Monday, October 3, 2016

Making Sure You're in the Log - DUPES

My recent post about blind calls stirred a bit of laughter and angst from the peanut gallery.  Good.  It is fun to bring up subjects that make us squirm a little.  Kinda like the time ole Mom or Dad gave us "the talk."

Time for another talk, dear readers.

If we can't bring things to light and discuss them, people begin to harbor ill will towards one another. We might as well get it out in the open and have a dialog, even if we disagree.  I'm certainly no authority on satellites and don't claim to do everything right.

This post is somewhat of a follow-up to my rant about insurance contacts post back in 2015.

Let's get right down to business.  I'm going to say it.  Making insurance contacts and dupes are a not only interpreted as butt-kissing, they can be very disruptive.  Especially at the start of an expedition.  I specifically underlined the world "can" because it's not always disruptive.  There is potential.

I'm not directing this post at any one person.  Many of us are guilty of it.  Yours truly included.

It takes self control not to answer the seemingly endless CQ's of a DX / portable station.

One thing that differs greatly in satellites versus HF DX is that our windows are fixed.  We are not subject to propagation.  We are subject to time with mutual windows to the DX.  As we are exiting the window, remember that someone else may be just entering it!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Revisiting Twitter & How to effectively use it for a satellite operation

In November 2014, I did a posting about using Twitter to advertise grid operations.  I suggest reading it before continuing with this post.

Now that a couple of years have passed, I'm glad to see more and more operators are moving towards using the platform.  I am a fan of it because it can be completely open and transparent.  Being cross-platform with many user options makes it a very flexible tool.  I've decided to post a few observations here as a follow-up to my original posting.

On privatizing your feeds...(protecting Tweets)
A few operators insist on making their Twitter feeds private. I'm not sure it really has any benefit other than perhaps reducing a small amount of "junk followers."  I can understand their intentions are good but if your feed is private, it makes a lot of public-facing conversations seem awkward. If you have any "secret" information to offer, you really shouldn't be putting it on Twitter (social media.)

Long conversations...
One thing that can be annoying is long Twitter threads with 5 people trying to have a group conversation.  Sometimes these long threads become hard to follow.  Picture yourself an "outsider" to what is being discussed and see if it makes sense.  Probably won't.  I'm guilty of this but try to stay out of long-winded replies.  Take it to a group "Direct Message" or private email if it gets to be a long discussion.  Just think about it before you "chime in."  There are, of course, always fun exceptions (this one turned into an epic thread.)

Other options, revisited...
I'm a big fan of advertising operations via the AMSAT-NA "AMSAT-BB" mailing list.  Between posting an email to the AMSAT-BB and Twitter, you can get a lot customers for any satellite operation, rare DX/grid or not.  AMSAT-NA's Facebook is a good place to post but it has a smaller audience compared to the openness of Twitter and the AMSAT-BB mailing list.  There are other mailing lists but they are private, individually-controlled lists (empires) that do not cater to the broader amateur radio audience.

Clayton's pet peeve...politicin' 2016
Many of us have multiple interests. I get that.   This is a very heated presidential election cycle.  I'm not a huge fan of cross-pollinating ham radio feeds with political views.  I'm certainly willing to discuss my views with any open-minded individuals who will engage in a two-way conversation...just not on Twitter.  However, what I find very annoying are people who re-tweet political garbage to their ham Twitter feeds.  Normally, I mute those feeds and disable re-Tweets from them.  In some cases, I just un-follow them completely and block them.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Insanity of Grid Chasing - A September 2016 Progress Update

I have been busy working on the upcoming AMSAT Symposium so I haven't focused much on blogging.

However, I have continued to make time to chase new maidenhead grid squares via satellite.  Five and a half years into the addiction, I am still having a lot of fun.

My #1 & # 2 goals on satellite are:

1. Work and confirm all 488 grid squares. These are the same 488 grids required for the Fred Fish Memorial Award (FFMA) on 6m.  However, I am trying to do this via satellite.  As of September 21, I am 35 grids away from the goal.

2. Work and confirm 1000 grids.  Why 1000? Well, I thought it would be interesting to see what I would hit first, the 488 goal or the 1000 goal.  It looks like I am going to be hitting the 1000 unless we get some serious rover action in the DN grid field.

Here's my 488 map and statistics (pink are unconfirmed):

I have leads on a few of these unconfirmed grids. It's just a matter of following up with those leads and working on a schedule to make them happen.

453 of 488 total FFMA grids confirmed as of September 21, 2016.

And now for my confirmed grid map, focused on the continental USA:

Here is my world map.  Click for a larger version:

878 total grid squares confirmed via satellite as of September 21, 2016.

And finally, I leave you with a movie I recommend for people who obsess over chasing grids or chasing real birds.  It shows the complete ridiculousness of what what do in pursuit of our hobby goals.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Blind Call

WARNING: Very opinionated post.
(When aren't they?)

No, the Blind Call is not a movie starring Sandra Bullock (that's The Blind Side.)  It an annoying practice over-used by some stations.It's especially obnoxious on FM satellites because the repeated blind calls are taking up pass time when other stations (who are actually there) can make contacts.

