Monday, September 12, 2016

HF Installation Nearly Complete

Radio Layout
I spent a large part of this past weekend installing HF radio equipment in my truck. I had already completed my Kenwood UHF/VHF install, so HF was all that was left. I pulled my trusty Yaesu FT-857D out of its case along with the accessories and went into install mode.

The biggest decision was where to locate the HF antenna. I did not want to put it at the front of the truck as it would be an obstruction. The top of the truck was out of the question (although the top of the cab would make the best ground plane) due to height. So that left the side or rear of the truck. I had no desire to put a large hole in my truck, so I opted for mounting the antenna on the bed rail. I will outline full details of my install in a later blog. But for now, I was looking to set up the interior. Even though I have a large truck, there is actually very little room in the cab for mounting ham stuff. I try to avoid airbag paths so that even narrows my availability even more. I also wanted a location as discrete as possible, too. 

Mount Side View
I mounted most of the equipment on the passenger front side of the truck. My wife is already used to the encroachment of my equipment on her side. The equipment is mounted in such a way (as seen in the photos) that it really does not bother her. As seen, our truck has four cupholders in the front so I took over two of them. I mounted the Yaesu FT-857D on a bracket that allows me to adjust it when the cupholders are in use. It also allows me to adjust it in such a way to make it comfortable operating from either front seat. The antenna controller sits just above the Rigrunner and is within reach of the driver seat. I would not classify this as a temporary location but if it works out here, they can stay or they can easily be moved. Since I have one power source coming into the cab feeding the Rigrunner, it makes short work of powering all that I'll be running. 

I'm pleased with the amount of noise that I have with my diesel but I feel that I can alleviate more with better grounding. The Noise Blanker takes out most but some bands are worse than others. In looking through my stash of ham stuff, it seems I haven't any ground straps. So, those should arrive later this week. I also ordered a smaller microphone adapter cable as the one that came with the separation kit was about as long as my truck. Apparently, most people must mount these in vehicles and in their trunks? But for now, I'm can operate mobile and the only things left to do is work on some grounding and make a new cable for my key. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Labor Day Rig Installation

Antenna Installed
Took advantage of the US Labor Day Holiday to finally install my Kenwood dual bander & APRS equipment. Since my old truck was similar to my new truck, the install was pretty much the same with only a few challenges and changes. I had less room in the engine compartment to wiggle my hands into but it all worked out in the end. Once in the cab, a bit of spousal assistance got the job done. It was not long before I had power to the radio and I was actually hearing stations. My last broadcast on APRS was in February, so it had been awhile. 

Copilot Side
I wanted to tuck as much as possible out of the way and the photo to the right shows how I chose to install my equipment. The power comes in from the battery and first runs into my APO3, which automatically powers down my equipment so I don't kill my battery. From there, it feeds into my RIGrunner 4005 fused distribution box. This is the main power feed for anything in the truck. Using Anderson Powerpoles makes quick connections of anything that I have in the cab. I have one 25 amp fused connection left for my HF rig.

From the Driver Seat
My internal layout is a bit different only because I have Upfitter switches and onboard navigation. I did not want to block either one. My sacrifice was two of the four cupholders in the front center console. No big deal as these just normally collect loose change and dust anyhow. I run an older Garmin GPS III as it feeds data to the Kenwood in NMEA format. I also like it as it does Maidenhead Grid Squares so it's pretty simple to know my grid if needed. This is also powered by the RIGrunner. Everything is in view and after passing the spouse test, it's here to stay. When it comes time to install my HF rig, that will be installed on the driver side of the center console similar to the Kenwood seen in these photos. Just not sure where I'll mount the remote head as of yet. 

One of the biggest things I try to keep in mind with any install is, of course, airbag deployment. I hope to never experience that in our truck, but any piece of equipment can become a deadly projectile if mounted in the path of any airbag. 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Planning Resumes After All Hardware Has Been Delivered

My Comet antenna finally arrived from Ham Radio Outlet. Now I have no excuse to put off doing my mobile installation of my VHF / UHF rig any longer. I decided to open the hood of the truck and start my initial planning of how I was going to run the coax from the antenna and also the power into the cab of my truck. I really don't like a sloppy install and I prefer to think out all of my options before I jump. I believe taking my time with some careful planning will pay off in the end.

