Sunday, December 18, 2016

Winter Contesting Summit

Had a few contesting friends over Saturday afternoon for a winter contesting summit.  The plan was to spend the first part of the day working on our radios, coax and other misc equipment.  Justin re-terminated two ends and before the guys got there, I worked on some new powerpole connectors.  We also put a bunch of good labels on our cables.  We broke for lunch, which was the traditional bacon cheddar burgers, beans and mac-n-cheese.  We ate and then spent the 2nd part of the day going through N1MM, how to set up each contest for consistency and how to become better familiar with the software.

Within N1MM, we spent quite a bit of time on the band map window and how to use it to our advantage while searching and pouncing.  There are many ways to use the band map window, as the instructions are spread out through out the help files.  We didn't come to a conclusion on how we would use it, but we did figure out how to spot stations to come back and work them at a later date, how to populate it with confirmed QSO's and how to erase those after a specific amount of time.

We ended the day by stress testing N1MM.  Each person entered in call signs starting with K0AAA, N0AAA and W0AAA, changing the last number in the alphabet to help track entries.  After everybody got to AAZ and completing a resync of all our stations, we noticed Kevin had 1 more QSO than the rest of the stations.  We saw this behavior in the IL QSO party where N1MM missed some QSO's.  N1MM tech support said it was a network error, but we saw the same thing with very strong wireless network connections.

With the horrible weather we've been having and loosing time to just setting up and general chit-chat, we didn't get a lot done, but was very productive with the time we did had.  We will try and schedule these "contesting summits" at least once a quarter to become more familiar with our rigs, N1MM and how to reduce network errors when working in our portable setup.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

SH5 Log Analysis Program

I've been playing around with the SH5 log analysis program to look at stats after a contest.  Today I finally purchased a formal license key for $20 so it could analyze a full log file instead of stopping at 200 contacts like the demo.  This program is really neat.  It gives every stat you would want to look at after a contest.

Once the program is installed, you load your cabrillo log file and it outputs a folder within your windows profile and all the stats/web pages are located within the folder.  All stats are displayed via a webpage, so you can port it over to almost anywhere.  It even has an option to upload it to your webserver via ftp (no sftp). It can even export your whole log as an XML file for even more manipulation if you want.

Below is the main output screen and it's very good.  Stat headings are on the left, actual stats on the right.  It does everything from displaying the log to creating a kml file that plots all your contacts via the qrz address of your QSO's in Google Earth.

Here is my 2016 IL QSO log.  Click on the link to bring up the stats and poke around.  If you contest and want to analyze your log, this is a great buy.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Cold Winter Travel Preparedness

This post is not really ham radio related, but as winter gets closer, it's always good to have some winter items in your car.  Below is a synopsis of what winter items I carry around.

I do a lot of traveling for my job.  I can drive 60+ miles from one location to another during the course of the day.  Lots of these miles are not over the same familiar roads to and from one location.  One day I might be at a site 40 miles east of my house and the next 20 miles west, so I cover a lot of ground.  I have a Ford Fusion, not a truck or 4x4, so if it snows a lot during the day, I could get stuck on the road or at a site for a period of time.

4 years ago I was at a site 40 miles southwest of my house and a rain storm turned icy unexpectedly with temp dropping below freezing.  I started home once I heard it was going to get icy, but it was too late.  The interstate literally shut down around 30 miles from my house and I was stuck in my car for 12+ hours.  It wasn't the greatest.  I fortunately filled up on gas before I left so I could run my engine every 30 mins to get warm, but I was totally unprepared for the cold weather and basically surviving in my car for that length of time.  I did something about it and created my cold weather travel kit.  Every rotation of the seasons, I check this kit to ensure it's properly stocked and ready to go.

Here are the things I keep in my trunk at all times, no matter the season.  Some of these items you might need to bungy down as if you take a corner too fast, they could end up tipping over and spilling.

1) sandbags - sand can be used to grab traction in the snow
2) 5 gal water (full)
3) plastic drinking container
4) blue tarp
5) wool sweater
6) sweatpants
7) wool socks
8) basic tools - this is a cheap auto tool set form Harbor Freight
9) 2 gal gas container (full)
10) large camp chair
11) small camp chair
12) tow strap (3 ton)
13) extra log jumper cables
14) air pressure gauge
15) misc rags
16) 2m j-pole for ham radio
17) small shovel
18) volt/ohm meter with wire brush
19) OBD2 reader (with manual and code look up for my car)
20) work gloves
21) spare tire, jack and breaker bar/socket wrench

Things I keep in the cab compartment (not pictured) of the car.

