Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Not letting it go to my head -

Looked at the Rookie Roundup final results last night.  To say that participation in the Rookie CW contest was light is an very large understatement.  Looks to me like there were only 32 hams licensed in the last three years who use CW & managed to find time to participate in the Roundup.  That doesn't sound very good, but I note that there were only 65 entrants to the Rookie Roundup SSB.  I can't find results for the RTTY event.

So without much competition, I managed to place 2nd in 6th Calling Area & 9th in the country.  I thought that was pretty good for a traffic handler.  The overall first place winner was in California & the person that I had in mind when I said that some participants sounded like experienced contesters.  She is KE1BYL.  Watch out for her -

After I read that, I immediately proceeded to make a large mess of net control on SCN, the local slow-speed net.  It was a comedy of errors, so I'll relate it.

There was a ragchew going on, so I moved up 500 Hz & it took them a minute or so to find me.  I was really expecting what we have had nearly constantly for the last two months - a long band, basically dead for our local group of stations.  I was startled by check-ins & traffic!  The first check-in was a TCC op who for some reason checks into our net sometimes.  I copied his call wrong, do didn't realize right away who it was.  The regular guys came along right after that.  I managed to get the traffic listed & started sending people QSY (to another nearby frequency).  I seemed to be unable to keep track of what they were doing, though, since I had to take my hand off the key to write!  That works when people are passing traffic on frequency, then you have time to take notes, but not when they are QSY!  You have to keep it moving.

I also broke protocol regarding RN6 traffic.  K6IFF was RN6 rep, but I'd sent him off to get something else, so I took KI6BHB's RN6 traffic.  My mindset was that I had to go there anyway, since I had other traffic to take, I might as well take another one, too.  The correct & proper way would have been to instead give my traffic to K6IFF -

The guys were nice about letting me know when I'd screwed up, but it was embarrassing.

Then, when I went to RN6, I stumbled (over my key?) on my check-in.  Net control was someone I have never encountered before, he didn't copy my call & it just went downhill from there.  I did manage finally to get correctly checked in & the traffic got passed.  I managed to follow protocol, but bad nerves always make my CW worse.  Kept telling myself - "You may panic freely between transmissions."  Between nets would be even better.

One good thing I notice later about the SCN fiasco - I did not write down everything that was going on - I couldn't!  Yet, I didn't get lost - I head copied enough.  That is progress.  Still, one has to write.  The traffic list, who's where & what messages they are passing, etc.

I don't know if it would be harder for me to learn to write left-handed or key left-handed.  Both sound pretty daunting!  Yikes!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Pineapple Express

I do believe that this run of rain storms is done.  Because the moisture blows in from the region of Hawaii, it is often called the Pineapple Express.  Not very cold storms, but wet.  We've been at it since last Thursday.  The grand finale for Pasadena was a thunderstorm cell that apparently passed directly over my house, while I was at work & the dentist, dumping several inches of rain.  I think there was about an inch of rain in the "rain gauge" when I left for work & there were six inches when I got home.  The dogs' yard was partially flooded, but everything else was fine.  Landline phone is still dead, but for some reason the DSL is working.  Of course everything is damp ...

So the total since last Thursday is about 17 inches.  For some areas that may not sound like a lot, but it is just about our average yearly rain.  Considering that we have a La Nino going on, which normally should be giving us a drought, I think this just goes to prove how difficult it is to predict climate & weather!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Customer non-service

It seems that my landline phone service has succumbed to five days (nine inches) of rain.  During the night, it generated a false 911 call, so I awoke at 1:30 am with the cops banging on my door & the dogs barking their heads off.  The officers suggested it might be a telephone problem - indeed, the dial tone sounds a lot like some of the noise on my radio!  I couldn't go right back to sleep, so I decided to open an on-line trouble ticket.  Of course the DSL wasn't working either, so I  used my G3 netbook.  No luck.  Even the robot sleeps at night - service not available until 5 am.

