All quiet, mostly

The last couple of months have been pretty quiet for me as far as radio goes. I've made 16 QSOs since I got back from Boston in early July. Notably, I finally worked Australia! On July 30 I saw Bob, VK2MBK, on 20m PSK31. After a few unsuccessful attempts at working him with my usual 5w, I decided to try 10w and managed to get through! We had a short QSO, but I'm pleased it worked out!

This weekend the solar index has been around 140-150, higher than I've ever seen it. 20m and even 15m have been open at night, and yesterday afternoon there was a MASSIVE 10m opening, from what I could see on the DX map. Unfortunately my antenna won't tune consistently on 12m, and on 10m it tunes but when I transmit the wireless mouse on my computer stops working. I take that as a sign that not much RF is getting out!

Tonight I finally managed to QSO with Rik, AB1KW, a fellow ham who hangs out on the #hamradio IRC channel with me. He's in NH, and we've tried to QSO once or twice before. He reported me coming in very weak, even with 10w, but we managed to complete the contact. Our respective descriptions of what 20m looks like at the moment are as different as night and day. He sees 10+ signals, I see 2 at best. During the day he says the band can be so packed that everyone is overlapping and it's hard to even make a contact. I never, ever see that here.

Part of the difference is that, being on the east coast, there's just a higher density of hams around, especially with Europe a lot closer than my nearest transpacific DX. But the real problem is my antenna. It's just not good enough, and being in the middle of a city doesn't help either. Rik's 80m sky loop is in the trees in his yard in a small New Hampshire town. 

Someday I'll own a house, and I'll be able to put up whatever antennas I want. A tower and a tri-band beam will be on the wish list! In the meantime, Rob and Nick and I are going to work on my amp project some more tomorrow. I've received the LPF kit I'm going to use, scored a free, already-built version of the amp module I wanted (unknown condition though), and have a candidate enclosure. Tomorrow we're going to try and work out the mounting details, as well as what components I will need for the manual band selection and a keying circuit. Once I have those I'll be looking to integrate everything and reach "phase 1" of the design; a working amp with manual band switching and nothing more. After that, I'd like to add auto band switching (via a frequency counter) and some form of SWR meter. The amp will be able to put out 140 watts, but I'm planning to use it at only 15-20 when at home on PSK31. Don't want to cause any RFI for my neighbors!

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