1) heavy winter coat
2) heavy gloves, scarf & stocking hat
3) flashlight & extra batteries
4) paper USA road map
6) umbrella
7) ice scraper
8) 2m mobile radio with APRS

Inside the trunk, I also have a back pack that has a large number of items.  I keep this in my trunk year around too.  This back pack also has a 2 liter bladder for storing water.

1) Baopotato 2m/70m with rubber duck antenna & instruction manual
2) repeater book
3) extra battery that uses AAA batteries
4) sack to store radio stuff
5) zip ties
6) insect spray
7) sunscreen
8) snacks (peanuts, cliff bar, peanut bars, energy bars/chews)
9) higher db antenna for baopotato
10) fire starters (flint, lighter, cotton balls soaked in vasoline)
11) first aid kit (not a trauma kit) with misc items (hand warmers, Advil, band-aids, etc..)
12) 3 solar emergency blankets
13) emergency bivy
14) buck knife
15) leatherman
16) compass
17) paper map of my area
18) 3m dust mask
19) contractor trash bags
20) ziplock bags
21) light sticks
22) rain poncho
23) Maxpedition faxmax (pencils, write in the rain paper, markers, advil, chap stick, extra batteries, lighter, etc..)
24) work gloves
25) extra glasses
26) towels/wet wipes/toilet paper
27) scarf
28) 100ft 550 cord
29) duct tape
30) bowl + spork
31) eye protection

In my work bag I travel with the following items.

1) flashlight with extra batteries
2) Leatherman Surge
3) earbuds
4) extra battery for charging cell phones with cable
5) pocket knife
6) misc hygiene items (TP, Q-tips, hand sanitizer, first aid kit, etc..) 

If you search YouTube, there are hundreds of videos on cold winter car preparedness.  Your mileage will vary based on your location and what you feel comfortable with in your emergency kit.  I hope this post will get you thinking about what you would do if stuck on the highway for 12+ hours like I was.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Ham Weekend and ARRL SS Contest Prep

With the ARRL SSB Sweepstakes coming up next weekend, I had a lot of preparing to do.

Ham radio efforts to do this weekend.  Some are SS related, some are were not but fun to accomplish.

1) Make a cable spool winder support
2) Make a dipole pulley for the top of a military mast
3) Rack Flex radio in new 6U plastic injected molded rack case
4) Build the connection system for 2 new quick disconnect baluns
5) Setup N1MM for SO2R configuration with the Flex
6) Record .wav files for N1MM CQ auto-cq'ing for the contest
7) Create a plan of attack for the ARRL SSB
8) Put out the IL QSO party video on my YouTube channel

Effort #1 - Make a cable spool winder support.  Since most of the equipment I use for portable operations is shared between a group of us, I needed to either build some equipment that I didn't want to borrow or at least have in my arsenal of equipment.  A cable spool winder is one of those items.  I have plenty of coax on spools, but no way to unroll but to roll it on the ground, so I needed to basically build a smaller version of this :

My version made out of PVC with a removable enter rod.  It's basically 22" x 19" with the center rod around 15" off the ground.  I have to pry apart the arms to insert the center rod, but it's easy to do since the rod isn't that much bigger than the length between the support arms.  Just a quick pry and it's out.  It works great, is very sturdy and lightweight, perfect for what I need it for.

Effort #2 - Build a dipole pulley for the top of a military mast.  I purchased a full supporting military mast at Dayton this year and decided to get some fiberglass poles to place at the top, since the aluminium ones would effect the SWR of a dipole.  On my way back from W9DXCC I stopped at the Peoria hamfest and purchased a few from one of the vendors.  I could then make this smaller dipole hanger closer to the mast system.

The system is nothing but a 2in T section with a top cap to fit over the diameter of the mast and then reducer to 1in PVC pipe with a couple of eye screws for hoisting up a dipole.  Before raising the mast, I throw some 550 cord though the eye holes and pull up the dipole.

Effort #3 - Rack the flex, PC and power supply into my new, much more light weight 6U case.  The previous case I had was a 6U, but was made from plywood and was very heavy.  It was 30lbs with just the case alone.  I don't think with all the equipment this new case weights 30lbs total!

One of the tops even has a zippered pouch for storing misc cables too, which is great.

I did remove the 2M rig from the setup, so that removed a shelf which helped bring the weight down.  Plus it gave more room for the PC and power supply to radiate heat from.  Next on the list is a 802.11b/g yagi that I can plug in USB into the PC to get good wireless coverage away from the mother ship.

Effort #4 - Build the connection system for 2 new quick disconnect baluns.  Well...I would of but my order from RadioWavz didn't come in.  I ordered two current baluns from them a week and half ago and they still have not showed up.  They are located 30 miles away from me, so I know it's not a shipping issue and to add salt to the wound, when I ordered them, they said it would ship last Friday or Monday at the latest.  I hate when people make promises and don't keep them.  Plus when you call their number, you get automatically dumped into voicemail.  Poor customer service.

