Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Hodge Podge of Amateur Radio

It's been a while since I posted, as other things have taken up my time, but I've been able to squeeze in some amateur radio items in here and there.

First, I took over the website committee for my local club.  The website is www.slsrc.org which is a Joomla site.  I'm still in the learning process for all the configuration, as I inherited what the previous owner had setup.  Along with those duties, the club has a January ham fest called "Winterfest" which has it's own website and on-line store for vendors and attendees to purchase flea market tables and advance tickets.  I've also been helping out with the web banner ads on QRZ for Winterfest.

Back in Oct, our local club ran an special event station, W0A, to celebrate the 50 years of the St. Louis Arch.  John, our W0A coordinator was on Ham Nation back in Oct to talk about the special event and our operating procedures.  Myself and another club member re-wrote an existing on-line logging program called Cloudlog for members to log W0A contacts from home.  The special event lasted about a week and we made around 865 contacts as a group.

Lately I've been getting into APRS.  Coverage around the St. Louis area is not the greatest, so I decided to put up an iGate at my house.  This process included installing another antenna at the house which I competed today.  The next step is to get another dedicated radio for passing APRS traffic to my computer which will pass it to aprs.fi.

For my 2nd VHF antenna, I constructed a 2m slim jim j-pole because it had an extra 3db of gain.  I thought that would be a good attribute since it will mostly be a receiving antenna vs transmitting.  I ha an old Dish Network satellite mount, but was missing the actual pole, so I just used PVC to create a new pole.  After installing it on my roof, I attached the slim jim, ran some flexible LMR-400 into the house.  Now to get a secondary radio.  In the mean time, a friend of mine loaned me his Kantronics TNC which I'll hook into my Kenwood mobile/base at the house.



Sunday, October 25, 2015

2015 IL QSO Party Summary Round Up

General Planning

During Field Day 2015, I took my radio and a few antennas over to a friends house who was interested in amateur radio.  Field day was a blast, even though we only contacted around 25 stations and band conditions were horrible, it was a successful day.  He gained a better understanding of ham radio and saw that it wasn’t a bunch of old guys rag chewing on the radio.  Fast forward to late summer 2015.  I asked him if he wanted to setup like field day and operate remotely somewhere in IL for their QSO party.  He was in.  We started gathering ideas on how to execute our plan and the outcome is below.

 Equipment Planning

We started a Google spreadsheet with all the items we would need and who was responsible for bringing them.  Most of the amateur radio items where in my court, other non electronic items were supplied by my friend.

I wanted to bring two radios with me so we could work both digital and SSB, but the 2nd radio was more for a backup.  I have a KX3 with the KXPA 100w amp as my primary station at my house which I planned on using for digital work.  The KXPA amp is a pain to lug around and to change the KX3 from digital to SSB is not the easiest, so I borrowed a Icom IC-706 radio from my local club to work SSB.  Each of us had a laptop with N1MM loaded, one for backup.  I pulled my TM-V71 off the shelf and put that in the bag so we would have a 2m/70cm rig just in case.  All equipment plugged into a Fruman power conditioner/power strip and then into a 2000w generator.

We setup 2 HF dipoles and a vertical antenna.  I also packed my 2m/440 copper jpole.  One of the dipoles is a W8AMZ G5RV Jr antenna that I’ve had horrible results in both field day and this QSO party with and will probably sell.  I’m feeding it with 75 feet of coax and it has horrible SWR.  The last two outings I’ve used that G5RV antenna, my antenna tuner has had a hard time tuning it.  The second dipole was a Windom and worked like a champ with very good signal reports.  I brought rope, painters pole, extra coax, electrical items, Anderson power poles, a 2nd power supply, cable, crimpers, basically my whole ham shack and tools just in case we needed something.

The vertical used was a Alpha Antenna Ez-Military antenna.  The plan was to use it for digital on 20m.  

 I built a PVC stand for the verticals (Ez-Military and Jpole) that looked like a football goal uprights (but on a smaller scale).

Canopy, table, chairs, windbreak, & ground sheet were supplied by my friend.  We also grilled bacon cheddar burgers from my local butcher, which were excellent with a little McCormicks gourmet burger seasoning.  Chicken wings were on the menu, but we wanted something quick and not messy, so burgers and chips were chosen.



Making a pile, checking it twice


Totes and more totes of equipment

What Worked : 
1) Spreadsheet for keeping track of who was bringing what items so we didn’t miss anything.
2) The major item we forgot were the bbq tongs for turning the burgers, but we made a stick spatula which worked.

What Didn’t Work : 
1) Did I need to pack misc tools (crimpers, soldering iron, extra cables, etc..)? Jury is still out of if I can lighten the load.

Lessons Learned : 
1) Need to pack radio go bag items in labeled totes for organization and quick packing.
2) Potentially packed too much stuff.  Need to re-think all the items I packed.


 Site Planning

There was lot of chatter the week before on the local repeater about the QSO party and where people were setting up.  I gathered some of the old timers already had their operating sites dialed in, as this was not their first party, so I didn’t want to set up on a county line that was already covered.

