Sunday, March 29, 2015

From 10 Meter Beacons to QSO's, JT9 & JT65 Waterfall Successes

Digital Weekend JT9 & JT65
We had another beautiful weekend here in Southern Oregon. It's very hard to stay indoors when the weather peaks in the mid 70's and it's full of sunshine. The forecast for the first part of this week is an abrupt cool down with some snow returning to the high ground. But the worst we saw at our hillside QTH was a bit of rain but it was short lived.

I figured out my low power issue when using WSJT-X. It happened to be an audio level in one of my input lines. So, I'm back in full 5 watt QRP business doing the digital modes. I started out working a bit of 20 meters but after hearing a few stations on 10, not to mentioned several beacons, it possessed me to string up my 10 meter EndFedZ inside the house. It was later in the day but I managed my first 10 meter QSO's from this QTH. 

Hamspots for AK7DD
When you run QRP and operate with an indoor antenna, you're at the mercy of the propagation. I've always enjoyed 10 meters as you can work the world with pretty much any setup. Weak signal software gives you a bit of an edge and I took advantage of it today. I was excited to see I had a path (unobstructed for the most part) to the north and south pacific. I was not able to make any CW contacts but I'm hopeful it won't be long before that happens.  The JT65 signals I had copied sure looked promising earlier in the day. My indoor antenna for 10 meters had a bit higher SWR (2:1) but that's to be expected. I have it sloping from the upstairs stairway down into the shack. The tuner in my Icom IC-703+ made short work of it and made the rig happy with a near flat match. End result was a few more QSO's in the logbook and hopefully more to come. I'm getting itchy to get back on the key before I forget how to mentally decode CW. I'm still sizing up the property on what antenna's I can possibly put up outside. Not sure my Hexbeam will make it up but at the very least, I need to get a few wires strung through the trees. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

WSPR'n on 20 Meters

20 Meter WSPR
Even though you can tune across a band and not hear a peep, that does not mean that that band is dead! I'm running WSPR tonight on 20 meters and plan on running it all evening. I was excited to see EN81 from W8PPB. That's my old stomping ground (I grew up not far from there in EN81'land). Setup here is my Icom IC-703+ with my indoor mounted EndFedZ wire antenna as photographed in an earlier blog posting. 

The bands have not seemed that great for me since the news worthy geomagnetic disturbance several days back. With any luck, propagation will once again favor my hillside QTH and I'll be able to hear and maybe work some new DX. My logbook is getting a bit stale but I'll be doing a bit of surfing this weekend as time allows. But for now, I'm not hearing much more than a WiSPeR here and there...

Monday, March 16, 2015

Wet Weekend Outdoors, Productive Weekend Indoors, And My Minimalist Ham Plan Takes Shape

LOTW QSL Matches
Since I'm waiting for my new shack computer to be built, I decided to go ahead and get started uploading my QSO's to the electronic world. I had to put my QSO's from my manual logbook into my electronic logbook. I upload to Logbook Of The World (LOTW) and HRDlog along with confirming those that have been sent to eQSL. I also went in and checked the status of my previous callsigns on LOTW. I decided to take a look at my latest award totals for my previous callsigns.

WPX Totals For KL8DX
In looking at my LOTW confirmed WPX totals for my old callsign KL8DX, I guess it was pretty good. I don't chase the WPX award but I figured I'd take a closer look at that award specifically. It appears I have 1,100 unique callsigns confirmed toward my KL8DX WPX award. It shows that for a new certificate, I could purchase 1,117 Logbook Credits. It also shows I could get new certificates for CW and digital as well. Those numbers appear not as high, 700 and 750. Again, since I don't chase that award, I'm not sure how those numbers rank in the grand scheme of things. I decided to run it though as if I was going to apply for the CQ WPX award using my LOTW credits. I selected all, as if I was going to take advantage of each and every credit. I was a bit amazed at the total cost of the three award certificates. When I use the credit cost at $0.12 per credit, it totaled in the area of $313.80! Even if I just claimed the Mixed award QSO's, it would still cost me $134.04 (just LOTW fees which exclude any CQ fees). 