I did make a blog post regarding these quick change dipoles here.  A video is coming soon regarding how to make the connection points.

Effort #5 - Setup N1MM for SO2R configuration with the Flex.  Loaded N1MM and became re-familiar with the keyboard shortcuts regarding SO2R configuration.  I wish the slash key would not only change focus on what VFO entry window your on, but also change the TX slice too.  Flex owners know what I'm talking about.  Other than this small issue, N1MM works great with the Flex.  Flex has SO2R setup on their website for N1MM but it's very outdated.  I'm tempted to update the document and also throw in my tips and tricks into the setup. On a side note, I'm waiting on the developer of QSOrder to put a VFO flag in his program so I can record all my SO2R activity and contacts.  Hopefully he will update it and I can capture some good audio for the contest to put on the website.

Effort #6 - Record .wav files for N1MM CQ auto-cq'ing for the contest.  Done!  I'll put out a video on this soon, but I basically record all my audio via professional mic (Shure SMB-7A into a Protools interface) into Audacity.  I then trim out the whitespace, clean up the audio and do some EQ, compression and normalizing on the audio before transferring it over to the N1MM computer.  I feel like this gives it some punch on the airwaves.  The process is straight forward but I think recording your audio on a good mic and doing some work on it before it's sent out on the airwaves helps improve the quality of it.

Effort #7 - Create a plan of attack for the ARRL SSB.  I don't have a plan, but looking at the number of QSO's from last year, I think my plan should be to start on 15 and 20m and run as long as I can.  Once 5 or 6pm hits, shave off 15m and jump on 40m.  Looks like a lot of the QSO's drop off after midnight local time so I might do some sleeping from 1 until 6am and then start back up.

I think there are 82 sections total you can work.  As you can see below, some people worked all 82 sections in 5 hours.  Some took 24.  Looks like the mean is around 8 to 10 hours to work all the sections.  If I work all 82 sections, I'll be lucky and be impressed.  

My goal for this first real contest is 18 hours total contesting time and working at least 40 sections with a total of 400 QSO's.  We'll see if I hit it!  I'm going to do some video recording of the contest and also capture the mic/qso audio for playback later.

Effort #8 - Put out the IL QSO party video on my YouTube channel.  It's out!  Go watch it here!!!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

IL QSO Party 2016 as W9W & A Rant About WIARC

Oct 16th was the IL QSO party.  This QSO party is only for 8 hours during a Sunday, unlike the MO QSO party stretching out 20 hours over a 2 day weekend.  Since it's a quick 8 hours, it seems everybody is in a rush to get as many contacts, which I think is great.

I do have a bone to pick with the IL QSO party organizers.  I won the 2 county line for the 2015 IL QSO party and I still have not received my plaque for 1st place.  It was a year ago!  I emailed Danny Pease, NG9R and all I get is excuses from him on why he has not mailed the plaques.  He first put the wrong year on the engraving.  Then said the plaques were mailed, then retracted that and said he had to go pick up the plaques from the engraving shop.  His latest excuse is the plaques are going to be mailed to him and then be shipped out.  This guy should not be in charge of mailing out the award plaques.  And to throw salt on the wound, I find out he's the president of the club that sponsors the IL QSO party.  WHAT?  I wrote a very stern letter to Danny expressing my disappointment regarding him and the clubs lack of urgency.  There was no response, which I was expecting.  What if I was a new ham and this was my first contest?  What type of impression would I make on that new ham and the hobby?  Western Illinois Amateur Radio Club (WIARC), I'm disappointed in your lack of urgency regarding sending out the 2015 IL QSO plaques out to the winners.  I hope in 2016 you get the plaques out sooner than you did in 2015.

Now on to more cheerful things.  We started planning for the QSO party a few months before, putting together lists of items we needed to bring and sharing them with the team on Google drive.  This works great, as everybody has access to the same list on their phone, computer, etc.  We found the lists were already made in our head, as we know what to bring and what not to bring.  For MO QSO we had a huge trailer full of stuff.  This time we stuffed everything into the back of a pickup bed.

We decided almost a year ago that we were not going back to our 2015 location, as that location was RF noisy, dirty and not the best place to setup.  It was on a 2 county line, but the organizers changed the rules regarding what you could use as a county line, which made us move.  You can't use a waterway as a county line.  I think that is BS, but whatever.

The team was made up of the same guys from MO QSO with one addition, Sterling Coffey, N0SSC.  He is no newbie to contesting or working a pile up, which he does with ease, as his 120+ SSB QSO rate from 7 to 8pm on 80m showcased his skills.

