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