Sarah, Evan, and I had the opportunity to go to her parents’ place for the Easter holiday weekend. Since the trip coincided with the Michigan QSO Party, I decided this might be a good test of the portability of the K2. Unfortunately, I was unable to operate much longer than a half hour but I had some fun on 40 meters and tried out N3WG’s (Pignology) HamLog for logging. Neat stuff.
If I had a dollar for every tirade I read or heard from a U.S. amateur regarding the “difficulty of setting up ARRL’s LoTW” software, I’d at least be able to buy another roofing filter for the K3. These tirades are almost invariably qualified by the assertion that the complainer is “an IT professional.”
Personally, I find LoTW’s security simple and logical: they are simply trying to make it hard for one individual to generate a lot of untraceable certificates (to sign enough falsified logs to get on the “Honor Roll”). And, since they optimized the database last (?) year, the processing and web interface are pretty good, too. I kinda just followed the directions and it worked.
I don’t believe in Karma, but every time I read one of these rants by “an IT professional,” I feel a small amount of revenge has been exacted on them for all of the frustrating interactions (mercifully few, all things considered) I’ve endured with incompetent IT drones over the years…
This is the photo I wanted to headline this post, but I refuse to hotlink or copy it. Positive, regularly-scheduled programming will return to the blog shortly, including a couple of construction projects…$50 HF triplexer, anyone?
One of the goals I had for the K2 that I failed to mention in the previous post was to fill-in for the K3 in DXpedition service. This is a tall order. It also necessitated upgrading the basic K2/10 to a 100-watt K2/100—being loud (enough) is an important part of pileup control. I had the good fortune to come across an already-assembled final amplifier unit at an attractive price a few days after I purchased the radio. I took that as a sign!
Another rite of passage for the K2/100 would be…how does it perform in a pileup? One of the really great things about ARRL DX CW since the advent of the CW Skimmer and Reverse Beacon Network is that literally any U.S. station (especially on the East Coast, my Western and Midwestern friends will remind) with a modest signal can elicit a blistering run of Europeans. I’ve been relatively unhappy with the K3′s response to pileups, with callsigns often being mushed together more than with other radios (e.g., the TS-930S). I understand that tailoring the K3′s AGC should help this—the KE7X book now graces my shelf but I haven’t had a chance to explore all of his suggestions yet. Having heard anecdotally that the K2 does better in this regard, I was excited to break it in with ARRL DX.
Sarah worked this weekend and I was frankly wiped out from a full week at work plus shoveling 18 inches of snow and cutting up trees from the previous week’s ice storm! Nothing approximating a “full” operation was in the cards. In about two hours of operating, mostly on Sunday, I made about 140 QSOs on 10 and 15 meters. I’m happy to report that the K2 did quite well with regard to the pileup response and I didn’t manage to break it CQing hard at full power. The K2 also passed the “W3LPL test”…Frank lives just a few miles away and is frequently quite loud here. But, I could still hear nearby stations with no problem at all. The one thing that disappointed me about the K2 is that it seemed a little deaf as the 15-m band was closing to Europe. A number of stations were right at the noise floor and were tricky to copy. This might have been “one-way” propagation, too, a topic I should write about at some point.
The upshot is that I’m extremely pleased with the K2 and I look forward many more QSOs with it!
On Christmas Eve, I was sitting at my in-laws’ kitchen table with the Small Wonder Labs SW-40 I built as a high school kid in 1998 listening to beautiful music and I got the itch to come up with a radio smaller (and less expensive) than the K3 to drag around with me when I go places. My mind wandered to the NorCal Sierra, which was a featured project in ARRL Handbook’s of my youth. I was able to come up with a draft version of that Handbook article on the web—pause for a moment and think how revolutionary that is—my in-laws don’t have an ARRL Handbook, let alone the one that contained the Sierra article. I looked at the bill of materials and realized that I had some 70% of the parts in my junkbox. This seemed like a good idea until I went searching for a PCB.
Why PCB? Well, I’ve done the dead-bug thing and it works great but it’s a pain to troubleshoot and unless you have decades of experience doing it, it looks like a Mexico City suburb, sprawling unpredictably in every direction with only the most tenuous connections to the core. Since I was seeking a travel radio, I wanted it to be compact, easy-to-troubleshoot, and relatively rugged. Due in no small part to the wishes of the Sierra’s designers (not coincidentally founders of Elecraft), boards are no longer available. I looked into doing my own board, but if you don’t mix chemicals yourself, you’ve suddenly spent $150 on PCBs, plus the layout effort. I toyed with making the board smaller (a win in several ways) by using surface-mount parts but even that was a non-starter since my junkbox parts are through-hole, requiring me to buy everything.
Astute readers can extrapolate what occurred next. I went to the Elecraft web site to price the Sierra’s successor, the K1. I had all but made up my mind to sell off some junkbox items and raise the capital to buy a K1 kit when something occurred to me: fellow ham blogger Mike, VE3WDM, had recently moved to a smaller QTH and was offering a half-completed K2 kit for sale. His asking price was only a little more than the K1 kit with some of the options I wanted and it was all-band. The ad had been posted for some days by this point, so I fired off a sheepish e-mail to Mike asking if the radio was still available. It was. We sealed the deal and the radio made the somewhat tortuous ride (for us, not the radio—it sat in Chicago for two weeks) from his QTH to mine via the postal system.
I would not have bought a partially-finished kit from just anyone. However, since this was Mike’s second K2 build and he was documenting it carefully in a blog, I figured it was a pretty safe bet. So far, that is definitely true.
