Thursday, May 29, 2008

Catching up

One of the hardest things about blogging is to keep going on a regular basis. For folks like me who aren't doing this to make a living (thank goodness!), I think it's important to post on some kind of a regular basis (daily, weekly, monthly, whatever) so that your audience knows roughly when to expect an update. Using an RSS reader can help, since the updates are "pushed", but even with that technology I believe that without regular updates you'll loose your audience. I'd been doing pretty well for quite a while, with my (normally) weekly updates, but I started slipping a bit and it's now been around 3 weeks or so since my last posting.

What I've found hard is to get myself back on track, feeling that I need to have something really outstanding to post about, since I've been "off duty" for so long. Tonight, I realized that I'd rather post a few miscellaneous items that post nothing at all, so here's a few items of interest (to me, anyway).

The Dayton Hamvention ® took place a few weeks ago, and I continued my 8 year streak as a ham by not attending again. For anyone who doesn't know, this is a kind of mega-hamfest/conference that takes place annually just outside of Dayton, OH. Most of the major commercial vendors are there, there are hundreds of flea market spots, and various conference tracks dealing with different aspects of ham radio. There's a lot that goes on that isn't officially part of the event, but has become a part of the experience, like gatherings of DXers, contesters, QRPers, etc. Long before I finally became a ham I'd heard about "Dayton", and it seemed like it was the place to go. However, from what I've read online and heard first hand from a few folks who were there this year, it seems that this really is a case of this no longer being "the good old days". Since I've never been there, I can't give a first-hand account, but the best writeup that I've seen that really gave me a good feeling for what it was like to be there was written by Steve, K9ZW in his blog post entitled "Dayton Hamvention 2008 Follow-Up Report No. 21 - Dayton the Unwashed". Be sure to read not only his post, but the comments that follow. There's some really good stuff in there that talks about why it might be time for this event to "move on".

A few weeks ago, I was inducted as a life member of the Ramsey Office of Emergency Management. I was recruited to join the organization shortly after I became a ham by Mike, WA2MWT, who is the coordinator there. At the time Mike was specifically looking for hams to join the staff, and a number of us all joined at the same time. Although I don't live in Ramsey, Mike's idea was that it made sense to have folks from outside of town to help out during events where folks who lived in-town would be busy dealing with their own problems likes localized flooding. Although I've helped out with numerous localized events that mostly just affected Ramsey, it's also where I went on 9/11 to help out on the radios. My proudest memories of amateur radio service is when I was able to relay a number of messages received at the Ramsey Emergency Operations Center to family members to let them know that their loved ones, who were in the affected areas, were safe. Ramsey OEM is the first place where I really learned the value of the public service side of Amateur Radio, and I'm proud to be associated with that organization, and truly honored to have been inducted as a life member there.

On a final note, I turned 50 last week, and my wife Sharon threw a surprise birthday party for me. Sharon not only expertly planned and executed the party, but she also came up with an idea for a group present: She somehow managed to not only explain to my friends (who, with very few exceptions, aren't hams) what a DXpedition is, but also figured out that an amazing present would be a "DXpedition trip fund", and got lots of the folks to contribute to that. It's not quite to the scale where I'll be heading off to someplace like Scarborough Reef (not that I'd actually want to go there myself), but it's a great start towards something a bit less exotic, but perhaps a lot more fun. I'm just starting to figure out where I can go, and you can be sure that you'll hear more about it here.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Ah, that's better

As noted a couple of weeks ago, my "big" radio, the Icom 756 Pro II, has been repaired by Icom (replaced the final transistors and aligned the radio), and arrived back at home this past Thursday. All is working just great now, with power output definitely up to spec. When I got home Thursday night, I disconnected the 706MkIIG that I'd been using for the past month, and hooked up the 756 again. This takes a few minutes, since in addition to just the power and antenna, I've got a different microphone, a different Rigblaster (for digital modes), and somewhat different audio and keying methods. I think I only managed to hook one cable up (harmlessly) to the wrong place, but it was a reminder that I really need to finish labeling all the cables. (I'd started a very long time ago, getting all the antenna cables labeled, but not getting much farther.) Seems like that's something to put on my list for one of the spring or summer nights when there are storms in the area and I can't operate.

Anyway, as soon as I got hooked up on Thursday night, I spun the dial around a bit to see if I could find some DX to work, and I came upon CO6LC on 20m phone. Hardly rare DX, but a non-local ham, and I was able to easily work him. Whew, that was a relief. A few minutes later, I worked Alex, A45WD on 30m, which was a new band for me for Oman. Thanks to Alex for being so patient. The conditions weren't very good, and it took a few minutes for him to get my callsign correct, but he stuck with me and made the contact work.

As luck would have it, I had planned to work from home the following day anyway, so I had the possibility of making a few contacts here and there during the day. One of the things that I was looking forward to was to work Bruce, XW1B in Laos. I'd heard Bruce one morning maybe a month or so ago quite strong, and we started emailing back and forth and have wound up chatting on the computer fairly often. It turns out that after living and DXing from Florida for a long time, Bruce has moved to Laos and has been very actively DXing from there. He's been on most mornings (my time) at around 1200Z and then again around 12 hours late, and works mostly CW and RTTY. Judging from what he's told me, and from what I've seen on the packet clusters, he's been making a lot of folks very happy, since Laos is still relatively rare. In fact, Bruce, and his boss Larry, XW1A, are two of only 3 hams who live full-time in Laos.

On Friday morning (my time) Bruce was running US stations on RTTY, and doing a great job. We'd previously worked out arrangements so that if I could hear him OK, we'd try to make a contact. (Although I have Laos confirmed on phone, I still needed it on RTTY and CW). We'd tried a couple of times before, but without success. Fortunately for me, things worked out a whole lot better this time. Initially, I tried calling along with the rest of the pileup, but Bruce wasn't able to hear my 100 watts in the midst of the folks who were running more power and better antennas. At that point, Bruce called me, and after I responded a couple of times (and the pileup finally stood by), we were able to make a valid contact, with Bruce giving me a 559. I'm really grateful to Bruce for his patience, and frankly, it's just plain fun having a new "ham radio friend" (as my wife calls them) who is located on the other side of the world.

That contact definitely started my day off right, and although an attempt to work CW a bit later in the morning didn't work, I feel pretty confident that we'll make this work soon. It really does go to show you what's possible even during a solar minimum, with fairly poor propagation. I'm hoping that a few more of the Cycle 24 spots start popping up, along with improved propagation soon.