Life in (Feld) Hell: The Dot-Matrix Printer Heard ‘Round the World

I’m a bit of a sucker for odd digital radio modes at the moment. Sometimes, a whole new set of tones comes through the waterfall, and I’m left wondering what it is. I’d read about Hellschreiber before, and thought that no-one could possibly want to use a mode that turned your radio into a very slow dot matrix printer.

Last night, I sent out CQ on 40m, and was immediately answered by Don (WB8MKH) in Michigan. We had a good long talk, and Don let me know about the Feld Hell Club and their monthly sprints. I didn’t think I’d be much for contesting, but this sets my nerd whiskers aquiver.

G5RV in the mist

There it is – I finally have the antenna installed. Works like a champ on 30 to 6m — when I remember to tune it, that is. I’d really like to thank Bob Morton of Maple Leaf Communications for helping me with the equipment choice. There’s also a J-Pole for VHF-UHF out of shot, but they’re not so interesting.

I’ve spoken on local 10m nets (and probably blasted people away, as I was on 100W and didn’t realize it). I’ve mostly been working PSK31 on 20 and 30m — so far, I’ve reached Poland, Russia, Wales, Germany, the US (from WA to FL), the Canary Islands, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico (and been gently berated from there for using too much power, oops). While it would be easy to e-mail folks in all of those countries, with PSK31, you don’t know who you’re going to get. All these folks can be calling in on the waterfall, and if you and they can exchange messages, they’re your neighbours, whether they’re in Podgorny or next door.

PSK31 sounds a bit like aliens whistling. Here’s what my CQ sounds like: va3pid-cq-psk31.mp3.

out of my tree

Well, the above may not be the most orthodox antenna placement, but my Maple Leaf Communications Portable J-Pole works a champ when wedged in the tree by our deck. Important reception equipment is here:

I was on two nets tonight; the SARC 2m net and The Mississauga Amateur Radio Club‘s 8:30pm 2m net. I think I’ve got the hang of squelch on the Wouxun now — thanks to Chris and Nick (VE3CLT [of the awesome PC PSU mod] and VE3EBC) for the advice basically to never use CTCSS on a repeater that you’re not 100% sure uses it.

an expensive hobby

Looks like this amateur radio thing is going to get expensive.

The rig I was looking at — the Yaesu FT-8900R — appeared to be considerably cheaper than all the other multi-band units. It appears that it’s FM only, which is rarely used on the HF bands. The considerably more expensive FT-857D is the cheapest unit that will do 10m/6m/2m/70cm, which I reckon is pretty much where my interest lies.

Then there’s power supplies. Yeah, these beasts need external power supplies. Great big honkin’ 13.8V DC power supplies; about $200 for a rig of this size. Yet more desk space taken up; more cables, more clutter.

If that weren’t enough, there’s the antenna issue. I appear to live in a Faraday cage surrounded by overhead TX lines. Something’s going to have to go on the roof. Well, actually two somethings, as the chance of getting an antenna to work even roughly well on HF and VHF (unless I splash on the expensive and fiddly looking Maldol HVU-8) is close to nil.

So basically, I’m looking to drop a couple of grand on this. Eep.

In better ham news, last night I received my first radiogram, welcoming me to the hobby. Thanks, Paul (VA3PB)!

the silence of the hams

It’s highly likely I’m doing something wrong, but I’m getting nothing on the 2m & 70cm bands in eastern Toronto of an evening. After a week of dedicated listening, I’ve stumbled upon a couple of nets (one of which I briefly participated in), heard one morning commute chat, noted a couple of dudes talking about power supplies in Portuguese, and managed to key up a repeater which said hello back to me. That’s it.

I’m not expecting the airwaves to be crackling with witty repartee all the time, but most of the time there seems to be no-one out there. Calling CQ on simplex VHF might as well be shouting into a hole.

I know I have a cheapo rig and a flimsy aerial, but I must be able to contact people within the neighbouring kilometres … must I?