Archive for the ‘life’ category

January Phase Noise

January 26th, 2015

Radio activity around here was asymptotically approaching zero until this past weekend when I managed to put about two hours into the ARRL January VHF contest.  In brief, here’s what’s happening around K8GU:

  • 47Q x 17G on 6 (8/2), 2 (29/11), and 432 (10/4) in ARRL January VHF.  The 6-meter QSOs were all made with an HF antenna.  I ran 100 watts on 432 so I’m ineligible for the 3-band category.  Heard, but didn’t work, N1GC (EM59), K1TEO (FN31, whom I almost always work), and VE3??? (FN03, I had the whole call at the time but forgot, working K1RZ).
  • I did not work EP6T on any bands and really don’t care.  I didn’t hear much of the jamming when I did listen (on 40 and 80).  To paraphrase KE9V quoting JA1NUT, “I’m kind of over DXing.” Who has time for this, anyway?
  • Speaking of the seedy underbelly of DXing…do you know what a “QSL grubber” is?  I’ve experienced a couple of different variations on this in the past year and it’s disturbing.  One guy was asking about specific QSOs and provided detailed description of (my) signal characteristics.  Nevermind the fact that I never operated on the band he mentioned during that operation.  He sent similar e-mail to several friends.  As if DX operators don’t talk to each other?  The DXCC desk has been notified.  I wonder if anybody actually falls for it or gives in, though?
  • I made token efforts in NAQP CW and Phone to chalk up a participation multiplier for PVRC in the three-way PVRC-SMC-NCCC competition.
  • No homebrewing or repair work has been undertaken since the summer.
  • The baby can crawl and wants to walk so badly she can’t stand it.  The end is near.
  • I took Evan to the Odenton Hamfest on Sunday morning.  The highlight for him was stopping for donuts…and stopping at a playground on the way home.  Bought some Snap-N-Seal F-type compression connectors for a work project, part of my quest to find the perfect F-connector for the perfect RG-6 type cable (quad-shielded, flooded).  More on this in a future post.
  • It seems there are plenty of Elecraft K2’s on the market these days.  As the price slips below 1000 USD for a loaded K2/100, this radio is becoming a good buy.  As a secondary note, they all seem to be “professionally constructed by a well-known builder.”  This leads me to wonder what fraction of K2s were built by someone other than the owner (I estimated this fraction once to be about 1/3 of them).  I also wonder if people who built their own K2s hold onto them longer?

And so it goes, time to punch my card…

 

MiQP from Ohio

April 22nd, 2014

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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.

Still Alive

January 1st, 2014

Despite the lack of activity on the blog, I’m still alive and QRV on the radio.  The blog had to wait.  Here are some recent activities around K8GU:

  • We moved from our 50’x100′ “city” (WM3O told me it was “suburban” because I couldn’t walk to an Asian grocery) lot to a nice “suburban” (semi-rural) lot of just over an acre in October 2013.
  • In order to work the November DXpeditions and contests, I hastily erected the hexagonal beam on surplus fiberglass poles, as well as the 80-m vertical and a 40-m dipole.  Also, put up several Beverages (yay!!!).  The hex has survived some modest wind gusts, which surprises the heck out of me.  I thought it would have been on the ground by now.
  • Managed to work K9W, T32RC, and T33A on 80m (as well as other bands), which made me happy.  Did not manage to work Z81X (on 80m) through the EU.
  • Put in a nice 19-hr effort in CQ WW CW, SOAB-HP “CLASSIC” (one radio, no spotting), about 1.5M.  It’s nice when WW is before Thanksgiving.
  • Repaired a number TS-930Ses for people.  I think mine will be on the bench soon since the sensitivity appears to be shot.