I know I'm going to almost mirror the install in my old truck, in my new one. There are a few obstacles, as things are a bit different on my new truck over my old. First, beginning with the interior, where I had my control head mounted for my rig will not work in this rig. This has forced me to decide on an alternate location. It's ironic that I have this full size, one ton truck, but there is not much room in the cab of the truck. It goes beyond just throwing a rig into the truck. I'm conscious of airbag deployment (as everyone should) and of course, I try to be as inconspicuous as possible with the install without sacrificing ease of operation. I also need to plan on my future HF installation as well. I do have plans of running HF in this truck, which I did not do in my last. So, I need to keep that in mind as well. I will be installing my VHF / UHF rig first and then I'll move onto the HF side of things.

Rig Runner Fuse Block
One of the things I will do, as I had done previously, is run power from the battery to the Rig Runner pictured at right. I will also install a cut off switch that will power down all of the equipment running to this block, after a designated amount of time. This assures I will not return to my truck to find a dead battery from leaving any equipment powered on. I also run in-line noise filters to aid in reducing any noise from the electronics of the truck. So, once I install these items, along with the rig and my GPS unit, it does not take long before you use up some valuable front seat real estate. 

Another challenge is dealing with the cramped conditions under the hood. Gone are the days that you can climb into the engine compartment and work on anything. There are many places I can barely fit my hand in between engine components. As you can see from the photo at left, my truck has little room to work once you lift the hood. With modern emissions controls, today's engine compartments are a nightmare to most. This makes me realize how important my dealership is when it comes to working on my truck. I have no personal desire to open the hood and dig into this motor, even though I have experience with older engines. I would hardly give much thought with drilling a hole in the roof of my previous trucks but now with curtain airbags, one has to be very careful where they drill. 

Entry Point
Even though I can just barely get my hand into the engine compartment, this is where I have planned my firewall access point (where circled). I used this same large grommet in my last truck, but it was much easier to access on the old truck. I will run both the power from my battery and the antenna for my VHF / UHF rig through this grommet. The future HF antenna will be mounted on the bed rail of the truck and the coax will enter through the floor, coming up into the truck through the floor. This first install will be the most challenging part of my radio installation (the part under the hood). I could take the easy way out and run everything down and then up into the cab from below, but this would be the most direct access to the cab. The antenna will be mounted on the passenger side alongside the hood and the feedline will run across the engine compartment to the driver side. 

I'm looking forward to running APRS once again, having the ability to get back on the radio from the truck. As time allows, I'll be plugging away at getting my equipment installed, now that I have all necessary hardware. I think patience and planning will pay off, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that my truck is radio friendly (not spewing RF, making communications nearly impossible). I will hopefully find out soon enough. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Almost Ready for my Mobile Installation...

Now just waiting on Antenna
I ordered new parts for my mobile antenna installation and so far, I'm about ½ way there. I ordered the antenna and mount from Ham Radio Outlet but so far, only the mount has arrived. They charged my credit card for both, so I sent them a note asking when I could expect to receive the mobile antenna. Hopefully I'll hear from them this week. The invoice did not mention anything about a back order, but maybe it's being shipped from another store? Either way, I won't be installing the mount until such time I have the antenna to go along with it. 

I opted for the Comet CA-2X4SRNMO antenna. The Diamond and the Comet had pretty equal reviews. I've had mobile antenna's from both so it came down to price. I'm looking forward to getting back to transmitting APRS and having VHF/UHF in the truck again. We don't have the best cellular coverage to and from work and good portion has none. So, having the rig in the truck is nice since we have better repeater / APRS coverage than we have cellular coverage. 

Project will move forward with the antenna installation when the rest of my order arrives. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Same or Different?

Old Truck, Old Antenna
I'm finally getting around to planning the antenna location / installation in our new truck. In our old truck (seen at left) I had used K400 mount with a Larsen 144 / 440 MHz dual band antenna. The antenna worked "okay", but I felt I could maybe do better. Obviously, not the best place for an antenna but it worked out pretty well. If I lived closer to the Grand Canyon, there might be a desire to put a hole in the roof and mount it there. But my plan is to put it in the same place but on the opposite side of the truck. Since I was looking at possibly replacing the antenna, I wanted to do some comparison shopping as to purchasing the same or different antenna. As with any product research, using the web to find actual user reviews was the first place I began.

Larsen gets great reviews but so does the Comet CA-2x4 SRNMO and the Diamond SG7500NMO. The advantage to the Comet or Diamond is that they do tilt allowing to lower the antenna out of harms way. Now, our new truck is a bit big for most parking garages, so antenna interference would most likely come from our garage or mother nature. 