Our goal was to find a location on a 2 or 3 county line with lots of trees.  Google maps is a must when scouting out locations and can be a time saver without driving to 99% of the locations for recon.  Most of the population in southern IL is around STL, but there are some places just north of the the city that are very rural with lots of farm land.  Calhoun county, just north of St. Charles county in IL is basically an island between two rivers on the east and west side.  That county is sparsely populated, so odds are it doesn’t have a lot of hams in the area.  Jersey county just on the east side of the IL river is mostly farmland too with a large state park, so that was an option.  We were trying for a 3 county line, but would settle on a 2.  I was watching the IL QSO reflector mailing list for operating plans for each of the counties.  About once a week the activation map would be updated and we would compare that to the half a dozen places we picked out.  I used Google US Counties boundaries map to help pick out my favorite spots that included State Parks, public parks or common public areas, as I didn’t want to assume I was going to get permission to operate on someone’s property.  

The Thursday before the QSO party, I narrowed down the field to two locations just north of St. Louis.  Friday I took off work and scouted those places to figure out antennas locations as Google maps with street view did a good enough job that I really didn’t have to do a lot of recon.

 I finally decided upon Pere Marquette State Park, right on the IL river bank.  After posting the question on the reflector site about how close to a county line you had to be, it was agreed upon 100 feet was ok, as the county line was right in the middle of the river.  The location had plenty of trees, a place to set up and also had bathrooms and electric near by if our generator took a crap.  We also felt good about the 2 counties as on Friday afternoon there still was not a permanent fixed station operating from these two areas, only rovers and mobiles, so we knew this would be a desirable QSO.

Google Maps Sat view and antenna layout



Google Maps street view of the operating location

What Worked : 
1) Google maps & street view is your friend for scouting out locations.
2) Use the US county boundaries in Google maps exact county locations.

What Didn’t Work
1) Potentially needed two dipoles oriented at 90 degrees to cover both IL counties and 50 states.

Lessons Learned : 
1) Pick a site with a natural tree wind break.
2) During the scouting mission, ask property owners if you can setup on their property, the worst they can say is no.


 Setup

 We decided to meet at 8am in St. Charles and take the Grafton ferry across the Mississippi river.  This shaved an hour off our drive time.  The goal was to be setting up equipment by 9:30am.  We beat this time by 30 mins because of the quick ferry ride.  For field day it took us almost 2.5 hours to setup two antennas and one radio, so having this extra 30 mins was great.  The plan for the QSO party was to setup 2 dipoles, 2 verticals, 2 radios with tent and table.  Setup progressed slower than planned as we questioned some of our antenna solutions, so when in doubt add 30 to 45 mins to your estimate for setup and troubleshooting issues.

Operating position for the day
The first dipole (Windom) was strung between two trees at around 20 feet, maybe a little more.  The Windoms need to be horizontal with the ground, as ours was not quite horizontal, but close, leaning downward towards the east.  The orientation of the dipole was almost east/west so we were pointing directly at Davenport Iowa for a radiation pattern.  I checked the SWR and we dipped at 20m and 40m, so I knew we were at least good with 2 bands. I didn’t check the others.  The Windom was fed with 75 foot of RG-213 and was connected to the Icom 706 HF transceiver.  We got excellent results from this antenna.  



For the 2nd antenna, the G5RV dipole was setup almost 90 degrees from the Windom in a north northeast/south southwest direction.  The SWR was so bad on 20 and 40m on the G5RV, the Windom started the day off and we never deviated from that antenna.  The G5RV was supported by a tree the west end and a 25 foot painters pole on the east end.  The goal was to use this antenna for a east/west radiation pattern and keep it low to the ground for NVIS.  I put a PVC “T” fitting on the top of the 25ft painters pole which we strung one of the antenna supports through the “T” and then anchored that to the ground.  It served 2 purposes of antenna support and pole guy, which was an excellent solution.  The painters pole didn’t bow or have any issues supporting the weight.  We could easily use this setup with two poles and a vertical dipole in place of any trees.



G5RV dipole antenna


Painters pole with "T" section on top

For verticals, we had two antennas, a 2m jpole and an Alpha Antenna Ex-Military vertical.  Both of these antennas were installed on an antenna support I had built out of 1” PVC pipe.  I supported it with sandbags at the base.  With a strong wind over the river, it was blowing all over the place, therefore, I strung a guy rope that stabilized it.  With two semi equal weight antennas on each end, once the guy rope was installed, it did alright.  Not sure if I’ll use it with two antennas again.


Football goal antenna support

We finished setup around 11:45 with the longest time trying to find the orientation of the dipoles and stringing the rope in the trees.

When we first started the generator, we were overwhelmed with the amount of AC EMI in the radios.  On 20m, it was S9, sometimes +10.  It was a little bit better on 40m, around S5 to S7, so we started troubleshooting the EMI issue.  I had a grounding rod, so we grounded the generator with no luck.  With time running out, we switched to 40m and started the contest.  At times it would drop down to just above an S3, but we fought EMI the whole day.  We have since started looking at chokes and AC EMI solutions for next time, as we didn’t have this issue at Field day using basically the same setup.

