SKCC 5123T----- FISTS 14979----- Flying Pigs 2331----- NAQCC 3610-----QRP ARCI 14176-----Polar Bear 257

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

California Trip Report

Linda and I flew out to Chico, California for my youngest Daughter's wedding. So ham radio was not the top priority. Also, the weather was cold, wet, and windy for the most part. However, I did work in some operating. First of all, I packed the Elecraft KX2, batteries and just about every portable antenna I have. I had no issues with anything at TSA security. We went through the TSA Pre-check line. I did not have to take anything out of my bags and even kept my shoes on.

The Elecraft KX2 is a great travel radio

A rainbow right out our hotel window.

At the hotel, I got a 4th-floor room with an East facing window by luck. That is what I wanted. I set up the Alexloop in the window. I ran the WSPRlite beacon for a while. It was not getting back to KK4DIV's receiver in Panama City but did reach Auburn, Alabama. I made a CW contact or two. But for the whole trip, I heard little on CW. I am a late adopter on FT-8. So this was an opportunity to use it. I actually worked through making contacts on FT-8 with the software and a Signalink interface for the KX2. I made a few QSOs but being indoors I made a lot of calls that were unanswered.

The Sacramento River

My setup at Bidwell Sacramento River State Park

I went out to the Bidwell Sacramento River State Park near the end of the visit. I decided to use the Gypsy dipole on 20 meters. I had taken a set of pole sections that I cut in half to fit in the suitcase. The sections make three poles that support the dipole at about ten feet off the ground. A park ranger came by and said it was a good thing I was not using the trees. So bringing the pole set paid off. I had not really advertised the visit to the park as a POTA activation. The internet on the smartphone was flaky so I could not spot myself. I heard very few CW signals and managed only one fleeting contact. But on 20 SSB, the ARRL SSB DX contest was underway. I did get two Hawaiian and an Alaskan station. I wrapped up with a JH8 in Japan. Having worked Japan on SSB, I called it a success. I had thought about a SOTA activation on this trip, but the weather worked against that. Also, the distance to an easy peak was at least three hours away.

In any case, Linda and I spent quality time with our Daughter Emily and her new husband Nathan. Emily showed us Bidwell park right in town. I saw some redwoods there.  Perhaps, the next trip will have better weather for ham radio and sightseeing.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Choosing Portable Radio Gear for Airline Travel.

A trip out of state via an airline raises the question of what you want to pack for radio gear. It is a little different than driving to the local park. You could pack lots of goodies up to the airline limits but the gear would be a burden to lug around. Fortunately, there are good options for portable radios like the Elecraft KX3 and Yaesu FT 817. In my opinion, the Elecraft KX2 has really nailed it for size and performance. It is smaller than a shaving kit, runs 10 watts all modes 80 through 10 meters and includes an internal tuner.

Elecraft CS 60 Case

Elecraft CS 60 Case

The KXBT2 lithium-ion battery fits inside the KX2. I also have a spare. As far as I can tell the batteries can go in my carry-on bag with the rig. Also per the quote below my 10 ah, LiFePO4 could go as well. It is 120 watt-hours.
Effective January 15, 2018, each Customer is permitted up to a maximum of 15 PEDs and a maximum of 20 spare lithium-ion batteries per person. Loose or spare cells or batteries (including power banks) must be protected from short circuit and transported in carryon baggage only. If the lithium-ion cells or batteries exceed 100 watt-hours, only 2 cells or batteries not exceeding 160 watt-hours each are permitted. Cells or batteries that exceed the 160 watt-hour limit are not allowed as checked or carryon baggage.
Elecraft KX2, MFJ whip, and AlexMic

Next, I will include my MFJ whips for 40, 20 and 17 meters.  They let me use the KX2 like a handi-talkie for HF. I use a short counterpoise wire with the whips. This is the ultimate in portability. I even do CW while walking with the KX2 paddle. I treat the paddle like a straight key.