From L to R.  Sterling N0SSC, Kyle N0KTK, Chris WX5CW, Justin KE0HXL, Kevin K0KEV.  Chris worked CW, Sterling CW and SSB, Justin SSB, Kevin digital and myself SSB.  Most importantly, Kevin cooked and kept us fed.  Those grilled chicken sandwiches and bacon cheddar cheese burgers hit the spot after setting up and contesting for hours on end.

In our usual quest to find good setup locations, we resorted to Google Earth and some BIC (butt in chair) time scanning the county lines and outlines of community/public areas.  We settled on a picnic area within the Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park on the Jefferson and Franklin county lines.  There just happens to be a large pavilion area the county line runs through.  Looking through the logs from last year, we saw this two county line didn't have a lot of QSO's, so it was a good fit for us.  2 counties, close to STL, lots of tall trees, etc... We got online, filled out the permit and requested the pavilion for the day.  25 dollars later and a few months of waiting, the pavilion was reserved in our name and the location was set.

County Line Pavilion with the location of the county line

We got lucky and snagged a 1x1 call for the MO QSO party for 2016, so why not run a 1x1 for the IL QSO party?  After a trip to the 1x1 call sign page and a quick search and form request entry, we were the owners of W9W for the weekend.  As a group, I really prefer to run as a neutral call sign, as it makes it easier overall.  One thing I don't like is how LotW handles contests with portable stations on multi-county lines.  You basically have to pick 1 county to upload your logs.  There isn't a multi-county selection, nor can you upload twice by moving the time a few mins for the 2nd, or 3rd county.  I've never had any luck with that, as LotW can be quite confusing.

One of these days I'm going to form a non-profit contesting group, send in my paperwork and request a formal club call from the FCC, but the 1x1's make due and give some urgency to the people chasing as some want to work all the 1x1's and also they think it's a special event call.

During the planning, we created an antenna plan based on a few site visits.  There was many versions of this drawing, as we were trying to create the best antenna layout per our operating techniques and how we wanted to operate.  There were also power distance concerns and antenna coax length issues that we had to be aware about.  Below is the final plan we decided upon.  One thing we learned during the MO QSO party was to create your plan and stick to it.  This year for IL, we did a very good job in sticking with the plan.  The only change we had was the digital Packtenna location that was more towards the pavilion on the east side vs the south.

We left town Sunday morning around 6am and arrived on site at 7:45am.  The first station setup was the CW tent within the south part of the grounds.  Chris (WX5CW) and Sterling (N0SSC) worked in this station.  Chris was connected to an NVIS antenna that I had built for 40m and 80m.  You can read about this antenna here :  It's basically a homemade DX Engineering NVIS antenna and was the first test of the design and it worked great!  I built two of them, one for CW and the other for SSB, and they came in handy!  

40 & 80m NVIS antenna

Sterling's antenna was a 80m - 6m Windom with a vertical radiator about 40ft up in the trees.  He didn't spend much time on 20 or 40m, but when 80m came alive around 7pm, he ran for the hour and racked up 120+ QSO's with that antenna and his rig.

The SSB tent was a pop up tent with my Flex radio and an NVIS 40m & 80m dipole.  Again this antenna worked great.  I could hear and work stations as close as 30 miles, all the way out to OH and CO as the bands came up and down.  I'm really impressed with the overall performance of the NVIS antenna and can't wait to use it in the MO QSO party.

Justin and Kevin were under the pavilion, as they were guarding the food from predators and also serving as home base for others to take a break from the squawk on the radio.  When not stuffing their faces with cookies, Justin was running S&P on 20m and would throw out a run when others were taking a break and Kevin did the same on digital with his Flex radio.  The Flex radios are very valuable when running digital, as you can have multiple bands up with multiple VFO's, and running separate instances of FLdigi at the same time all decoding at the same time.

40m was hot during the day, with lots of IL stations booming in.  Bands were in good conditions which made the day go quickly.  There is nothing like calling CQ with nobody coming back to you.  80m picked up around 6:30pm, as everybody was trying to get that last QSO in on a different band or multiplier in the last hour of the show.

I have not turned in the log yet, as I'm still going through it, but looks like the raw score is around 185K with a total of 575 QSO's, ~1500 QSO points and 125 multipliers.

Looking back here are the good, bad and the ugly.  What was good : 1) We stuck to our setup plan.  2) We made sure someone was running at all times.  3) We timed our setup correctly and had time for lunch and dinner.  Having someone dedicated to cook is key.  4) Bugs were not an issue.  5) I think we did a good job of coordinating who was running and who was running S&P.  6) We were watching the bands and when 80m opened up, we starting running to get those extra QSO's in.