What Worked :
1) Setup was faster than Field Day 2015.
2) Good position with flat ground and trees.
3) Painters pole for non-tree support worked great.
4) Lots of paracord and good ground stakes for anchoring poles.
5) Mason line with washers or fishing weights make good starter lines in trees to pull the main ropes up.

What Didn’t Work :
1) G5RV antenna.
2) Needed full 3 hours for setup, thought we could get by with 2 hours.
3) Generator EMI problems.

Lessons Learned :
1) Test out your generator to find any EMI problems and fix them before heading to the field.
2) Move your generator to new location, 90 degrees from your dipole antenna and feed it with 100’ of extension cord.  Roll up the excess to reduce EMI.
3) Install AC EMI chokes and common mode chokes on your lines.
4) Plan out your antenna locations before hand and stick to your plan!



Setting up the wind break

Operating & Troubleshooting Issues

We operated for a total of 6 hours, noon to right at 6pm.  The day started out with search and pounce mode on 40m SSB.  As one would assume, that’s a slow process.  We made 16 contacts our first hour.  Once we got some food in our system, I started calling CQ on a clear frequency and our run rate went up.  Here are some of the stats by the hour.

Hour 1 : 16 - search and pounce mode
Hour 2 : 31 - search and pounce mode & run mode
Hour 3 : 64 - run mode only
Hour 4 : 36 - search and pounce mode & run mode
Hour 5 : 3 - cooking dinner & some tear down
Hour 6 : 94 - run mode only

The first hour we had some visitors come over and ask us what we were doing which turns into a 10 min conversation.  We did frequent bio breaks to rest our voices and get up and walk around.  Sitting in those folding outdoor chairs is not the most comfortable thing.

We had a radio issue where the detachable head from the Icom 706 came loose and shut off.  Once we figured out it needed to be fit back into place, we were on the air again.

The Icom 706 radio I borrowed worked OK.  Other than the detachable face issue, it was good, but had quite a bit of noise.  More than I would've liked.  Pulling QRP or mobile stations out of the noise was hard, sometimes impossible bringing down our rate, but at least we got them in the books.  Here is one good thing about that radio ; we pulled it out of the case, plugged in the power supply and turned it on and it was ready to go.  We didn’t have to mess with any knobs or settings, it just worked.

We ended up using 40m the whole day on SSB.  We didn’t check 20m as the EMI from the generator was overwhelming.  If you look at the analysis, we didn’t contact any states west of Kansas, so maybe we should of tried 20m at sunset?  Maybe switch to 80m?  Shutting down 2 hours before the end of the contest hurt our numbers, but we were tired and running out of steam.

I tried a few CQ’s on 20m digital (PSK31) thinking I could get through the noise, but I didn’t get any takers.  I didn’t see any CQ’s either, so everybody must of been down on 40m digital.

In 6 hours, we made 244 contacts : 1 Canadian province, 24 states, 68 IL counties and no DX.

What Worked :
1) Windom antenna performed.
2) Painters pole for an antenna end support worked great!
3) Orientation of the Windom dipole.

What Didn’t Work : 
1) EMI sucks.
2) G5RV antenna.
3) Digital PSK31 on 20m.
4) Trying to figure out county codes when runtime was high.

Lessons Learned : 
1) Didn’t need the 2nd dipole antenna, moving the Windom would of sufficed.
2) County line stations need to operate in run mode, not S&P mode.
3) Allow ample setup time, as you’ll run into problems and need to troubleshoot.
4) Plan to operate the whole 8 hours and check other bands as the day progresses.
5) Bring a whiteboard or something to display county codes so your not thumbing through pages of abbreviations.
6) Learn to listen for the mobiles to get those rare counties!
7) Pay more attention to the spotting service for rare counties?

Teardown

Teardown is teardown.  What can I say.  We stopped transmitting right at 6pm and we had everything packed up and in the truck in 30 mins.  We were on the road by 6:35 and on the way to catch the Grafton ferry back to Missouri...but we missed it by 30 seconds, so we took the long way around via Alton.

Everything that had a flat surface was covered in “river dust”, so items went back into their totes a little dusty.  When I got back home, I pulled everything out of it’s tote, re-wrapped cords, dusted everything off and did a final inventory of anything that was missing.  Good news was everything was accounted for!

What Worked :
1) Quick work was made of tearing down.
2) We still had a small amount of light left during teardown.

What Didn’t Work : 
1) When throwing items into totes, sometimes they just didn’t fit like they did when you first packed them.

Lessons Learned :
1) Taking an extra 5 mins to pack things correctly might save you time down the line vs throwing everything in a bag.

Analysis & Overview

Contacts Made : 244
DX : 0
US States : 24
IL Counties : 68
Bands Used : 1 (40m)

Claimed score : 22692

Looking at the scores from 2014, that puts us in the bottom of the pack, but right in the middle of the other stations that were operating portable from a 2 county line.  