WPX Mixed Award, 1117 QSO's at $0.12 Per =
As much as I would love to close the books on my Alaskan operation by adding this prestigious award to my collection, that's wallpaper I certainly can't afford at the moment. I have a few more months before my LOTW certificate expires for KL8DX, so I do have some time.  I think it's great that you can apply these credits toward CQ's WPX award. I suppose the cost of the credits are still probably much cheaper than sending postal mail for each and every card. Either way, I'm getting caught up on my electronic QSL'ing and it was fun to browse my totals for all my previous callsigns. 

JT65HF In Action On 20 Meters
I decided to continue my band browsing of 20 meters looking for JT65A signals. I called CQ a few times and was able to make a handful of QSO's this weekend. The band was far from hot, but my 5 watts and my indoor EndFedZ did pretty well considering. One of the strange things I encountered was with my last JT9 QSO. I worked KE5LLM who was strong on 20 meters. He gave me a report of R-21, so it got me to wondering why my QRP signal report was so weak (5 watts). I was running WSJT-X and as I investigated, I found my rig was only putting out ½ watt! I had it set for 5 watts and even turning the power up to the maximum of 10 watts, it still only put out ½ watt when transmitting a JT9 signal! I then pulled up JT65-HF and made a few contacts on JT65A and my 5 watts out equated to just that, 5 watts out. I'm not sure if it's the duty cycle demand or what, but my IC-703+ does not want to put out anything other than ½ watt on JT9 at the moment with WSJT-X. I suppose some more research is in order. 

Personal Website
One of the other items on my list was getting to work on my personal website. I sometimes feel that this administrative work is sometimes like a contest weekend, requiring excess amounts of butt glue. The weekend was damp around these parts so it was in fact, a good weekend to get started on my ever growing to do list. It's a bit harder to spend time in the shack when it's warm and sunny outdoors. A few QSO's are better than no QSO's. As I still unpack and weed through my numerous boxes and packed shack items, I realize my need to downsize is greater now than ever before. My next big job is sending my Ameritron AL-1500 out for repair, as it's at the top of my excess equipment list. Since I won't have a full blown shack again, it's time to part with tower, antenna's and related equipment that can be better utilized at another QTH. Like when using QRP, I'm becoming a minimalist ham and the official list began to take shape this past weekend.  

Friday, March 13, 2015

Old Call, New Paper

My One & Only MA Contest Submission
The Crater Lake Post Office was good to me today. An absolute surprise finding a large envelope from the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) in my mailbox. My wife opened it as I drove home and I can honestly say, this was a certificate that I had not expected. My entry was QRP and with my situation in MA, I was running a Buddipole antenna set up in the second floor hallway. Morse Code (CW) was manually sent and I recorded my QSO's with N3FJP's logging program. Propagation in MA was pretty darn good, especially to Europe. But this was an entirely new experience for me. Indoor antenna, manual CW (normally let the contest software do the sending) and of course, QRP. 

Letter Of Accomplishment
My initial introduction to QRP would have to be when I stumbled on the adventures of wG0AT on YouTube. It was Steve's videos that planted the seed and when I finally met Steve and accompanied him on one of his adventures, I was hooked. I knew I wanted to give QRP and portable operating a try. Like many, being on a fixed budget, it took some time to put together a portable station. A positive eBay experience on an Icom IC-703+ turned out being my rig of choice. Later came the accessories and antenna's. Now I'm equipped with portable power (battery and solar) and I have accumulated enough to have some fun both indoors and out. My first outings were in Alaska, where I gave my first /p a try. Alaska was a tough place to operate QRP but I felt I was up for the challenge. But when we moved, little did I know that my Icom IC-703+ was going to become my main operating station! Renting property does not afford the same luxuries as owning when it comes to erecting exterior hardware. I was not worried as I've worked many a ham that were running indoor or attic antenna's with limited power. John, N8ZYA's blog is another that inspired my indoor antenna strategy. 

