Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Setting up the KX3 with QSOrder, N1MM, Yamaha CM500 Headset and a Foot Pedal

Fall is going to be a busy time for ham radio operating so I decided to get out the KX3, dust it off and install QSOrder on the laptop to get it working, as I'm going to be using it for some NPOTA and state QSO contesting in the coming months.

I actually followed my own instructions from my blog post found below for QSOrder : but instead of choosing one of the Flex DAX sound card channels, I choose the internal sound card of the PC.

I ran QSOrder and it kept throwing up an error.  Plus when executing a qsorder.exe -q to list the sound cards, it would put weird spaces between the numerated index of the sound cards.  I ended up removing the Flex software thinking it was something with the virtual sound cards, but that was a bust.  Same thing, plus the program would lag around 5 seconds before displaying anything.  I had an extra USB sound card in my goodie bin, so I installed that, plugged in my 1/8 cable, and sure enough, the program ran great.  No issues.  For some reason QSOrder did not like my internal sound card in the laptop, so if you can't you internal sound card working, switch to a USB external sound card.

Another thing you want to look out for is the recording input level of your signal.  On your rig, pick a strong signal and put your head phones on like you were going to start recording to bring the signal up to a comfortable level.  Now choose a signal around S9 up to +20 over.  Adjust your head phones level accordingly.  Look at the properties of the sound card and adjust the input level of the mic to around 30 to 40%.  Dial around on the band to ensure the input level of the mic never goes above 60% on the real time meter.

Now test your input signal by recording some audio in QSOrder.  Launch N1MM and create a fake contest and input a call.  Hit enter to log the call and see what the record gain is for that contact after it saves it.  Your gain should be around 7 to 20db, as this makes a nice recording with some good audio.  If it's lower than that, boost your microphone input level.  If it's higher, bring your level down on the PC, not the headphones.

For those of you wanting to see how I setup my KX3 with a N1MM, a laptop, QSOrder, Yamaha CM500 headset and foot pedal, a wiring diagram is below outlining it.

Feel free to drop a comment if you have any questions about this setup.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

QRP and Backpacking Linked Dipole

When I was at Dayton 2015, the Packtenna was introduced and produced a lot of buzz.  It was a lightweight 1:1 balun with multiple points to attach dipoles ends and support cables.  I liked the design, but could not pull the trigger on the system because of the high cost, so I decided to build my own.  My linked dipole cost around 40 dollars to build and was a fun project.

The requirements for the whole system needed to be lightweight, able to cover 20 and 40m without a tuner and easily deploy-able in either a tree or push up pole.

I researched 1:1 baluns and found a small LDG balun that would work for this application.  It's a 1:1 current balun.  I took the Packtenna design for the attachment points and cut that out of a Ikea cutting board.  The balun has small screw holes that can attach to the cutting board.   You could probably make the attachment back this out of 1/8 plywood or something comparable.

The larger holes are for attaching dipole ends with S-binders and the multiple smaller holes are for attaching small bungee cords to wrap the balun around a push up pole or something similar.

When constructing the dipole ends, be sure to leave enough length between the point where the wire loops between the orange S-clips and the top of the dipole bullet connector pegs.  For my setup this was around 10 inches of wire.  Also when measuring out your dipole for the correct length, be sure to count this length as it's part of the overall length of the dipole.

The orange plastic S-clips can be found on Amazon.  The clips I used are called Yueton 18 50mm S-binder clips.

The top of the balun houses two connectors pegs.  They accept bare wire that can be pushed through holes in the pegs and screwed down for connecting ladder line, or you can use bullet connectors to attach at the top.  These bullet connectors are 4mm in size and fit snug.  The bullet connectors can be ordered from Hobby King.  Below is a picture .  Top connectors are separated.  The bottom is together.

I soldered all the bullet ends, but because of the large connectors and the small gauge wire, I first put shrink wrap around the cable to bulk it up and give it more strength.  Then I soldered the wire in the bullet connector and then put a final wrap of heat shrink.  The wire soldered to the bullet connector will be the weakest link, so I wanted to make it as strong as possible.

The ferrules below were used to crimp the loops to hold the dipole to the S-clips.  I purchased these from Home Depot.  The 18awg hook up wire is just small enough to fit through the 1/16in ferrules perfectly.  You don't need a crimper to secure the ferrules, I just used a pair of pliers to crimp.

I wanted to use small gauge wire to keep the weight down, but one of the disadvantages of using small gauge wire is lower bandwidth.  Since I'll use this dipole for QRP operation, 18awg wire is plenty big enough to handle the wattage.  The wire was purchased off e-bay and often called hook up wire.

