Posts Tagged ‘K3’

Remoting K8GU…kinda

June 19th, 2014

We welcomed our second child, a daughter, into the family last week.  Since she is our second, the time in the hospital was more about making sure she was healthy than us learning all the ropes.  So, I had some undisturbed time to read on the Internet with a sleeping baby on my chest…and wish I could remote control my station.

Having been party to the discussion surrounding remoting a local contest station (K4VV), I had seen enough traffic about different VOIP options to start with Mumble for the audio stream.  I set up a Mumble server on my Linux server at the house, and then setup the Mumble client on my hamshack computer.  I ran a 1/8-inch TRS cable from the rear-apron line-out port of the K3 into the line input of one of my sound cards on the computer.  I put a free Mumble client on my iPhone and viola!  It worked out of the box.

I have been using Pignology’s HamLog on my phone for quick logging of one-off QSOs and goofing off with its vast array of tools.  HamLog also has the ability to remote control a rig using Pignology’s hardware.  Since, I’m really not in a good position to drop $300 on a box I’ll use a couple of times per year, I reasoned that there might be an alternative.  Enter the socat utility:

root@tula:~# socat /dev/ttyUSB1,raw,echo=0 tcp-listen:7373,fork

Freakin magic.  I used HamLog to connect to a “Remote PigTail” and it mostly works.  The frequency display does not seem to work and HamLog loses the connection if the phone falls asleep.  But, it is functional.  Another interesting wrinkle is that when my shack PC screensaver comes on, it mutes the audio stream piped into Mumble.  But, those are all minor irritations at this point considering the trivial amount of effort that went into getting a remote control going…

The Elecraft Effect

February 9th, 2013

Heard this on the radio the other day on my way to work.  Does it explain, at least in part, the popularity of Elecraft products?

In other news, the blog has been silent for a while, but that doesn’t mean things haven’t been happening.  I have a couple of challenging projects that have been taking up the usual blogging time.  Stay tuned!

New Radio Thoughts

November 19th, 2012

As I mentioned in a previous post about my trip to the Aleutians, I am the owner of a new radio.  The reasons for the purchase were manifold, but driven by a fundamental shift in the way I view my operating (and living) philosophy.  I had long (at least 10 years) been collecting gear for a two- (or three-) tower contest station.  In this philosophy, the emphasis was on collecting antennas and towers as they became available on attractive terms.  It also meant keeping the inexpensive but well-performing pair of TS-930S HF transceivers for my SO2R setup and the FT-840 for my portable operations.  You can imagine from those past few sentences of description alone that this consumed a non-trivial amount of space and time.

Sarah began subtly hinting that “wouldn’t it be nice if we could clean up that pile of tower on the patio so we could have people over?”  My parents have been slowly migrating my junkbox from their place to ours.  It became increasingly clear to me that as long as we lived in this area it would be unlikely that I would put up the towers.  I started contemplating how to remedy this situation.  I identified a large collection of gear (including the Rohn 45 on the patio) that 1) could be replaced by a new radio, 2) I was not using, or 3) for which I simply did not have a plan.  So, I set out with the following theme to find a new rig:

Excellence in portable operation and competence at home.

I considered four radios:  Ten-Tec Eagle, Kenwood TS-590S, Elecraft K2/100, Elecraft K3/100.

I was strongly considering the K2/100 initially.  Its size and price seemed attractive.  However, when I did the math on what configuration I wanted, it basically ended up a draw with the Kenwood and the Ten-Tec with only a small bump more to the K3/100.  Plus, I’ve built enough kits to know that many of life’s most rewarding tasks tend to look better in the past than they do in the future.  Personal preference, of course!

The Kenwood TS-590S is acclaimed by a number of contesters as “the poor man’s K3.”  It has very similar features and performance numbers at a very attractive price.  I have always enjoyed Kenwoods as well.  But, the one thing that ultimately killed the TS-590S and the Ten-Tec Eagle was their lack of BCD band-data outputs.  The K3 also offered the 2-meter option, IF output (for panadapters), and very easy transverter interfacing.  It was really a no-brainer for me at that point since I had sold off enough gear to cover the cost entirely.

I bought the K3 kit and assembled it.  Anomalies notwithstanding, it amuses me greatly when people announce to the Elecraft e-mail list that “K3 #7777 is on the air”…it’s hard to keep from responding, “Congratulations on assembling your first LEGO kit.”  Unlike the K2, these “modular-kit” radios are very easy to assemble if you have a few hand tools and can follow basic directions.

My friend Oli, DJ9AO, informally asked me to compare the K3 to the TS-930S.  I’ve tested (subjectively) the K3 in a couple of demanding environments and I’m pleased to say that the K3 performed well, even with essentially “factory default” settings.

The K3 wins hands-down the strong-signal handling contest, even with the Inrad roofing filter in the TS-930S.  40 meters in ARRL Sweepstakes CW is a good test for this.  The FT-840 used to have severe mixing products (“beeps and bloops”).  These are not common with the TS-930S, but severe AGC pumping from nearby signals often covered up weaker signals.  Neither of these are problems with the K3.  In fact, the K3 is so good that you can tell just exactly who has key clicks because it’s possible to find two signals of otherwise identical strength on the S-meter and one will be inaudible within a few hundred Hz and the other will continue to bleed through and pump the AGC.  Well-done, Elecraft.

