Tuesday, October 20, 2009

1st Ever Tropo Contact!

A couple of weeks ago brought another first for this VHF Man. A frontal boundary set up in the Southeast allowing for some medium range tropospheric propagation on 2 Meters, 222, and 432. Now based on what the experienced operators say, it was a "run of the mill" tropo opening, really nothing to write home about, but for this newcomer it was a blast!

I came late to the party, first hearing about the opening via an e-mail from one of the TV DXing e-mails lists. In years past, I was an avid DX'er of TV signals, and even though I'm not active in that part of the hobby these days, I still read the mail and plan to return to it someday.

I got the e-mail alerting me to an opening in Tennessee and North Alabama at about 7PM. I rushed out to the shack to see the APRS Map lit up in bright red all across my area. I turned on the rig and tuned to 144.200. Scanning around a bit, I heard nothing. I quickly checked the NOAA weather radio frequencies, and sure enough, some strange sounding material and city names indicated a strong opening towards the Mid-West.

Retuning to 144.200, I started using the voice keyer to call CQ. These went unanswered. On a whim, I filled on a 50 watt FM rig and tuned it to 146.520 Mhz (Simplex) and gave a quick CQ there too. To my surprise, I was immediately answered by Bobby Livingston, N5YLE in Little Rock, Arkansas! He was almost full quieting!

My FM rig has a three element beam, mounted vertically in the attic, and is fed with 1/2" hardline. While it's a solid performer on the local repeaters, it's no world beater. I was amazed!

Bobby turned out to be in EM34, which was a new one for me! Grid #64 went into the log book just that easily. Returning to SSB, I called several more times without answer. Suddenly, more and more stations began to appear. Most of them in EM55, EM65, etc. out to about a distance of 200-250 miles. Many of them were new calls in the log, but no new grids. The surprising thing is that even with my compromised antennas, many of them sounded strong like locals. Just working eight or nine stations on 2 Meter Sideband in a given evening was a thrill for me!

Sadly, the opening died off around 9PM, with no additional grids worked. But it was a taste of what tropo has to offer, and helped to build my hopes of making VUCC on 2 Meters from my indoor confines.

Thanks Bobby! My 1st ever tropo contact may have been on FM simplex, but it sill counts! The card is in the mail.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Grid #62 via WSJT Meteor Scatter!


Thanks to the skill and patience of Harry Johnson, WB3BEL, Grid #62 on 2 Meters went into the logbook this morning. We worked just after sunrise on 144.130 using WSJT Meteor Scatter software.

Just moments before Harry had worked another station in Alabama in EM64 in just a few minutes. I advised Harry that it might take longer due to my indoor antennas. We started the QSO, and within just a couple of sequences, I received a loud "ping" on the radio and a brief bit of audio. This decoded into 26 N1LF 2626 WB3BEL

For those not familiar with WSJT software messages, that means WB3BEL has received both call signs and is indicating that my signal strength is 26. Since I had now received both calls, I quickly shifted to sending my reply, which is simply R26.

Using the software, many proforma messages such as R26, RRR, and 73 can be sent using "short message tones" which really improve the performance in a weak signal environment. We had both agreed to use short message format prior to our attempted QSO.

Long minutes passed, and several more meteor pings brought me the same message over and over. This wasn't making sense. Harry has an impressive antenna array and should be hearing me fine. The issue is usually the receive side on my end. Literally, if I can hear them, I can work them.

I kept waiting for the "RRR" message from Harry that would indicate that he had copied my signal report and both calls...making the QSO valid. But instead, I just keep getting 26 N1LF 2626 WB3BEL. Something was wrong...but my XYL was making conversation, and we'd had less than four hours of sleep. My brain wasn't in "troubleshooting mode". As over an hour passed on, I finally spotted my error! I had forgotten to "check" the short message format box.

Harry's software had been hearing my replies but was unable to properly decode them! I switch to short message format and send "R26" again. Within two sequences, I got Harry's reply, "RRR". I responded with "73" and when he had copied that, I explained my error on the chat page.

So, special thanks to Harry for hanging in there! SASE from the village idiot is in the mail to you today, Harry. Thank you for Grid #62 and another step closer to my goal.

I've been seeing new callsigns on Pingjockey lately, and hope that more VHF Men will give WSJT a try. It's great to be able to work folks nearly around the clock, and is a great mode. With the Leonids meteor shower coming up in November, you're getting your feet wet at the perfect time. They should be plenty of good DX in the new couple of months. Give it a try!

Home Owners Association Antenna Issues

HOA Puts A "Stop" To Rover Antenna Too
Honestly, I'm trying hard to stay positive about living in a deed restricted neighborhood, and the impact that has on amateur radio activity. But I'm at my wits end.

Friday's mail brought a "warning notice" from my homeowners association informing me that I was in violation of the CC&R agreement which prohibits any outdoor antenna with the exception of small satellite dish antennas. According to the letter, the HOA had received a complaint from one of my neighbors who could see the "tip tops" of several large antennas in my backyard.

Since I have no outdoor antennas, I was more than a little puzzled. A quick stroll into the backyard revealed the problem. My PVC "rover rack" of large VHF/UHF Yagis was sitting on my patio table so that I could mow the lawn. Even with the privacy fence, the tops of it could likely be seen by one of my neighbors. I knew just which one is must be.

The Back Story: Just a few days prior to receiving the letter, my wife and I had been in the backyard spray painting some props for our Halloween decorations. We had placed a painters drop cloth on our patio and were doing a few touch ups during the early afternoon. We also used a Skill saw to cut a few PVC pipes for use in the props. A noisy and messy operation best done outside.

One of our neighbors was having several of her friends, and their children over for what Yuppies refer to as "play dates". Despite the emphasis on children, these are little more than excuses for the wives to dress up, act snotty, and gossip about their friends. During that afternoon, I had noticed several "hard looks" in our direction meant to convey her disappointment that we were doing labor in our backyard during her social event.  

My wife and I rarely even visit the backyard, and our college age kids have even given up using the hot tub, so I'm sure that she didn't expect anyone to be outside making noise during the afternoon. It should be noted that our temporary project is perfectly acceptable use of our property according to our neighborhood rules, leaving her little to complain about to the HOA. I suppose that when she spotted the antennas, she simply jumped on it as an excuse to make a fuss.

In any event, the experience has convinced me that any attempt to "hide" a tilt over mast would be futile. I'll simply have to learn to live with the reduced performance of attic mounted antennas, and place the rover rack into storage off-site.

There is little else that I can do until the economy improves and the demands for existing homes perks up. Maybe in a year or two, we'll consider selling the home, and moving to another neighborhood. Meanwhile, the quest for indoor VUCC on 2 Meters continues....