What was bad : 1) The elements.  The wind was a pain sometimes as it would whip around my sun shade tarp.  2) Tearing down in the cold and dark was an issue, but I did get out of there with everything I brought in.  Tearing down all but 2 stations starting at 7pm helped.  3) Going through the log after the contest is always a pain.  4) Forget your VHF station, we made 1 contact the whole day.

Not too bad for our first outing as a group in the IL contest.  The more and more contests we work as a group, the better we get and the more we learn what works and what doesn't work.  Our goal is to be competitive in the MO QSO party and be near the top of the entries for years to come.

Not sure if there is going to be a YouTube video for this contest, as my SSB audio did not record correctly but we did get some of Chris' CW, so it might be in the background.

Here is our QSL card for the contest.  If you worked us and want a QSL card, please send a SASE to me via my address for my personal call, as I'm sure the W9W QRZ page will be changed for the next W9W special event station.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Sling Shot Antenna Launcher

I searched the net trying to find examples how to attach a fishing reel to a slingshot.  A friend of mine made one by taking apart a slingshot and basically attaching it to some 3/4 PVC pipe and then attaching the reel to the PVC.  That worked, but it's a big and it doesn't always shoot correctly.

After shooting this many times, the key is not to pull the rubber bands as far back as you can.  You only need a small amount of force to shoot the sinker, so if it mis-fires, try backing off the tension on the bands.

Also, another key part to make sure you get the most out of your shot is to make sure the line spools out of the reel cleanly and easily.  I've had other reels and line where if there is the smallest snag, it will limit your distance.

Here is my design.

It's quite simple.

A slingshot from Wal-Mart or Amazon
A decent reel
2 small hose clamps
25lbs tess yellow fishing line
1 large egg shaped sinker

I can launch the sinker around 100 feet in the air with some great accuracy.

Here are some of the details.


Fishing Reel

Hose Clamps

Egg Sinkers

25lbs Tess Line

Monday, October 10, 2016

National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) NM12 Jefferson Expansion National Memorial (STL Arch) Activation

On Oct 8th, myself, Scot (ND9E/0), Chris (WX5CW) and Sterling (N0SSC) activated the St. Louis Gateway Arch.  It was my 2nd activation of the arch with Scott, the first was back in April 2016.  Go check out my blog post & YouTube video back in April for that activation report.

Our permit started at 7am, as I was there a little before.  We arrived on site and wheeled everything to the south end of the Gateway Mall.  We were not able to drive a car on to the concrete area because the ballards were not able to be lowered, so we had to cart all of our equipment.

The setup was basically the same we had in April except for the push up mast we used to deploy the dipole antenna.  The military push up tripod mast I bought at Dayton as been busy this radio season.  I've used it during Field Day, Grant House NPOTA and this Arch NPOTA.  That was a great purchase.  We pulled some construction barrier around our area so the public would not walk into our space and setup the usual table, canopy and equipment.  Our radios ran on battery and solar provided by Scott.

It was a beautiful day, as the weather was perfect.  The high was in the mid 70's with very mild wind.  If you stood in the sun, it was a little warm with jeans and a long sleeve shirt on, but in the shade it was nice.

We had lots of visitors, asking which way to the arch that is.  It's amazing how many people miss the signs on how to get to the arch.  Makes me wonder how all those clueless people got around the other 362 days of the year we didn't activate the arch?!?  

Before today, the Arch (NM12) had been activated 9 times for a total of 583 contacts, so it is pretty rare.  Compare that to the top activation of the Lewis & Clark trail at 273 activations at 12,700 contacts.

Chris (WX5CW) was first up on 20m running CW.  I believe the arch had only been activated a few times with CW, so I knew he was going to have the pileup, and he did.  He worked 68 stations in about 2 hours.

As Chris was working CW, we tried to setup my Alpha vertical on 40m nearby.  Scott (ND9E/0) threw out his call but didn't make many contacts even after we spotted him.  That Alpha vertical works great on digital, so-so on SSB.

Someone snapped a picture from the top of the arch during our activation.  Can you spot us in the picture below?  I'll give you a hit.  Look for the top of a canopy and some orange construction fence.

Next up was Sterling (N0SSC) on SSB 20m.  He got the prize for the most contacts, and the MVP, as we switched out computers half way through his run.  He had to log a few QSO's on paper, had a few on Chris' computer and the rest on my laptop.  Now he's going to have to combine 3 logs together before uploading to LotW.  Sterling ran 20m phone for close to 1.5 hours racking up 115 contacts before going QRT.  Sterling made a lot of contacts on each of the coasts, as I heard CA and NY in there several times.  Band conditions on 20m were good for the first part of the day, which lead to some really large pileups.