One Of My Denali Highway Portable Operations
Having my portable set up working when we moved from Alaska to Massachusetts, I made sure I had my equipment in my camper. When we got settled in MA, I pulled the equipment out and set it up on the back deck of our house and the world opened up as I had hoped it would being on the east coast. When indoors, I set my Buddipole up in the upstairs hallway and would leave it up for days at a time. Thankfully, I have an understanding ham licensed, contest supporting wife. I had always wanted to enter a major contest running QRP but running and indoor antenna AND QRP, I knew was going to be tough. When the ARRL International CW DX Contest came around, I figured it was as good of a time as any to try to operate a bit of the contest.

AK2MA MA Super QRP Kitchen Contest Station
I did not have all weekend but I dedicated about 16 hours (a large part of which was listening and calling with no success) but I managed to work 150 stations during that time. Again, nothing fantastic as I've worked that many in one hour during previous major contests but under very different conditions. I managed some great contacts and ended up being very pleased with my effort even though it was limited. I stuck with one band just so I did not have to continuously run upstairs to re-tune the Buddipole for another band. I submitted my score and wrote a 3830 summary upon completion of the contest. I wrote a more indepth overview in my AK2MA blog and included some video (which have since been removed when I changed calls and emails). My contest breakout is listed below.

I never expected to get any wallpaper from my effort but it goes to show you, send in your log as you just never know. It always helps the contest committee with screening other submitted logs and you just might be surprised when a large white envelope appears in your mailbox. My first official QRP entry into a major contest and I can honestly say, I'm looking forward to doing it again but obviously, from the other coast. 

AK2MA's Contest Summary Report for ARRL-DX
 Created by N3FJP's ARRL International DX Contest Log
 Version 3.4

 Total Contacts = 150
 Total Points = 25,650

 Operating Period: 2014/02/15 16:53 - 2014/02/16 23:28

 Total Contacts by Band and Mode:

 Band       CW   Phone     Dig   Total       %
 ----       --   -----     ---   -----     ---
   15      150       0       0     150     100
            --   -----     ---   -----     ---
 Total     150       0       0     150     100

 Total Contacts by State \ Prov:

 State       Total     %
 -----       -----   ---
               147    98
 HI              2     1
 AK              1     1

 Total Contacts by Country:

 Country                      Total     %
 -------                      -----   ---
 Federal Republic of Germany     14     9
 Italy                           12     8
 Poland                          10     7
 Croatia                          7     5
 Czech Republic                   7     5
 Spain                            7     5
 Serbia                           6     4
 Slovenia                         6     4
 France                           5     3
 England                          4     3
 Hungary                          4     3
 Aruba                            3     2
 Bosnia-Herzegovina               3     2
 Brazil                           3     2
 Finland                          3     2
 Netherlands                      3     2
 Ukraine                          3     2
 US Virgin Is.                    3     2
 Belgium                          2     1
 Canary Is.                       2     1
 Estonia                          2     1
 European Russia                  2     1
 Hawaii                           2     1
 Japan                            2     1
 Slovak Republic                  2     1
 Switzerland                      2     1
 Alaska                           1     1
 Antigua & Barbuda                1     1
 Argentina                        1     1
 Asiatic Russia                   1     1
 Austria                          1     1
 Bahamas                          1     1
 Balearic Is.                     1     1
 Belarus                          1     1
 Bermuda                          1     1
 Bulgaria                         1     1
 Cayman Is.                       1     1
 Colombia                         1     1
 Costa Rica                       1     1
 Curacao                          1     1
 El Salvador                      1     1
 Grenada                          1     1
 Jamaica                          1     1
 Kazakhstan                       1     1
 Latvia                           1     1
 Lithuania                        1     1
 Luxembourg                       1     1
 Madeira Is.                      1     1
 Morocco                          1     1
 Nicaragua                        1     1
 Portugal                         1     1
 Puerto Rico                      1     1
 Saba & St. Eustatius             1     1
 Scotland                         1     1
 Sweden                           1     1
 Turks & Caicos Is.               1     1
 Uruguay                          1     1

 Total Contacts by Continent:

 Continent   Total     %
 ---------   -----   ---
 EU            114    76
 NA             16    11
 SA             10     7
 AF              4     3
 AS              4     3
 OC              2     1

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

As Luck Would Have It

Digital Tuesday (Wednesday)
I saw plenty of JT65 activity on 20 meters this evening and with such good signals, I wanted to monitor JT9 to see if there was any activity on that mode. I called CQ few times with no luck. I then logged into HamSpots and saw fellow blogger and digital enthusiast was on 20 meter JT9! I decided to sit and monitor for a bit longer and I saw a signal appear on the waterfall. Once the software decoded, I was excited to see it was Dave, K5MQ! I did not catch Dave on his first CQ but I was able to snag him on his second call. QRZ shows us as 1,780 miles apart so I was hoping Dave could hear my 5 watt, indoor EndFedZ signal. And as luck would have it, he did!

