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More of This and That….

Not a lot new happens when you get older. In our case our big event was a trip to Aggie Land that happened this weekend past and that is always a thrill. This weekend’s events saw a confluence of three Aggie events in a single weekend. First, Muster: a tribute to fallen Aggie’s that passed this year. Its quite a moving event if you have not experienced it and one which does not occur at any other institution as far as I know. Second was a Squadron Banquet for the spring frog class of corps cadets. Always a pleasure to attend. Lastly, dedication of Memorial Student Center. But most importantly we got to visit with our son. Its a longish drive-3 hours or more each way and with my vision is a strain at times, but was a truly rewarding time.

Our code practice sessions seemed to have moved into the darker hours of the day lately, most often occurring between 5 and 8 PM and utilizing 14 Mhz. That’s okay with me as we have our granddaughter to mind two days a week for the next eight weeks while our daughter has classes. She is scheduled to graduate in August this summer so this small visit time will come to a close. It seems like yesterday that all those grand kids were just born. Time does fly.

I wish I had some new equipment to chat about here but everything just keeps on working as it is designed to do. My antenna must not be large enough as it seems to stay up when Mother Nature exacts some fury. Along with modifying our CW Sked times, sun spots appear to be following along the path to shrinkage as forecast by Livingstone and Penn. This heightens my need for an 80/160 Meter solution for the near future. That will be a tough one to crack. The obvious choice for a small lot solution is a vertical but ground losses are so high that I am loathe to go that direction. Even a low balanced solution would be less lossy.  However horizontal space is at a premium in my home plat. Somehow we will muddle through this dilemma, given time and creativity. Hopefully it will work well for domestic contests and maybe a little bit of DX.

It appears as though summer is upon us already. We had no winter at all so we expect lots of buggy critters this summer. I can testify that the pollen is already thick and I am suffering the worst summer of allergies since leaving California 22 odd years ago. I thought those days were done. Well, not so fast I guess. It appears that particular form of allergy is driven by molds of all sort. Too much rain I suppose, not a bad thing for farmers but hey, my garden can be irrigated. 🙂

That’s all for this post. I will attempt more radio content next time but lately we have been motivated by weather and roofs and all manner of repairs. In a way I am happy that radio things keep percolating along as one expects. Too many surprises dents ones soul.

Thanks for reading my Blog. Best, Chas W5PG

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Posted by on April 23, 2012 in Family, Radio

 

Nature’s Voice

It has been a very busy week. One hail and wind storm followed by a mad scramble by yours truly up on to the roof to tape some trash bags over now fully opened sky lights, all whilst dodging what seemed to me to be bolts of lightning.  Casually falling, partially at least, off the top rung of my good friend the “Ladder”! Have I said that I am entirely too old for this sort of thing? If not, then let me say so here and now. Insurance adjusters have come and gone, landscapers have worked their magic once again removing old shredded shrubbery and newly minted weeds so that once again “Casa Cuesta Mucho” looks fresh. The tally for the week is one new roof, new guttering, pool decking repaired (or will be at some point) and one totaled automobile. It seems insurance companies do not repair hail damaged 11 year old cars, no matter how nice their condition and low the miles on the odometer. For a very brief moment on Tuesday afternoon I found myself hearing Nature’s Voice. Nature spoke to me for what seemed an eternity while the canary, the dog and I huddled in our front bathroom with me leaning on the inside wall which was vibrating significantly for the first time in my memory. The noise was horrendous, not from the dreaded “Train” one is supposed to hear if a tornado is present, but rather from the sound of softball (yes softball) sized hail stones breaching our sky lights and tearing shingles from the roof. 2:12 PM to 2:21 PM was a very long nine minutes for us “hiders in bathrooms”. So much for bravery in the face of disaster.

I have not been able to get to the gym at all since Tuesday afternoon. Just way too many things happening and so next week we will begin anew. A fresh start to a lifelong journey to lose more weight and tone up a bit. The trip to the roof on Tuesday told me I was not doing enough as the old body was sore for two days after that trip up the ladder twice with the roof scramble mixed in. Old age is a sneaky critter. It doesn’t tell you outright that your not in good shape, it slithers up on you through good books and television and sitting in front of computers and radio sets like a perverted dose of junk food for the mind. I am not entirely sure what destroys your body and ages you most; a book or a Twinkie. Probably both are guilty.