Next up was Scott (ND9E/0) on 40m.  We had enough badgering on the NPOTA Facebook page on "when are you going to 40?", "Need you on 40m STAT!".  I love those demands!  We lowered the 20m dipole and raised the 40m dipole.  The top of the mast was only 20ft off the ground.  Our 40m dipole ends were maybe three foot off the ground on the ends, so it really was a tall NVIS antenna, but we picked up some distant stations.

Scott worked 59 stations on SSB for about an hour.  Conditions where good on 40, but the band was full of noise as the PA and AZ QSO parties where all over the band, therefore getting a clear frequency was tough.

About 2pm I finally got on the mic and started calling CQ, but the bands were slowing moving south and propagation was not good.  I made 11 contacts total.  I think 4 of them were from running, the rest were from S&P.  It's ok that I didn't get a run in, as I was tired from setting up and being in the sun/outdoors all day.

It was a very successful activation and I'm glad we boosted the contacts by 50% from the previous numbers.  Great weather and great operators made it even more enjoyable.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) TR09 & TR11 Activation

Over the Labor Day weekend, I took a drive just north of Booneville, MO to activate the Santa Fe Trail in Missouri.  This trail runs from the north side of Booneville across the Missouri river all the way to Arizona.  It had been activated around 80 times before I activated, so I knew there wasn't going to be a lot of people wanting this unit.

Once I arrived on site, I noticed there was another marker there, just beside the Santa Fe Trail marker.  It was the Lewis and Clark trail marker.  I didn't realize, and didn't look on the map that Lewis and Clark also navigated their way through the area and used it for a staging area.  This was a twofer!  Both TR09 and TR11.

Santa Fe in the foreground, Lewis & Clark in the background

Here is a photosphere of the Lewis & Clark & Santa Fe trail head.

I choose my operating position under a large tree just off from the main parking lot.  The Katy Trail in Missouri runs along the Lewis & Clark trail, and is designated as a state park.  It use to be an old railroad, but is now converted into a bike and walking trail that runs the whole east/west length of the state.  This area seemed like this is a popular place to start or end on the Katy trail, as I was only there for about 3 hours, there must of been 30 or 40 bikers who came through the trail area.

I setup my portable dipole on my Packtenna mast and just supported it in the air with a branch as I didn't want to take the time to guy it.  I used bungie cords to wrap the dipole around the support mast so it wouldn't slide down and that seems to work well.

Yes, this is upside down, but it's rightside up!

I pulled the car into the shade, as it was still a little hot in the sun.  I brought my generator so I could run my 100W amp along with my KX3.  I'm glad I brought it, as I was calling CQ for around 3 hours to get my 10 contacts.  My A123 battery would of been dead in 30 to 45 mins trying to power my amp.  I've gotten a lot of use out of my generator, so I'm glad I've purchased it.  It's small, compact, quiet and provides enough power for all my gear for 8+ hours on a single tank.

Here was my operating position, the backseat of my car with the seat down.

I called CQ for at least 2 hours and gained around 7 contacts, three short for the 10 needed.  I then did some search and pounce around the band and found two other National Parks and then I worked some stations for the TN QSO party.  I ended up with 13 contacts for the activation.

Once I got back home, I emailed Sean from the ARRL regarding the twofer and was informed the deadline for submitting two NPOTA sites for one upload was back in March.  To solve this, I just uploaded two files as each contact was off by 1 min for the timestamp.  I read this was a no-no but I did it anyway to get credit for both NPOTA sites, as I didn't agree with the cut off date for submitting two-fers.

It was a great day, good weather, it wasn't too windy and as the sun went down, the temp dropped to the point where it felt cool.  I'm glad I drove across the state to activate those trails and put them into my log for NPOTA.  At this point, I might have more activatioins than I have chaser points!

I shot some video, but unsure if I'm going to put it together on YouTube.  Stay tuned.

Friday, September 30, 2016

SLSRC 2m FM Sprint Contest

This past weekend I participated in the SLSRC 2M Simplex Sprint contest.  This was a local 2M simplex contest for 3 hours on a Sat night.  Stations were encouraged to work as many contacts and zip codes as possible during the 3 hours on specific simplex frequencies.  The club use to sponsor this contest a couple of times a year a few years ago, but the member who championed it left the club.  A few months ago I decided to bring it back as a club activity and become the champion.

Creating the rules from basically scratch was a challenge.  I used the existing rules as a base, but gathered all the "good parts" from other QSO party and contest rules put them into these rules.  The hard part was writing rules language that made sense to everybody else along with making sure there wasn’t any loopholes.  While doing research on the net, I found some really poorly or loosely written rules, which I did not want to do.  I also wanted to use Google sheets as a submission process, as not everybody has Excel or wants to paper log.  For this contest we didn’t use Cabrillo files, as I think that is something we might want to migrate to in the future.