My QSO with K5MQ
I was happy to have Dave as my first JT9 QSO from this new QTH. I've enjoyed Dave's blog for awhile now and it's always great to run into a familiar callsign. Our QSO was complete and just a few short minutes after answering Dave's CQ, I was adding him to my logbook. JT9 is turning out to be my new favorite mode. The small bandwidth certainly helps as there are times that JT65A can get pretty crowded around 14.076. JT9 does not seem as popular as JT65 (personal observation) but I think it's growing in popularity. I love the software WSJT-X as it operates both modes and can decode both at the same time. The best of both worlds in my opinion.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Double Success

Certificate Received & Loaded! 
I received my LOTW certificate today from the ARRL and I had it loaded and my new location edited and saved in no time. I'm now ready to begin electronic QSL'ing with my new call at my new QTH. I've been hand logging now for the last few months, so I need to type it into my software and get it uploaded to LOTW. I also need to get my new identity squared away with eQSL as well. Club Log will follow thereafter. Once I finally get my shack computer fixed or replaced, I will set things up on a more permanent basis. My Icom IC-756PRO probably feels left out being tucked away in its box. I hope to someday have enough room to break it out. I enjoy my Icom IC-703+ and my Icom IC-706MIIG, but they don't have the abilities that my PRO has.

IC-703+ and EndFedZ Indoor 20 Meter Wire
My IC-703+ does pretty well on it's own and the result of my monitoring JT65/JT9 last night on 20 meters showed some promising future DX contacts. My goal is to monitor 20 meters and then do some monitoring of 30 & 40 meters. I believe I have the layout in mind for my indoor 30 and 40 meter wire. I've already copied the east coast on 40 meters off of my indoor 20 meter wire! I feel that once I get my 40 meter wire hung, it should open up that band for me a bit. I'll post photos of my configuration once I get it stretched throughout the house. I enjoy chasing DX on 30 & 40 meters but I've never had a great antenna for either band. If anything, I'm hoping 40 might yield some local CW and digital contacts. Once the leaves populate the branches on the trees around the yard, I will work on some antennas which are a bit more exterior in nature. But for now, seeing the results of my monitoring session last night, what I currently have will work just fine.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Updating TQSL, SKCC WES And My First Digital Reception From CN92

Since my shack computer issues continue, I took a backup copy of my TQSL certificates and installed them on another computer. When I attempted to add a location and certificate for my call and QTH, I continued getting an error. I decided to use an older software version to request my new certificate and it appears I was successful. I've uploaded the request to the ARRL, so now I just need to wait until it's been issued. With the number of certificates that I have (or had, since many I let expire) it requires some manual intervention.

Older and Successful
I'm an avid user of Logbook Of The World (LOTW) and I prefer confirmation via this method. And since I was on a QSL kick today, I decided to order a few old fashioned QSL cards in case I receive any future requests. I still have several bureau requests I need to catch up on dating back to my Alaska operation. I will try to work on those as time allows. That's the beauty of electronic. A few clicks and you're done. I prefer not to print out labels and stick them to my QSL cards. I still hand complete each and everyone. In my early days, I did print a few labels (mostly for contests) but I decided it was more personal to actually hand write them. 

AK7DD Straight Key'n It
The Straight Key Century Club had their monthly Weekend Sprintathon (WES) this weekend and my goal was to make some contacts! I kept my 20 meter indoor wire up for the occasion. My only available time was a few hours on Sunday. We had some errands to do on Sunday, which took a bit longer than expected. So, as it was, I only made one contact. I worked Ed, W7GVE in Arizona. Ed normally sounds great here and he once again had a great signal and was easy to work. Since I'm running QRP with my indoor antenna, I called a few others but no successful QSO was achieved. And by the time I got back on during the last few minutes of the contest, the band appeared in much better shape but strong stations beat me out on those I called. 

