Monday, February 19, 2018

This post about the US Towers ALM-31 crank-up aluminum mast from the Top Band Chordal Hopper blog caught my eye this morning.

I contacted the company to get additional details, including its price and already received a reply.

It’s 31-feet when extended and Rich, KY6R posits it as a smart support for the SteppIR UrbanBeam. It’s an expensive combo, but it would be nice to have a directional antenna for 40-6 meters and it would definitely make it easy to move it to a new QTH.

A very important feature since we’ve got one more move to make before settling into full-time retirement.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Low expectations and little effort resulted in meager results in the ARRL DX CW contest this weekend, but I enjoyed every minute of it. Nothing new and notable in the log this time, it was mostly the usual suspects.

Still, it was a lot more fun that one should expect for five watts, a wire antenna, and manually sent Morse code. All search and pounce and I was only pouncing on the big signals.

I ended up working just 32 stations on 40, 20, and 15 meters, seven of those contacts with stations in Hawaii. If CR3W on Madeira Island confirms our contact that would be an ATNO for me. My log shows I’ve worked six other operators there but none have ever confirmed.

Nearly all replied on the first call but a few sent “AGN” a time or two and I truly appreciate that in the heat of battle, with my peanut whistle no doubt ruining their rate, they stuck with me until the contact was made.

Serious contesters are the very best radiomen that our hobby has to offer and it’s easy to overlook their prowess. These guys and gals are simply the best.

Another Trip Around the Sun

Today is my 59th birthday and I’d like to hang around for a few more.

Some years ago I took up the habit of reading Thoreau’s ‘Walden’ to mark the occasion. It’s message of minimalism resonates deeply and usually brings course corrections in my life. The fact that you’re reading this tells me you’d probably like it too. Download it here.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”

Saturday, February 17, 2018

I’ll wait until tomorrow to wrap-up my results in the DX contest. There will be very little to report as I’m not making much of an effort. Five watts, wire antenna, manually sent CW. Old-school stuff and when the weekend is over, I won’t have two whole hours in it.

But it’s worth noting that here we are, circling the drain, about to sink into the solar minimum yet there was still a lot of DX worked today. Oh sure, it wasn’t like the good old days, but I’m beginning to believe that instant propagation reporting may be doing the hobby more harm than good.

People see those silly reporting banners that have been slapped onto the side of every ham radio blog, and they see a lousy report and don’t even bother to get on the air. Yet almost every time we have a big contest, HF propagation magically improves. Go figure.

Hope you’re having fun and finding a few keepers for the log this weekend. If nothing else, it’s good to hear the bands alive with the sound of Morse!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Good luck in the contest – this weekend is one of the big ones, the ARRL International DX CW contest. Band conditions being what they have been will no doubt put a damper on the festivities but if you can’t put a handful of DX in the log this weekend you likely never will.

Patrick, WD9EWK is setup and making satellite contacts from the Yuma Hamfest. I’m going to try my best to work him, despite the usual weekend congestion on the FM birds.

If long reads don’t scare you, I’d recommend you grab a cup of something good, kick your shoes off, and enjoy this online article: The White Darkness: A Journey Across Antarctica.

And if you’re looking for a warm fuzzy radio feeling this weekend, be sure to read February at Potter Place. Another trail report from Jim, W1PID who brought along K1SWL and W3ATB to share the adventure and round out the crew. Jim has archived over 200 such operations on his Web site, anyone of which should make you smile.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Nearly five years ago I concluded that it was silly to rent a modem from the cable company on a month by month basis when I could buy my own for less than a hundred bucks. Enough time and technology has passed since then that it’s time for a home network upgrade. I plan to visit the cable company and get their recommended hardware since apparently, I’m unable to get the speed that I pay for.

It’s also time to run some new network cables to a few strategic points around the house so I’ll wrap all of this into one project and get it on the to-do list which means it could take a long time but at least I’ll feel guilty about being behind on the to-do list…

I’ve spent a little more time exploring the RSS feed problem mentioned yesterday. It’s tough to troubleshoot given that my feed reader and browser cache articles so what looks good to me doesn’t necessarily reflect reality. I did get a note from a reader confirming the problem (thanks!) and that’s been a help in figuring out what’s really going on.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

I use a static Web site generator called Jekyll to create my site. I had installed it on the production environment which is a Linode running Ubuntu. But I’m in the process of converting to Debian so I migrated my site generator to another machine a few days ago and the transition wasn’t completely smooth.