We have club repeater that just doesn't get a lot of activity, so I tried having a pre-contest net on that repeater to give it some love.  The purpose was to share tips and tricks and offer any advice.  Only got 1 question, but I think it served its purpose.  4 people checked in, but who knows how many were just listening.  The net was over in 15 mins which gave me time to get my setup in order.

I started on a large parking garage at the corner of Hanley and Hwy 40 at 7pm.  That parking garage is 10 stories tall and is basically the tallest structure around, so I was able to make 10 contacts in a quick amount of time.  I then moved into Clayton, Forest Park and then down into south city for the reminder of my zip codes.  I hit 9 zip codes with a total of 60 contacts.  I don’t think I won the contest as someone else had 62 contacts and also hit more zip codes as myself.  That zip code multiplier is a huge factor, even if you only make 1 contact in each zip code, you got to hit as many zip codes as possible.

I noticed there was a lot of people jumping on top of each other on the frequencies.  People were calling CQ, making a contact and then someone else would call the previous operator who was answering the CQ to make a contact.  I think with such few frequencies, that was going to happen.  Maybe I should update the “tips and tricks” section to specifically point that out as a no-

From what I can tell, we had around 20 to 25 people participate, which I think is a good solid number.  We’ll see how many people submit logs.  It was a good time and we’ll do it again in the spring, as the goal is to have this contest at least 3 times a year.

Monday, September 26, 2016

NVIS Antenna for State QSO Parties

During my week off of work, I built a NVIS antenna for the IL QSO party and other future QSO parties.  I used the DX Engineering NVIS antenna model for my build but I just couldn't bring myself to purchase all the parts that were overpriced, since I had most of them in my stock.

This antenna is 15' tall, occupies a foot print of 60x60ft in area and is only for the 40m and 80m bands when you spread the dipole in a X configuration.  Not sure where DX Engineering got the 45x45' footprint in their instructions, when each dipole leg is 45'.  This was a rather easy and fast project to compete.

I had some extra RG-213 laying around for the pigtail connector, so I unraveled back the braid and center conductor and soldered two 14 gauge ends with ring terminals to connect to the dipole ends.  The feed line connector end has a soldered PL259 end so you'll have to use a female to female cuppler to attach to your coax.  I used 4 clamp-on ferrites to keep the common mode current off the feed cable, which I clamped just north of the PL259.  I wrapped the RG-213 end where it splits into the dipole ends with waterproof tape to keep water out and also wrapped the small 14awg pigtail ends in electrical tape just to add some strength to it as they are rather weak.

The "T" connector was made out of IKEA cutting boards.  It cuts clean in a band saw, is strong and cheap.  Each board is $1.50, so messing one up isn't going to break the bank.  Drill holes where you have attachment points for your coax pigtails, ring terminals and dipole ends.  The hole the dipoles weave through on each end are smaller 5/8" towards the end and a 3/4" closer to the ring terminal connectors as they provide strain relief for the dipole ends. I used some zip ties just to make sure the dipole ends don't pull out with some tension.

For the mast system, I use a painters pole to elevate the center at 15 foot.  A 1" PVC pipe slips over the top of the painters pole well and I used hose clamps to attach the PVC pipe to the "T" connector.  I'm not going to use guy wires for the painters pole, as the 4 connection points for the dipole ends should provide enough support in the wind.

The directions say each dipole should be a total of 45 foot including guy rope.  Instead of cutting the correct length of guy rope just for this setup, I used the pythagorean theorem to figure out where the stakes should be located on the ground away from the base.  42.4 feet, or about 42 feet 5 inches.  I cut a ring out of the excess cutting board scrap and attached some paracord with a marker with red tape at 42 feet 5 inches.  I can then drive a stake in the ground at the painters pole location and mark all my stakes.  Raise the center mast to 15 feet and then use random length guy ropes to support the dipole ends.

Ring and red maker on cord for 42.5 inches.

You will need to use an antenna tuner with this setup along with at least 75ft of feed line.  To get the ultimate performance, use a band pass filter after your tuner to remove any stray signals.

We'll see how well it does during the next QSO party on the 16th of this month.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Contest University, W9DXCC and Peoria Superfest

This past weekend I drove up to Chicago and attended the the W9DXCC Contest U on Friday and the convention on Sat.  On the way back I hit the Peoria Superfest on Sunday.

My week started out on Wed with the drive up to Chicago.  I was betting that I could use an app called "hotels tonight" to snag a cheap hotel in downtown Chicago for a few days before but didn't have any luck.  There was a huge manufacturing show going on and downtown hotels were 350+.  Typically you can find hotels on that app for less than $120 a night for downtown, so I had to go with plan B.