JT65 Monitor Results
I decided to start playing around with digital again. I relocated my interface cable and I chose to listen for some signals on 20 meters. I can honestly say, much better results here than I had in the shadow of the lake! I think this will be a more digital and QRP friendly location, which I'm thankful for! I will probably study my propagation paths here at the house for the various bands, beginning with 20 meters of course. Using WSPR and JT65 or JT9, signals will help me realize where I'm hearing and how well. Once I study my propagation paths a bit, I will have to make some QSO's and get started filling the new logbook with contacts. The digital modes will allow me to achieve QRP contacts with states and countries that might not be possible even with the key. I've chased awards for so long, I don't think I have much chasing left in me anymore. It's all about having fun and working what I can, when I can. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Ham Quiet Weekend

Par EndFedZ Additions
The weeks seem to drag on and the weekends seem to fly by. I recently ordered two more end fed antenna's and they arrived this past Thursday. These will give me 10 and 6 Meters. Neither one made it up this weekend but the 20 meter was still strung from last weekends activity. I have heard a few signals here and there but far from what was around during the last contest. I plan on using these antennas from my portable locations, one of which I recently picked out at a local park. I'm also looking forward to doing a bit of operating from the backyard of my office at Crater Lake National Park

Since the bands did not seem favorable for my QRP setup, I decided to get a few non-ham things accomplished this weekend. My new shack computer became ill and does not even complete POST. I've tired to fix the darn thing but I finally flew the white flag and dropped it off to the local computer shop. Figured since they had it, I was going to have them install a second hard drive to backup my data. So, once that comes back to life, I will work on getting the digital modes running again. Running QRP, some of the digital modes are just the answer for not so favorable band conditions. I was just getting started with JT9 and getting back into JT65. 

Web Hosting 
One of the other things I needed to work on was domain clean-up! I let my last web domain expire (actually, a few of em) and it was time to do some house cleaning on the server side of things. I spent today removing and archiving my old server data from Alaska, and I created all of my new files and folders. It was time to get all of my email addressed updated and simply point my web world to the new domain. I just have the basics live, but as time allows, I'll continue to build on our new site. Since the weather was cooler this weekend, it was a bit easier to sit in the chair and work on the computer. We saw our first snow since arriving to this QTH Friday night, with a fresh few inches on the deck Saturday morning, pre-coffee. 

Recording of my QSO with FY5KE compliments of F6FVY
I submitted two 1,000 Miles Per Watt Award applications to the QRP ARCI club for my contacts with KP2M and CS2C last weekend. I've have plenty of wallpaper with the most coming from my KL8DX operating time in Alaska, during contest weekends. These current QRP award applications make me smile a bit more due to the circumstances surrounding the award. Low power complimented with indoor antenna does give me an extra feeling of accomplishment. Oh, and the QRP ARCI wallpaper is pretty darn sharp look'n, too! I'll be pursuing a few more awards they offer as time allows. 

In speaking of QRP, I received a very nice email from Larry, F6FVY. Larry saw the video I posted on my YouTube page showing my QRP QSO with FY5KE. It just so happened that Larry was the operator and he actually sent me HIS side of our QSO!! Attached to his email was a recording of our contest contact. It just reaffirmed what a great operator and station Larry had going. I was very weak but my timing was right and Larry was able to make the contact. I'm thankful Larry picked me up as when I operate QRP, if a contest station is running hot and has to ask for my callsign at least three times because he or she can't pull me out, I'm moving on. I don't want to take up their valuable time because they could have had two or more QSO's in the time they were trying to pick me up. With the added QRM on contest weekends, even the best stations can have problems pulling out the weak ones like me. I will normally mark down their frequency and try again when the propagation might favor my minimal signal of when they have fewer people calling.  

It will soon be time to think about my next QSL card but I won't need to print as many as I used to in the past. My logbook does not fill up quite as fast as my others. Sometimes it's not the quantity but more so the quality that adds more weight to a logbook.