Sunday, June 11, 2017

MO QSO Party 2017 Part 3 Operating

Part 3 of the MOQSO Party 2017 video is out.  Enjoy.  Part 4 coming soon.



Thursday, June 1, 2017

Thoughts on MO QSO Party 2017

Well, it's over, and this blog post if way overdue.  Here are my thoughts on the 2017 MO QSO.

Wed before the contest ; I worked a full day and spent the night locked up in the basement trying to get the final items packed.  Everything that I packed was broken down into 5 main totes.  Two totes for myself, one tote for the CW tent, one tote for the trailer and one tote for backup stuff.  Below is a picture of what each tote consisted of.


Wednesday night I packed all my personal items and made sure I didn't forget my pillow or shower towel this time!  Wed night was also dedicated to packing the truck with items I could and also taking all the totes out to the garage for the early load in on Thursday.

Thursday morning around 9am I had to pick my parents up at the airport and bring them back to my house to grab a car.  After picking them up, I hit the road up north around 11am.  The weather wasn't the best on the way up, as it rained the whole way to Columbia and drizzled from Columbia to Kirksville.



I arrived at Union Ridge around 3pm as Justin had left earlier in the morning and basically setup camp.  I was surprised at the range of the Kirksville repeater, as we could hit it from our HT's.  Per Google Maps, the repeater is around 17 miles away, so that's quite a distance for an HT contact.  Justin and I proceeded to setup as much stuff as possible on Thursday night as it rained on us the whole time.  Before night fall we got the CW tent put up, a 40ft mast and ran quite a bit of coax out of the RV.  Before we went to bed, we managed to set up Justin's rig and my KX3 with amp for Sterling (N0SSC) to operate.

Friday Justin had a family event to go to in Columbia MO so it was just me setting everything else up until others showed up.  Saturday morning I ended up putting up two NVIS antennas, running the remaining coax, installing the 802.11 wireless, and my SSB shack.  Kevin (K0KEV) was the first to show up and he started setting up his equipment within the RV.  Chris (WX5CW) and Sterling showed up in the middle of the afternoon with CJ (WT2P) showing up late Friday night.  By twilight we had all the stations setup along with the antennas.

Saturday morning we started out with a big breakfast (just what we needed for a long day of contesting, right?!?) and booted up our stations.  Of course we had issues, but the good thing was the 802.11 wireless worked great!  My computer could not see 1/2 of the other stations out there, but I just let it go as our backup laptop could see everybody and was recording all the QSO's in N1MM.

At 9am the contest started and we were off.  We started with a slow start as we had no idea the sun was actually puking out solar flares, so the bands were almost dead.  CJ and Sterling and Justin were running on 20 and 40m respectively.  Chris and I were searching and pouncing trying to pick up multipliers.  Kevin was throwing out W0W on digital.  I think by 3pm we only had 70K in points, which with 6 stations on the air, isn't a lot.

Once we figured out our NVIS stations were not working, we switched gears and raised the antennas as far up as possible so we could concentrate on working as many states as possible.  We had the spotter networking rolling and could see others were having trouble hitting the MO counties, so it was something related to the bands and not our antennas or stations.

9pm rolled around and were not doing so well with the multipliers, so I decided to participate in the SSB sprint to gain some contacts.  The object of a sprint is to contact as many stations as possible in a 3 hours time period, so it doesn't take up a lot of BIC (butt in chair) time.  The second rule is around changing and gaining a frequency.  If you call CQ, after you contact someone, you have to give up that frequency to the person who contacted you.  If your S&P and answer a CQ, the person calling CQ gives up the frequency to the S&P, then you can call CQ.  In the three hour contest I made around 250 contacts, so that really boosted our point total.

Sunday brought more of the same, but at 1:44pm the sun did a vomit session and the bands went dead.  Everything was gone.  Since the only signals I could hear were the ones coming out of our own camp, I decided to pack it up.

The MO QSO party is long.  Almost too long in my book.  14 hours on Saturday, 6 hours on Sunday.  It makes for a long contest.  The nice part is there is many times available to take a break and get some energy back.

I'm still working through the videos, as I have 2 done already, with another 3 or so to go.  I shot a lot of video during the weekend and it takes quite a bit of time to go through and pull together a story.

We'll be back at it next year.  Not sure if we'll be in the same spot, or move on to another location closer to home and try on a 2 county line.  We'll see.  Below are the two videos I've been working on.


Part 1


Part 2









Saturday, May 20, 2017

Where Am I? An Update.

Where have I gone?  What do I do with all my time?  Why haven't I posted in a very long time?  I'm sure you're all asking as you hang on very word within this blog...

Well...I'm here to say, I don't have any excuse to give that will satisfy you, other than I've been busy working on other things.  But I'm also here to say a "barrage" of stuff is coming!  What have I been working on? Here is the excuse list (ham related).