So sometime after 5 am, I got up, coerced the dogs with Milk Bones to go outside & do their business, then went to work.  Tried again to open an on-line trouble ticket.  At least there is a text box to explain the problem!  But again no luck.  High volume of customer complaints caused the system to not be able to access my account information.

So I tried the "611" repair number.  "Please call the repair number on your local phone bill."  Of course, now I'm at work, so don't have my phone bill.  I found a number on the web site, though, which a robot answered.  A trouble ticket got opened, but there was no option for customer input such as "it logged a false 911 call."  I'll have to "check on status" later & get that added.

I'm sure they can do some on-line testing, but the appointment they gave me for repair was on January 2, a week and a half in the future; sometime between 8 am & 7 pm, as if I have nothing else to do besides loaf around without DSL, waiting for them.  Yeah, I know that's "normal", but it's a low standard for customer service.

Maybe if & when things dry out, my service will come back on its own?  I actually don't use my landline phone all that much, but the DSL is important.  With a little luck, my service won't continue to disrupt the 911 system, or cause them to start ignoring calls from my location.

I also see this morning, that quite a large number of seismic stations are not reporting.  (I'm glad it's not me that's on duty!)  Many of their signals get here by various telephone company services.  So it seems that the telco is first in line to not be able to cope with Mother Nature.  I know that it's possible for a telephone system to work in the rain - otherwise places like Seattle or Hilo would have not phone service at all.

I have AT&T service.  Trouble with landline is that you have  no choice - whatever corporate lawyers may call it, it's a monopoly!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Rookie Roundup

The Rookie Roundup - six hours of Morse fun with an emphasis on people who have gotten their ham licenses in the last three years, when there have been no Morse code exams.  These Rookies are totally self-motivated to learn the code.  I was VERY impressed with the speed & skill of some of the Rookies!  Some of them are clearly serious contesters.  Not measly traffic handlers, like I am.

Rumors that CW is dead seem to be pretty much unfounded.

The Sun was not really into the game, though - no spots at all on this side & solar flux was only 81.  20 meters was the only really open band until 3 pm, when 40 meters started to get good.  There were a few people on 15 meters, but I never caught up with any of them.

I got 41 QSO's on the 20 m & 40 m bands, distributed all over 25 US states & Canadian provinces.  12 of the contacts were with other Rookies.  That gave me a total of 1325 points.  I'm happy with that & I had a good time.

While I was under the headphones, it rained 3 inches at my location (in 6 hours)!  At least my station ground is nice & moist.  It's flooded, in fact!

So now I'm back net control (for no activity) on the SKYWARN net.  There are starting to be problems out there - flash flood watches, etc.  The ground is saturated & nothing of the rain coming in the next few days will be able to soak in.  It will have to run off., hopefully not taking too much with it.

It never rains in California ....

We have been having a rainstorm here in Sunny Southern California - actually a series of them.  Almost 3 inches so far where I live, more to the north between about Santa Barbara & San Francisco.  Authorities (well actually everyone) have concern about the possibility of mudslides below the areas burned by the Station Fire & other fires last year.  Some vegetation has grown in since the fire, to help hold the soil, but not very much.

Rain itself is not a serious concern, unless roads flood, or frantic Christmas shoppers forget how to drive in rain, etc. (that's no joke!).  But mudslides are a big concern.

I've been taking my turn running an ARES/SKYWARN radio net.  If any hams who live below last year's burn areas were to notice any severe conditions, they could check into this net & report it.  The report would then be forwarded to the National Weather Service, to help refine their warnings & updates.  There was no activity on the net overnight except well-wishers from ARES.  This is good.  Entertained myself reading The Life of Stars by Shaviv - a book on the history of stellar astronomy.

I was on from 10 pm to 2 am, then slept up to another net that I have at 8 am.  Now I'm back until 10 am.  My plan is to take part in the ARRL Rookie Roundup CW contest beginning at 10 am.  Been looking forward to this for awhile - I don't think there are all that many hams licensed since 2008 (considered Rookies) who regularly do CW.  Propagation conditions don't look very good, but we can always try.  Longer-time hams are supposed to get into the contest & help us get points.

