What a way to start the year…

Where to start, how about the fact I have still not been to work this new year. Nothing wrong with that, right? I was going to complain that I wasn’t going to get a vacation this year. LOL. Thank God for FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act). While I was approved for it at work in order to take care of my wife, I had only accrued about 100 hours of sick time (from when I had my ACL surgery 3 years prior). I had used my 60 hours of vacation during Christmas week and a few days the weeks before. So while all of this time away is “paid” I will basically be left with only some floating holidays when I get back to work.

As for my wife, she is doing much better, compared to this time some 2 weeks ago. We visit the doctor for her second follow up on Monday. Not sure if he will be recommending physical therapy at that time or not. She does seem to do very well in the mornings when she first gets up. As the day wears on, depending on how much time she has been on her feet, her pain will vary. Since we still have stairs in the house, she is up and does those a few times each day. She walks with a walker, we have a temporary handicap placard for parking and many ventures out have taken more time, for obvious reasons.

I continue to wait on her daily, thus the reason I have not returned to work. She has been able to do more and more as the days roll by, but still has many limitations when it comes to what she cannot accomplish without assistance. There is still a long road ahead, but I do think the worst is behind us. She still cannot drive, but that should pose too much of a problem with me being scheduled to start work again on Thursday.

As for the house, we are more settled in than we were 2 weeks ago. Is that really saying much? Most of the boxes in the garage have been emptied and I can now count the remaining boxes on one hand and some of those won’t be emptied. I am still amazed at the amount of “crap” I continue to carry with me. I have thousands of baseball cards and countless collectibles I have collected over the year. While I haven’t followed baseball or any sports (outside of soccer) I still continue to cling to these possessions, debating if I should sell them. Currently they sit in a storage unit, along with other possessions and stuff from our old house.

I am maybe a few steps closer to getting my amateur radio on the air, but just came to the realization I won’t be mounting the hex beam on the roof. I made a venture up there the other day and was very surprised at how slippery the Spanish tile were. It was all I could do to mount my weather station to the facia of the roof without falling off. While I spoke of buying a 55′ tilt-over, crank up tower, I am now having second thoughts as to just what it would take on my part to get it to Oakley. Even if I got it home, there is no guarantee I would get it erected. That is something I would need to check with the city first.

Dahs & Dits Return

So last weekend was a learning experience, to some degree as I participated in the CQ World Wide WPX RTTY for nearly 12 hours. Instead of working all bands, I decided to use a single band and run low power (100 watts). It made the contest much easier since I didn’t have to watch the propagation charts and make decisions as when to change bands or miss those 10M openings that suddenly appear.

This weekend, I was able to get Saturday off and will hopefully put in 12-14 hours in the ARRL International DX Contest – CW, which begins on Friday afternoon. Unfortunately I am still without the use of my SteppIR BigIR, so no low bands again in this contest and I still have not taken down the antenna and sent off the EHU to SteppIR to get it fixed.

This will only be the second time I have participated in the contest, the first was in 2010 and I only made 99 QSOs. I expect a much better showing this time around. I have some decisions to make tonight as it relates to the contest. I have not decided if I want to run single band again or go all band, using 10/15/20M for the period of time I will be operating. Chances are high I will continue to chase new DX in this contest and go all band, unlike I did last weekend in the RTTY contest.

I am going to review propagation charts, as well as my efforts and put together my goals on Friday. Just a guess I should be able to put up 400 QSOs and hopefully work lots of new DXCC that I need on all of those bands. Looking at what I have confirmed (in LoTW) I only have 22 confirmed DXCC on 10M and 20M along with 45 on 15M. That means I have a lot of work to do to increase those totals and work towards the 5BDXCC! I assume those numbers are a bit low unless I include QSL cards I have received. Regardless, I am looking forward to my operating time.

What did we do before the Internet?

A great part of ham radio is not needing an Internet connection. Much of today our area has been plagued by some sort of Comcast outage that does not allow us to access the high-speed Internet connection or VOIP (phone). Why? Don’t know and all tech support would tell me is that they are aware of an outage and they are working on resolving it. The second time I called, the system recognized my address by my home phone number and said I had called previously, there is still an outage and I was not required to stay on the line. Intuitive, I guess.

I am currently sitting in the shack on 15M CW and working Asia without a care in the world as to when my Comcast signal comes back online. Now my XYL is peeved but not without right. Comcast allegedly said if there was an high speed Internet outage, the VOIP phone service would continue to function, just in case 911 call was needed. Unfortunately for the second outage now that has not been the case.

While I don’t know the ins and outs of VOIP, I don’t see how Comcast could guarantee phone service (VOIP) and not high speed Internet when they both use the SAME technology. Guess I could spend a few minutes to read up on it, but in any case my XYL has not been happy all day long because of this outage.