1) I'm the webmaster for my local club, St. Louis Suburban Radio Club (SLSRC) and we are launching a new website Memorial Day weekend.  Migrating over all the info, putting new info together, getting layout, colors, events put on the new website is time consuming.  With the new website we have a "new ham" section spanning what is Amateur Radio to getting your license to the question "now I have my license, what is next?".  Hopefully the new website will be a portal others will use to not only get SLSRC info but also get related ham radio info.

2) I've been operating quite a bit more lately on the weekends.  Since MO QSO, I've taken the KX3 rig out a half a dozen times to operate for a few hours QRP.  No amp, just a small dipole or end fed vertial, an A123 battery some coax and my rig.  I've taken a few videos of my operating, so be looking for those intertwined within the regular videos.

3) MO QSO video is coming!  In 4 or maybe 5 parts.  Part 1 is out there on my YouTube page documenting the equipment and drive up to the campsite.  Part 2 will be setup.  Part 3 will be operating.  Part 4 will be teardown and misc items including all the food and goofing around we did.  Part 5 might be everything else that hit the cutting room floor.  Editing video is hard.  It takes around an 45min to an hour of editing per final min of video, so they take some time.  Below is the link to Part 1.



Those are the three ham radio excuses on why I've not been as active on my blog and YouTube channel lately.  I have some vacation coming up and one goal is to make more blog posts and finish up some have edited videos I have sitting around, so be looking for more stuff in the coming weeks to months.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

One Last Push to MOQSO 2017!

What a busy weekend.  A busy ham weekend getting ready for the MOQSO party next weekend.  In the past 72 hours, I've made antennas, antenna supports, purchased connectors and coax, terminated coax, programmed radios, recorded CQ's for N1MM, dropped larger equipment off at Justin's house, packed, re-packed, programmed a Raspberry Pi...what else???

Still on the to do list, create laminated county/state/providence cheat sheets, mow the grass, pick up items at the coax cable store during my lunch hour, pack my clothes, rain gear and everything else!  I'm tired and we haven't even setup yet!

One of the things this year that is really going to help is having a central wireless hub for us to share N1MM info through.  During the IL QSO party, we had a wireless access point, but it had small 3db gain antennas on it and didn't really make the grade, so ove the past month I decided to build my own robust wireless system, and it's finally done.

I fit a Raspberry Pi in the enclosure to grab all the network packets in case we have a total failure, we can still re-create the log from the packet capture.  When the Pi boots up, it automatically starts a log file with the date/time and captures UDP packets from N1MM.  We configure N1MM to push all our packets to this Pi during the contest and it captures and logs them.  It's really slick as a backup tool.


In the future, we will probably use the same setup, but look towards a MikroTik outdoor system to really boost our range.  Since we have ham licenses, we can use higher power devices, which MikroTik provides, at a really cheap price!

Getting ready for something like this means lots of lists.  Below is one of the many lists I have to ensure I have everything accounted for.  Not only does this list live on-line, it's on my rolling whiteboard in my basement.



Here is the latest picture of what is packed so far.  5 large totes round out all the equipment going with me.  I've already taken a load of bigger stuff to Justin's to put in the trailer so I don't have to haul it.


Compared to last MOQSO party in 2016, this is a lot less stuff to pack, which I must say we've come a long way in a year as a contesting group.  We've really streamlined our process of putting up antennas, getting coax run and setting up a station.  This year we'll have almost a day and half of setting up.  Last year we had a 1/2 day, which we didn't get everything setup until Sat morning when the contest started.  The goal this year is to have everything setup and working (with wireless tested) by Friday at 6pm.  This way we can relax on Friday night and not stress at the start of the contest.

We are going to try some UHF/VHF this year and see if we can drum up some contacts via simplex, but try and gain interest on the local repeaters.  I have an Elk Mountain Log Yagi that we are going to put up and shoot towards the Kirskville repeater, which has a wide area coverage.  From our location, we are only 17.5 miles from the K-ville repeater.  I built a PVC antenna mast that we will anchor down to the top of the trailer that is rotatable so that should give us around 20ft of height over the trees pointing towards the repeater.



I also created a spreadsheet with all the local repeaters and road trip repeaters for our group to program their radios so we are all on the same repeaters heading up and back home.  We are all leaving at different times, so we might be able to catch each other on the way up within the repeater system.  Same with the trip home, some might leave early, so if we run into trouble, we'll know how to get a hold of each other.




This year, I've taken quite a bit of video of the setup, prep and packing, as the goal of this event is to document all the major steps I take and also why I'm taking equipment and how am I organizing it.  I figure someone else out there might find it interesting on how much work and effort goes into planning something like this.  I also recorded a video of me recording my CQ's scripts for N1MM, which I'll release with the QSO party video.  The MOQSO video is going to be massive, with lots of footage, so it might be released as part 1 and part 2.  CJ who is coming down from Chicago has a drone so, unless it's too windy, expect some really cool drone shots!!!!