I also have intentions of installing an HF antenna, but that will be behind the cab of the truck possibly mounted on the bed rail. My goal is to put the HF antenna on the driver side bed rail so I can visually see and adjust the screwdriver antenna while driving (if needed). 

My old Diamond K400 mount had seen better days so I'm retiring it. Figured I'd splurge on a new mount for the new truck. The old mount worked flawlessly and I love how it can be easily adjusted for nearly any angle.  

So, with three great antennas to choose from, now I just need to roll the dice and decide on one. I'm leaning toward the Diamond or the Larsen at the moment, but I've been known to change my mind a few times before I commit. In regards to my previous experience with the Larsen, the only issue I really had was the O ring in the antenna base. Since I took the antenna on and off several times, the O ring paid the price. In the end, gain and performance will be a deciding factor. 

Hopefully I'll be transmitting once again on APRS and have at the very least, VHF/UHF availability in the truck very soon. Between the mount and antenna, I'll be about $150 poorer. All the more reason to get what works best for me the first time around. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Planning Phase

Naked Interior
Having a new truck leaves me to contemplating equipment installation. This is essentially the same interior I had in my previous truck. The main difference now is, I intend to install an HF rig along with my UHF/VHF equipment. Yes, that could be one rig but I intend to have two. One will be my Yaesu FT-857D for HF and my UHF/VHF will be my trusty Kenwood TM-D700A. I'm looking forward to running APRS again. I find myself a bit...well...particular on where cables and antennas are placed. I prefer a clean install and everything but the important parts need to be out of sight.

My previous installation worked, but I think I can do a bit better. So, I'm looking at all aspects of the cockpit so as to decide on the most user friendly set up. I was thinking of trying to obscure the rigs but at the end of the day, any permanent antenna's will give it away, that something electronic is inside. So now it will be what works best without interfering with the front seat passenger or my operating room.  

Now that the weather is getting warm, it's time to complete the planning phase and move to the installation phase. It can be hard to drill holes in a new truck but being a ham, I don't give it much thought anymore. I just need to find my darn drill bits...

Monday, March 14, 2016

Spring Cleaning The Shack & The Rock - A Non-CW Surprise

The Helm
Having received feet and feet of snow at the office this year, I'm certainly ready for spring! Just this weekend, two additional feet had fallen with heavy snow still on the way. I'm expecting another foot or more by the time I make it back to the office. I'm certainly not complaining as the west coast has needed all this precipitation. Hopefully this will help with the drought conditions and keep our fire season short and uneventful. 

In thinking of spring, I decided to spend some time spring cleaning the open floor plan of a shack that I have. In regards to ham radio real estate, it takes up a small corner in a downstairs room. The photo at left shows my operating position. Currently, my sole rig in the shack is my trusty Icom IC-703+ and Astron switching power supply. If you've read my blog before, you know I run QRP with indoor EndFedZ antenna's. 

Open Storage
Most of my open floor plan shack is used for storage. I have more downsizing to do which includes parting with more internal equipment. I need to find a local outlet for my external equipment (tower, Hazer, rotors and lots of feedline). I'll work on selling those as time allows but I've purged 50% to date. But I now have room to safely move around the shack. 

You can see two of my EndFedZ wires in the photo above. My 20 meter runs to the right and my 10 meter runs to the left. I also have a 6 meter EndFedZ that is out of view. I had a 15 meter wire up at one point and I may bring the 6 meter down for the 15. I think the chance of a band opening on 15 is much greater than 6 these days.

QSL Cards 
In cleaning up the shack, I came across my bureau cards for my Alaska operation (KL8DX). I have plenty more to complete but my goal is to make that more of a priority in the coming weeks. I need to get these out. I've changed incoming bureaus twice in the last 24½ months. My QSL bureau cards continue to follow me (as I keep my information updated at the various bureaus). 

I want to publicly thank the clubs, ham organizations and managers / sorters who continue to make sure I receive my QSL cards. And the big surprise was when I received my first bureau drop here in 7'land. The surprise was who the "D" manager happened to be. I received a nice note from Rock, NE7D with my bureau drop. I worked Rock several times on CW while I was in Alaska over the years. And come to find out, Rock grew up not far from my current QTH and is very familiar with this area. It was certainly nice to hear from Rock again as I've not worked him on the radio since I arrived back in the lower 48. Bureau drops are becoming less frequent as I'm less active and my cards take a bit longer to eventually catch up to me. I'm still excited when I get a drop even though it means a bit of work replying to them. But at the end of the day, that's all part of the ham radio experience. An experience that I'll never get tired of.    