The Blind Call is tactic used when you're not sure if someone will be on a satellite pass but you want to work them regardless, so you keep calling over and over.  And over.  And over.  Guess what? They don't answer because they aren't present.  You look like a champ! (a chump, actually)

Here's the scenario:

  • Some operators hear and work a station somewhere rare.  Let's use VE2BMC for example.  He lives in California but was visiting his native land in Quebec, grid square FN38.  That's a rare grid, seldom heard, and to my knowledge not on satellites until Jimmy went home to visit.
  • Word on the street gets out that Jimmy is going to be operating some SO-50 and AO-85 passes. That's a good thing.  We want people to make new contacts with new stations, right?  Instead of relying on secretive list servers, publishing the reports on open Twitter feeds and publicly-accessible email lists (and archives) is a good way to share information.
  • The word is out. People will be listening for VE2BMC when there are mutual footprints with their grid and FN38. 
  • Now comes the fun part.  Some stations want to call "in the blind" to see if they can "fish out" VE2BMC.  That's fine.  Sometimes it works.  I've done it.  Is he on the pass? We don't know, but we will call anyway!  (that's the Blind Call)
  • And now, for the bad part.  After you have blind called once or twice, giving pause in between, you should really "ease off that throttle."  Repeated calling makes you look like a fool.  In fact, it's down right disruptive.  
  • Blind calling repeatedly in between other stations' QSO's is rude.  Yes, I want the grid as much as you do, but I don't sit there and give my call sign over and over.  If the guy is there, he will either (A) answer or (B) throw his call out once or twice. 
It's fine to call someone whom you have a schedule with or who has announced they will be on a certain pass.  Those kind of blind calls (skeds) are fine but should be tempered with self-awareness and a hint of courtesy.  

One of my favorite little characteristics about this phenomenon are the people who say "on schedule" repeatedly as if they are the only person in communication with the rare/remote station.  Sometimes a station has multiple schedules.  You don't own the pass.  Back down.  Be nice!  Get over yourself.

If I get enough interest in this posting, I will probably follow-up with a feature film "The Blind Call: Sat Ops Gone Wild."  No, not really. But I can post some great example recordings.

Again, I'm not saying not to blind call or that it's an awful practice.  It can be useful.  Calling stations who've announced they will be on or even might be on is legit.  Just keep it real, yo!

Friday, July 22, 2016

July 2016 Satellite VUCC Update

I decided it was time to update my Satellite VUCC again.   I did this update via paper cards.  I have some more grids confirmed in LoTW to apply at a later date.  Many thanks to the ARRL awards staff, Scott especially, and to the best card checker in the USA, KK5DO.


Friday, July 15, 2016

My AMSAT Field Day Report 2016 "from the road"

There is Field Day and then there is AMSAT Field Day.  Both events occur on the same day with very similar rules with one notable exception: AMSAT Field Day is entirely done via Orbital Satellites Carrying Amateur Radio (OSCAR's.)

In the past, I have mostly participated in AMSAT Field Day from home but I have also known to be on the road.  In 2012, I was traveling with my family to New England and only stopped to listen to a few FM Satellites. That was quite interesting.  From Skyline Drive in Northern Virginia, I was able to hear stations trying to use AO-27 before the transponder had even been activated. There was a telemetry period before the transponder would activate.  During that telemetry period, I was hearing dozens of stations hollering "CQ Field Day" on the uplink frequency.  That was eye-opening.

This year we were heading to Amarillo, Texas on the Saturday of Field Day.  I didn't arrive at camp until late afternoon.  However, there was plenty of time to setup my station and work a few passes.  I hadn't planned on really making a strong attempt at FD this year being that we were away.  However, it is always fun to work some friends via satellite and listen to some of the FD madness.

As I predicted, SO-50 was total garbage.  Too many stations transmitting and few were able to hear. Absolutely pathetic!  It is selfish individuals who don't operate satellites EVER but decide to try once a year that really ruin it for everyone.  Some are overconfident jerks who have made a couple of contacts in the past but think they have it all figured out when it comes time for Field Day so they don't need any practice.

FO-29 was sad this year.  Many stations that were running excess power and couldn't hear. This is evident by all the CQ'ing, HOLA, and 1-2-3 on top of other stations.

It is amazing to me that so many stations overlook the simple fact that you can make satellites contacts (on all current LEO birds) with 5 watts and an Arrow antenna.  Why run 100 watts into a giant array? Are you trying to look like a tough guy?  Are you compensating for something?

I did a fair job with my short Arrow and 20 watts.  I was using my 35ah battery to supply the Icom IC-821.  I worked LilacSat-2, XW-2C, XW-2F, and FO-29.  Not counting a few extra stations that called and worked me on LilacSat-2, I made 7 unique contacts that count for the AMSAT Field Day score.  Not bad for just a handful of passes in a mediocre operating location.

My normal "heavy" /P station.  IC-821 & Arrow.

View to East from my campsite in Amarillo, Texas

Friday, July 8, 2016

Keepin' it Simple: Aiming your antennas when satellite portable

A lot of folks really over-think the "aiming" aspect of operating satellites portable.  There's really just two parts that matter to me:

1. Where the pass will start (AOS)
2. Where the pass will end (LOS)

Beyond that, I don't really spend much time worrying about aim because the computer program that handles antenna positioning is an interface between my brain and my ears.

If the bird starts to get noisy, I move the antenna.  If I'm not as strong as I need to be, I move the antenna.  Simple as that.  Sometimes I get lazy and don't move as much as I might need to move.  Sometimes I move too much.  Simple as that.  The bottom line is, you can aim just based on what signal you are getting back from the satellite. That is the best indicator.  Keep it Simple!!!

Silva "Starter" 1-2-3 Compass

I own about 3 of these.  I keep one in most of the different portable kits for my traveling operations.  They are a simple way to know your headings on a cloudy day or when you are having trouble getting your bearings.  Even an Eagle Scout like me needs a little help.

Working a pass from EM24 at Queen Wilhelmina State Park in Arkansas.