Instead of driving into downtown, I found a cheap hotel in Joliet, IL and decided to hit Starved Rock State Park on the way up.  This was right on the IL river and had some really great views of the river and lock and dam.  Lots of steps if your thinking about hiking any of the trails.

Pano from Eagle's Point

Thursday I got up early, drove to a CTA "L" park-n-ride site near Schaumburg, took the train in, and spent the day in the city.  I love Chicago, it has the big city feel, but it's still spread out enough to have that midwest feel.  Chicago just opened most of their Riverwalk, where you can walk from Lake Michigan to Franklin Street bridge all along the Illinois River, never touching a city street.  Later in the day I made my way out to the Field Notes store, The Wicker Park Secret Agent Supply Co and the American Science & Surplus store.

Pano from Lake Michigan

For the convention, I booked a hotel in Schaumburg near the venue Thur through Sat.  I got lucky and found a hotel with a grand opening for $60 a night less than a mile away from the convention center.  Schaumburg is a nice area. Lots of good restaurants, micro breweries and things to do in the area.

Friday was Contest U.  I was really excited to ask questions and absorb as much info from the presentations as possible.  Some of the presentations talked about RTTY, propagation, contesting hardware and software, etc.  The presentation were great, but socializing with everybody there was the best.  I learned more from asking questions to my peers than I did from the whole presentations combined.  Friday night we all had dinner and talked about contesting strategies and operating procedures.  Lots of talk about N1MM and how to get the most out of that program. 

Saturday was filled with general DXpeditions presentations of Palmyra, Heard and South Sandwich Islands.  There was a short presentation around the sunspots and future of the bands.  Flex also did a short 45 min presentation around how to use the 6000 series for contesting, which really didn't provide any new info to me, but confirmed they are serious about making a great contesting rig.  The door prizes were unbelievable, as almost everybody came out with some type of door prize.  Prizes ranged from an Icom ball cap to a new set of Radiosport mic and headphones.  I didn't win anything, but because I was the youngest person in attendance on Friday, Tim Duffy (K3LR) gave me his prize, which was a 2 year subscription to the DX magazine.  Thanks Tim!

I liked how the Society of Midwest Contesters had a large presence at the convention and showed all the benefits to joining their group.  Every Aug they have an annual meeting which they have presentations and just talk contesting.  I'm thinking about going next year, as it's held in Bloomington IL.

Saturday night I drove from Chicago down to Peoria to attend Superfest on Sunday morning.  I stayed in an Extended Stay hotel and learned they don't provide towels!  What hotel doesn't provide their guests towels!?!  

Sunday I walked around the flea market at Superfest and the two buildings with vendors in them.  Superfest was really just "Fest" without the "Super".  There was maybe 20 vendors and the same in the flea market area.  Not really the greatest showing as it looks like this hamfest is dying.  I did purchase some PVC tubes for my military mast and Anderson Power Pole connectors, so it wasn't a wasted trip, but will not be on my list to attend next year.

I met so many neat people during the weekend, I hope they show up next year to check up on what they have accomplished within the year.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Mix 31 Clamp On Ferrite & Torriods for Ham Radio Applications

After doing some research around common mode current and trying to keep the RF out of my shack, I started looking at putting ferrites on my coax and also torriods around anything that plugged into the AC. I found the following ferries and torriods that worked well. I sourced all the products through Mouser Electronics.

I used Mix 31 clamp on Ferrites for LM400 or my RG-213 cable.  This is the thicker coax.  You might need to trim off the outside plastic around the ends for it to fit.  This can be done with a pair of wire clippers.

I used the round torroid cable cores for my AC or DC cables.  Basically anything that gets plugged into the wall or has a transformer, I put these inline.

Torroid Cores : Mouser Part 623-2631803802
Clamp on Cores : Mouser Part 623-0431167281

You can easily wrap a thick computer power supply cable around this at least 7 times, maybe more.  I secure each end (entry and exit) with a zip tie.

2 3/8in outer diameter

1 1/2in inner diameter

1/2in wide

These are to clamp on coax.  The inner diameter is just big enough to fit around LMR-400, RG-213 or RG-6.
I'm sure you could maybe double up on RG-8 or RG-8x.

Inside ferrite is 1 1/4in tall

Inner diameter is 3/8 across

Depending on how thick your LMR400 or RG213 jacket is, you might need to trim it.  The left ferrite is not trimmed, the right is.

Palomar Engineers has a good article on choosing the right choke for your application.

I've typically found doing a little research and purchasing your ferrites or torroids online from an electronics retailer, you can save quite a bit of $$.