Speaking of books, I completed QTC ( I have a message for you) this morning. I had purchased it some months ago and when I got distracted it was put up on a shelf and so, while waiting insurance people/calls etc this week, I got a bit restless and found it again where my wife had placed it. This is another find at the ABE Used on line book store. It turns out used words read just as well as new words and are much cheaper. QTC was written anonymously by a ships RO (radio officer) about his life on board merchant ships while being employed as a wireless operator. I enjoyed it a lot and anyone with a Maritime background or just a dose of curiosity should read it. It has a chapter at the end detailing and diagnosing the Titanic tragedy. A lot of ink has been devoted to this subject but this is, I believe, a unique view. The book inspired me to make this post and to, as I almost always do, switch on my radio and listen to quite another version of Nature’s Voice-that of HF. HF Radio is spectacular in its’ own right and my life is wed to it. At my earliest stages of life, I cannot say why or how,  my DNA became part of the aether, or at least developed and affinity for paying it a lot of attention. First as a Ham, then as a shipboard maintainer of comms gear and now once again as a Ham. A Radio Ham throughout my Navy days, I had little opportunity to actually get on the radio as it was wartime. Sporadically there were opportunities but they were infrequent ones at most. We are now in the part of the year where I celebrate my radio anniversary: this year is 53 years of almost continuous involvement with radio in one way or another. Although the early years were filled with wonder, via learning and world wide travel, I must say that these later years are much more rewarding. I now have the time, have some knowledgeable friends, and can take the time necessary to let things gently simmer along until the component parts are fully ripened and (I will not say fully understood) at least partially recognized as valuable and ordered and stack ranked into their proper places in nature.

Thanks for reading my Blog. Best, Chas W5PG

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2012 in Maritime, Morse, Radio

 

Well now, at least my antenna is still standing!

We had a big storm mess around these parts on Tuesday afternoon. At about 2:21 a large wind and hail event passed though and over our little Casa and tore us up pretty well. The photos will show for themselves. Fortunately it was mostly sky lights, roof, guttering and a car which happened to be outdoors that took the brunt of it. Getting the open sky lights covered whilst rain, hail and electrical storm activity were present was not my favorite bits of this exercise. My antenna feed line somehow got snapped off at the house entry point which is strange as it is covered by the eves of the house. And so begins the long recovery process. Insurance companies (car and home – same insurance but different adjusters) and finding reasonable vendors etc etc. I could not get a photo of the broken glass sky lights as they are covered by heavy tarps and so light is not available.

However, we are better off than a lot of folks that lost everything so we continue to count our blessings.

Thanks for reading our Blog. Best, Chas W5PG

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2012 in Family, Radio

 

This N That

It has been a while. I wish I was prolific but alas things get in the way. This week I spent the week organizing a secondary meeting out “west” to accommodate some club members that cannot possibly get to our normal weekday and evening meet up in the North of Dallas. As a result we are having a Saturday meet up in Arlington for club members out towards that center of activity. Writing letters, making pdf attachments and creating mailing lists made me feel somewhat useful again. A rhetorical question for some of you old timers out there…..Have you ever felt discounted by your age? It almost seems as though younger folk discount our older folk’s “shelf stock” of ability due to our advancing age. If they only knew……

I had an interesting discussion with a friend about contesting and competition in general. The long and short of it is my friend was disappointed in his results when compared to a second buddy near him that had a comparable station. After much analysis (and I mean sliced every way from Sunday analysis) it came down to his friends use of “spotting” nets vs his use of “no spotting nets”. For my friend, search and pounce on his own was “his” fun. Digging them out on his own was a special aspect of his contesting fun that in all essence “Kept him coming back year after year”. Well, talk about apples and oranges….Firstly, the scores were not that much different, secondly, the hours in seat were similar. The difference came from being assisted. After a lot of thought we mutually came to the conclusion that changing his game to compete with his buddy most likely would spoil some aspects of what he enjoyed and may ruin his “fun”. IMHO that isn’t worth a better score.