Next update will be after the QSO party, or if I find some time between now and then, I'll give another update!  We'll be running as W0W on Putman, Sullivan and Adair counties the whole weekend.  We'll have guys running CW and SSB on 40m the whole contest while others work digital and search and pounce.  Work us if you can!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

All about APRS

Want to know more about APRS?  Check out these two podcasts.  After taking a trip for work, I loaded these two on my phone and listened while I traveled.  3 hours later, I knew a ton more about APRS than I did before I started.  Some things about APRS I thought were correct were not correct and some I didn't even know existed.

If you ever looked at APRS documentation on the internet, you know it's a nightmare.  There isn't a single source of info, how it works or even how it's useful, but if you listen to these two podcasts before setting up an APRS rig, you'll have such an easier time than I did fighting with issues.


APRS Part 1


APRS Part 2 - Q&A



Sunday, February 19, 2017

N1MM Networking Plus an Outdoor WiFi Enclosure Build

So what does an outdoor WiFi enclosure have to do with amateur radio?  Well, if you contest portable and do so as a group in a large areas, you might want to connect all your contesting logging stations together via WiFi for score keeping and communications between stations.

We use N1MM contesting software which can be networked.  It keeps a running score and also has a dedicated chat server built in.  N1MM is free, works great and can really help boost your score if used in the correct way.

http://n1mm.hamdocs.com/tiki-index.php?page=Multiple+Computer+and+Multi-Op+Contesting

In a portable multi-station environment, you can set your stations up a couple of different ways.  The first is to have dedicated stations on each band and they never deviate from that band.  In this setup your logging computer doesn't really need to be aware of who you worked on other bands, so you don't have to worry about dupes, but your blind on what others stations are doing.  If you are on 20m and you just worked a station you might need on 40m, how would you know?  If you did need that station on 40m, what frequency would you point him to?  Is the operator in your group running on 40m, or searching and pouncing?  Running in "island mode", you don't know who's logging what on the other bands.

The second options is to have multiple operators spread out doing their own thing on different bands with some loose operating rules with networked computers.  In the N1MM networking window, I know exactly who's on what band, if they are running or S&P and what frequency they are on.  If I need to pass a call to someone on another band, I can put it up in the chat which then gets broadcast to all stations.  This makes it easy to get those multipliers on different bands.  In this environment, you are aware of who's on what bands and who those operators are.

All the portable operations I've been a part of have been the latter.  If 15m is hot and you have an antenna that can run 15m, start running on 15m!!  If 20m is dead, change to a different band based on what others are working.  There really isn't a lot of rules, and it's up to the operators to make sure they are not stepping on other bands but still making lots of contacts.  It's easy to keep track of who's operating where, so if someone steps away, we can communicate that and someone else can pick up the band where they left off.

Since we choose to network N1MM, that means building out a large WiFi network depending on how spread out we are in our portable setup.  Running an off the shelf WiFi router you get at Best Buy just doesn't cut it when trying to shoot long distances, so I Frankenstein-ed my own WiFi solution that is self contained and waterproof with options of extending the signal to another external WiFi antenna.

I did use an old router that I've had lying around, but flashed DD-WRT firmware on it, which basically turns it into a super router with much more configuration settings.  We can boost the WiFi power coming out of the router and turn off antenna diversity to push all the power to 1 antenna.  In order to make the most out of the space within the enclosure, I stripped the wireless router down to just the circuit board and installed on a mesh insert with double sided velcro.  It connects to an 8db gain omni-directional antenna attached to the side of the box.

The box and mesh insert can be purchased on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005UPANU2/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o02_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005UPE83U/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o01_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1


The bottom is (will) be filled with waterproof cable glands.  Four of them to be exact.  Two that will connect the R and L antenna ports.  One for an Ethernet cable to connect another remote WiFi extender that we will connect with a 100ft cable and another cable gland to bring power into the box.




In the picture above, the power cable gland has yet to be drilled.  The power will come from a 50ft extension cable, where I will cut off the plug end, feed it through the gland and then re-attach the plug end for the WiFi transformer.  There is a torrid to help keep RF out of the board from the transformer.  The power will route along the side of the box, keeping it as far away from the transmitting antenna cable as possible.

The antenna is an 8db omni-directional antenna that has a holder bolted into the side of the box.  A little hot glue made the connections waterproof.  The antenna sticks up around 8 inches above the top of the box.