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Deconstructed APRS

Deconstructed APRS
Anticipating a change in our ham fleet, I pulled the APRS equipment out of our truck today. I've run this set-up since Alaska, after I acquired twin Kenwood TM-D700A's from a ham near Anchorage. I picked up a used Garmin GPS III and the rest is nearly plug and play. I like the old Garmin III because it also shows the Maidenhead Grid Square. So, it's dual purpose when I'm running mobile or portable. 

My brother from another mother, Sean KL1SF, got me started in APRS several years ago. I have intentions of installing it in our new truck as soon as possible. I also want to finally put HF in the truck as well. The interior layout of this truck will better accommodate the VHF/UHF equipment along with the HF equipment (Yaesu FT-857D). I have a screwdriver antenna still in the box ready to go. So, once the weather warms up and I have some spare time, my installation will begin. 

APRS'n from Crater Lake National Park
In looking back, it's funny how it took me several hours to install all this equipment and it took me less than 25 minutes to deconstruct it. My deconstructed equipment, as seen in the photograph at the top, will get a brief rest but fear not, it will be beaconing again soon. I will be running the exact same setup in regards to equipment, but I may change my antenna mount. I originally had the mount on the hood but I may opt for a more permanent location on the top of the cab roof. This should extend my range and make for better receiving and transmitting. I have some time to decide on the mount but it will also involve deciding on a location for the HF antenna. I pull our camper so it will have to favor the front portion of the truck bed, if mounted behind the cab. I look forward to sending APRS packets out again but for now, I'm QRT in that capacity. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Same Parking Spot, Different Frequency! NPOTA, Crater Lake National Park, Take 2!

Crater Lake National Park, 02/25/2016

It was a beautiful day this past Thursday and I decided to take a long lunch and operate from Crater Lake National Park. As it turned out, it was a pretty good idea. I decided to park in almost the same spot that I parked during my last operation (see photo at top). 

Bed Mounted Buddipole
I put my Buddipole vertical antenna up in the bed of my pickup truck as seen in the photo to the left. I toss the counterpoise up onto the snow and run the feedline into the truck were I operate from the passenger seat. I drag my laptop computer with me and log using N3FJP software. I operate on battery power, utilizing my A123 batteries I purchased from Buddipole. During this outing, my output power was 60 watts and after an hour of operating, I still had life left in the battery. 

I concentrated on CW (Morse Code) during my last operation so I opted to work some SSB this time around. I'm not a huge fan of SSB, but once in a great while I'll find the microphone and hook it up to the rig. I'm not entirely sure but this operation may be the first time I've used SSB with my Yaesu FT-857D. A first for everything I suppose. And truth be told, I did break out my key and did make one contact before having to shut things down and head back to the office. It took me awhile to make my first contact but once he spotted me, it was not long before I began to have a few stations call.

Operating Station
The propagation was somewhat interesting and almost what I would call pin point propagation. I was plagued by lots of QSB but for the most part, signals were pretty darn good. I made contacts from coast to coast including one in Canada. I did experience the normal, those who tune up on your frequency and others who don't listen closely to your instructions. I will often times try to work some weaker stations so I'll tune an ear for them. This is where timing is key! And I refuse to acknowledge stations who jump out of turn when I'm attempting to log a weaker station. But things went rather smoothly and I only wished I had a bit more time to play. More extended lunch breaks will be in my future, when time allows of course. I enjoyed the mid day propagation.

Our Internal Weather Report

In case you were wondering about all the snow you see in my photos and videos, the weather report at left will update you on the winter so far at Crater Lake National Park. Since October 1st, as of this past Thursday, we have received 343" of snow. With any luck, we will stay on track of a normal year, as the winter snow pack is needed for this drought effected area. It's been a first for me, experiencing all this snow.  And to think that Crater Lake is still a little bit behind normal. So, with the break in the weather and a little more snow in the forecast for the weekend, I thought it would be a great time to get some fresh air and head to the RIM to catch some rays and waves! 

By the time I ended my operation, I logged 44 QSO's, all but one were Single Side Band (SSB). Not shabby for an hour or so lunch break. I know a few folks will think they are in my log, but if they did not confirm my information, they did not make it, period.  