Almost every station/operator is unique. If you are competing, then make yourself the target rich environment. Year over year comparisons with your station and your equipment are what matter most. Are we improving, losing or just marking time? There is far too much variation in geography, equipment, and a persons “personal equation” to make external comparisons anything more than academic.

The nature of the human animal is to be competitive. We humans almost always turn whatever we are doing into a sport. We have to be disciplined enough to recognize that sport and competition cannot ruin our enjoyment of things. To that end I am reexamining my core principles with respect to my hobbies. What keeps me coming back? With Radio Sport for me it is mostly social. Sure breaking a pileup late on a Sunday against impossible odds for a new mult is certainly fun. But being part of the shared effort by joining into something is more fun. Perhaps this is why I enjoy Multi-Single so much more than any other category of contesting. It leaves time to sleep, cook, eat and spin those tales that ultimately become the most cherished contesting (lo radio) memories. Ive left a lot unsaid here. Anyone that has participated in any sort of radio contesting will undoubtedly know what I am talking about. It is, after all, as much about people as it is about winning, losing and applied technology.

This brings me to my last point. Peer pressure to perform. For better or worse, Radio Sporting tosses the best in with the least. That is part of its’ charm and also a curse. This occurs locally, nationally, and world wide. If you are a club member, the natural tendency is to gravitate toward having performance anxiety. Not in the usual sense but with radios! There’s that peer pressure again. One may tend to “not show up” because of perceived lack of score or not enough time to do well or make a worthy contribution. Nonsense! Lets not get the little mixed up with the big as my father used to tell me. You’re playing on a worldwide stage but your only competing with yourself. What you do year over year is what matters if competition is your draw.It is possible that competition is not your draw in which case _any_ score submitted is a good score. It is, after all, your fun! This has to remain fun or we all go away. To that end I suggest we all revisit our core reasons for playing at Radio Sport. Find those elements that keep you coming back and build on them. At the same time recognize that your core elements change over time and be sensitive to those changes. That, my friends, will keep us grounded and help us to find rewards with our pastimes over many years.

Thanks for reading my Blog. Best, Chas W5PG

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2012 in Radio, Radio Contesting

 

Contesting- ARRL DX Phone 2012

Every once in a long while one is presented with an opportunity to do something very special. Recently, because of our organizing a small and local contest club, an opportunity presented itself to play radio at a very special place. Last weekend, we journeyed to the southern reaches of our State of Texas to play some radio at what I will call euphemistically “Radio Disneyland”. Nothing I have ever done with Ham Radio comes close to this experience. However, along with opportunity comes responsibility so work was involved and indeed happened. It took me two solid days of operating to get my sense of hearing back in gear. With antennas like these one can hear a pin in Belarus drop on a soft carpet. A four yagi stack and a two yagi stack for each high band position. A high yagi non stack for each high band operating position. The description and photos are not and cannot possibly do justice to this accumulation of hardware. You can enjoy it from its own web pages by visiting here.

Along the way I managed to snap a few photos that also do not do justice. It was a hoot. It was fun. It was intimidating. All I can say is wow!

The station belongs to non other than George NR5M and I would like to make a public “Thanks” to George for the opportunity to play some radio at this station. Also there are a lot of supporting staff that play a large role in anything like this and so a “Hats Off” to Kenny and others who helped make a comfortable weekend for us all.

 

Thanks for reading my Blog. Best, Chas W5PG

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2012 in Radio, Radio Contesting

 

New Area Contest Group

Lately I have been attending the stirrings of a new Amateur Contest Group here in North Texas. Beginning late last spring, a few erstwhile fellows began meeting in the Far North Dallas area with the intention of activating, or at least testing the waters, to see if sufficient interest levels exist to support forming a contesting group here. The local group seems to never meet, and has no web presence so we are building one.

Simply stated, the core principle at work here is fostering any level of interest in contesting that we find and trying to help it flourish. Licensed? Not Licensed but interested in learning? Come on down! We are a collection of mostly mid-sized stations, with a mixture of seasoned and some with only light experience, some with nothing more than curiosity and enthusiasm. Thanks to N5UI (George) we have a web presence ( http://www.dfwcontest.com/index.html ) and a reflector at Yahoo Groups. So far interest is growing and many of the participants enjoy meeting up once per month on the first Wednesday at a local watering hole as noted on the web site. Structure is loose and we are trying to keep performance expectations such that this can remain a hobby vs being treated as “work”. Those that can play in a contest will play, and those that choose, can avoid playing in contests that do not interest them much. Joining is as simple as signing up at the web site. Needless to say, many war stories ruminate within the confines of the Bier Garten on First Wednesdays!