When linking the first section to the second section, be sure to leave enough length to connect the ends of the bullet connectors as shown in the picture below.  Pull on the dipole ends to put tension on them to ensure the links do not stretch, as you don't want them working loose after hanging the dipole.

At the final end of the dipole, which is the 40m link on my linked dipole, I pulled the wire through but did not crimp it since I need to raise and tune it.  Once tuned, I'll crimp the ferrule to make it permanent.  There is more than enough friction to hold it in place to tune it while it's in the air.

When measuring out the dipole ends, my suggestion is to measure out your first link, whatever band that is, 10M, 12M, 20M and tune that dipole to your liking.  Measure that first dipole again to get a final measurement and subtract that from the 2nd link total.  This is how long your 2nd link will need to be for the longer length.  You can then tune your 2nd link for the band you want by linking them together.

Another suggestion is to limit your linked dipole to a max of 3 links.  2 if you can.  Trying to tune and measure out a 3 linked dipole can be a challenge.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

NAQSO RTTY Contest Experience

To get some experience with RTTY, and digital in general for the state QSO parties, I decided to work a few hours in the NAQSO Party RTTY contest this weekend.

Justin (KE0HXL) and operated from his house as it's very RF quiet and there was a place for us to setup inside in the A/C, plus he has a lot of trees in his back yard, good for hanging dipoles.

I ran my linked dipole cut for 40m.  One of these days I'll create a post on how I made the linked dipole and what I used for parts as it's been a great dipole for portable work.  I need to make a 20m section for it, so maybe that will be the blog post in the future.  My 40m dipole was a inverted V hung to about 25ft up.  I hung it in a north/south orientation, to cover most of the east/west path of the US.  I was hoping to run somewhat of an NVIS configuration with it being so close to the ground for 40m.

There is a 40m dipole up there, somewhere!

Justin used a dipole cut for 20m with a 1:1 MFJ balun.  His antenna was a horizontal dipole about 25ft up in the air.

20M dipole hung at the top of the picture.

My 40m dipole was fed with my 200ft of LMR-400 since it was quite a ways from the house.  We just pulled the coax through a small window and into our operating position in the kitchen.  The window is behind Justin's 2nd monitor in the picture below.

Justin's operating position.
Justin ran a laptop with N1MM along with Fldigi for the RTTY software and his TS-480.

I bought out the Flex and 2 monitors.  I must say, with the rigs already setup in my contesting box, setting up is so much easier.  I've also paired down the amount of equipment I take in the last few portable operations.

My operating position.

First was lunch.  Grilled chicken breasts with lettuce, tomato and sharp cheddar cheese really hit the spot after working outside putting up antennas.

Our setup is progressively getting quicker with every portable operation we run.  With the addition of our military masts, we are able to get a dipole up in a field very quickly (under 30 mins).  We also are perfecting the art of using the slingshot and fishing reel to really pinpoint the branches we want to string wire through.  Having the right tools at the right times helps.

We started operating around 1pm and did some off and on troubleshooting and misc tips and tricks conversation throughout the day.  Justin had an issue transmitting, so we did some troubleshooting around that to get it working.  It was an ALC setting in his radio.  I think we shut the radios off around 5pm and started packing up, so we operated 4 of the 12 hours scheduled contest hours.

I started off on 15m, as my 40m dipole tuned right up with no issues.  I worked around 15 stations on 15m.  Around 3pm, that band started to dry up and I then moved to 40m.  I didn't run more than 30 watts the whole day.

For some reason, I've noticed my 40m dipole hung right at 25 to 30 feet really has a pipeline into OH, as a majority of my contacts were from there.  Propagation was also good into MI and MN off the end of the dipole.

I think we made around 55 contacts total.  Furthest for both of us was CA to the west, and Massachusetts to the east.  We picked up a few Canada stations also.

Looking through our log, we made contact with K3LR (DX Engineering owner) and the contest station of K9CT (it's all about RATE!) during the contest.  I worked K3LR on both 15 and 40m.

Things I learned to be integrated into future QSO parties and contests.

1) Pulling out call signs on RTTY can be tough with all the extra junk being decoded within FLdigi.

2) Running is much easier than S&P, some because of point #1 above.

3) When calling CQ, I noticed when someone answered my CQ, it started on a new line most of the time, so I often looked for that to help pick out if that station was replying to me.

4) You can totally work SO2R with RTTY.  Calling CQ on one and search and pounce on another or running on both.  During our next state QSO party, I'm going to try and run voice and digital at the same time.

5) I need to work on the modulation as I think some of my signal was a little hot.