While I was eagerly awaiting the radio’s arrival, I redoubled my efforts to get a friend’s TS-930S off of my workbench, a task that involved replacing all 115 electrolytic capacitors on the cookie-sheet-sized “Signal Unit” board (similar to the K2 and K3 “RF unit”). That radio still has low drive (it has ALC again and sounds like a million bucks), something I traced to a hard-to-find semiconductor that’s now on-order. So, I gathered it up and started work on the K2 on Sunday afternoon.
Last night, I got it on 40 meters RX-only and peaked up the RX BPF. Former K2 owner KL9A mentioned to me that it has some blow-by on strong signals but that he thinks it’s a pretty good radio. I can confirm that based on my experience last night. It sounds really really good on CW.
More on the build to come…including a look back at some troubleshooting of the BFO circuit.
I recently read an excellent post by W2LJ on non-QRPers’ perceptions of “the frustration of QRP.” While I’m in 100% agreement with what he writes—essentially to “act loud” when you’re operating QRP—I’m guilty of the very first sin he calls out at the beginning: advising new hams not to start on HF with [a] QRP [rig].
I stand by this advice. Here’s why. The advice is often solicited in the context of saving money by buying a QRP radio (e.g., FT-817, IC-703, KX3, etc) versus a full-power unit (e.g., FT-857, IC-706/IC-7000, KX3+KXPA3, respectively). Everybody wants to save money, not everyone wants to operate QRP, whether they realize it or not. It’s a whole heck of a lot easier to crank a 100-watt radio down to 5 watts than it is to crank a 5-watt radio up to 100 watts. So why does that matter since we’re talking about why people should or shouldn’t start with QRP? If you operate QRP, look at your log. You should see a pattern. Most of your QSOs are on CW or digital and on the “core” HF bands, 40/30/20/17/15 meters.
QRP is not frustrating at all, as long as you operate CW (or digital) into decent antennas on certain bands. Knowledge and skill indeed trump power. But, if you are just acquiring knowledge and skill for the first time, a little reserve power doesn’t hurt. Just my thoughts.
I forgot my camera at home and my mobile phone battery died so there are no photographs of this adventure…
I first experienced the passion of those pursuing RSGB’s Islands on the Air (IOTA) programm(e) when I was active from Adak (Andreanof Islands, NA-039) in August/September 2012. Matt, KB9UWU, and I made some tentative plans to do the 2013 RSGB IOTA Contest from NA-139 (Maryland State East, Assateague), returning to the site where he and W3CF had done the same contest over a decade prior. During the planning stage, I cast about for the nearest IOTA groups to activate. For the DC area, the easiest groups are surrounding the Delmarva Penninsula, NA-083 (Virgina State), NA-139 (Maryland State East) and NA-140 (Maryland State West). We did not execute the plan to go to NA-139 and I had really given up on the idea of doing anything for the IOTA contest…
That’s when work interviened. I scheduled a trip to Greenland (story about this to follow in a future posting) leaving late on Sunday of the IOTA contest weekend. My wife Sarah had a cousin with a baby shower in Ohio on Saturday…so, we did the logical thing…packed her and Evan off to Ohio on a Saturday morning flight. After dropping them off at the airport, I headed to the Eastern Shore for some IOTA action.
The principal mission for this trip would be to understand the difficulties in activating NA-140 and to make it widely available to the IOTA community because it is apparently rather rare (25% claimed, versus 19% claimed for Adak).
The station setup was simple and typical—an Elecraft K3 and an updated version of the GU Special. The GU Special had just returned Tuesday from KL2HD’s KL7NWR expedition to NA-064 back in June (he had left it on the research ship until it returned to port, so technically, it’s probably visited some other rare IOTAs, too).
In order to avoid discharging the car’s battery, a mistake that could leave me stranded far from home, I lugged along a few SLA batteries to power everything. I selected a couple of candidate sites using aerial imagery and ended up using my preferred site, which was very accessible to saltwater and the road, making it trivial to setup the radio in the car and
the antenna on the beach. I now understand why NA-083 and NA-139 have much more activity—they’re close to civilization! Nevermind, I love the middle of nowhere. So, it was fun.
I configured the antenna for 20 meters and launched a few CQs on CW. It took a while to get a run established, but after that the pileup was pretty much non-stop for about 3 hours. I even worked some JAs, which was pleasing considering that NA-140 is very rare there and I was not QRV during the peak hours for JA.
Unfortunately, I hadn’t rigorously tested the batteries beforehand (except for one) and only one (the one I tested, of course) of the five performed well. One performed acceptably and was relegated to running the inverter for the laptop once the battery warning came on. Even the “good” battery sagged under load at 100w transmitter power. So, I cranked the K3 down to 50w and let it rip. That was enough to produce a commanding signal in Europe, with RBN Skimmers showing my signal peaking at 47 dB SNR with many hits in the 30s of dB. As Matt said when we talked after I returned home, “I have trouble getting those kind of numbers with a small beam and the legal limit!” Verticals on saltwater rule. End of story. Hearing was a different issue as there was some line noise and the occasional passing boat, who provided more QRM in the audio range than the RF range.
My pileup thinned out a little bit around 2020 UT and I was exhausted. Evan didn’t sleep well the night before and that didn’t help anybody else sleep, either. Plus, it was hot, even with the nice breeze and pleasant temperatures. If all of that wasn’t enough, the battery in my mobile phone had discharged, the battery in the laptop was nearly dead and both the K3 and the inverter began
throwing low-voltage alarms. It was time to pack up. Fortunately, the GU Special deploys and stows in 15-20 minutes, so it wasn’t bad.
I ended the three-hour window with 215 QSOs and 11 (!!! that’s what you get for CQing the whole time) island multipliers, all on 20 meters. I’ll take it! Thanks for the QSOs. I just ordered cards today and they should be printed and ready to send by mid-August.