Like myself, many of the guys have residential restrictions and so have to maintain a lower profile. Is there a place for small pistols or mid-sized stations in a world of giant “mega stations” that grab all the column inches in Ham Radio Journals? We think so. In fact we are predominantly smaller suburban challenged stations with small footprints. QRP? Fine. Just submit a score. Activity is key. Even if only marginal activity. At some point the confluence of face to face meets combined with a free weekend and pretty soon something magical begins to flourish; slowly at first and then into something very rewarding. Improving skills, your hardware, learning or just plain socialization; contesting is a fruitful and entertaining way to spend a few hours relearning old skills or making new ones. The thrill of discovering a new opening, or having an unsuspecting new friend teach you a new twist on an old familiar technical issue or just doing a multi-single with like minded fellows sharing a family recipe for “Rolling Thunder Contest Chili” or “Chili Ding” (Hormel in a microwave ) or sharing a special new blend of coffee while wondering who will be the latest chap to try to steal the run frequency? It isn’t for everyone I realize, but for those that experience a weekend of contest fun and weed though the QRM, there isn’t anything like it.  Admittedly, the best of all my Ham Radio memories are contest memories. Those memories all stem from the mixture of wonderful people, fresh challenges and idiosyncratic episodes that defy description and later impart a joy that really has to be experienced to fully appreciated.

Wonderful things begin to happen when a garden is even minimally tilled. Our monthly meeting and the ever present contest opportunity provide the garden. Participation is the cultivator. Come join us for an enjoyable evening over a meal or perhaps a session in front of your rig, where technology can meet new faces and fun almost always breaks out.

Thanks for reading my Blog. Best, Chas W5PG

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2012 in Morse, QRP, Radio, Radio Contesting

 

Children and Radio Enrichment

Yesterday at noontime, I didn’t do my normal CW practice for an hour. Instead, I worked the children of Winn Brook Elementary via 18 Mhz SSB and through the good offices of W1HIS. Chuck has been volunteering his services as a science teacher for nine years now and throughout the nine years has used Ham Radio to facilitate that instruction. He solicited his club (YCCC) to donate some equipment and uses an IC_746 Pro and an Icom Amp with wire antennas to introduce Ham Radio, Geography and also Morse Code. The class has enough touch keyers to let each child have one and by the end of class in June Chuck has the students sending and receiving the Morse Code at 18 words per minute.

Chucks class room teacher partner is a lady named Donna who herself has a call ( I forgot it) and has fostered this enrichment for her classroom and permitted Chuck to come into the class setting and worked her curriculum around the Science Enrichment. Aside from normal local SSB contacts, Chuck works some DX which serves nicely to help with Geography and also opens lots of doors for the youth to experience other cultures. It is a lot for young minds to gather in but they seem very enthusiastic.

W1HIS with students at Winn Brook Elementary

We spent about 1.3 hours on 18 Mhz SSB with the children on Friday and worked through each of the three “neighborhoods” that the class is divided into. This was my second attempt at having a QSO with the kids and this one lasted a bit longer than the first and seemed to go very well. There were a number of stations reading our “mail” and some stopped by to compliment the intro to Ham radio to the class. Among those stopping by were KU9RK and KI4EFP. Thanks fellas!

W1HIS with Winn Brook student

All in all a wonderful way to spend some quality time with nice kids. I really enjoyed the whole of that QSO!

Neighborhood 1

Nathanial, Jacob, Eleanor, Symantha, Stella, Calder, Amaleah.

Neighborhood 2

Theo I, Theo G, Rebecca, Kavya, Anya, Ryann.

Neighborhood 3

Brian, Brennan, Isabella, Julia, Juliette, Angelina, and Theo M.

Thanks kids!

Thanks for reading my Blog. Best, Chas W5PG.

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2012 in Radio, Uncategorized