I exported my .adi file, imported it into Google Spreadsheets, did some work on it and then cross referenced it with some Google fusion IL county and US state sheets.  Below is the “heat map” of all the US contacts we made in our 6 hours.

IL Fusion Table

https://www.google.com/fusiontables/embedviz?q=select+col4%3E%3E1+from+1TCPjv3LvCsk9FRBnMwaUfnl33OkwwlzhioIwg9TE+where+col2%3E%3E0+%3E%3D+1+and+col2%3E%3E0+%3C%3D+10&viz=MAP&h=false&lat=39.88371536445658&lng=-87.18459582031255&t=1&z=6&l=col4%3E%3E1&y=2&tmplt=2&hml=KML


IL Counties fusion map
US State Fusion Table
https://www.google.com/fusiontables/embedviz?q=select+col3%3E%3E1+from+1RdOtcAiKvPPJP5XqR2ww5NQKd4xBAasg_PAez6Qk+where+col2%3E%3E0+%3E%3D+1+and+col2%3E%3E0+%3C%3D+12&viz=MAP&h=false&lat=36.35320124366188&lng=-88.27945499999987&t=1&z=3&l=col3%3E%3E1&y=2&tmplt=2&hml=KML


US States fusion map

To sum up the QSO party, we had a blast.  We are already thinking about plans for the MO QSO party in April 2016 and we’ll be back, probably in the same location for the IL QSO party next year.

What Worked :
1) Site planning is a must using on-line tools.
2) Painters pole for a dipole support was awesome.
3) Windom antenna was booming.

What Didn’t Work
1) EMI off the generator.
2) Digital on 20m.
3) G5RV antenna sucks.

Lessons Learned :
1) Need to switch bands later in the day to grab those western states.
2) Need to listen for those rovers & mobiles to get rare county multipliers.
3) Need AC EMI/RFI filter.
4) Need to contact more stations on digital!

YouTube video of operating position & QSO's from around 5pm to 5:30pm local time.




Saturday, October 24, 2015

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Mount Herman Decent Hyperlapse

I turned my Go Pro camera on and recorded the decent hike from the summit on Mount Herman.  After editing it together in Premiere Pro, I ran it through Microsoft's Hyperlapse creator and I posted the output on my Youtube page.

Kinda looks like Luke flying his x-wing fighter through the canals of the Death Star.

...ok, it looks nothing like that, but still is kinda cool.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

SOTA Activation of Mount Herman - W0C/FR-063

Video upload of my SOTA activation of Mount Herman (W0C/FR-063) while I was in Colorado.


 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Rocky Mountain National Park, APRS Tracks & W0C SOTA Activations

I'm finally back from vacation.  I'm not really sure how many miles I covered, as my car battery died in Winter Park, CO.  When I replaced it, all my trip mileage settings were erased.  Thanks to Fraser Automotive in Winter Park for replacing my battery fast and getting me back on the road in about 2 hours.

Other than the battery, this was a great trip.  The Rocky Mountains are amazing.  You don't get a good sense how big and beautiful they are in pictures until you're there.  The aspen trees were turning yellow and gold the week I was there, which was very colorful as they poked out of the evergreens.

Mills Lake in RMNP

Below is my APRS tracks from the vacation.

APRS Track

I attempted 3 SOTA activation, 2 of them were successful.  I'll complete write ups on each of these peaks a little later.

On Tue afternoon, I tried to activate Prospect Mountain, just south of Estes Park but was unsuccessful because of time.  I thought this was going to be an easier hike after some reading on the SOTA watch website, which the hike up and setup took me longer than usual, so I had to make sure there was enough daylight for the hike down, so I called it after only 3 contacts...only if I could get that's 4th.  I called CQ for maybe an hour with no contacts.  http://www.sotawatch.org/summits.php?summit=W0C/FR-069

My second peak was Pikes Peak on Thursday.  I took the easy way up, driving and then walked down the trail about .25 of a mile, then back up to activate only on 2 meters with my HT.  4 contacts later I decided to head into the gift shop due to weather.  http://www.sotawatch.org/summits.php?summit=W0C/FR-004

My third peak was Herman Mountain Friday morning just northwest of Colorado Springs.  This summit I have the most video on and will be putting out something on YouTube.  Again, the bands were in crappy shape and after trying to find an open frequency without a scheduled net, I called CQ for about an hour before getting 3 contacts.  Finally one of the nets closed down and calling CQ resulted in 3 more contacts with hams just hanging around on the frequency.  http://www.sotawatch.org/summits.php?summit=W0C/FR-063

SOTA is a hoot!  I really enjoyed hiking and trying to summit some of these mountains, because no matter what "hill" you want to climb here in Missouri, it just doesn't compare.

...more to come on these SOTA activations.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

MS 150 Bike Ride

Every year the local Multiple Sclerosis puts on a 150 mile bike ride which they ask the amateur radio community to help with communications.  It's a bike ride with 4 different routes each day.  25, 50, 75 and 100 mile.  Each rider is required to complete 150 miles over the 2 day event.