I could use a little more sleep, but it's only a 6-hour long contest.

On the other hand, though, we need to maintain the SKYWARN net for several days, as the rain keeps coming.  As N6VI just said, "It's free water from Hawaii.  We don't even have to pay for it."  With luck, he'll be right & won't have to pay for it ....

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A little contesting

Took part in the Straight Key Century Club's Weekend Sprintathon today.  This is a 24-hour CW contest, with mechanical keys only (straight keys, bugs & sideswipers).  SKCC turns out to be one of the fastest growing radio clubs, right now.  Normal CW contests, where keyboard sending at 30 WPM is standard practice, are too fast for me to follow still, but I find SKCC great fun.  There is a Weekend Sprintathon once a month & a 2-hour Sprint once a month.  Regular, good code practice.

Most SKCC contesters run about 15 WPM.  There are some new people, though & SKCC ops always slow down to accommodate them.  The other civilized thing about SKCC contests is that people actually sleep at night.  I like that.

The low bands were not great, but I was surprised to find people on 15 meters.  (So the Sun must be doing something right!)  I ended up getting 29 QSO's, which I think is a personal record.  Got 14 different states & one DX!  LW3EX in Argentina answered my 75 Watt call & surprised the heck out of me.  I really thought I had his call sign wrong & was trying to figure what I had wrong!

Check out

So my CW brain cells & my hand are a little tired, but I had good fun.

Lego Antikytheria

Amazing - guess it's purpose is really known for sure, now that it's seen in action!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Just FYI

The WINMOR now works!! I sent myself e-mail, via 80 meters to KE7XO in Las Vegas & from there onto the Internet. After this worked, I sent one each to a couple of my fellow traffic handlers. Then I sent a radiogram to a fellow ham this same way, via Las Vegas, to the Pacific Digital Coordinator in WA, hoping it will make its way into the NTS. We'll see.

I've wondered about this too

funny pictures-Ok, I gives up, where are all the Cookies and Spam I heard about??
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Depth of backup

Had an interesting experience on the traffic nets Thursday night.

I was supposed to take traffic from K6IFF on SCN, the Southern California CW slow net, to the Los Angeles Net, which is a voice net on a local repeater system.  Only problem was that, as has been usual lately, 80 meter NVIS conditions stank.  Being a local training net, SCN has no members outside the area who can act as relays.  If we can't hear each other, there isn't much we can do.  I couldn't hear K6IFF, except to know he was there & take a guess on when he was done transmitting.  I could tell he had listed a lot of traffic, so I just held my nose & sent back "NEG CPY PSE EMAIL IT" & excused him.  Like the old animated feature "Wizards", sometimes you have to just bite it & use modern methods.

As luck would have it, the Time Warner cable internet system for all of southern California crashed just about then.  And this is the service that K6IFF subscribes to.

Sometime before the LAN started, though, I did get the traffic.  My internet is DSL & it was working fine, delivering me a nice message from  The message had made its way to Las Vegas by ham radio HF, to a Winlink node station, which then put it onto the internet.

Winlink has been around for awhile - very popular with yachters who are hams & becoming more so with hams who think about how to communicated in & out of a disaster area where the internet is not working.  It features strongly in the National Traffiic System's new App. B MPG - Chapter 6, "NTSD and Radio Email." So it was totally "fair" for K6IFF to send me traffic in this fashion (whereas regular e-mail is used in desperation, but definitely is not kosher!).

Until recently, a Winlink capable station was required to have a $1500. Terminal Node Controller (TNC) using a proprietary mode called PACTOR.  Not any more!  Winmor now gives the same capability using the computer's sound card, or an external sound card.  A bit complicated to set up, but much more affordable.

The traffic turned out to be for the ORG Section & not LAX Section, but that doesn't matter.  The point is that in the end, the successful method was ham radio.

So guess what I'm doing today .... downloading software & figuring out how to set up an external sound card ...