Restarting the blog, one more time

It’s been nearly two years since my last post to this blog, so it’s time to re-awaken it.

In that time period I’ve stayed active as a ham, and really put the station together here in Little Rock. I’ve gone through a couple contest seasons, and discovered that I living on top of a hill really does make an antenna work better. I’ve done personal best scores in multiple contests, and have a couple of certificates on my wall to show for the effort, but more on that in future posts.

Let’s get back to the basics of the station.  In the two years I’ve continued to experiment and try different radios. In addition to the trusty Elecraft K-line — K3, P3, and KPA500 — I was operating a Flex 3000 as by backup radio.  The Flex had some nice features, but it wasn’t a great CW radio. There was a lag between when you keyed the radio and when it sent a tone, which in high-speed Morse code will drive you nuts.  So I saw an opportunity to trade the Flex 3000 for a Ten-Tec Eagle last year, and I took it. I’m happy I did.

This was my second Ten-Tec Eagle. I purchased one when they first came out, and liked a lot about it, but had problems integrating it with my computer for use as a second receiver. For that reason I sold it, and purchased the Flex.  After using the Flex, I’m happy to be back to the Eagle. I’ll worry about getting the Eagle to work with computer, when the time comes.

The second major change was with my antennas.  I had a Steppir Big IR vertical, that I had been using since 2008. It had seen some hard times — being blown over twice and moved between states — and had quit working. My attempts to repair it didn’t work, so I made the decision to replace it with a new Steppir Big IR, with 80 meter coil.  I also added more radials, and I’ve seen a big improvement in performance. Again, more on that in future posts.

The third upgrade was I painted the shack.  A shack is hamspeak for the room with the radios in it.  It went from an icky yellow to a nice blue.  That was a big improvement.

I’ll round out this post with a photo of the repainted shack.

The repainted shack. Much nicer in blue.



CQ from Arkansas

The Big IR is in my back yard with about a dozen radials so far. I hope to get another dozen in or so over the next few weeks. I’m glad I got vertical up, as my dipole fell down the next week.

I’ve been very, very quiet on this blog, but hope to get it going again. In the nearly two years since I’ve posted, we decided to relocate to Little Rock, Arkansas. So last summer we put the house in Illinois up for sale, sold it, and bought a home here in Little Rock. It’s a nice house on a big hill with a big lot, no trees and no antenna restrictions. That’s about as good as I can do as a ham for location.

We moved in March, and by the end of March I was back on the air with a OCF dipole up about 30 feet. Not a great antenna, but my location helps. A couple week ago I got my Steppir Big IR vertical in the ground with about 10 radials. A week later I had a major limb fall of a tree so the wire antenna went down. That’s why I always like to have two antennas.

Here’s a shot of the new shack. It looks about the same as the old one.

Looks familiar. Still running the K line with a Flex 3000 as backup rig/second receiver.

Sweepstakes, a great contest

I’ve been really, really remiss on the blog. I’m not sure why, except it’s been a hectic work schedule this summer. But it is now contest season, and I’ve been gearing up.

This year I did my biggest effort on Sweepstakes, which many think is the biggest contest. In about 16 hours of operating I made over 650 contacts in 82 of the 83 possible sections. I missed North Dakota for getting the coveted clean sweep, which I got for the first time two years ago.

I had CW Skimmer running using the Flex 1500 as a second receiver. That gave me a nice view of what was on the band. I wasn’t planning on making a big effort this year, but I started a run on 20 meters right when the contest started, and ran for the first hour and half. That had me hooked. After dinner, I did a two-hour run on 40 meters.

More to come, but I’ll try to get active on the blog again.

Field Day 2012

I did my second year of a one-man Field Day, runniing emergency power and temporary antennas from my deck. I started setup at 11:30 Saturday morning, and was ready to operate with the K2 running into a fishing pole vertical at 12:30. That left me 30 minutes to eat lunch before the contest started.

The bands were not great, but things improved overnight on 40 and 80 meters. I did close to 400 contacts, mostly Saturday night and Sudnay mroning.

It was nice to sit on the deck and operate, and to give the Elecraft K2 its yearly Field Day workout. It’s still a great radio, although it’s been overshadowed by the K3.

The Elecraft K2 in action on Field Day. I had to dig out an old Windows 98 laptop to get everything to work. Now I have my log downloaded on a floppy disk, and no way to read it.

No success with software defined radio

At the Dayton Hamvention I picked up a Flex 1500, which is a QRP software defined radio. I have messed with small software defined radios in the past, but wanted to try one of the major players in SDR.

I’m sorry to say that after three weeks of trying to make it work, I’m in the process of returning it. The main problem is that there is latency between the computer and the the radio. For CW operation, this means that you hit the paddle, and the radio keys a fraction of  a second later. Tht makes the use of the internal keyer and sidetone impossible.

So having a QRP radio that requires an external keyer, doesn’t make much sense in today’s world. My smallest QRP radios have their own keyer built in. I also had problems with the TX meter that it did not consistently show power out. That made remote operation impossible.

So it goes back to the factory. Sorry Flex, I tried.

I also need to get back active on the blog. I haven’t posted in a month, and I notice my traffic is tanking. Google no longer thinks I’m very active, and is starting to lower my rankings. I preach search engine optimization to my employees every day, I need to practice it myself.

So I promise I’ll be more active. Next week is Field Day. I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet. I’ll probably be operating the K2 from the back yard on emergency power. I did that last year, and had a nice time with it.