My Dated Evidence of my NPOTA Operation for 2/25/2016
Once I got back to the office, I walked across the street to the Steel Visitor Center and picked up our park visitor guide. I stamped it with the passport stamp showing the date of my operation at Crater Lake. I'm there almost daily, which has me thinking of just leaving my portable equipment at my office. This way, if my work schedule supports it, I could sneak away for what I like to call a "Lakepedition" or "Rimpedition" to work any stations that can hear me during an extended lunch. Plus it's nice to get some fresh air from time to time. 

My log has been uploaded to Log Book Of The World (LOTW) and any hard copy QSL request I receive will be answered directly as time allows. I will also eQSL any contacts if I receive a request, but I only log in to eQSL once every 30-60 days as I'm not extremely active. I did shoot some video on this last operation so please checkout the video HERE. Thanks to those who called, sorry to those I missed but I'll be at it again. I normally post any possible activation on Twitter or the NPOTA Facebook page.  

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

2016 ARRL International DX CW Contest. Minimal Effort, Maximum Miles!

My KEY to QRP Success
One of my most favorite contests occurred this past weekend. The ARRL International DX CW Contest. Thankfully, the bands were favorable for my encapsulated ham shack with some good propagation on Saturday and some darn good propagation on Sunday. The entire weekend was exciting. I got to work two of my Alaska friends, Larry at KL2R and Corliss, AL1G. I heard Gary, AL9A but I was not able to snag Gary on Saturday as the band just did not cooperate. Being on the left coast, anything Pacific does come easier but not totally without challenges. Heck, QRP alone can be a challenge, but less so if I had a beam outdoors or some sort of external antenna. Not the case, so I work with what I got.

KL2R had a great signal on 20 meters. 
I spent what little available time I had on Saturday working a handful of stations on 20 meters. Once Sunday arrived, I decided to give a listen to 10 meters. Central & South America were heard along with stations in the Caribbean. Hawaii, my neighbor to the west, was booming in. But, other parts of the Pacific opened up and before Sunday was over, I worked stations I never expected to work. Mostly because they were patient, had little to no pile-up and of course, had some darn good ears! Sunday is my most favorite day on contest weekends as it's easy to find big stations who will spend an extra minute to pick up us weaker than normal little Q's. But with propagation on my favorite band (10), it was more exciting than I had expected.

I did video some of my weekend fun with one video documenting my Saturday fun and my second documenting my Sunday activity. I used my GoPro as a last minute thought on Sunday. I was unsure on the best angle, so I tried a few. With my trial run out of the way, should I use it again in the future, I know now better camera placement. Not the best video I've shot for sure but hopefully you get to see some of the fun I had. The video below is from Saturday and I have a link to my Sunday fun at the bottom of this blog entry. 

My station consists of an Icom IC-703+, running 5 watts output into my indoor EndFedZ antennas (which you see in this video). Since I'm running indoor antennas, I prefer to use low power so as not to promote any more hair loss since two of my three indoor antennas literally run almost directly above my head. 

I could not imagine life without ham radio and no matter what my situation is, I'll find a way to get on the air. You don't need thousands of dollars in equipment to enjoy this hobby. All you need is a little bit of determination and the willingness to get on the air and take advantage of weekends like this last. Contest weekends are a great way to add QSO's to the ol logbook. My farthest contact with 5 watts was nearly 7,000 miles away. Who was that with? You'll have to watch THIS video to find out. 

Monday, February 8, 2016

My Home Park, Crater Lake National Park, NPOTA Activation

January 1st began the year long event known as NPOTA (National Parks On The Air) sponsored by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL). So far, it's a huge success with several National Park Service (NPS) units activated by ham radio operators across the country. This even hits home for me as it combines my two passions, my professional career and my hobby, ham radio. I'm excited to be part of this event, both professionally and personally. 

Find Your Park 
You can help celebrate the National Park Service Centennial by visiting an NPS site near you! These are YOUR lands, and normally the NPS will have several "fee free" days where you can enjoy NPS areas without paying an entrance fee. But even if you have to pay a fee, it's well worth it, and those fees support operation of the park unit. 

AK7DD at Crater Lake National Park 
 On February 7th, 2016, I operated from Rim Village at Crater Lake National Park. I chose a parking area across from the Rim Cafe and Gift Shop. This was a quick, last minute decision to operate as the sun had finally come out and the weather, something other than snow, had arrived. As you can see from the photo to the left, the snow is much higher than my truck. Since October 1st, 2015, Crater Lake had received well over 200 inches of snow. And this amount of snow is certainly welcomed as this drought stricken area needs every inch it can get. This amount of snow is a first for me personally, never living or working where accumulations reached this height.