A configuration error on my part fouled up the RSS for a couple of days and that went unnoticed by me until today. I believe the problem has been solved but I’ll keep an eye on the output for a few days to be certain.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Looks like the mercury will be rising this week. The 10-day forecast looks like a lot of high temps in the 40’s and 50’s which should provide a nice break on the heating bill. It might even afford an opportunity to take a closer look at how the antenna survived the cold weather.

I skipped the SKCC WES last weekend. No point in kicking against the rocks, or fighting for a spot with the RTTY folks. I did manage a nice 30 meter chat with John, KA2VBI who was in New York. Other than that, HF was a total bust so I moved along to greener pastures.

On Sunday evening I happened across a few of the AMSAT heavyweights in a roundtable on D-STAR Reflector 9C.

AMSAT-VP of Engineering Jerry, N0JY, Executive VP Paul, N8HM, Director of Field Operations Patrick, WD9EWK and a few others. The chatter was mostly about the 1.2GHz uplink on AO-92 since the bird had been switched into L/V mode earlier that day.

As you might imagine, the discussion was a cut above the typical ham radio pablum and made me glad to have access to D-STAR.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The DX Engineering order information for the brand new ICOM IC-9700 has been updated. Perhaps this was just wishful thinking or a mistake as it shows the new transceiver as being “in stock” and available to ship today though no price is listed.

All-mode VHF/UHF/1.2GHz in a package without HF. What’s not to like?

I expect the price to be under $1500 US but that’s just a guess. I’d like to know the price. I’d like to know if it supports satellite mode. I’d like to order one. I’m ready. Giddy up!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

I’ve got over a thousand dollars invested in two Kenwood handheld transceivers and their accessories. One of them, the TH-D72, is capable of full-duplex operation and I bought it two years ago specifically for FM satellite work. I’ve used it about a dozen times.

Then a few months ago I was at a hamfest where a vendor was offering the newer TH-D74 transceiver for a hundred dollars less than it’s usual price so I purchased it. I’ve turned it on to make sure it works, but have never made even a single contact with it.

That’s set to change as we move into a new season and opportunities to use my handshack in the field become more abundant. In preparation for that, I need to spend more time with this equipment so I can be better prepared to use it.

I’ll be carrying the TH-D74 with its software and manual with me this week so that idle time in the hotel can be spent getting know its capabilities.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Friends on Twitter jumped all over my “malarkey” call on the mythical FT-817 replacement from Yaesu. They pointed out that the new device, though not yet announced, appears in the FCC certification database. After fifteen years of correctly calling “malarkey” on the same rumor I could be wrong. We will see…

RTTY on the KX3, Me-Wow!

The WPX RTTY contest was in full-swing by the time I got home last night and 40 meters had plenty of activity. With a little time to kill after dinner and before the hockey game, I put the new KX3 into decode data mode and watched the contest scroll across its screen.

I settled on one station in Texas, K5DU, who had a tremendous signal and watched as she reeled off 67 contacts in about 30 minutes. The option was right there for me to touch the paddles and enter the fray but with zero experience using the KX3 on RTTY I figured the middle of a big contest was no place to start.

Later, after the game, I did find a clear spot and called CQ using the paddle and sure enough, the KX3 converted my hand-keyed CW to RTTY slick as a whistle. It was a single call and (fortunately) no one called me back, but this looks like another something that will get my attention.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Rumors are once again circulating about a possible FT-818, the long-awaited replacement for the venerable Yaesu FT-817 portable transceiver. It seems someone has been circulating an image purporting to be labeling for the new and improved transceiver.

That seems a little odd given that we’re typically treated to these reports a little closer to April 1st each year.

Back in the day, the 817 was coveted because it included VHF and UHF along with HF in a single package making it flexible in the field. But it was always a crummy little rig that was hard on batteries with a lousy HF receiver. Turning that into something that could compete with the modern crop of portables would be a major overhaul and the resulting product wouldn’t resemble the 817. And given the magnitude of the required update, Yaesu would no doubt call it something other than an “818”.

I think it’s a safe bet to call malarkey on this rumor and move along. Once again, nothing to see here.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

I wasn’t actively trying to sell it, but someone offered to buy my TenTec Eagle and I decided it was time for it to move to a new home where it might get some use. I could use those funds to purchase the matching amplifier and auto-tuner for the KX3 though I’m having enough success at low-power that I’m not inclined to do that. I’m sure something shiny will soon come along…

Bits and Pieces

Larry, W2LJ recently pointed readers of his blog to a new offering from the QRPGuys - a portable 40-30-20m tri-band vertical antenna for fifteen bucks.