This year I was placed in a SAG (Support And Gear) van for both days, which means driving a portion of the bike route and helping with general items along the route.  The largest item is transporting people who drop out or are off course to the next rest stop for them to continue their ride.  This year we had our share of flat tires, riders who wanted a lift to the next stop and injuries which kept us busy the whole weekend.

The local MS rented vans that I installed my Kenwood TM-D710GA in for communications.  Radio communicators who did not have APRS capability were given an APRS beacon to locate them on a map back at net control.

I captured all the APRS routes on Sat and my route on Sat and Sun below.


Sat SAG, Medical and Situation Vehicle Routes Above


Sat Route Above Along the Mississippi River


Sunday Route Out In the Middle of Nowhere

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Update, Colorado Hiking and SOTA Activations

Hello all my fellow ham friends.  This is just a quick update on what's been going on.

When I started this blog, my goal was to make a substantial post every two weeks.  2015 was going to be the year I explored more aspects of ham radio, shared my thoughts and what I have learned along the way.  Here we are the first day of Sept, and not only have I failed at two posts a months, but some of those posts haven't lived up to my expectations.  Time to re-set!  Moving forward, I'm going to hit my two posts a month goal from now until the end of the year, but wanted to share what I've been working on the past 3 or so months, which is kinda ham related.

Our ham radio club (St. Louis Suburban Radio Club), the largest radio club in STL, lost our webmaster about 6 months ago right before Dayton.  The call went out from our club president on any takers to fill this role, and after some discussions back and forth, I agreed to take over the committee chair.  We use a CMR program called Joomla to render our pages, which took some time to get familiar with and after many, many, many meetings, the website committee has totally re-designed the club website, created a separate website for our Jan 2016 hamfest named "Winterfest" and also stood up an on-line store for any items we want to sell as a club.  Below are the links to our new websites that we are rather proud of!

http://www.slsrc.org

http://winterfest.slsrc.org

http://store.slsrc.org

The website committee has taken up most of my free time in the past few months with learning Joomla, documenting all our website information, creating action items for committee members and working with the board members on these new sites.  Our latest project includes creating a micro site for the W0A special event station for the 50 year anniversary of the St. Louis Arch Oct 17th - 31st and an online logging program so club members can work as W0A from home and log to a central database.  We hope to have this online in the coming weeks.  Many thanks to Kevin, Tina and the Winterfest team on the hard work and suggestions!

Now on to future items...

I'm taking a much needed vacation!  The last week in Sept, I'm heading to Colorado for two reasons, actually three.  Reason one, my sister lives in Denver and I've never been to Denver, so I'm going to explore the city for a few days.  Reason two, from Denver, I'm heading up to Rocky Mt. National Park for 3 days to hike around the trails, as I've never seen the Rocky Mountains (only from the air flying West).  The third reason is to climb some peaks and do some SOTA work!  After my stay in RMNP, I'm driving around the park through Grand Lake, heading through the state via Breckenridge and finally to Colorado Springs to activate Pikes Peak and maybe some others peaks around there.

Some of the peaks I'm going to try and activate (time dependent).  All of these peaks are in or nearby RMNP exepct for Pikes Peak.

Twin Sisters FR-037
Estes Cone FR-039
Thunder Peak FR-150
Lily Mountain FR-050
Prospect Mountain FR-069
Deer Mountain FR-155
Sundance Mountain FR-019
Trail Ridge FR-123
Pikes Peak FR-004

I'll be spotting myself via phone, but if there isn't any cell phone coverage and you hear me calling CQ, give me a shout back and spot me via http://www.sotawatch.org/spots.php

I'm taking my Go-Pro and hopefully shooting some video of my trip...now editing it once I get back home is another story, as the backlog of video to go into the editor on my hard drive is getting unmanageable.

As I firm up my vacation schedule, I'll be sure to update it here for any SOTA activations.

73's






Saturday, July 25, 2015

Field Day 2015

Field Day was a mix of operating, experimenting and some club relations for myself and a friend who is thinking about getting into the hobby.

Justin, my friend from high school, is thinking about getting his ticket, so I offered to come out to his house and setup for field day, as I wanted to operate with my equipment for a period of time before heading out to the club station.

We setup my KX3 with the KXPA100 in Justin's back yard.  Antennas included a G5RV Jr. 40m - 6m dipole and an Alpha Antenna Ez-Military vertical on a painters pole.  We started the day with antenna SWR problems, as we couldn't tune the G5RV.  After coming home and posing a few antenna questions on the Elecraft reflector, I should of cleared the antenna memories and placed the PA100 in manual mode instead of auto.  Lesson learned!  The Alpha Antenna worked great as a vertical.



We ran as a 1E station all day, as we had a small generator for the equipment.  It worked great and kept up with the load.

Mid afternoon arrived, and the storms arrived.  A small cluster of thunderstorms literately had eyes on us, as they came in from the direct north, a very untypical thunderstorm path.  We pulled tarps over the equipment and headed inside to eat the rest of the BBQ wings we grilled a few hours earlier.