AK7DD Activation Location - Big Picture
The pin on the Google Earth snapshot at right shows where my location was in relation to the lake. With the snow depth, you actually have to get out of your vehicle and climb up on the snow to get a view of Crater Lake this time of year. Crater Lake is a popular destination even during the winter months. It's a favorite to skiers and snowshoe'rs alike. Crater Lake has something for everyone, even during the off season. Even though you are not able to drive around the lake as you could during the summer, you can still see breathtaking views of the Caldera. You will never forget the beautiful blue color of the lake once you see it for the very first time. 

Buddipole Vertical (20 Meters)
 I have to admit I was a bit unprepared for my activation. I needed to familiarize myself once again with my Yaesu FT-857D. I also had just purchased a new laptop, so I had not completely finished getting it set up with software, etc. And I can honestly say that it had been a long time since I used my contest program, Win-test. And of course, my CW was a bit rusty and trying to pick out a call in a small pileup without headphones was a bit challenging. Sending Morse Code with the key in my lap was not the best place either. But, thankfully those who called appeared patient and I was able to make 57 contacts with fellow ham radio operators across the country. Earth shattering operation? No! But, since I'd never operated from the Rim, I did not know what to expect in the way of propagation. I had operated from the housing area previously but being surrounded by mountains, propagation was very challenging at that location. But for my parking lot spot, I found it worked very well and I will probably utilize that location again. I have full intentions of operating in several different locations throughout the rest of the year, so this was a successful first attempt. 

Historic Rim Village - View From My Truck
The weather, propagation and equipment, all played a vital role in my first successful operation at Crater Lake National Park. I was not the first person to activate NP13, but I'll be here all year activating as time permits. I did not video any of my actual operation (even though I had my GoPro camera with me) but I will make sure that I do video any future activation's. I did however video my trip to Crater Lake and a bit of my departure. I've since uploaded that to my YouTube channel and it's available for viewing. The video documents (shows proof) of my activation and shares a bit of my portable station setup and what Crater Lake looked like on February 7th, 2016.

Any of my future activation's will be better planned and I'll be a bit more prepared. It's important to make a dry run with your equipment to make sure all is working correctly. Thankfully, Murphy did not follow me to the Rim and even though I had some minor technical issues, all went well. This operation was only Morse Code and on 20 meters, but I'll work more bands and modes in the future. I have to say, it's been fun reading the ARRL National Parks On The Air Facebook page and all the stories that other hams are sharing of their activation's. What a great idea for an event from the ARRL. Again, what better way to celebrate than to promote not only ham radio, but getting out and Finding Your Park!  

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Digitizing My Yaesu FT-857D & SNOW!!

My main station at the house is made up of my Icom IC-703+ and indoor wire antenna's. I've been wanting to get an interface for my Yaesu FT-857D, which would allow me to run the digital modes while portable. My bud Sean, KL1SF, suggested on the Signalink USB. When researching prices, I felt I could not go wrong with this unit. So, after doing a bit of web searching, I found the cheapest price (had to look close as some internet prices seemed cheaper than others until you added shipping) and purchased one. I had also purchased a new laptop and backup drive, so today was configuring and downloading updates and software. It took a better part of a day to get everything playing together and all of my programs downloaded. But my Dell laptop and Signalink are nearly ready to take to the field for some portable fun. I also wanted something that would work well in our camper and this was just the ticket.

Talking in Sync
I snagged the following programs that I use frequently;

It took me a bit to find my interface cable for rig control, but it was not long before I had DM780 transmitting PSK31 with the Signalink USB. The interface cable allowed for rig control and things were looking up! Of course, with the new Dell, I had a trial version of McAfee LiveSafe - Internet Security. It was blocking the communications between HRD, the Logbook and DM780. Once I assured McAfee it was friendly and configured it to ignore my ham software, all became one. I've used Ham Radio Deluxe for several years but decided to try to full version to see if it's worth upgrading to the non-free version.  

N3FJP's Logbook has not been as easy to configure. For some reason, it's not seeing my COM3, where my Signalink USB is. It sees my COM4, so I have the rig interface working as it should. I was hoping to be able to send CW via my keyboard, so that one will take a bit more troubleshooting and research. 

