Magic Band

My experience with the six meter band has been, appropriately enough, sporadic, but I’m planning to make it more of a centerpiece over the next few years.

Past Experience

The first time I ever heard anything at all on six meters was during the ARRL June VHF contest in 2012. Conditions were pretty good, and I was able to work a few states and Canada with 100 watts using a mobile vertical antenna from Virginia. I gave it another try a couple years later from San Francisco from a SOTA location, but only got out line of sight (albeit on 5 watts). Beyond that, I’ve worked stations at field day using a hex-beam, but usually only about 20-30 stations are within range.

Rare opening from Madagascar

Six meters didn’t do much for me until an afternoon in April of 2016. I was based in Madagascar at the time, and often the afternoon was relatively quiet; HF tended to pick up towards Europe around dinner time. Around 15:30h on this particular afternoon, for whatever reason, I decided to CQ on 50.080 MHz with the hexbeam pointed towards Europe. A strong reply came from Greece and I almost jumped out of my chair. I was immediately spotted and I found myself running a pile up on six meters, but with all the stations tightly clustered: Crete, Greece, and Israel, and finally Italy and Spain. I had about ten minutes of frantic operating with strong signals from Europe, then another five or so as the conditions faded. I consider those unexpected fifteen minutes the best DX that I had from Madagascar. Was that multiple hops of sporadic E?

My Humble 6m Station

Most of my equipment is currently in shipping crates somewhere in Europe, so my current antenna “farm” consists of nothing more than a 2m vertical and dipole that has to cover from HF up to 6m. I realize that’s pretty suboptimal, but I am hoping that weak signal modes help me make up some of the shortfall (that, plus the monster antennas that some other folks have stateside). As for radios both my K3 and TS-2000 can handle six meters.

Although this station far from ideal for 6m, I occasionally spin the dial. Most of the time, the only beacon I hear is from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, which is pretty local. On a couple evenings, I have also heard local ops on 50.125 SSB, but all within the area around Washington, DC.

A few nights ago, though, I heard strong signals on 50.125 and upward to 50.200, with signals coming in from along the southern portion of the US East Coast down to the tip of Florida. I had a flurry of SSB QSOs, almost all of them with better equipped stations (since that is not a high bar in my case). For a while, I even ran a frequency (above).

Despite all that activity on SSB, I heard nothing at all in the CW portion of the band, even though I spent a while calling on 50.085. Is CW just not that popular on 6M outside of contests? Hmm. Will need more data points.

FT8 on 6 meters

I gave FT8 a try last night, and had a few contacts, but nothing more than 100 miles away. However, when I went to work, I left the rig on and watched my radio report hearing additional signals from the US midwest.

PSKreporter plot of signals received since last night.

At the same time, there was a lot of activity reported by DXmaps (which made me a little grumpy about being at work and missing the action).

Today’s band opening while I was at work. Makes me think a remotely controlled rig wouldn’t be a bad idea.

So, I guess I will have to be patient and wait for sporadic E events to occur when I’m at home (that, or invest in remote rig control…)

Some Meteor Scatter?

What’s next for 6 meters? I’m considering an outing to try operating meteor scatter from the field using the newly updated MSK144 protocol. If other folks at the local club are interested, perhaps one weekday morning (ideally during high meteor activity) we can find a site and set up a 6m yagi and a generator.

Operating FT8 on the Elecraft K3

Last night on 30m

Last week, I put up a new HF antenna and this week, I set the station up to operate in FT8 mode. Below, I describe a minimalist implementation using an Elecraft K3, a computer and two audio patch cords. I am focusing only on items specific to the radio and not found in the WSJT-X documentation.

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So, I should explain why a crucifix appears to be hovering about thirty feet above my house.

My new HF antenna hovers above the house.

When I got back to the US, I had a hard time figuring out how to put up an antenna at the house that I’m renting in Maryland, just north of Washington, DC. The house is surrounded on three sides by power lines and there’s only one tall tree. After much consideration and with the help of a neighbor’s tree, I finally managed to put a dipole in place just before Christmas.