Alexloop on tripod
My experience tells me the next go-to antenna is the PY1AHD Alexloop with a tripod. It is easy to set up in the room, on the hotel grounds or in the park. It will work 40 through 10 up to 20 watts SSB. This would be a good place to draw the line. Just have fun. If I get going on FT-8, it would help to make contacts out of the room with the Alexloop.

LNR EFT 40/20/10 Trail Friendly EndFed Antenna
The next tier to go includes LNR Trail-Friendly End Fed. It is very light and fits in your palm and why not the Wind Camp Gypsy Adjustable dipole. Of course, I better pack throw line and a throw bag. Beyond that, I have more options including the BuddiStick, Chameleon products including the Hybrid Micro and their whips. All good but the weight and bulk will start adding up. I have poles to support the adjustable dipole But that would go too far I suppose. Everyone can make their own choices, but I just have too many.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

My Vintage Drake Station for the Novice Rig Roundup

Back in the late 60s, my amateur radio novice station used a Drake 2-C receiver. The transmitter was a loaned Hallicrafters HT-6. After upgrading to general class, I added the Drake T-4XB transmitter. So I had a mix of the Drake 2-line and the Drake 4-line

Phil N4STC enjoys working on older gear
It is a long story, but I foolishly let my original Drake 2-C and Drake T-4XB go. Of late, I was able to find another Drake 2-C on eBay and later the Drake 2-NT. This would be the ideal Novice station of the day. As required by the FCC the transmitter is crystal controlled and DC input power can be set to 75 watts.

The Hayseed Hamfest capacitor can replacement on the Drake 2-NT
It seemed a good idea to replace the electrolytic capacitors as that is usually what goes bad in vintage rigs. I got recap kits for the 2-C and 2-NT from Hayseed Hamfest. I let Phil N4STC replace the caps as he really knows what he is doing. The 2-NT transmitter came to life immediately after the recap. The 2-C receiver lit up but there was no hiss. Phil tapped a tube and it came to life. The tube was loose in the socket.

Note on the video, I can increase the relay delay on the 2-NT to cut down the relay clicking.

The pair works like a transceiver together. The 2-NT has the TR relay. The 2-NT also has mute and sidetone lines to the 2-C. You can use spot feature to find your transmitted signal on the receiver. I bought some crystals from AF4K. Note, crystal operating is a different game today. You will be unlikely to raise anyone calling CQ off your frequency. They don't tune around for a reply to a CQ like we did in the Novice days.

N4KGL testing the Drake 2 Line
So we ended up the session with a contact with Harry WA1GXC in Rhode Island on 20 CW. He just happens to be a Drake collector, the Drake 4 line in particular.a big thanks to Phil N4STC. He made my day! It happens to be my Birthday today so a great present this was. I now look forward to Novice Rig Roundup March 3rd to March 11th.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Do you know where your Ham Buddies are?

HamAlert is phenomenal! I can keep up with my buddies when they get on the air.  They can keep up with me IF they setup HamAlert. I try to let them know where I am when I operate portable. It is difficult task via email. In the perfect world, all of them would use HamAlert.

What is HamAlert?

HamAlert is a system that allows you to get notifications when a desired station appears on the DX cluster, the Reverse Beacon NetworkSOTAwatch, or PSK Reporter. No need to keep checking these resources manually if you're looking for a certain callsign, DXCC, CQ zone, IOTA island, SOTA summit or WWFF reference.
You can receive alerts via Email, Push notification, SMS or URL GET/POST. You can also filter spots by various criteria, including:
  • DXCC (both actual and callsign home DXCC)
  • Callsign
  • IOTA group reference
  • SOTA summit reference
  • WWFF division/reference
  • CQ zone
  • Continent
  • Band
  • Mode
  • Time and days of week
  • Source
  • Spotter callsign and DXCC
Furthermore, you can set limits on the number of alerts in a certain time period so you don't receive duplicate spots, but are still notified if for example the station changes to another frequency.
I registered for HamAlert at this link. The following screens are from the website. You can do the same with the HamAlert app for your smartphone. I use the app as the destination for most of my alerts. Note I can monitor KFF Parks On The Air activations, monitor myself and a list of callsigns for my buddies. I only monitor KFF on the weekend. There are lots of activations going on.