I like the Yaesu FT-857D as it does QRP (5W) to QRO (100W). It's perfect for portable operation. The only thing it lacks is a tuner, but I have an LDG that I drag along just in case I can't get my portable antenna's in tune. Just a few more items on my wishlist for my portable set up. This will be the setup that I use activating Crater Lake this year for NPOTA. I hope to make plenty of CW contacts from there along with some SSB and of course digital. I've been busy dealing with the normal snow year while at work but now that the snow has subsided a bit, I can maybe fine some time to get on the air. 

The photo below is one I took from the 2nd story of my office building where the snow was (is) up to those windows. This was one of my maintenance employees working to relieve some of the snow from our 2nd story windows and dormers. I'm ready to hang up the snow shovel for my portable ham gear! It's sure been an interesting winter, one like I've never experienced before.   

Plenty of Snow at Crater Lake This Year

Sunday, January 24, 2016

A JT9 Kinda Sunday

Running JT9 with 5 Watts and Indoor EndFedZ 
Today was spent doing my usual indoor "getting ready for the work week" work, but I did leave a little time to get on the radio. I decided to play on 20 meters with JT9. The band started out up and down a bit but finally came to life this afternoon. I'm running the setup shown to the left, my Icom IC-703+ with an output power of 5 watts. My antenna is an EndFedZ 20 meter wire antenna stretched from my upstairs running down into my shack. Nothing earth shattering but I can honestly say I've worked Europe and Asia with this antenna the way it's currently configured. As I've mentioned many a time, I'm at the mercy of propagation with my QRP / indoor setup but using weak signal modes such as JT9 can easily add QSO's to the ol logbook. Today, I added 13 of em.

AK7DD Heard List
It's nice to have numerous resources to see how well you're hearing, or how well you're being heard. My favorites are of course the PSK Reporter page (not just for PSK) or my other favorite, Hamspots. Like a reverse beacon, this will show you how well you are being heard on the "other end" of the propagation hop. And when you have an indoor station like I do, it's crucial to check propagation numbers and bands for your best opportunity for successful QSO's. It also helps to run digital modes that are great for less than optimal conditions, either shack or propagation.

Waterfall & QSO's
I very much enjoy the WSJT software that allows me to operate both JT65 and JT9. I've been defaulting my activity to JT9, only due to it's narrower bandwidth. This allows me to normally find an unoccupied part of the digital spectrum to set up shop and try to work a few stations. And anytime that I work the digital modes, I make sure before transmitting that my ALC and any compression are turned off along with making sure my power is turned down (I run 5 watts or less). I don't want to pollute the waterfall with an excessive signal. I've seen stations so wide that they are decoded on more than one frequency and their callsign shows up twice in the RX frequency window! It's not hard to spot those wide signals on the waterfall. With my log snapshot, you will see JT65A on the left, and to the right of that, JT9 transmissions. An obvious visual difference between the two modes. And with the JT9 transmissions, you can tell which signals are stronger / wider than the others. Another simply addicting mode available to us ham radio operators.   

Monday, January 18, 2016

A Few Hours Of Sunshine Make For A Decked Vertical Test

TRX-80 Decked Vertical - Blending In

I decided to take advantage of a bit of sunshine in between storms to tune around the bands with my portable TRX-80 vertical. Like many small, portable antenna's, there are limitations and hooking a coax up to such an antenna will not necessarily open up the world. But, with propagation on your side and a bit of elevation, an antenna such as this could yield some fun.

As mentioned, this antenna does have limitations (especially on the low bands). I found tuning it was not as simple as just moving the tap ring up and down the antenna coil. You can do that to find the "sweet spot" but to obtain a flat match or respectable SWR, it required a bit of patience. The tap ring (depending on band) might only need a slight adjustment to move the SWR up or down. The counterpoise length is also crucial. My plan is to use my Buddipole counterpoise & wrap to make it easy to deploy and pack. I will fine tune this antenna once I get a bit more time and when the weather cooperates for more than a few hours. I at least wanted to make sure my soldered connections were good and compare it to my indoor EndFedZ antenna's. 

As you can see from the photo at left, I was able to tune the antenna for a respectable SWR on 20 meters. I opted for 14.100 as I normally do CW or digital. I did not try to make it flat, only get it close. I figured I'd try to see how low it could go, so on down to 80 meters I went. 