This was a learning day for us.  I'm going to submit the log, but don't expect to win anything.  Now on to the NA QSO Party in Aug!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

N1MM QSOrder Plugin How To For The Flex 6000 Series (Or Any Radio) with AutoCQing

A few weeks ago I discovered the plugin QSOrder, as I was looking for a way to record my QSO's during contests with my Flex radio.  After downloading and playing around with the program for an afternoon, I got it fully configured.  I used it during Field Day 2016 and found it worked great with my setup.  I even configured it to get both sides of the conversation (TX & RX), which I'll explain below.  By default, QSOrder only records one side of the conversation, so when you key your mic, it blanks out the audio because there is no feed for that audio into your sound card.  I will explain how to capture both sides of the audio QSO with the Flex software and combine into one audio file.

I have a Flex 6500, which loads virtual sound cards on your computer.  The Flex talks directly to these virtual sound cards so you don't have to connect any wires externally from the Flex to your PC, it's all done internally.

If you have a different radio, this setup works basically the same, but externally via cables, as you just need to figure out how to get audio out of your radio.  Typically there is a serial port or external jack you can pull audio out of and into the mic/line card in on your computer.  If all else fails, you can split your headphone jack and bring one side into your PC's sound card.

I setup QSOrder in a batch file so I can setup my radio, configure N1MM and then double click two files on my desktop with the already defined parameters for QSOrder and it's recording, no re-setup each time.  This works great and is super quick to start recording.

This is how I setup my QSOrder for my Flex.  Your mileage my vary.

Step 1 - Setup the Correct Directory Structure
In your "N1MM Logger+ directory (typically \Documents\N1MM Logger+\), create a new directory named "MicAudio". This is where we will put the audio directly from your microphone.  Confirm you have a directory named \Documents\N1MM Logger+\QsoRecording, as it should already be there from the N1MM program install.  If not, create that directory.

Step 2 - Download and Install QSOrder
Download the QSOrder files from the Sourceforge website, extract and place them in the \Documents\N1MM Logger+\QsoRecording directory.  Then copy all the program files into the \Documents\N1MM Logger+\MicAudio\ directory.  You will now have QSOrder and Lame existing in two different directories.  We will run two instances of QSOrder, one to capture RX and the other to capture TX.

Your directory structure should look like the below with Lame.exe and QSOrder.exe both the MicAudio and QsoRecording folders.  Don't mind the extra child directories, we'll get to those in a minute.

After you run QSOrder for the first time, the program creates some default directories.  QSOrder saves continuous audio in a directory named "Audio_<year>" in the same directory QSOrder runs in.  I usually record the whole contest just to make sure I have another audio source if the individual QSO recordings fail.  For the actual QSO recordings, it creates a folder with the same contest name as the contest name in N1MM.  So in the above example, I recorded Field Day 2016, so it created a folder called "FD_2016" and put all the individual QSO files in that directory for that event.

Step 3 - Update your N1MM .ini File
Next you'll need to change your N1MM .ini file.  Typically it's located in \Documents\N1MM Logger+\N1MM Logger.ini.  Once you have changed the ini file and saved it, make sure to re-start N1MM for the changes to take place.  You can edit your .ini file in a basic text editor.

Per the instructions, you'll need to add the lines under the [ExternalBroadcast] section of the file.


This sends out a UDP network packet when a contact is logged (enter is pressed) to trigger QSOrder to do it's magic. Note this is the same port that Flex uses to control logging focus.  If this is the case, use port 12061 or another port for QSOrder and remember that port number, as we'll need it later.  Change the .ini file to reflect that new port.  If you don't use the Flex Focus Helper, disregard.

Step 4 - Configuring QSOrder Parameters
Now we need to actually run the program and find out some parameters so we can setup a test recording.  Open a command prompt and navigate to \Documents\N1MM Logger+\QsoRecording\.  For you new comers, that's "cd \Documents\N1MM Logger+\QsoRecording\.

Type in (without quotes) "qsorder -h" ; this will show the help file (see below).

We want to display our sound card, so the next command will be "qsorder -q" to display all the sound cards our system sees.  See below.

QSOrder sees all the virtual flex sound cards.  Since I want to record slice 1 on my Flex, I need to find DAX Audio RX 1 for slice 1.  That is index #5.  Also make a note what index your mic audio is.  Mine is #1.  These index numbers will be used to tell QSOrder what soundcard to listen too.

If you were using a regular sound card mic/line in, you would choose your sound card listed.

