Winter blues

I like Christmas, but with that sole exception I hate this time of year. The short days, when it's dark at breakfast time, dark at tea time, and in between the sun struggles to reach an elevation where it can be seen over the tops of neighbouring houses.

It's not just the daylight the sun fails to make much impact on. There's next to no propagation on any of the higher HF bands. I believe that LF band enthusiasts have their best time at this time of year. But I have never been lucky enough to have an antenna for the LF bands. My attic multiband dipole will work on 80 metres but it is shortened so much that the usable bandwidth is barely 60kHz. It is really only usable on the QRP CW frequency and the PSK31 operating frequencies.

Yesterday I thought I would try some digital work on the 30m band. I couldn't hear any PSK31 at first but I did hear some JT65 so I thought I would try that. I made three QSOs including one with N4ABN which I thought was quite good nfor mid-morning. The trouble with JT65 is that I find it difficult to maintain concentration. It's 50 seconds before anything is decoded, and during that time my mind has drifted off and I have missed the moment when I should have responded.

Just as an aside, I noticed a quirk with the JT65-HF software. I don't use CAT control of my K3 (never could get it to work) so I have to set the frequency of the radio and the software manually. But whenever I did this, after a few seconds the frequency would reset itself to 0. I happened to notice that the frequency was being displayed with a comma as the decimal separator. I had left the PC configured like that after testing the fix for the problem with KComm. On a hunch, I reset the separator to a dot (period) and lo and behold the frequency stayed as I set it. I'm surprised that no-one seems to have spotted this but at least we know now how to fix it.

After making a bit of a meal of three JT65 QSOs I decided to switch to PSK31. Although it is not such a good mode for DX, if proof were needed, there were 3 or 4 spots of me on JT65A in the USA but my PSK31 at slightly higher power never penetrated beyond Western Europe.

I do find PSK31 a more rewarding mode to operate, though, because you do usually find out something about the other operator or his station. Having said that, has anyone noticed a trend towards shorter QSOs in PSK31? Quite often now it's name, report, qth, locator and goodbye. Whilst I can't say I miss knowing the make and model of the operator's computer and the colour of the interface cable, I do like to know what power they are running and what antenna they are using.
Julian Moss, G4ILO, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Cumbria, England. Contact him at [email protected].

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