When service is restored I guess my XYL is going to raise hell with Comcast…again! I have already told her I refuse to go back to AT&T’s UVerse service since it would not work with my hobby, ham radio. She claims when I am operating my signal causes her latency to increase. Mind you, she is on Facebook and I continue to point my finger at Facebook and those game developers, not my radio. I will admit to having some RFI in the phones when I am transmitting (with the linear on) at times on certain bands.

Unfortunately with UVerse their gateway modem was Chinese made and very suseptible to RFI. I had done everything within my power to clean up my signal and RFI issues in the shack, but nothing I did as it related to their hardware fixed the problem. All of my calls to tech support were answered but none of the techs that came to the house would see any problem, nor could they provide me with a solution. So, in the end, AT&T was out and Comcast was back.

This is the first extended outage with Comcast I can recall. Being at work all day it has not had any effect on me, but I know my XYL’s opinion would differ strongly. With mobile phone such a big part of nearly everyone’s life, I was all for dropping traditional (or VOIP) phone service in favor of mobile coverage. Unfortunately Verizon’s signal strength at the QTH is not good at all. It is rare to see a ‘3G’ indication or more than a single bar.

Listen Live to BART

It’s amazing that in amateur radio our numbers are dwindling and the hobby is dying. This has been the cry for many year, more than I have directly been involved with and would not be surprised if my father heard similar when he was active back in the early 1980?s. I happen to run across this story, USA TODAY: Ham Radio Operators Concerned About Losing Band on Radio Reference yesterday.

You can read about the details about this bill as the one signed into legislation last month. I did not intend to go in depth into this story though. I was more after the use of Radio Reference. As described by the website itself, “RadioReference.com is the world’s largest radio communications data provider, featuring a complete frequency database, trunked radio system information, and FCC license data. RadioReference is also the largest broadcaster of public safety live audio communications feeds, hosting thousands of live audio broadcasts of Police, Fire, EMS, and other associated communication.”

While I was not surprised to find Bay Area Rapid Transit listed and available to listen to, it’s interesting to send people to this site to get a sense of what I do every day at work. Most of the times it’s routine work, answering a trains call for a route, having a train operator move their train manually or answering some type of patron request. Nonetheless, I decided to give it a listen this morning on the train to work. Makes for interesting listening when you don’t need to answer the calls you are hearing. Take a listen as there is always something going on at BART (Click on the speaker).

HOA Help

In 2007 I approached my HOA with a proposition to allow me to raise a 24′ high Hustler 6-BTV in order to pursue my amateur radio hobby. Of course all of this could have been dismissed if I were active prior to purchasing my first home, but since I wasn’t I had to take matters into my own hands in order to get on the air.

It seems many stumble across my posts/threads on eHam when considering how to approach their HOA to gain an exemption to any type of antenna/tower restriction. I recently provided another ham with my letters I composed for my HOA board of directors and management company. Thankfully I have a very understanding board of directors and management company. Maybe the state of the economy and the fact so many homes in our association are foreclosed that there are more important issues to deal with than some guy wanting to pursue his hobby.

Initially, I chose to ignore (play dumb) the CC&Rs set forth by my association. When I was finally cited, I removed my 6-BTV, but soon had it back up in the air disguised as a flagpole. It wasn’t until a winter storm with strong winds snapped the aluminum in half that I took the antenna down in order to look for another option.

I decided to approach the management company representative to see if I would be wasting my time putting together a presentation for the HOA board of directors. She didn’t sound positive in her response, but I decided to pursue it in order to partake in my hobby. Thankfully I made the right decision and spent the next few weeks off the air and working on my presentation.

I initially called this an exemption, then a proposal and finally a petition. It seems to be a combination of all of these. I wanted an exemption from the HOA’s CC&Rs in order to erect my Hustler 6-BTV antenna. I wrote a letter that was revised a few times explaining the hobby, what radio is used for and how it plays a role in emergency communications. I also took many digital photos to show where the antenna could be seen from. I also collected signatures of my immediate neighbors. Oddly enough none of them really cared if I had the antenna. One woman asked if it would interfere with her TV, to which I replied no. But I also said if there were any RFI/EMI issues to contact me and they would be resolved.

The board was quite open to my proposal, maybe because were so used to getting into negative issues with attending homeowners, I don’t know. But the presentation was a success and all but one member agreed to the proposal. By virtue of the majority the accepted my proposal.

So it pays to take the time and make the effort to work with your HOA if you are in a situation where you are restricted. I know some of the recent ham magazines now talk about “hamming from the shadows” for those of us who cannot erect towers with beams above our homes. Nonetheless there are numerous ways around CC&Rs in order to get on the air. But the decision is ultimately yours as to how you proceed. If you are interested in my letters, don’t hesitate to e-mail me.