I’ve never been into making New Years’ resolutions, but some projects are in order for the next few months:

  • More TS-930Ses.  I have one still to fix in my queue, plus mine.
  • Keep refreshing LoTW until the 99 DXCC I presently have confirmed on 80m rolls over so I can apply for 5BDXCC.  I have cards for even more on 80m, but I’d rather do it all on LoTW.
  • Getting some VHF antennas up.
  • Editing my junquebox and ham equipment holdings, mostly parts.  Anybody need some big air inductors and variable capacitors?  6-el 220 beam?
  • Getting on 160 and 30 meters, better antenna for 40.
  • Working FT5ZM on at least one band/mode.
  • Re-installing antenna switching hardware.  Right now I have to run across the basement to move coax.
  • And, a special project that you’ve probably heard about but do not yet realize…details to follow.

So, Happy New Year and I hope your 2014 holds as much interesting and promising to do as mine does!

RSGB IOTA Contest expedition to NA-140

August 3rd, 2013

Delmarva_IOTA_card_r0

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.

7-bit Barker Code and Matched Filter

January 8th, 2012

Teaching Evan the basics of radar signal processing with this baby-block 7-bit Barker code and its matched filter.

(No?) Nonsense Radio

November 10th, 2011

The November 2011 issue of QST contains an Op-Ed that really left me shaking my head more than normal.  The author bemoans the complexity and feature sets of newer handheld radios and pines for the days of his IC-02AT.  He goes on at length about the “unnecessary” receive capabilities (NOAA weather broadcasts, AM/FM radio, etc) and how he has to search for the manual every time he wants to program a repeater offset.

Well, as someone who recently upgraded from a radio just slightly newer than the IC-02AT to a “modern” HT, he’s wrong on nearly every account (except the micro-/mini-USB port, which I would wholeheartedly support for charging purposes).

  • Eliminate extraneous features.  Too bad we all have different definitions of this.  I think scanning is a worthless feature, but like NOAA/NWS weather broadcasts.  In fact, my wife is delighted that we now have a battery-powered AM/FM+NOAA/NWS radio again that I will always be able to find and will guarantee that it works.  Did you hear that, guys?  My non-ham wife actually likes my HT and uses it to listen to FM radio!
  • Eliminate multilevel menu trees.   I’m just dying to replace my cell-phone-sized VX-3r with a knob-covered brick.  I’m sure you are too.  It’ll look great in my shirt pocket.
  • Eliminate the proprietary programming cables.  Maybe I’m not a typical ham, but I only have about ten memory channels programmed into my VHF/UHF FM radios and they took about 10 minutes to program through the front panel (my bad, menus).  The mini-/micro-USB port is a good idea for charging, though.
  • Allow for a battery pack that uses disposable batteries.  Last time I checked, most radios have this option.  Did I miss something?
  • Create an inter-vendor standard for user interface.  What if they standardize on Icom?!?!  The last Icom VHF/UHF FM radio I used received a “grade of S, for ‘stupid'” from its owner.  That was in 1993.  All of the Japanese manufacturers will be put out of business by the factory owned by the Chinese military that produces their products before this happens.

He should buy another IC-02AT if he liked them so much.  I bet for a Jackson or two, you could have a nice one…complete with the 6x AA battery holder.  Heck, buy two or three for spare parts.  I think I have the Service Manual around here somewhere if I didn’t already sell it.

On a more serious note, there are lots of no-frills radios available out there, even brand new ones with factory warranties.  Until recently, at least, the money in VHF FM radios was in two-way, government, and public safety, not amateur.  There are a lot of amateur rigs at the “low end” of the market that share a lot in common with their commercial counterparts.  And, of course, you can always buy used Motorola gear on eBay if you desire ultimate performance and ruggedness.

DXpedition QSLing

November 1st, 2011

This post might better be titled “supporting things that you value.”  A recent large-scale DXpedition to a “new one” just started sending out QSL cards in the past few weeks.  I have seen a bit of traffic leaking onto the regional contest club’s e-mail reflector about QSLing this operation and today someone complained that QSL requests that included donations were being processed rapidly and that he had not yet seen his. He was thoroughly chastised by a number of people on the reflector (including one of the DXpedition operators who went on at some length about the cost of the DXpedition) before the thread was (wisely) quashed by the moderator.