We made around 25 contacts before heading out to the St. Charles club to look at their field day setup.  The bands were in a crappy mood on Sat afternoon.  I think we made every club contact in Massachusetts, as that was the only state we could hear for at least a couple hours.  The east coast finally opened up and we made most of our contacts out there.

I left Justin's house around 7pm and unpacked all my items.  Took a quick nap and then headed out to our club station in Stacey Park in St. Louis.  I operated from around 10pm to around 2am before heading home due to the amount of bug bites on my legs and arms.  Not sure how many contacts I made at the club, but California was open and worked many stations on the west coast.

After it was all over, I learned some good troubleshooting skills, found out how much crap I used and didn't used after carting it all into my car and what I need to bring next year!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Thoughts on Dayton Hamvention 2015

This post is well overdue!  I made it to and from Dayton Hamvention in one piece.  Almost 20 walking miles and $625 bucks later, I'm back in St. Louie!

Here are my thoughts on the weekend.

Thursday I left work around 2pm and made the drive across 2 states along highway 70 stopping only a few times for a quick bite to eat and gas.  I didn't see many antennas or licenses plates with call signs or combo of both, but did make some QSO's on the way on 146.520.  I threw out my call sign a half dozen times along the way only to have a few people come back to me.  Most were very distant and had a hard time keeping a conversation going, but I did have a few that were strong signal for a good while.

Friday

I got up early and headed over to the parking lot where the bus would take me to the event.  The first thing I noticed was, this event is not in the best part of town.  I stopped in for a soda at a gas station right beside the parking lot and you had wait outside and tell the attendant what you wanted from the grocery side of the station.  Kinda shady!

Pulling up to the arena, I noticed how bad of shape the parking lot was in.  It just wasn't the road in, but the whole flea market area.  Some of those motorized scooters had a hard time with the large chunks of concrete laying all over the place.

I arrived around 8am and headed inside to get my lanyard and ticket laminated for 3 bucks.  This went to the local boy scout troop, then it was a quick run around the flea market to see if anything looked worth the purchase.  Nope!  Lots of stuff....but nothing that peaked my interested.

9am hit and it was time to head inside.  Since this was my first Dayton, I really didn't know where to start, so I picked a hall and started roaming.  My first stop was the main arena and my first booth was the Buddiepole booth.  I said hello to Steve (WG0AT) and thanked him for all his SOTA videos, as I was a big fan.

I wanted to hit some forums throughout the day, but found that finding the different forum rooms was a pain.  I also got turned around many times during the day thinking I was in one hall, only to find out I was not in that hall.  The organizers really need to do a better job at signage in the halls.

The forums I attended were OK, nothing really was amazing, but I did learn some new stuff.  I ended up hitting every hall on Friday just to look around to make a list of everything I wanted to spend more time at on Sat.

Saturday

I spent more time in the flea market, making sure I saw everything.  I saw an old high school teacher of mine who now owns a communications company in the town I grew up in.  He's an old ham and maintains the local repeater in town.

As I hit all the big companys booths, there was a distinct difference in the attitude and feeling between all of them.

Elecraft - lots of activity.  Their reps got an "B+" for reaching out to me in the booth, asking me if I had any questions and giving me some paper work

Kenwood - very little activity.  Their reps get an "F".  I looked at some of their radios, but the floor reps looked like they didn't care, didn't want to be there and just stood there talking to one another.  I asked a question about a VHF radio and got a one word answer.

Icom - lots of activity.  Their reps get a "B-".  As I walked through looking at radios, 1 rep asked me if I had any questions, but their reps were busy with other people too, as there were lots of people looking at radios.  Amateur Logic was filming an episode in their booth which got some attention Sat afternoon.  I felt their booth was probably the best, a little crowded, but a good mix of reps to people.

Yaesu - average activity.  Their reps get a "C".  I walked through their booth, nobody asked me if I had any questions, but their people were too busy handing out shirts and hats to give any help.

I did see some "celebrities" as I shook Gordo West's hand, talked to Bob Heil for a while, said hello to Valerie from Ham Nation and thanked Gary Pearce of Ham Radio Now for his videos.  In the booths I met George and Nick from the Fo Time podcast and saw Jeremy from Fo Time walking around too.  It's always neat to see people you see on a weekly basis or listen too on podcast to thank them for their work and entertainment.

After walking around for 8+ hours, I made a final sweep around the area and called it quits for the day.

I didn't go back on Sunday, as I wanted to get back on the road home.

Here is what I purchased during the weekend.

Kenwood TM-D710GA 2m/70cm radio (I always wanted to do APRS)
Anderson power poles and extra crimp-ons
Kenwood male and female connectors
Cup holder mount for my TM-D710 (which I didn't need)
Misc different connectors

So the question to ask is would I go back.  Yes.  Maybe not next year, but I think every couple years is a good mix.  I feel that if you went every year it would be the same items, same booths, same people year after year.  Taking a year off would help make it "fun" again and interesting.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Heading to Dayton 2015!