I was able to obtain a near flat match on 80 meters (photo at the right, actually easier than 40) but of course, it's less than optimal for this band. But hey, it might yield a few contacts during a contest if the band is good enough. I'll take it. With favorable propagation, one can be pleasantly surprised what might end up in the logbook. But all in all, once I get the counterpoise dialed in and get the coil marked, it should not take me long to deploy this small vertical. I will gladly add it to my portable equipment as another field option. It breaks down into a small package with the tripod being the largest part. I'd love to try a portable loop antenna but I'll have to wait until the shack fund increases by a few hundred bucks.  

Having a small antenna analyzer is important and I'm glad I picked this up at Dayton. Having one that would sweep the bands would be nice. Either way, as I continue to build my portable setup, I'm making way for some outdoor fun. Testing equipment in a controlled setting ensures things are working as they should. Better to find out at home rather than miles from the vehicle.   

Sunday, January 10, 2016

SKCC January WES And My TRX-80 Vertical Close To Hook'n Up

Mini Vertical
The bands for this indoor antenna'd QRP station were pretty rough this weekend. With that being said, my main goal was to fire up my straight key and work a few stations in the Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) Weekend Sprintathon (WES). I accomplished that goal only after working just two stations on 20 meters. I worked Tony, K6ELQ and of course Ed, W7GVE (always easy to work, even with my current setup). Both had great signals here into southern Oregon, but others just did not seem strong enough for me to work. I did hear a few signals on 10 meters but they were very weak, so I just kept to tuning 20 meters when I was at the desk.

I'm still working on purging much of my shack and downsizing, focusing on a more portable perspective. Several months ago, I purchased another addition to my portable antenna arsenal, that being a TRX-80 vertical antenna. It's small and should allow me to operate without a tuner on most of the bands, 40 and higher. If the bands are favorable, it should yield a few QSO's with any luck. I have yet to connect it to a transceiver but my goal is to use this with my Yaesu FT-857D at 100 watts or less. With NPOTA in full swing, I need to get working on getting on the air from the office (Crater Lake National Park) for National Parks On The Air (NPOTA). 

With the winter weather of the last several weeks, I've spent more time with my snow shovel than I have in ages. Having had a few extra days off has allowed me to wade my way back into the shack and turn on the rig for a few hours. I found it easier to stay in my shack while living in Alaska during the winter months when the temperatures would plummet to -30F or colder. Not that same issue here, so my shack time has decreased dramatically. Having a 100% indoor setup that's QRP also does not draw me to the shack, but it's here when I need my CW fix. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

Easy Programming

rt Systems 
It's been a pretty busy few months but having a few extra days off has allowed me to think radio. The Spaceweather conditions have made it pretty tough for a small station like me to make QSO's, so I'm working on other ham projects. I began doing a bit of coax work preparing a new portable vertical I plan on using for NPOTA and for other portable operations this year. Working where I do, NP13 (Crater Lake) is my focus since my office is there. It's been a very busy winter and if you've not been following the weather out west, we have plenty of snow! If you click over to my YouTube page, you will see a few videos I posted from my daily drive home. Since October 1st, Crater Lake National Park has received well over 220 inches of snow. So, being busy around the office has kept me from even thinking of dragging my portable equipment to work with me.
Coax Prep

With modern technology, it's so easy these days to program radios. When I attended Dayton in 2014, I picked up rt SYSTEMS hardware and software for programming my Kenwood TM-D700A.  I have two of these rigs and I currently run APRS in my truck, which due to our weather, I'm driving more. Although this package is a bit on the pricey side, I found it easy to use and it made programming my rig extremely easy. With several online frequency guides, you can download lots of repeater and ham radio (along with non-ham) frequencies in an rt SYSTEMS format for quick import into the software. It's only taken me over a year to finally use this but hey, it's better late than never, right? 

It looks like winter is here to stay with several feet here at the home QTH. A much different picture than last year as I never even broke out the snow shovel! I'm ready to divorce my snow shovel and open the windows but I'm afraid that's a few months away yet. We need the snow pack with the drought conditions so I'm hopeful many more inches of snow are on the way.

I find it hard to believe that we just entered into a new year. I'm hopeful that 2016 will be a good year for not only me, but for those reading this. Propagation will probably continue to be challenging but I will get on as time allows. I've yet to work a NPOTA station or even a SKCC K3Y station! I loved operating from Alaska during the month of January with my straight key. And with any luck, I'll have that opportunity again. But for now, I'll be chasing those that I hear and hope that my QRP / indoor setup can snag a few. Always a fun way to start a new year!