I saw this link in the ARRL Contest Update to an interesting online collection of old Radio Shack books. Remember Forrest Mims? Yeah, some of that stuff in the archive too.

The Colorado QRP Club Winter QSO party is coming up this weekend. Two hours on Sunday evening on February 11th.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

A collective disappointment that the Bouvet Island operation had to be aborted has settled over the DX community. All have expressed relief that the crew is safe and headed for home, but that does little to ease the pangs of something hoped and dreamed about for several years. If you haven’t already worked it, chances that you ever will just diminished considerably.

While the current team has already discussed among themselves a future attempt, it seems unlikely to be anytime soon given the cost and complexity to mount such an expedition. Without question, hams will go back there one day, but that future visit, whenever it happens, could be a lifetime away.

Like everyone else, I’m happy in the knowledge that the crew is safe. It’s too bad things worked out this way and equally bad was all the sweat and equity that was expended for nothing. But I’m also pleased to know that there remain some things on this planet not yet totally conquered by mankind.

We haven’t yet tamed the seas or the weather. Landing on a glacier in the middle of nowhere ought to be difficult otherwise there is no challenge. Given the money and the technology the Earth must surely be considered the underdog in this struggle. And who doesn’t like to root for the underdog – sometimes even when playing against the home team.

Now we wait for the next trip to Bouvet for the next round in the battle between radio men and nature.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Back to work today after an unplanned long weekend. My back isn’t much better but I don’t think staying home yesterday helped so I’m just cracking on and chewing on pain relievers.

Interesting news from the organizers at OzarkCon today. There’s been a change in the speaker line-up. The Friday night dinner speaker will be Tom Vinson, NY0V with the Amelia Earhart Search of which he has been on three searches. The Saturday morning session has added Bob Heil, K9EID with his Pine Board Project and more.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Another update from the 3Y0Z Bouvet Island DXpedition team:

Our captain has decided that it is in the best interest of safety and expediency to proceed directly to Capetown, South Africa rather than Punta Arenas, Chile. We are now heading north to avoid the possibility of encountering ice. Currently, there is no ice in sight or on radar. In due time, we will head easterly toward Capetown.

Our entire team is safe. Most are resting in their bunks and in good spirits. We will keep the amateur radio community and our familie informed, as we continue our journey.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The weekend was a complete bust with no on-the-air activity. I injured my back while moving some furniture yesterday and I’m down for the count. Going to stay home from work tomorrow and see if this can be remedied by a little extra rest.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Disappointing news from the 3Y0Z DXpedition to Bouvet Island, one of the most remote and desolate parts of the planet:

During the last 72 hours we continued to experience the high winds, low clouds, fog, and rough seas that have prevented helicopter operations since our arrival at Bouvet. No improvement was predicted in the weather forecast for the next four days. Then, last night an issue developed in one of the ship’s engines.

This morning the captain of the vessel declared it unsafe to continue with our project and aborted the expedition. We are now on our long voyage back to Punta Arenas.

As you might imagine the team is deeply disappointed, but safe. There is already talk about rescheduling the DXpedition.

Friday, February 2, 2018

I’ll be in the car and headed home in an hour. Another week on the road down and that much closer to the end of this project. When I woke up this morning it was 12F outside in Cincinnati and hasn’t warmed up much since.

The weekend weather forecast is a mixed bag. Cold, snow, rain, colder.

I suppose it’s weak sauce to complain about our normal February weather when we’ve got a boatload of ham operators waiting offshore for a break in their incredibly bad weather just so they can invade Bouvet Island.

Report circulating that the flu vaccine was only 10 percent effective against H3N2 (the main flu subtype going around in the US this season) among adults in Canada so it looks like the best advice is to avoid other humans. I’m happy to comply as much as possible – let’s talk via radio!

I hope to put a few in the log during the Vermont QSO Party this weekend but if the bands disappoint, I’ll look for a window in the weather to try the newest amateur satellite, AO-92. I haven’t even listened for this one yet and that’s a shame considering the effort to get these things built and launched.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The month kicks off with several operating events taking place this weekend. Of interest to me are the Vermont, Minnesota, and British Columbia QSO parties.

The North American CW Sprint also runs this weekend. So much to do, so little time!

End of month chores yesterday kept me busy but I did manage to enter the SOTA contacts that I made during January in the online database. Seven contacts worth 31 points as a chaser. I’ll keep better track going forward since I really enjoyed hunting and working those portable stations.