Hotel secured!  Ticket ordered!  I'm heading to Dayton 2015!  See you there!

Monday, April 20, 2015

2015 Missouri QSO Party Experience

I participated in the 2015 Missouri QSO party contest this year. It was both fun and a learning experience for me, as this was the first real contest with my HF license. Below I tried to document my process and procedures for both critique and guidelines purposes for 2016.

1 Week Away

I downloaded HRD Log 5.0 (free version) from the net and was using this to control my KX3 and do my general logging, but wanted to play around with some other logging software. I decided to give N1MM a try. I installed it and set up for a sample MO QSO party contest and started logging some contacts. It seemed easy to enter in contacts plus I liked the very minimal interface. It didn't seem to tax my old laptop CPU, so I decided to give it a try.

My KX3 has a voice recorder built in and I wanted to record a script calling CQ, but I didn't get around to it. In hind sight, I should of figured this out, as calling CQ became annoying and I often got tongue tied trying to get the words out.

I downloaded the rules from the W0MA website and reviewed them. There were many categories to choose from as you had to pick one and stick to it, as I would of loved to pick and choose from a few of them (fixed and rover station).

Day of Contest - Saturday Morning

The contest started at 9am. I woke early and fixed a big breakfast as I assumed I was going to work through lunch. I turned on the radio and looked at the updating spots for the 2 bonus calls. I grabbed the main bonus call right away on 20m as I was only around 30 miles from that station. The other special station calls were N0X, K0X and W0X where X = either S, H, O, W, M, E spelling out SHOWME. If you worked each station spelling out "SHOWME" you were awarded the MO QSO certificate. I didn't grab the H or E station by the end of the contest, so no certificate for me.

I worked stations on and off on Saturday in to Saturday night. I took a few hours off as I didn't hear anybody on the bands and I was tired of calling CQ with no answers. The Mississippi QSO party was the same weekend and there were so many stations booming into Missouri, it sometimes took a while before I could find an clear frequency.

Day 2 of the Contest - Sunday

I tried to work as many stations in the morning as I had to leave for an Easter family function around 11am. I logged around half a dozen stations before I shut it down for the day. In the end, I worked around 28 stations with 21 unique MO counties, with 2 states and 1 Canada providence.

Lessons Learned

I need to get my antenna up higher. Currently it's only 10 feet off the ground in my back yard, as that's the highest I can get it right now living in the city, so it will have to do! The next lesson is, most of the time, more power doesn't always guarantee that distant station is going to hear you better. And the final lesson is, patience is golden when trying to get that contact.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Building The Elecraft KXPA100 & My First 100W Contact

Four weeks ago I decided to pull the trigger and get the KXPA100 amp from Elecraft to complement my KX3.  I've spent the past 6 months working virtually QRP with my KX3 as a base station and it's been both satisfying and frustrating at the same time.  Trying to contact Europe on 10 watts is a great thrill but trying to break a pile up seems impossible.

The KXPA100 build was easy, as it took me around 30 mins to complete.  Elecraft's instruction manuals are very good and give clear pictures with descriptions.  The only issue I had was the missing parts, which I blogged about earlier.  They should really look at their QC department to ensure all the correct parts are shipped with their products.

After hooking it up, which was a breeze, and setting some menu items within the KX3, I was on the air.  I just happened to be on 20m and tuned up the band to find EE8Z calling CQ from the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa.  Tuning the antenna and checking my wattage, the first try back to him on his CQ was 59 to me.  The Canary Islands was in the log.  It's amazing what a little power can bring you!


 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Digital Mode Hell - My First PSK31 Contact

Last week I decided to dive into digital.  Head first.  With no helmet.  I came out the other side with a few battle scars, some lost hours but a lot of first hand knowledge about HF digital modes.

I attended our local ARES meeting where Peter, N0MTH presented on the ARES 2m BBS (N0ARS) which reminded me to purchase some type of audio/TNC device.  4 days later I was the owner of a Signalink USB and module jumpers for my KX3 and TM-V71A radios.

Last weekend I downloaded FLdigi and spent around 4 to 6 hours trying to configure my laptop and KX3 to talk to the Signalink to blast out some PSK31.  After many failed attempts and quite a bit of digging around on the net, I finally made my first contact.  I'm still working out the bugs and have quite a few unanswered questions.  One thing I learned is, no matter how many YouTube videos you watch and web pages you read, there isn't one single source to get all your digital mode questions answered!  Trial and error is the name of the game!

Next goal is to try and connect to our local ARES bbs via 2m.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Mizzou Amateur Radio Club is On Line - W0ZOU

My alma mater, Mizzou, is back on the air, well, the club in on line!  I was a member in the mid 90's when the club had around a dozen students.  I purchased a Kenwood TH-28a (which I still have) and would get into the campus owned repeater on top of one of the buildings.  The actual location escapes me on where the repeater was located, and I can't even remember the call sign.  We had club meetings, did some recruitment and tried to grow the hobby.

http://engineering.missouri.edu/2015/01/mizzou-amateur-radio-club-returns-to-the-airwaves/

Glad to see the club up and running again, and with a cool call sign, W0ZOU.