The whole box will be attached to a painters pole with some U brackets and mounted to the side of the RV or sign post in the middle of camp.  I'm hoping that we can get 300+ feet range out of the antenna, as that's about as far away operators will be with their laptops.  Even if we don't get a huge amount of bandwidth, that will be ok, as N1MM doesn't take that much data.  Plus if we sync our computers often, there shouldn't be any issue missing contacts.




Saturday, February 11, 2017

Winter Field Day 2017

Winter Field day (WFD) is the last Saturday/Sunday in Jan every year.  It's a 24 hour contest like the FD in June.  It's not associated by the ARRL, but this year there were a lot of stations and clubs calling CQ.  It looks like WFD is getting bigger adn bigger every year.  The object of winter field day is to work on your disaster preparedness skills in harsh operating conditions.  Disasters don't care when the weather will be nice, so getting your gear out in the weather is always good practice no matter how cold it is.

Scott (ND9E) invited me over to operate at his house so we could operate 20 (oscar).  O equals outdoors, as there were three operating classes.  Outdoor, indoor and home.  All the info can be found at https://www.winterfieldday.com/.  I believe last year he ran solo 10 (oscar) and put on a good showing, so he wanted to add to his operation from the previous year.   

Head over to Scott's blog at http://nd9e.blogspot.com/2017/02/winter-field-day-2017.html to read his write up on the event as he has more technical info regarding the setup and equipment.

Scott put together the antenna plan based on what he did last year during Winter Field day and what he runs for his home shack.  Rules state you can't use the same antennas for WFD as your home antennas, so he had to create a new antenna plan than his original antennas.




I bought over my 135' Windom and we set that up running almost north/south.  The antenna wasn't totally horizontal, as we supported it on both ends with a few push up poles.  The center was around 30 to 35ft.  We also fed some coax to a 40m/80m NVIS antenna in the front yard and a vertical.  I think Scott used some of his portable verticals for is operations.  The antennas worked good for our operation, but I think Scott was getting RF into his rig when I would transmit on the Windom right above us.




Outside the tent, the temp ranged in the mid 30's to low 40's based on the time of day and angle of the sun.  Scott kept it warm in the tent to around the mid to high 50's with his portable heater.  I felt comfortable sitting in the tent with my jacket on, but I did have insulated socks, long underwear and a heavy fleece on.  The wind was a factor, as it would come up from the bottom of the tent and cool the tent down for a bit.  Other than the temp, the weather was good with no rain or snow.




We powered everything with my generator.  I did winterize the generator so it took a few than a more pulls on the pull rope to get it started.  Scott used his battery bank setup for his rig but I think he was charging off the generator.  When I got to his house on Sat early afternoon, he had most everything setup.  Our local hamfest is the same Saturday as the start of WFD so I had to work the hamfest during the morning.  I didn't get out to WFD until around noon.




I decided to bring my Flex radio to operate during the event.  I know it's a bigger footprint than my KX3 setup, but I really want to get good at operating with the Flex.  I only operate contests and don't get a lot of butt in chair time with the Flex.  I've really taken some time this winter to make my Flex contesting system portable by getting a smaller plastic case and removing the VHF radio within the system.  The Flex an awesome radio with a super sensitive receiver, so pulling stations out of the noise floor is one if it's specialties.  That's why I like working portable with low noise floors.  I can really hear those distant stations calling.  The Flex also pushes through with S&P.  The DX+ processor and the TX equalization really makes a difference.  Many S&P contacts with large pile ups came back to me the on the first call with "big signal".

The band conditions were not the greatest during the weekend.  10 through 15 were dead.  I heard one station on 15m the whole time from Central America.  20m was ok at best.  I would call CQ 20 times before making a contact on that band.  40m was the money and 80m was noisy as it always is.  I did a lot of running on 40m with the occasional S&P on 40 and 80.  40m is my favorite band by far during contests to run on.  I feel most comfortable running on 40m, as I feel like I know where the stations are calling from and how the band is going to behave during the day.



We operated from around 1pm on Sat to around 9pm that night.  I was tired from getting up early for the hamfest and setting up in the cold.  I came back out to Scott's around 8pm on Sunday and we operated until right at 1pm, the end of the contest.  We put in a good 10 solid hours with breaks. 

Scott really boosted our score with his multipliers, as he was running CW, digital, SSB, all bands all modes.  If one mode wasn't working for him, he'd switch to a different mode.  I think his setup and radio allows him to do that quickly.  I think we had 12 multipliers and a few of them came from 2m and 70cm!  We also contacted someone on 15m SSB right at the last mins of the contest for another multiplier.

Our final score was around 10,207 points as we gained multipliers for being outside, running generator power and not a home station.  There were a lot of stations running for WFD, so I think the competition is going to be tough, but I think we put on a good showing.  

Thanks to Scott for letting me come over and operate and his son Simon for taking the pictures of the event.  Can't wait until 2018 WFD.

I took some video of the event, so I'll post that soon.