One thing that surprised me about the K3 was its apparently poor performance on the pileups from NA-039.  With the BW cranked down to 400 Hz, the filters rang like a bell in a pileup.  I have the 400-Hz 8-pole and 2.7-kHz 5-pole filters.  Widening the DSP bandwidth out to 700 Hz or so (which switches to the 2.7-kHz roofing filter) alleviated the problem with occasional AGC pumping from louder signals in the pileup.  In a post to the PVRC e-mail list recently, Frank, W3LPL, also confirmed that he prefers the 1-kHz 8-pole filter for CW operation.  Because I had the opportunity, I recently sprung for the special-order 700-Hz roofing filter.  It should arrive in March 2013.  I suspect there is considerable tailoring that could be done to the AGC system but I’m not there yet.  Once I realized that the bandwidth of 700 Hz was a sweet spot, the radio worked great in the pileups.  I have a feeling that I’ll also end up with the 1-kHz filter eventually.  But, I rarely open up beyond 700 Hz on CW so it will be interesting to see what is best.

A few other bright spots:

  1. CW-to-Digital:  This is just plain cool.  Send with the built-in keyer and the radio modulates PSK31 or RTTY for you.  Decode it right on the screen.
  2. Multifunction knobs:  The entire industrial design of the K3 is really unmatched in my opinion.  It has just the right number of knobs and menus.
  3. Options:  They are plentiful and easy to install.  Keeps the initial cost low(er).

I’m extremely delighted with the K3 so far and my shack is getting more compact.  It’s also nice to have a radio with a built-in keyer for once…

The Birthplace of the Wind

September 4th, 2012

I recently had the good fortune (Sarah and some Alaskan friends might question the use of the adjective “good”) to spend about 10 days on the Aleutian island of Adak for work.  In the midst of preparing for the trip, I learned that my fellow travelers Kevin, KJ4OAP, and Nathaniel, W2NAF, were planning to bring ham gear.  Of course, I was as well, so we ended up with quite the merry bunch of hams on Adak.  I don’t collect IOTAs, but I know it’s popular.  So, I checked out Adak Island in the IOTA directory—NA-039, Andreanof Group.  Fewer than 20% had claimed it, so it’s not super-rare, but not super-common, either.  I was assured by at least one friend that we would be very popular, especially in Europe.

One of the first things you notice about Adak when you get off the plane is the wind.  In fact, the locals call Adak “the Birthplace of the Wind.”  It’s actually quite poetic considering that the winds are so strong that you don’t leave furniture outside and that the houses shudder with typical gusts.  I experienced 75-mph gusts and 60-mph sustained winds during my short visit alone.

Adak is probably best known as the forward base from which the U.S. conducted its counteroffensive against the Japanese invasion of Attu and Siska during World War II.  It also played an important role during the Cold War and although the military left some 10 years ago, it retains much of the infrastructure including heavy machinery, a port, and a large airport.  The population shrank rapidly from a peak of just over 6000 in the 1990s to around 150 today.  Just before the military (principally Navy) pulled out, they were in the process of building new base housing.  The housing was completed nevertheless and so there are literally dozens if not a hundred homes that have never been occupied!  Some of the others have been converted into a small hotel (this is where we stayed).

The economy is heavily dependent on fishing and fish canning right now.  However, the locals are excited about the possibility of becoming a logistics hub for oil and gas work in the Bering Sea.  In fact, the aircraft I came out on (An Alaska Airlines 737-400) had an unprecedented 60+ passengers on it because executives from an oil company were coming to check the place out.
Alaska Airlines operates “regular” flights twice per week.

Due to a fiction of time zones, Adak is only one hour behind Anchorage, despite being some 27 degrees west.  So, sunrise and sunset are both very late in local time.  It is also very far south, about the same latitude as Vancouver.  Although I arrived at 6:30 pm, it was still light out for almost another four hours.  So, I quickly put up the vertical on 20 meters just before sunset.

While we were putting up the vertical, Nathaniel met Jeff, KL2HD, who happened to have flown in on the same flight as us and who also happened to have his office and station across the street from my apartment.  Neat.  He works for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and they have field sites throughout the Aleutians.  They use HF to communicate with their camps.  So, he just plugs into a well-installed folded dipole to do his hamming.  Have you ever seen a folded dipole installed between two (yes, two) Rohn 45 towers?  Intense.  Wind.

Due to our work schedule (8-10 hours per day plus meals), I often did not manage to get on until 0500 UT at the earliest, and sometimes even later.  But, when I did, I was greeted with a roaring pileup of the “deserving.”  This elicited a little bit of mail from my East Coast friends about getting on the air earlier.  It turns out, however, that for most of the trip, 20 and 17 meters were open to the entire U.S. until 0630 UT.  Both the skimmers and the QSOs bear this out.

Why yes, I did get a new radio to replace the FT-840.  More on this in the future.

It was pretty apparent that I had a lot of callers who couldn’t (for a variety of reasons) copy me.  European friends reported a total lidfest on their end the first night I was on the air, although I learned a lot about pileup control on this trip.  I have great respect for the “real” DXpeditioners who do this from the rarest locations.  This was tremendous fun, though, and I enjoyed working each and every one.  Thank you for calling!

There was one night on 17 meters that I CQed dead air for almost a half hour, making just two QSOs with stateside stations.  And like a switch, the Europeans came in over the pole.  It was incredible: I made 300 QSOs in 2.5 hours that night…mostly Europeans and Japanese.

Oh, one more photo…this is one of our rental vehicles on Adak.  No, your ARES group cannot buy it.  The siren and lights don’t work anyway.

So, I got home on Monday and Sarah is amused by the amount of fan mail (QSL cards) the trip generated.  Speaking of QSLing, the log has been uploaded to LoTW and has already generated about a 25% return rate.  If you worked KL7/K8GU, you can get a nice photo card by sending an SASE or SAE+green stamp to my callbook address.  I also use the bureau.  To this point, Kevin and Nathaniel and I have been planning to share a card.  They are still there for another week (so, if you missed me, you still have a chance for NA-039) and then we will figure out a card and order them.  So, it will be a few weeks until cards can go out.