Dayton Hamvention next week

I’m headed to Dayton, hopefully on Friday, for the Hamvention. It’s the largest gathering of Hams in the world, and I generally make it every other year. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s new in equipment, and in spending some time at the Contest Forum and Contest Dinner on Saturday night. Through the years I’ve learned to focus on what I want to see, and not spend days wandering the aisles and wearing myself out.

I’ll try to take some photos and videos and add them to the blog when I get back, but no promises.

Ham radio and Mini Coopers

I spent the last few days at one of the country’s largest Mini Cooper enthusiast events, Minis on the Dragon in Fontana, NC. There were over 800 cars at the event, and I counted at least six hams. If you watch the video of the run in the this post, you will hear the chatter between the different people on the run using FMRS.

I ran into a group from California who were all new hams, and were proud to be using ham radio, rather than FMRS, to communicate within their group during runs. I heard them preaching the benefits, and ease of getting a license, to other people at the event. They said for their club runs in Northern California, FMRS doesn’t work very well if they get strung out, and they’ve found ham radio to be much better. They said they are working to get everyone in their club licensed. One of the three I talked to was really taken with ham radio, and planned to start studying for her General, but wanted to do it the right way by learning the answers, not memorizing them.

I gave them encouragement, and talked about how they could take it to the next level with APRS. How many car enthusiast/rally clubs are there out there who are using FMRS and would be excited about stepping up to ham radio?

Lining up for the group shot. I made it to the front row with my ham plates.

Michigan QSO party QRP style

This weekend there were several state QSO parties running — Michigan, Ontario and South Dakota, plus a DX contest centered in South America. Saturday night I came down to the shack to see what I could do in the three, but when I started messing with the K3, the AF gain (volume) knob broke. I was thinking about running the contests by using the shaft with no knob, but that looked like an exercise in pain so I turned on the KX1 QRP (low power) radio.

I heard a station calling from Bolivia on 40 meters, and thought “why not try” and worked him on the first call — with 4 watts and my Steppir vertical. Cool.

I switched to the Michigan QSO party and started working everyone I could find. It often took three or four calls, and a couple guys had to really work to hear my report, but I kept working stations. By the end of the evening I’d worked 30 stations in Michigan, 10 in Ontario, and 5 in South America, mostly on 40 meters with a few contacts on 20 and 80. For 80 I switched to the K2 at 5 watts, but most of my contacts were made with the KX1.

This is much different from my normal contesting mode of running 500 watts and seeing how high a rate — how many contacts per hour — I can reach. But it was just as much fun, I used a lot less power, and it was much lower key than most contests I run.

For any hams out there who think “life is too short for QRP,” you are missing a big part of the hobby. To work Boliva and Brazil with 4 watts — that is exciting.

So that was my hamming for the weekend. I’ll go into more detail on my broken knob on the K3 later.


QRP fun with the Elecraft KX1

Elecraft KX1 is a minimialist QRP radio with high performance.

When talking about my radios, I often overlook the QRP gear. I have several QRP — low power below 5 watts — radios that I used to be very active with, but in the past few years with bad band conditions I’ve gotten out of the QRP habit.

I’m spending a week in a cabin in North Carolina in a couple weeks, and am planning on taking a small radio and portable antenna. So today I got out the Elecraft KX1 and fired it up on 20 meters. I hadn’t had it on the air for a while, and after this afternoon, i wonder why I’ve forgotten QRP.

The Georgia QSO party was in full swing on 20 meters, so it was a good chance to see if the QRP signal would reach them. During the afternoon I worked 20 different Georgia stations with no problem.

Then I tuned down the band and heard W1VDE calling CQ from Oregon. I answered and talked to him for a while. He said my 4 watt signal was loud in Oregon — 20 db over S9 for you hams out there. That’s about as good as it gets.

Then I moved up to the QRP calling frequency, 14.060 and called CQ. On the first try N1DN came back to me, and he was operating QRP from Connecticut. So I basically worked coast to coast this afternoon with 4 watts. I’ve got the QRP bug again.

Here is a good review of the KX1 by another blogger.


DX on mobile CW

Tuesday was a great day for mobile CW. On the drive into work I had a long chat with Marty, K1WC, in northern Maine. I’ve talked to Marty a few times and he has a great fist — that means he sends good code — and he’s a good conversationalist on CW. We talked for about 40 minutes of my drive in and then I turned off the radio and listened to NPR.

For the drive home, I listened on 40 meters but didn’t hear much on. So I switched to 20 meters, hit the tune button, and the antenna retuned itself for 20 meters. The first thing I heard was a loud signal, GR100MGY. From the G prefix I figured it was England, but that is a strange call so it sounded like something special. He also was working split — transmitting on one frequency and listening up 2 or 3 Khz. So I set up for split while driving 70 miles per hour — I turned the RIT on the radio to -2.50 kHz and tuned up until I heard the station. I knew I was transmitting up 2.5, but had no idea who else was up 2.5 calling him. So I started throwing out my call, and after about 10 tries I worked him. That’s neat to bust a pileup running mobile.

Then I tuned up the band a little, I didn’t hear much, so I called CQ. I was answered by WP4L. I knew that was Puerto Rico, and actually had a nice QSO with Angleo.

After that I tuned around a little and heard a faint CQ froom G0KDJ. I thought “why not try” and answered his call and worked Jim in Liverpool, England. So I worked three DX stations on the way home. Not a bad day.

When I got home I looked up GR100MGY. It was a special event station marking the 100th anniversary of the voyage of the Titanic. It was only going to be on 5 days, and had just gone on the air that day. Hence the pileup that I broke through.