Lightning never Strikes Twice in the Same Place, or does it?

First the earth moved for us on 8th August 2018! An earthquake, measuring 3.2 on the Richter scale shook Adelaide and the hills at about 8.30 pm. The prelude to the earthquake was about 50 mm of rain over the day before.

On Friday night I attended the AREG (Amateur Radio Experimenters’ Group) meeting in a sea-side suburb not far from the airport. We had a wonderful presentation from a Bureau of Meterology official (also an amateur) on how the BOM can assist amateurs with matters to do with the ionosphere. It was a sunny, cloudless afternoon, when I began my drive to the meeting, but the weather bureau had issued warnings for late Friday evening and Saturday. When I left the meeting it was raining and once I started to drive up the hill on the South-eastern Freeway the rain was really heavy. I thought we were in for a typical wet and windy night. There was no sign of any electrical activity. That was to come as I was to find out on Saturday morning.

We were struck by lightning on Saturday morning at about 4.20 am. I made my way to the smallest room in the house and switched on the light. Nothing happened! At about 07:30 I checked our inverter (we are off the grid) and it was not inverting. I ran through the start-up sequence and it fired up. I breathed a sigh of relief. This is the third or fourth time in 15 years of living at Scott Creek that this has happened. The storm was overhead. The gap between the thunder and the flash was milliseconds!  I made my way back to bed and had just settled when we both heard what sounded like a whip crack. I wondered what had been hit and found out soon enough. Our modem-router was dead. It is likely that the telephone line/ lines were hit and we took a power surge.

I felt like playing Beethoven’s sixth symphony, The Pastoral, where when the storm has passed local shepherds sing and have thankful feelings.

I dislike electrical storms. Thankfully all antennas were disconnected and my Nally tower is appropriately grounded.

Advertisements

VKFF Hunter Award 600 parks, 19th August 2018

600 Hunter

 

My Hunter Award for making contacts with operators in 600 unique parks arrived on Saturday morning. Thanks to all of the activators who made this possible and thanks to Paul, VK5PAS, for administering the program.

My Morse Keys, 10th August 2018

My CW or Wireless Telegraphy renaissance

Here are my two morse keys. The key immediately below is the Begali Blade. This is now my shack key, replacing my K4VIZ Camel Back. I purchased my key from from RF Solutions in VK4.  Initially, I needed to consciously have a maximum speed in my head as the key encouraged me to race. It is smooth and very quiet. It is a work of art and beautifully made and is great to use.

The Blade

The Camel Back (below) was purchased from Tom, K4VIZ, soon after I obtained the VK5PF call-sign and was my shack key until I decided it would go into my portable gear for use in the field. Buying from Tom was a great experience. He is so proud and protective of his keys. The business is now known as VIZKEYS, following Tom’s decision to  sell and retire. Tom would be delighted to know the key has been, and will continue to be used, and not just be a display piece.  I am hoping I can activate some parks again as the weather improves. It is an excellent key: easy to use and smooth. It does rattle a little which I do not find intrusive, and although small, it is heavy enough to stay in place on the desk.

The Camel Back

The photo, below, of my most recent page in Log Book of the World (LOTW) for VK5PF, shows some Australian portable stations I have had contacts with using morse code. So far none of these contacts have been confirmed on LOTW. Some of the stations indicate that they use LOTW so I expect some will be confirmed in due course.

LOTWVK5PF1082018

The photo below of my most recent LOTW page for VK5BJE, shows no CW contacts, but SSB and FT8 contacts with mainly DX (overseas) stations. My ambition is to work some North American stations while portable and using CW.

LOTWVK5BJE10082018

Note Baker and Howland Islands on 17 metres ssb! Getting that station in the log took time and perseverance. I used 100 watts and an Off-centre fed dipole. I was delighted to get that entity helping me get closer to a DXCC via Log Book of the World.

Why Morse Code using a hand key?

When I obtained my advanced call in 1977, sending and receiving morse code in plain language, at ten words a minute, was part of the licence requirements. Like many new amateurs I learned the code, but did not learn any of the techniques for establishing a contact. And voice over the air was magic! I did have a few contacts from time to time but was never really serious. Morse code became more attractive in the late seventies when novice stations came on the air following examination in sending and receiving plain language morse code at five words per minute.  Since learning the code the old-fashioned way in the 1970s,  my understanding of teaching and learning has progressed. It is instructive to look at two publications and examine the content of each. Remember there were no computers in the 1970s, or at least not in the average home. The latest technology for a learner of morse code was a cassette recorder and morse code tapes from the Wireless Institute of Australia (WIA), or listening to morse code practice sessions on the amateur bands or real contacts, or commercial morse code traffic, also on air. I listened to the tapes so many times I could almost remember them by heart, or in learning language ‘journalise’ them.

The two publications are as follows:

American Radio Relay League, 1970, Learning the Radio Telegraph Code, ARRL, Connecticut, USA.  (Thirteenth Edition)

and

Cooke, Roger, G3LDI, 2013, Morse Code for Radio Amateurs 11th Edition, Radio Society of Great Britain, Bedford, England.