Step 5 - Setting Up QSOrder Parameters
I like to record a constant stream of audio for 1 hour intervals, plus the actual call QSO audio. I  also like to set a new hotkey to record anything interesting I hear while I'm listening.  For these options, I use the following command.

c:\qsorder -C -k Z -i 5

Qsorder calls the program.
-C says to start a continuous recording.
-k Z says to make the hotkey <ctrl> + <alt> + Z.
-i 5 says to listen to the index 5 sound card as mapped by QSOrder.

Here again is the batch file (be sure to put the .bat extension on the file name).

Step 6 - Setting Up QSOrder Mic Stream Capture (Flex Only)
Now you want to setup your mic stream.  Same items as step 5, just point your -i parameter to your mic stream index.  Keeping the same parameters is important as when you load both your TX and RX continuous streams into Audacity to combine the audio, very little adjustment is needed to make it sound good.

Step 7 - Setting Up the DAX Channels
On the slice receive you wish to capture audio, you'll need to make sure your DAX is configured to send audio to channel 1 (or at least the sound card and index number you choose in step 4 above).  Below is the first slice, so it's channel 1.  This corresponds to index 5 sound card.

To ensure you're getting audio and streaming correctly, check your DAX control panel to ensure RX Stream #1 is on and streaming.

Also make sure your Mic Stream channel is on and streaming when you PTT.  I set my mic level down around 45 to ensure I don't overload the audio channel.  If you're using N1MM for SSB autoCQing, you'll need to make sure the TX Stream is on also.  Configuring N1MM for autoCQ is out of scope for this setup.

If you want to N1MM to autoCQ, click the DAX button under your mic settings.  This will use the DAX TX channel as it's main source of audio.  If you have a mic or headset connected, it will still work as usual.  This just allows your sound card you've designated in N1MM to autoCQ out to the world.

Step 8 - Testing the Recording Parameters
Now you're all set.  Just test the setup.

If you made the two batch files and saved them on your desktop, all you need to do is double click on them.  To shut the program down, click CTRL+Break to close the batch file down.

You probably want to start N1MM first and configure a dummy contest to capture some logs with audio.  After you start each batch file, the below screen will appear and stay like this to log what the program is doing.

Below is the log of the end of a recorded QSO file.  It displays the basic parameters and output of the options the program is using for recording.

Once the file is processed, it will save it to your hard drive under a folder named whatever the contest name is in N1MM underscore <year>.  For the below example, it created a folder called FD_2016 for Field Day, year 2016.

Each QSO file will be individually named with the QSO station, your station, contest, mode, band and date of the QSO.  This makes searching and finding each QSO very easy.

Below is the status of a continuous recording.  Every 10 mins it reminds you that it's still recording.

Again to break out of the batch file, hit CTRL + Break.

Step 9 - Using Audacity to Line Up Mic & QSO Audio
Now that you have recorded both sides of your audio, what's next?  You can import both audio clips into Audacity and edit/cut/boost anything you want with it.  You might see the audio off just a slight tad, so you can take one of the clips and move it over so it lines up perfectly with the other file.  You can then export this audio in whatever format you want.  Also I recommend you pan each file a little R or L to give some spacial presence to the QSO.

Step 10  - (Optional)
Someone has setup a neat program to allow users to play back the audio on your QRZ page.  After the contest if you load your QSO files on to a specific folder in Dropbox, and place some HTML on your QRZ page, it will play it back by loading a player directly on your QRZ page.  Rather neat.  You can try it on my QRZ page.  Search for K4MNF in the search box to play the recorded audio.  You can also search N1MM as we worked that station for FD as you can hear him way down in the noise.

The applet looks like this on your QRZ page.

Link to QSOrder Dropbox Lookup

Tips and Tricks

1) If your contest starts at 1pm, start your continuous recording at 12:55.  Then when the contest starts at 1pm, you'll have started a new continuous recording at the top of the hour.  Your QSO continuous recording and your mic audio continuous recording should line up with every little effort.

2) The default time setting to start recording is 45 seconds.  I found that not long enough with long winded operators and also long exchanges.  I would often miss their call on the recording. My suggestion is for longer than average exchanges, bump that default time to 1 min to ensure you got everything.

3) Play with your audio levels to make sure you get a good loud recording of the QSO.

4) You don't have to start N1MM to record audio, but you do have to have N1MM running in order to record and save individual QSO's.  If you just want to record what your hearing, start the program and let it run.  It can record continuous audio of what your listening to for play back later.  Hot keys work even when N1MM is not running also.  If you hear something interesting and want to capture it in a separate file, press your hot key combo.

5) Before starting a contest test N1MM, test QSOrder, test them together...see what works, and what doesn't work.  TEST!!!!