Here are the details on my buddies list.

It turns out for those that run FT-8, I get too many alerts. So I set up limits. I could change the limits for the weekend to get all the alerts.

Below are spots shown on my Android smartphone. It is great to know that Tom G0SWB is on CW even if I am not near the rig. He is brushing up on his CW.

Your settings will be according to your preferences. If you want to find N4KGL your chances are pretty good with HamAlert. BTW,  send TEST DE YOURCALL on CW and you will trigger RBN. The alert comes back immediately. Note on SSB, I can spot myself on DX Cluster and the alert goes out. Easy!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

My new Fitbit Ionic Watch is a RaDAR Assistant

RaDAR Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio encourages combining physical activity with amateur radio. Sadly, exercise has not been a habit with me other than walking Suzy on weekends. I have been able to do the one kilometer walks during the RaDAR Challenge, but pulling the cart was taxing.

Now enter the Fitbit Ionic Watch. It was my Christmas gift from Linda. The watch puts much of the Fitbit technology on your wrist. It tracks steps and measures your heart rate. It also has a built-in GPS. There are apps that measure your exercise. It can do this without your smartphone but it does sync with my android phone. That is where the statistics are available.

The Fitbit tracks your daily steps and encourages you to set goals and do more. It expects me to do 250 steps each hour between 9 AM and 6 PM. I have to get out of my chair at work to make that happen. It gives me credit for walking up stairs and general activity. Packing up for Winter Field Day showed up as an activity.

The American Heart Association recommends 10K steps per day. My normal steps per day would be around 3K. However, by doing two 10 minute and one 15 minute walk at work I am getting up around 7K. This should pay off on the RaDAR Challenge as I am improving my one-kilometer pace. I did get 10K steps once at a rocket launch.

The walk exercise app lets me know when I have reached a kilometer. My exercise path is recorded by the watch GPS. I can review it later on my watch or PC. This will be handy for the RaDAR Challenge. Oh yes, the watch can play MP3 files through Bluetooth earbuds. I have some code practice files in mine.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Flow State via Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio (RaDAR)

In QSO Today Podcast Episode 127 Booke Allen N2BA discussed "Flow State". Here is a quote.
Flow is the most addictive, non-chemically induced state that you can create
naturally. Of course, it is chemically induced but you create the chemicals yourself in your brain. Flow is that state that athletes talk about when they’re in the zone that you get when you're playing a game. Flow is when you get in that state when you have a challenge that exactly it matches your ability that it absorbs your entire being but doesn't demand more. If the challenge is too easy then used drop into a state called boredom and if the challenge is too hard, you move into its state called stress. Your goal is to do something that takes your entire being.
Booke Allen N2BA

Here is a quote from Eddie Leighton the originator of the Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio concept.
RaDAR is a challenge when compared to any other contest. Moving stations are required to move the specified distance after every 5 contacts (The first 5 contacts could be made from the starting point). This will test rapid deployment and re-deployment. Each operator will use his own initiative to achieve his / her goals. 
Eddie Leighton ZS6BNE

I discovered the flow state during my first RaDAR Contest (now called RaDAR Challenge) in April of 2013. In my blog post, I stated, "I had the most fun I ever had in Ham Radio."  When you put a time constraint on RaDAR it will challenge you, particularly on foot. Within the four hours, you must walk briskly to conserve as much time for operating the radio. You may be on the sandy beach or you may be on a road. You are impacted by the weight of gear is you are carrying. It has to be everything you need at the next location. When you set up you must select an antenna if you have more than one. If you are using trees for the antenna you better spot that limb you need quickly. You will choose a band and mode you believe will net five contacts. You will assess what you hear on the band. If you have no luck you better choose the next band quickly. You leverage on what activity there is on the air. You look for other RaDAR operators for RaDAR to RaDAR contacts. You may decide to make a digital contact or a satellite contact for bonus points. Your outcome will depend on your preparation and practice between challenges from a gear and operating perspective. In any case, you may achieve the Flow State when the challenge exactly matches your abilities and you are completely consumed. I consider I am really there when I can make four deployments within the four hours.