These two little books are both excellent. And it is likely that an up-to-date ARRL publication would be similar to the RSGB book. I looked at these two books through the lens of adult learning. Have approaches to learning morse code since the 1970’s changed as we know more about learning and particularly how adults learn? I purchased my ARRL book at the time I enrolled in the WIA course for the AOCP and it is dated by me as the 10th December 1974. The ARRL book chapters are headed, Learning the Code, Learning to Send, High Speed Operation, Operating on the Air, Code practice and Class Instruction. There are just eight pages devoted to Learning the Code. The RSGB book devotes 22 pages to learning the code. The big difference for me are the resources now available to learn the code, especially using household computers. Cooke provides detailed outlines of many computer resources and how to use them.

My aim was not to learn the code. I already know the code. But I wanted to change my approach to improving my skills and do not want to write anything down (letter by letter) at the time of copying a message. I want to use my head! In other words I want to be able to write down in my log, at minimum, the other operator’s call-sign and signal report and provide my name, signal report and call-sign to her/him. I wanted to up-skill in the same way as one might approach learning music or a new language. To assist me meet this goal I chose a program by  IZ2UUF, Davide, which provides plenty of resources to assist me meet my goals. I use the Koch method of copying in my head letters, numbers and punctuation, at 20 words per minute. The program runs on Android devices and I have a small tablet. The first two letters are K and M. When you know these at at least 95% accuracy you add in another letter. In learning theory terms I am aiming for deep learning rather than surface learning. Surface learning is most commonly understood to be similar to cramming for an exam. When you walk out of the exam room most of the learning goes. I have heard so many amateurs say that or something similar to me when discussing morse code and their trauma at trying to master it!

Deep learning changes the person. Deep learning is often over-learning. What you learn becomes second nature to you, for example, riding a bicycle or driving a car. I was always impressed by morse code operators who could converse with a key and speak to someone at the same time. I recommend ten minutes a day for IZ2UUF’s program increasing to about half an hour when you are advancing. I set each learning practice run to five minutes, so for half an hour there are six repeats or variations, making up the session. The new letters and punctuation are introduced to the learner based on the apparent difficulty of the letter.

Conversational morse code on the air by me is still some way off.  My contacts tend to be to a formula: mainly for SOTA and Parks. However, an intermediate step will be to provide some more details of station equipment, antenna and so on to the other operator.

A similar program is available for Apple devices. It is called Ham Morse and includes the Koch method as well. I recommend it.

I have not searched for a Koch program for a PC but I will be surprised if there is not one available.

Is it worth the effort to learn or revise a legacy mode? After all it is no longer required for amateurs and the military although it is used for identification of aircraft beacons. Well, I have had contacts on 40 metres, for example, where I could not copy the station on ssb but had a comfortable contact using morse code on the same frequency and just after attempting the voice contact. It is also a challenge and, for me, part of life-long learning, something I have engaged in all of my life. I also believe that for me it is part of being a ‘complete’ radio amateur. Being over 21 years of age I hope the exercise for the brain has other benefits as well! What are they again?

I know that practice, practice and more practice is the best way, especially if the practice is spaced and regular. Half an hour on Sunday afternoons is not as good as five minutes per day! Active learning also helps. While I don’t write down what I copy, I hear it in my head. Try not to be passive. Take note of what you are hearing. Rehearse in your head any characters you are having difficulty with. I would welcome the views of more expert and proficient operators. I will admit I miss occasional words, especially as the beginning of a contact. I suppose it is a failure to really ‘tune-in’ before starting. Preparation and anticipation help me mitigate against a slow start.

 

 

 

 

 

 

VKFF Hunter Award, worked 550 references, 9th July 2018

Hunter 550

My certificate arrived for working 550 references. Thanks to Paul, VK5PAS, the WWFF Australia Awards Manager, for providing the awards and thanks to all of the activators who are currently braving the cooler/cold weather to keep the program vital. An examination of my log shows that I enjoyed over 125 park contacts in June/July (so far) and about 15 of these were CW (morse code). I am trying to increase the proportion of CW contacts and am aiming for about 25%. Only time will tell whether I can achieve this goal!

International Amateur Radio Union, Region 3, 50th Anniversary Award, 21 June 2018

Region 3 50IARU

Here is my award which I down-loaded today. The Globe is divided into three regions and Australia is located within Region 3.  The Region 3 administrative arm was established on 12th April 1968, just eight years before I became a radio amateur. There are now 39 member countries. The IARU works to preserve and harmonise our frequency bands and provides information and assistance to national amateur radio organisations.

IARU Region 3 qsl

Here is the official qsl card. I thought I should print this one confirming a contact with VI50IARU3 (operator Paul, VK5PAS), hand held to hand held from home to Mount Lofty.

