Monthly Archives: September 2009

My old keys

This is the first key I ever used when I was first licensed in 1969 as WN2MFW in New York. My Dad had this key from when he was a radioman in the US Coast Guard during WWII. Although the plastic housing on the back of the unit is cracked, the rest of the key is built like a tank and still has a great feel.

I removed the large knob mounted on top of the large disk. I still have this key at my operating position, ready for straight key nights.

The second key I owned was a Vibroplex, a real pleasure to use and, sad to say, after all these years I lost track of it somewhere along the way in all the moves we did from NY to FL to CT to MI to CT to MA and finally to ID.
Nice to stroll down memory lane occasionally.

20m: poor propagation

Got on 20m tonight for the first time with my newly-cut 20m resonant
antenna at around 0500Z.

Effectively zero propagation. Also scanned 30 and 17m but nothing
there as well.

I need to see what propagation is like on 20 during early AM hours
too. Might give it a shot tomorrow.

The move to 20 meters

After a day spent fine-tuning my 40m indoor dipole (plus an aborted attempt to mount it outside near the house) I got the SWR down to about 1.5/1, but realized that with the added length to improve SWR the antenna is just too unwieldy for indoor installation. I even tried running the extended length out the windows! That’s when I knew I had taken it as far as I could. Time to step back and reconsider.

So, I went ahead and cut a quarter-wave 20m dipole (a bit over 16 feet long in total). SWR was perfect and mounting it up near the ceiling was simple. No bending!
Got on the IC 706-MKII running QRP at about 0200Z and immediately heard (but did not work) stations in Alaska, Texas and Indiana under clear, mild wx conditions. The antenna (14-gage insulated, stranded copper) is oriented roughly broadside to SW – NE.
I’m looking forward to operating later tonight to see if I can actually work some stations, especially now that there is actually some sunspot activity.

2009 Spokane Hamfest

Although I’ve been continuously licensed since 1969 the Spokane Hamfest was my first.

It seemed like a pretty modest affair, but I thoroughly enjoyed it because it got me back in touch with my early roots in amateur radio. I attended several sessions.
The first was by K7MM, Dan Ransom: QRP Contesting University.

There were about 20 folks in the session. I was impressed with the strong interest in QRP operating. Dan did a fine job touching on many of the finer points of QRP contesting, from multiple perspectives including propagation, equipment, antennas, logging software, and operating.
He really made a strong case for why QRP can be so much fun and a good challenge. As he repeated throughout the session, “Remember, you are LOUD.” And he had us all repeating that throughout the session. I have to admit, it’s a great way to think about yourself as a QRP station. Ultimately, as Dan said, it gets down to understanding the interplay of propagation, skilled listening, using good antennas and expert operating technique.
I was intrigued by Dan’s description of what he called a “bobtail” antenna, basically a longwire with quarter wavelength “tails” dropping down at quarter wavelength intervals. The “tails” give the longwire gain off its end by acting as directors. Can’t wait to set one up!
All in all a very lively and information session. Thanks, Dan!
Next session was “When Giants Walked the Bands”, a fascinating presentation by LaMar Ray, WA7LT. The presentation was an amazing collection of photographs from the 1950s to the mid 1980s showing the growth and development of multi-multi (multi-operators / multiu-transmitters) contesting in the US. It was fabulous to see shots of vintage gear, and ham shacks. But the real stars of the show were the unbelievable antennas and towers these fellows built. Have to be seen to be believed. Great stuff!
As for the hamfest itself, here’s a look at the main floor with all the tables set up:
At one of the tables a guy a a complete HW-9 set: transceiver, antenna tuner, and
power supply. The HW-9 was the my first kit and I still regret that I lost track of
my rig over the years. But, great memories seeing this equipment.

Follow-on to 2005 paper on sunspots, solar wind and Propagation

New research finds that the number of sunspots provides an incomplete measure of changes in the Sun’s impact on Earth over the course of the 11-year solar cycle. The study, led by scientists at the High Altitude Observatory of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the University of Michigan, finds that Earth was bombarded last year with high levels of solar energy at a time when the Sun was in an unusually quiet phase and sunspots had virtually disappeared.
Scientists previously thought that the streams largely disappeared as the solar cycle approached minimum. But when the study team compared measurements within the current solar minimum interval, taken in 2008, with measurements of the last solar minimum in 1996, they found that Earth in 2008 was continuing to resonate with the effects of the streams. Although the current solar minimum has fewer sunspots than any minimum in 75 years, the Sun’s effect on Earth’s outer radiation belt, as measured by electron fluxes, was more than three times greater last year than in 1996.

When the solar cycle was at a minimum level in 1996, the Sun sprayed Earth with relatively few, weak high-speed streams containing turbulent magnetic fields (left). In contrast, the Sun bombarded Earth with stronger and longer-lasting streams last year (right) even though the solar cycle was again at a minimum level. The streams affected Earth’s outer radiation belt, posing a threat to earth-orbiting satellites, and triggered space weather disturbances, lighting up auroras in the sky at higher latitudes. (Illustration by Janet Kozyra with images from NASA, courtesy Journal of Geophysical Research – Space Physics.)

If you want to really understand the interaction of solar activity and HF propagation read this very well written article by Paul Harden, NA5N. The 8-page PDF is a paper presented at the 2005 Dayton Hamfest FDIM Symposium and is entitled, “Solar Acitivty & HF Propagation“. Paul provides excellent diagrams, examples and explanations in a style that’s very accessible. He also offers valuable insights for QRP operators. This is a must read paper.

Lofty goal

One of my goals over the next year is to operate QRP from as many
3,000+ foot mountains/buttes around my area as possible.

My gear will include homebrew antennas and a highly portable kit-based
xcvr. Still have not decided which rig I'm going to build but I'm
considering Elecraft, Hendricks, MFJ and several others.

I want to keep the set-up as simple and lightweight as possible as
some expeditions we be done on foot or on a bicycle.