06/25/2007: This year, I decided to take part in the annual Field Day event, promoted by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL).
While I have been a ham radio operator for several years, I haven’t been as active in ham-related events as I should have been. Some of that has been due to my preoccupation with other issues; i.e., my health, other hobbies, work, etc.
Well, after having moved to a house this April–which affords me more room to operate than did my 1-bedroom apartment–I have made a deliberate attempt to become more active in my ham operation, even getting involved with the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) in my community, and volunteering as a storm spotter (that puts me one rank ahead of a crash-test dummy, but I digress!)
My ham station is relatively modest and–after field day–became even more modest (more on that later). I have three radios: an ICOM IC-V8000 2m radio, a RadioShack HT (also a 2m radio), and a Ranger DX2950 10m radio.
The Ranger rig is a piece of crap–I traded a cheap handgun for it. It doesn’t work on the ham frequencies, but I can use it for the CB channels.
The ICOM was a great radio (more on why I use the past-tense to describe it later),
The RadioShack HT is perfect for quick low-power operation. My favorite activity with that one is going to the top of Iroquois Park in Louisville, and getting contacts all over the place.
My antenna is a very reliable Buddipole, which allows me to set up very quickly work on a variety of frequencies. For 2m (144MHz), it’s perfect. I also have a solar array with two 12V batteries for my portable power supply.
In all, I can set up and transmit within 5 minutes, giving me a very portable radio station in the event of an emergency. Everything–including my chairs–fits into the back seat of my Chevy Aveo.
Anyhow…for Field Day–June 23 to June 24–I set up shop with the Anderson County (Kentucky) Amateur Radio club. These folks were first-class, and very impressive–jaw-dropping!–in their technical expertise.
Their high frequency (HF) antennas ranged from Yagis (directional antennas with which satellite communications is facilitated) to dipoles and verticals, allowing them to work a range of different frequencies conducive to long-distance (DX) communication.
Their modes of operation ranged from CW (continuous wave, better known as Morse Code), packet (computer-driven communication), and voice. The CW operator was the most impressive; he was racking up contact after contact after contact, all in rapid succession. When I headed home at midnight, the CW operator had well over 100 contacts.
Unlike voice communication–where trying to understand voice inflections and dialects can be very difficult–CW is a lot easier to pick up. If you know Morse, communicating with it is far easier than voice.
The Anderson County folks put me to work on their 40m station, and I enjoyed the heck out of it. I’d not had any prior experience working the HF bands–all of my experience had been at 2m (VHF)–but it was very enjoyable. I made contacts in Maine, Texas, and Delaware, in spite of difficulty picking up some voices.
The Field Day was not without some hitches, however.
For the afternoon, I decided to use my 2m ICOM radio. I had it set up well, using my solar array to listen to conversations. Then, at about 1pm, I decided to move my station to a shady area under a tree. As I was hooking up my rig, I suffered from a momentary case of cerebral flatulence (better known as a brain fart). I hooked up the radio with the polarity bass-ackwards.
End-result: I fried an electrolytic capacitor, which leaked all over the circuit board, destroying a $200 radio!
Needless to say, I committed several off-the-air FCC violations, describing the accident using terms rooted deep in our carnal heritage. On a lighter note, I intend to frame that circuit and mount it in my office at work, as an example of what can go wrong, even with the most innocuous error.
(1) I will need to design a circuit that protects from reverse polarity. Engineers must often design against Murphy’s Law, and since the ICOM has no such protection in what was otherwise a great radio–my HT does have reverse-polarity protection–I will need to ensure that I make such a circuit. This will save my pocketbook, not to mention keep those off-air FCC violations to a minimum.
(2) I need to learn Morse Code so I can communicate in CW. CW tones are a lot easier to pick up than voice inflections. Plus, as I move onto HF operation, CW will make establishing contacts much easier.
(3) Speaking of HF, I need to improve my electronics skills. That way, I’ll be able to buy an Elecraft K2–a nice radio that is inexpensive, but must be assembled–and get into HF communication without spending really big bucks on a radio.
(4) Those folks at the Anderson County Amateur Radio club were great to work with. I can learn a lot from them.
(5) I wish there were more hours in a day so I could do everything I had an interest in doing.
(6) When I head down to Florida this fall, I will make it a point to apologize to my aeronautical engineering professors for all those bad things I said about electrical engineering when I was young and stupid.