VKFF-Hunter Award 475 different VKFF areas, 26th May 2018

VK5BJE VKFF Hunter Honour Roll 475

Thanks to all of the activators who have helped to make chasing such fun and challenging as well, especially with the poor propagation conditions we have been experiencing of late. I would like to pay a special thanks to the CW operators (morse code) whose activities add to the richness of my experience: VK2IO/P, Gerard; VK3BYD/P, Warren and VK3AFW/9, Ron at Norfolk Island during the WIA Annual General Meeting in 2016. Gerard and Warren show up quite a few times in my log.

Scott Creek Conservation Park, VKFF-0788, 30th March 2018: walking for fitness and pleasure.

One day to go and the first month of Autumn will be in the past! I now have a medically supervised regime in place which requires me to walk with moments of additional load achieved by either walking more quickly or walking up a hill. Scott Creek Conservation Park provides many opportunities for walking up and down hills! The theory is that this will eventually strengthen the heart muscle and reduce episodes of Atrial Fibrillation (AF). AF occurs when the heart does not pump properly but rather flutters, resulting in poor circulation and efficiency. I am taking part in a trial, comparing an exercise group with a non-exercise group, and am in the experimental group. So I decided to go for a walk in Scott Creek Conservation Park departing from Gate 8 (my favourite radio activation spot). The weather was excellent for a walk: cool, mainly sunny but a handful of rain-drops as I started out. Others had a similar idea and I passed a large group of walkers as I was heading down the hill speaking into my hand held radio. They were on the way up the hill but offered a greeting and we spoke for a while. Yes I did take a radio: two in fact (IC-80AD and a Yaesu VX5) and a few spare batteries!

I also posted an alert on Parks and Peaks indicating I would be active at 00:30z on 146.5 FM. Next time I will self-spot and indicate a QRV time!  QRV means ‘are you ready?’ But it is also used to indicate a time when the operator will be ready.

As I left gate 8 I tuned to VK5RMB, the Murray Bridge Repeater and heard some activity. I recognised a voice I knew and arranged to try 146.5 FM with Tony, VK5MRT at Strathalbyn. There was no direct path. I was a bit surprised at this. So I kept walking and then tuned the radio to VK5RSV, the South Coast Amateur Radio Club’s two metre repeater. I was hoping to stir up some activity, as the area immediately south and south west of the Park, I suspected would provide some good contacts. All I heard was silence!

I kept on walking and tried VK5RSV again. This time VK5XD, Neville answered me. He offered to QSY (change frequency to 146.5 Mhz) and success followed. Neville’s signal was full scale on my Icom IC-80AD, I was amazed. Neville lives in the suburb of Warradale, near Glenelg, but further inland. I received a report of 5 and 5. I had a quarter wave length antenna on my radio and was using full power, five watts. Neville told me he was using 50 watts into a collinear antenna.  We should have experimented with lower power!

Contact

00:51z 146.500 FM VK5XD 59s 55r

VK5XD qsl

Here is Neville’s splendid eqsl.

So what was the cost? Well my GPS showed a total activity time of 53 minutes. But the moving time was just 25 minutes! So I spent nearly half my time playing radio rather than walking. Perhaps I had better leave the radios at home?

I have activated Scott Creek Conservation Park many times. Here is a link to my previous activation.

https://vk5bje.com/2017/11/04/scott-creek-conservation-park-vkff-0788-5cp-207-2nd-november-2017/

Scott Creek walk 30th March

The walk I took begins at Gate 8 and follows Cup Gum Track. I stopped just before the fairly steep descent to the junction of Gum Track Track with Currawong Ridge Track.

Currowang ridge traCK

The elevation gain was 35 metres. The plot is shown below. The times are clearly shown including radio time.

Scott Creekwalk 30th elevation

This walk is one of a number I have taken in the Park over the last few weeks. Most, but not all, of the walks have been on sections of the track I have previously described as a loop. See my earlier posts on this beautiful park.
Gate 4
Another walk began at Gate 4 taking the right hand side track down to the creek line.
 Gray fantail in flight
Grey Fantail in flight. This little bird did not take much notice of me but was busy catching insects.
Gray Fantail 2
Gray Fantail in motion.
Common brown
Common brown butterfly.
Stumpy tail lizard
Stumpy tale lizard. A pity about the stick over the end of his nose: but I did not want to disturb her sun-baking any more than necessary.

eAustralia award: 8 call areas, 20th March 2018

_cfimg8693450607602830718

This award came last night. It is one level below the highest grade, which is for nine call areas, that is VK0 as well. While I have worked Australian Antarctic Territories many times and have confirmations by traditional QSL cards I am still to gain a confirmation by eqsl. So this award captures all mainland, including Tasmania (VK7), call areas (VKs 1 to 8) and VK9. It was a contact with the dxpedition to Ashmore Reef that tipped the scales for me. Here is that eqsl card. I applied for the eAustralia award for seven (7 call areas) back in April 2016, making the level two award nearly two years later.

_cfimg-613081223423187679