Sunday, 02 October, 2005
Ham radio happenings
I was busy most of last week in the final push to get the September milestone deliverable out to the client. As a result I've not been doing much outside of normal work and home life. About the only non-work activities I've managed recently involve ham radio.
- I usually take my lunch break at home and try to take a full hour. It's good to get away from what I'm working on to let my brain rest and allow whatever current problem filter through the back of my mind. While I'm preparing (usually waiting for the microwave to finish) and eating my lunch I've been reading about radio wave propagation and studying for my Extra Class license. It sure beats the techno-thrillers I've been reading recently, which seem to be the same old story with the same old characters doing the same old things with new little twists. But that's a separate rant.
- I've made it a habit each evening to turn on the HF rig and scan the bands. I try to work at least one contact every night to get an idea not only about how my antenna works but also to get more proficient at operating, getting more familiar with generally accepted practices, and developing an ear for the way people say things on the air. Anybody can work strong signals. It takes practice to work weak signals and carry on a conversation with somebody for whom English is a second or third language. I still do more listening than talking.
- The semi-annual Belton ham fest (think of a flea market for radio gear) was this Saturday. My friend Steve and I went up to walk around and peer at the cool stuff and to pick up a few things that are difficult to find locally. The place was deserted compared to the last few times I've been there. More than half of the table spaces inside were empty and it wasn't crowded at all. I think Katrina and Rita had something to do with that, as Belton is usually well attended by people from Louisiana and east Texas. The price of gas probably didn't help much, either.
- The California QSO Party was held this weekend, with stations in California trying to make as many contacts as possible and stations in other states trying to contact as many California stations as they could. Band conditions were about what you'd expect at the bottom of the solar cycle (which is to say not very good) but I still managed 50 contacts (all on 20 meters) in about four hours of operating on my modest little station. Another skill that requires lots of practice is making oneself heard in a pileup. I can't compete on signal strength with stations that have 500 watt amplifiers and directional antennas. It takes patience, but eventually I get through.
- Next week I start practicing Morse Code again. At least, that's my plan. For some reason, the idea of using Morse Code interests me more than voice. We'll see how I feel about that once I get proficient and actually make some CW contacts.
Maybe I've gone a bit nuts with the radio, but I've found that the only way I learn something is by immersing myself in it and work on it a little every day. It sure beats playing FreeCell or watching TV.