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Found In Translation

Based on some feedback from IFComp, for the current version, the cover art was dezombified and a serif font was chosen.

This year, I learned a few things about implementing text games in languages other than English, or more specifically, in porting a single game across three languages. My IF Comp game, “En Garde” was originally written in French for the 2018 Francophone IF Competition. Subsequently, I translated it to English for IFComp and the game is now part of the 2018 Russian KRIL Competition thanks to translation by Valentin Kopeltsev. I would like to share some practical experience regarding this effort and some of the solutions that I found along the way.

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KRIL 2018 Thoughts

Logo for KRIL 2018The Russian counterpart of IFcomp, KRIL, went online yesterday with 25 original games, two translated games (one of them mine), and two exhibition games that will not be included in voting. KRIL has been an annual event since 2006, but since I was not involved in previous years, this is my first look at it. I thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast a bit with IFcomp. I should add the disclaimer that my Russian is pretty rusty and that all the heavy lifting on my entry was done by Valentin Kopeltsev, so if I get any of the details below wrong, just leave a comment.

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Bring Out Yer Dead 2018

As is tradition, with IFcomp 2018 freshly over, I’m jotting down some brief thoughts on games that I entered: En Garde and Re: Dragon, which placed 14 and 26 out of 77, respectively.

First, I’d like to thank those who ran the competition for staging such a quality event: gathering funding and prizes, maintaining the web site, getting the word out, and supporting authors all the way along. Similarly, a huge thanks to my proofreaders and beta-testers, who probably logged as many hours playing and commenting as I did developing the games.

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IFcomp 2018

ifcomp 2018 logoA quick post about IFcomp 2018, which launches today. Last year, I reviewed all the submissions on this blog, but will not be doing so this year as I have two games in the comp. It’s been a few years since the rules change that removed the gag on authors, but I’m still not comfortable commenting in public on other games, when I’m a participant.

I’ll certainly play through as many of the other games as I can and will be posting some comments privately on the closed forum for authors.

I’m looking forward to reading reviews of all the games in the comp — I’m sure all the authors are in the same boat, sitting on the edge of their seats this morning waiting for the first feedback to drift in.

Back in the US for a year

A brief update to bring the blog current: first, I moved back to the US at the start of August. Between packing, shipping, and visiting family, I’ve had my hands full and not a lot of time to update the blog. So, some quick updates by category: work, radio, IF, electronics, computer stuff, and Greek.

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Some Thoughts About Cragne Manor

I’ll add more comments as time permits [these were written in August 2018, about four months before the game came out — but I didn’t know that at the time], and Ben will probably do the same on his blog at some point. Whatever other comments we add on about our work on the Cragne Manor project, I’ll link it back to this page.


We wrote up a design document to serve as a reference in writing the characters and their situation. It was particularly helpful in putting together a consistent time line. Initially we stuck closely to the design document, but as writing progressed, the story and characters took their own directions, and we ditched some of the design elements — there is no iron golem, for example in the final story. In some instances, we redacted portions that would either not have worked as IF or that were unnecessarily cumbersome in terms of mechanics relative to their narrative contribution.

Model Transcript

While Ben started thinking about coding and integrating standard parts of the Cragne Manor project, I began writing the transcript. Perhaps not the best way to approach a project based on dialogues because it tends towards the linear, but given the time constraint versus volume of text needed to tell the story, we though it would be efficient because Ben could review and implement behind me as I wrote. That mostly worked for this project, particular because we kept the dialogue and NPCs relatively simple — not much in terms of forking dialogue or variability based on earlier knowledge, emotional state, etc.  I worked within GoogleDocs and for the sake of loading quickly split the model transcript into part 1 and part 2. The final game resembled these transcripts pretty closely.

The Code

As usual, we wrote the code collaboratively, using version control to fold our efforts together, in this case the whole project lives on github.