The ARRL International Grid Chase is still a complete mystery to me. Scoring requires that the other stations worked use LoTW and upload their info matching mine which results in a QSL confirmation worth points. This seems purely random given that less than 50% of everyone I work even has an LoTW account.

This is completely unlike the Centennial QSO Party where you tried to work specific stations who used LoTW so if you worked them, you knew you would get credit for them. This is just complete hit-and-miss nonsense. According to the Leader Board, I worked 19 unique grid squares in January for a total of 21 points.

That and five bucks will get you a vanilla latte…

This month’s journal image (top of page) is of the Four States QRP Group 80M Cricket kit cropped from this photo I took during last year’s FDIM in Dayton.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

It’s the end of the month and time to close out January 2018.

This month has seen my HF station in transition. I used the TenTec Eagle at 100 watts for the first eighteen days, and then replaced that with a new KX3 running five watts for the balance of the month.

January is also a bit of an outlier since it includes the annual K3Y Celebration so the total number of contacts is usually a little more than most other months. Work this month was exclusively CW and in addition to K3Y, I worked a handful of POTA, SOTA and Winter Field Day stations.

The 62 January QSO’s generated just 18 confirmations via LoTW, a paltry 29% rate. CW operators just don’t QSL at anywhere near same rate as digital operators, at least not via LoTW.

At the current rate, I’m on track to add about 750 contacts to the log this year though I think 500 is a much more realistic estimate of annual QRP CW contacts.

On to February!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Registration for OzarkCon went “live” yesterday and now I’m properly registered. I made the hotel reservation a few days ago so we’re all set for the trip to Branson, Missouri to attend the QRP conference April 6-7.

I uploaded my Winter Field Day results, eleven CW contacts on 40 meters from “home” using their new log summary input form, but haven’t seen my tally show up yet in the overall results. Not sure if that requires some human intervention on the organizers part or if I gummed up the works.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Monday morning and I’m back on the road. A few stolen moments over the weekend permitted me to put a few more miles on the new KX3 and it hasn’t disappointed.

I managed about an hour during the Winter Field Day activity on Sunday and worked eleven stations, all on 40 CW, with me operating from home and running five watts.

Given that I’m traveling this week, my HF fun for January is in the rear-view mirror. I’m anxious to tally the results and see how the New Year kicked off and maybe get an idea of what’s to come.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

I worked N2CX on Saturday afternoon. Joe was teasing the aether from White Clay Creek State Park (K/KFF-1743) near Newark, Delaware.

He has been one busy POTA activator of late and his adventures are growing in status as he revels us with his tales from the trails via the QRP-L mailing list.

This was the first time I worked Joe. His published routine has been to hit 7034 first before moving on to 20 and then 30 meters depending on conditions. His latest missive on this outing indicated that he would be active from 1800-1900 UTC.

At 1809 he was in my log. Nice signal, worked him on the first call, easy-peasy. I’ve logged thousands of contacts using five watts or less but it remains a nice surprise when it works so well, so easily.

Since I was in the shack I checked for SOTA activations and quickly put these in the log too:

  • KI4TN (W4T/RV-002) [TN] 40M
  • WB5USB (W5N/MG-014) [AR] 20M
  • K7PX (W0C/SP-121) [CO] 20M

I never thought chasing stations who are out in the field would be enjoyable but there’s an element of adventure, even on the warm and sheltered end of the connection, that makes it possible to feel a part of the operation in a way that’s somehow satisfying.

I’ve chased enough SOTA this month that I should probably begin keeping score and really get in on the game.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

A hobby is a regular activity that is done for enjoyment, typically during one’s leisure time. Hobbies can include collecting themed items and objects, engaging in creative and artistic pursuits, playing sports, or pursuing other amusements. A list of hobbies is lengthy and always changing as interests and fashions change. By continually participating in a particular hobby, one can acquire substantial skills and knowledge in that area. Engagement in hobbies has increased since the late nineteenth century as workers have more leisure time and advancing production and technology have provided more support for leisure activities. As some hobbies have become less popular, like stamp collecting, others have been created following technological advances, such as video games.

Source: Wikipedia

Friday, January 26, 2018

I took the day off work. An event almost as rare as a Bigfoot sighting but home projects are stacking up. We’re spending this weekend replacing the flooring in one of the bedrooms and doing the work ourselves. Today we picked up the flooring then ripped the carpet out and prepared the floor.

