Over the weekend, I pulled the HF rig out to the porch (where I can plug the antenna in, since I haven't brought the antenna into the house yet) to see what I could do on 40m. I heard stations all over the country -- as far away as Washington state and California. I only made a few contacts, but I was really happy with them. I talked with people in MO, OK, WA, and MA. I was surprised by the contacts in the western direction, especially Washington, because I think the way my antenna is oriented, it radiates better in a north-south direction. It's obviously going west, too. Now, the folks out that way had difficulty copying me, even though I could hear them great, so that probably speaks a bit to the antenna's performance. It might also speak a bit to my ability to tune the radio to the antenna. I'm getting better at it, I think, but there still seems to be a bit of magic about it. I think I should get a 50-ohm dummy load to help with the tuning, so I'm not putting a bunch of noise on the bands when I tune.
I also got my QSL card from my contact with the station in Ecuador. That was really exciting.
A few weeks ago, I joined some of the local guys for an antenna building party. We built tape measure beam antennas to be used in fox hunting. That was a lot of fun, and it helped me become more comfortable with soldering. It also helped me learn more about the magic of how antennas work. I still don't really understand it, but I'm getting there.
Now, building those antennas would be silly if we didn't plan to use them. As luck (OK, planning) would have it, there was a fox hunt this past weekend. I showed up at the parking lot at the appointed time and joined the other four people who showed up to hunt the fox. We ended up going out in three groups -- two teams of two and one singleton. I teamed up with another newly-licensed ham, KJ4FWU, and we had a great time trying to figure out what we were supposed to be doing. The singleton team ended up dropping out of the hunt early due to other commitments, so there were just two teams hunting the fox in the end. To no one's surprise, the other team (composed of two very experienced hams) found the fox first, but they all hung out together until KJ4FWU and I were able to find him, too. I thought that was extremely nice of them to be so patient to let us really learn what we were doing by some trial and error. We learned a lot and had a great time. I'm looking forward to the next time there's a fox hunt. I think I'll be better prepared.
Another result of the fox hunt was learning a little about attenuators, also known as magic. We weren't using attenuators, but apparently that would have helped a lot. I think the next group build project might be building attenuators, so I'm looking forward to that possibility.
Yesterday, Greensboro got a D-Star repeater up and running on a trial basis. My radio is D-Star capable, so I've really been looking forward to being able to use those capabilities more than just for simplex communication. When the new machine came online, there was a lot of activity with all the local D-Star capable people checking in. The repeater seems to have a pretty good coverage footprint, so I'm looking forward to seeing this mode take off here. It will be even more exciting if they hook up the repeater to the gateway, so it will be able to make contacts to any other D-Star repeater on the gateway.
I've started learning Morse Code. Recently, a new website (lcwo.net) came online that does a great job of teaching code. There are forty lessons to learn all the characters, adding one character at a time. I'm currently on lesson seven. I'm doing pretty well and I really like the way the site lets you go at your own pace. I'm learning the characters at 15wpm, but have it inserting enough space between the characters so that it's effectively 10wpm. I should probably bump up the character speed to closer to 20wpm. I hope that I'll be able to stick with this and learn it. One of my friends at church loaned me a straight key that he no longer uses and volunteered to practice with me on 40m when I'm comfortable. That will be really helpful and fun.
I think that's about it for what I've been doing with ham radio the past few weeks. It continues to be loads of fun.