I composed a short reply very early in the melee, but decided (also wisely) not to contribute it because it really had little to do with contesting.  So, I’m writing here in hopes that someone finds it interesting.

When I was a new ham, I won a copy of the ARRL Operating Manual at a hamfest.  It sounds inane now, but I read the thing cover to cover.  In the chapter on DXpeditions, the author writes, “A donation should never be a condition for receiving a QSL card.”  That has stuck with me through the years.  The fundamental question is: why spend tens of thousands of dollars on the effort only to hold the operators who worked you hostage for a donation that might cover your QSLing costs if you’re lucky?

But, life is rarely black and white and most DXpeditions understand the futility of that question, so the situation outlined above rarely happens.  In the present scenario, the DXpedition stepped into the gray by prioritizing donors ahead of non-donors.  I have no problem with this.  In fact, as I began to write in my reply, it is a matter of supporting things that are important to you.  If having a card for the “new one” is important so you get on the Honor Roll for this year’s DXCC Yearbook, how much is that worth?

This falls into the same category as people who used to complain about the results of contests sponsored by CQ magazine being unavailable for free online.  Well, if you want the results, buy the magazine!

Enough ranting…did somebody mention that CW Sweepstakes is this weekend?  SWEEPSTAKES!

New Arrival

July 10th, 2011

Early Monday morning, the day after Field Day, we welcomed our son Evan into the family.  We were so right to stay home!  As good friends have opined “your life will change…for the better.”  So far, I would tend to agree.  The blog will receive (even more) infrequent updates, K8GU may be a little less active on the air, and there will be fewer homebrew projects over the next few weeks and months.  A few months ago after building some UHF antennas when I pinched the palm of my hand with a pair of pliers, I watched the blood blister heal and commented to Sarah on how amazing it was for several days straight.  “You think that’s amazing?  Well, I’m growing new life inside of me.”  We laughed, but it’s very true.  Every day is something new:  grasping, gazing, grunting, and gurgling.  This is only the beginning.  That’s pretty amazing.

The Rupture 2011

May 22nd, 2011

Thanks to some quick thinking on Sarah’s part, I was able to attend the Hamvention (Saturday only—the day that the sewer backed-up and “ruptured”…spewing nasty water down through the fleamarket) for the first time in a few years.  This is a recap from my perspective.

  1. Attendance was down.  The fleamarket was shrinking.
  2. There were a lot of lookers but few buyers in the fleamarket.  Predict that the fleamarket will shrink further next year.
  3. There were still good deals to be found in the fleamarket—I picked up some LMR-600, a WA2AAU 2304-MHz amp (unmodified 1900-MHz PCS amp), a Rohn 45G rotator plate, some 20-GHz rated SMA relays, and some miscellaneous parts.  And, I passed on a few good deals as well.
  4. I saw a lot more young people than I remember from past years.  Or maybe I’m just getting older and the population of hams younger than me is growing on account of that.
  5. Hamabouts (and their drivers) were not so obnoxious as prior years.
  6. Hara Arena may be a dump (K1LT told me the story—don’t know if it’s true—that during the Rolling Stones first U.S. tour, they had been booked at Hara, but refused to play when they saw the facility); but, it’s perfect for the riff-raff who show up for the Hamvention.
  7. In the end, the Hamvention (like ham radio itself) is about the people you know and meet.  I had fabulous eyeball QSOs  with guys from almost all phases of my ham career (except the early years from 1993-2000).  The VHF/UHF weak signal crowd is a pretty amazing bunch of hams.  I had a great time getting to know some of them in the fleamarket.

Great Idea: Light Painting WiFi

March 21st, 2011

Saw this in my Google Reader at work and had to post.  Apply to work, ham radio, …?  It’s clearly an artist’s take and not an engineer’s.