We even managed a trip to the dump to get rid of the refuse so the project is moving along nicely if you don’t count the furniture from that room being stacked up around the house.

This hasn’t left much time for radio fun but when I got home last night the cables and connectors I ordered for the KX3 were waiting for me.

I had ordered six foot long audio cables with 3.5mm right-angle male plugs on each end. I cut this in the middle giving me two 3-foot cables for my keys each with a molded right-angle plug affixed to the end.

This looks so much better on the KX3 than the straight plugs I had been using and I really like the threaded cable.

Also in the package was a couple of right-angle RF connectors so now the antenna cable is just as neat as the headphones and keys. I’m getting happier with this setup!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

I’m driving back home this evening which means 2.5 hours of podcast time in the car. I noticed that “Antenna Wire” is the topic of the current (January 18) episode of the “ARRL The Doctor is In” podcast and I haven’t caught this one yet. The ARRL says there have been more than a half-million downloads since the debut of this program in April 2016.

A new episode of 100 Watts and a Wire (#134) is also available. This one is supposed to celebrate the end of the longest freeze in 35 years, so Christian turned this episode into a field recording.

There’s also a new episode of TX Factor (#20) available. I watched it from the hotel last night, ‘The SDR Attraction’. It’s the very best ham radio video program on the planet so you won’t want to miss that one either.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Reservations were made at the OzarkCon QRP Conference hotel this morning. I’ve always wanted to attend this one but never had the chance until deciding not to spend a long weekend in Dayton this year. I want to do many NEW things this year and I’ve done Hamvention a lot over the years.

And I could run over there on Friday and return home that same evening. It makes for a long day but I live close enough (100 miles) that it can be done. Then again, I might just skip Dayton altogether this year. I didn’t plan to go last year until they announced the move to Xenia and I wanted to show my support for the new venue – and to be able to say I attended the first Hamvention in the new location.

We’ve never been to Branson and look forward to the drive thru Missouri to the conference and then having a look around while there.

This is going to be fun!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Holiday Inn where the Four Days in May event takes place has sold out of rooms for Hamvention weekend. That location is particularly well-suited for an easy trip to Xenia so it’s little surprise.

I’ve attended FDIM twelve times dating way back to when it was held at the “other” hotel. I’m skipping it this year because twelve times is enough, but if you haven’t been there lately, or if you’ve never attended, I highly recommend that you put it on your bucket list.

FDIM is something every low-power enthusiast needs to attend at least once…if not a dozen times.

‘Four Days in May’ is the annual convention of the QRP Amateur Radio Club International. It is held in Dayton OH and runs in parallel with the Dayton Hamvention. May 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Back to work and on the road today. Shakedown of the KX3 this weekend turned up a few ergonomic issues with the new transceiver.

First, since all the cables route from the sides of the panel instead of the back, I’m going to order all new right-angle connectors to streamline cabling to the radio. That includes the coaxial antenna connector, 12VDC, headphones, and the key jack. Which brings up another point. The KX3 requires a stereo plug for a straight key even if only the tip contact is used.

Not a big problem since I want a right-angle plug for the keys anyway but that did keep me off the straight key this weekend.

The angle and height of the wood stand I purchased to support the radio on the desk is fine but it tends to move around on the desktop when I press buttons. I’ll need to come up with some way to immobilize it using a rubber mat or something to keep it in place.

I don’t plan to review the KX3. After all, it’s been out for more than five years and people still rave about it. The receiver with the filters is amazing. The built-in auto-tuner is broad-ranged and tunes very quickly. The internal speaker isn’t very good, but this radio is designed to be used with headphones or ear-buds which is how I use it and have zero complaints.

For the QRP CW enthusiast, the Elecraft KX3 is as close to perfect as it gets.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The mailman dropped off two packages yesterday.

I had ordered a new power supply for the KX3. It’s the HPS-1a from Gamma Research, a 12VDC supply capable of powering most 100 watt transceivers despite its diminutive size. It provides full power capability by the use of Ultra-Capacitors which act like short term batteries that recharge between spoken syllables and Morse characters.

It’s practically noise-free and tiny making it a highly desirable accessory in my new ultra-lean shack.

The other package contained the dust cover I ordered from Rose’s Covers and Cases, a useful and great-looking accessory.

I did manage to spend a little time on the air and enjoyed one contact with a guy operating from a park along with a handful of SOTA contacts. Some where you might expect them, one of them in Michigan.

Who knew there were summits in Michigan?