation and space weather website, http://hfradio.org.
Tiny, AB3RW, says, “I use this website. Thre is a tab at the top labeled using data that will help you out a lot.”
- W4HM’s Daily MF/HF/6M Frequency Radio Wave Propagation Forecast. This site is run by W4HM, who worked in space and terrestrial level weather forecasting for some private weather forecasting companies and federal government agencies for 31 years before retiring from the business in 2004.
This is a very interesting project, and I hope that it gains some traction.
How 4 layer PCBs are made http://t.co/R4VNy2yloj
30 bucks seems reasonable for this service.
From the March 14 edition of the ARRL Letter:
According to NASA, the current solar cycle — Solar Cycle 24 — should hit its “solar max” sometime in this year, but so far, solar activity has been relatively low. According to an article by NASA’s Dr Tony Phillips, this period of quiet has led some observers to wonder if forecasters missed the mark. But solar physicist Dean Pesnell of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has a different explanation: “This is solar maximum. But it looks different from what we expected because it is double peaked.” Pesnell noted similarities between the current cycle and Solar Cycle 14, which happened between February 1902 and August 1913 and experienced a double peak. If the two cycles are in fact twins, he said that “it would mean one peak in late 2013 and another in 2015. Read more here.