It works for me! I look forward to every RaDAR Challenge. They are the first Saturday in April and November and the third Saturday of July. If you are interested please visit the home of RaDAR at and the RaDAR Google Plus community. Also, listen to Eddie ZS6BNE's QSO Today Episode here and to Brooke Allen N2BA's QSO Today Episode here. My thanks to Eric Guth 4Z1UG for making these and the other 178 and counting QSO Today Podcasts

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

N4Y 2018 Winter Field Day Report

We had a great experience doing Winter Field Day at Falling Waters State Park, Florida.  The participants were Bob KK4DIV and his stepson Michael, Chris VA3ECO, Dennis WA6QKN and myself N4KGL. Our call was N4Y, the category was 2O, and the section was Northern Florida. Our power output was at QRP levels less than 10 watts and 5 watts on CW. Our power source for the radios were batteries.

Greg N4KGL's tent and 100 ft loop antenna

We arrived Friday, January 26th for the night. The 24-hour event started Saturday at 1PM CST. Both Bob and I had campsites across the road from each other. We both used tents. The social part of the event was fun. Chris volunteered to be the camp cook. He cooked eggs for breakfast and Saturday night he warmed up his wife's chili. Dennis supplied ice cream on Friday Night and key lime pie on Saturday night. Bob's Stepson Michael rode his bike around the park. However, he picked up quite an interest in the radios. Michael made some on-the-air contacts. He is now all fired up to get his license. There were plenty of hands to help with the setup. Tom WB0HBR and his wife Sandy came up on Friday afternoon. 

Michael (future ham) and Chris in the eight-person tent

On the technical side, Bob used his Yaesu FT 817, and an off-center-fed dipole hung from the trees. I used an Elecraft KX3 with a PX3 Spectrum Scope. My antenna was a 100-foot loop 30 feet across and 20 feet vertical supported by three 30 foot poles and fed at the bottom center with some ladder line. My initial plan was to use the Icom AH-4 tuner and an Artcraft adapter box. The box and tuner work fine, but it was just too cumbersome to use for the pace of the event. I switched the Icom tuner for a Chameleon 5 to 1 transformer and used the internal tuner in the KX3.

Chris VA3ECO preparing breakfast. Thanks Chris!
As you would expect QRP takes more effort to make contacts than 100 watts. We did get 20 CW, 21 digital and 20 SSB contacts. I was impressed that Bob's FT 817 with 5 watts got almost all the digital contacts and some on SSB. Our QRP contacts do count twice what it would have been at 100 watts per the rules. 74% of our contacts were on 40 meters. The rest were 13% each on 20 and 80.

Bob KK4DIV operating
Bob used 10 by 10 canopy for his operations. He had a four-person tent that he and Michael slept in.  On my side, we used a 14 by 10 tent for operating and sleeping. It fit the bill. We got several inches of rain Saturday night into the morning. There was some water seeping in on the floor of the eight-person tent. The water chased Chris out to his car as he was sleeping on the floor with a foam pad.

Dennis WA6QKN operating
The event was enjoyed by all, and we would do it again next year. Chris is just down for the Winter from Canada. All this is good practice for the ARRL Field Day in June. I have a reservation for the same site plus the adjacent one. However, I am considering switching to a pair of campsites across the road that are next to a large open field. I feel that Winter Field Day is growing based on the on-the-air activity. We are looking forward to both events in the coming year.

Michael warms his hands
More photos are at this link.