MIZ...

ZOU...


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Elecraft & Quality Control

Last week I purchased the KXPA100 100 watt amplifier from Elecraft to use with my KX3.  After opening the box and inspecting all the contents for damage, I sorted out all the small parts to make sure everything was there.  The first package I opened up was all the small screws, stand offs and lock washers.  I noticed I was missing five #4 split ring lock washers in the main parts bag.  Another check of a TMP cable bag resulted in another missing four #4 lock washers.  With not enough washers in the spares bag, here I am heading to the local hardware store to see if they have the correct parts.  I can't wait 5 days for them to ship 9 washers to me from CA when I live in MO.  It will take a week to get here.  Hopefully someone in town has these lock washers.

This is the 2nd time Elecraft's quality control has failed me.  When I ordered my KX3, they failed to ship the battery shield and I had to wait for that to arrive from CA before I could put it together.  Now I'm missing nine washers before I can put my amp together.  Disappointing.

Don't put small parts free floating in a large bag with other parts.  All your lock washers should go it a small 1" x 2" bag.  All your board stand offs in another.  Same with small screws.  Placing small loose parts in a 8" x 5" bag with larger bags or free floating parts is a recipe for small items to be lost.  I've paid good money for your products, give some attention to detail with your small parts and make them easier for your kit builders to sort and verify them!

Elecraft, I know your a company with great products and I hear good things about your customer service, but your quality control in your processing and shipping department is horrible!!!!  




Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Warm December Day & The ARRL 10m SSB Contest

We've had a unusually warm winter here in STL with a few days topping the high 60's to low 70's.  Each one of these beautiful days has been on a weekend, so getting things done outside has been great!  I hope this doesn't come to bite me as I'm stuck in the house with very cold weather outside waiting on 6" to 8" of snow to drop in the next few hours.

Dec 13th 2014, it was one of those usual warm winter days.  It was also the ARRL 10m QSO party, so I grabbed my KX3, an Alpha Ez-Military vertical and misc other items and was off to the local park to enjoy some of the nice weather.  I'm slowing practicing my SOTA setup for this spring and summer.  I learned some good lessons about packing and weight management, as I walked to the local park from my house with everything in my backpack.  Some of the items I packed never came out of the bag, or were never used.

Below are some pics of my setup.  I took my GoPro, but never used it, as I was too busy trying to setup.  Next time I'll be sure to shoot and publish a YouTube video.  Thanks to everybody who I worked that day!










Saturday, February 7, 2015

Alpha EZ-Military End Fed Antenna

I finally resolved my issue of not having an outside antenna!!!  Our local club, St Louis Suburban Radio Club, puts on a hamfest every Jan.  While roaming the isles, I stopped by the Alpha Antenna booth to chat about my experiences with their EZ-Antenna, which I've had good experiences with.  We started discussing my issue about not having an outside antenna and the owner suggested using one of their EZ-Antenna's with a 34' wire with my limited space in an inverted "L" configuration.  After a purchase of the EZ-Antenna, a claw clamp and a trip to Home Depot, I was on the air!


I drove a 1/2" stainless steel pipe into the ground just outside my back porch and ran some excess LMR400 I had around through a hole my satellite TV cable came through.  After clamping the base unit to the pipe, I measured out 36" feet of cable and ran it through some insulators I had purchased in a previous ham fest.  I also ran the counterpoise into the yard to complete the install.  It's heading off of the left side of the picture.


I drilled an eye hook into the corner of my sun room with a length of 550 paracord to keep the inverted "L" from hitting my window overhangs in the picture above.


I wrapped the excess 2' of wire back over its self at the end so I could lengthen the wire if needed.  Wrapping it back over will not effect the overall length.  I secured the end to my detached garage with an eye hook and some 550 paracord.  



I wrapped the connector with 1 wrap of waterproof tape, as there wasn't much clearance between the connector and the location where the antenna screws into the claw mount.  To waterproof it a little more, I purchased a can of liquid tape and painted that on the waterproof tape.  This product paints on wet and when dried, creates a rubber waterproof type seal.  I also put a small amount on the top of the antenna match where the wire connects with a wing nut.  When applying, be sure to wear gloves as getting it off your fingers once it dries is a challenge.

With no tuner, I'm getting the follow SWR readings.

80m
3.5mhz - SWR 4.8
4.0mhz - SWR 3.9

40m
7.0mhz - SWR 3.5
7.3mhz - SWR 3.4

20m
14.0mhz - SWR 3.9
14.35mhz - SWR 3.8

10m
28mhz - SWR 3.1
29.7mhz - SWR 2.4

50mhz - SWR 2.2
54mhz - SWR 4.1

My KX3 internal tuner has no issues bringing down the SWR to 1:1 on all the above bands.  I've been using 10W and have made contacts as far as CA.  I have a high noise floor because I live in the city with tons of interference around, but 80m at night seems to be the best time with only an S3 to S5 noise floor with lots of stations booming!