SOTA W4V/SH-027: Dickey Hill

This was the first of a series of summits I am hoping to activate within Shenandoah National Park, and proved to be very straightforward. The only twist was avoiding operating next to the government installation at the end of a road leading to the summit. Instead, I operated just a little to the side, but still on the summit.

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VAQP 2019

Last weekend was one of the highlights of my ham radio experience even though I spent most of it shivering and hunched over a pair of paddles on a frigid mountaintop.

Mike, KA4CDN, and I decided to mount an expedition with the goal of activating rare counties for the 2019 Virginia QSO Party. We poured over spreadsheets of prior year activity and looked for places where we might camp on the intersection of two or more counties. We came up with a few possibilities, but ultimately decided to check out Rocky Mountain, which lies at the intersection of Nelson, Rockbridge, and Amherst counties. Additionally, it is centrally located in Virginia, which we thought would give us the best chance of picking up the many multipliers (95 counties and 38 independent cities) in the state.

The Bottom Line

To cut to the chase, despite poor propagation, we did better than we thought we would: more than 850 QSOs and broad coverage of multipliers throughout both Virginia and North America. Best of all, we worked a bunch of people we knew including at least ten members of our home club, the Vienna Wireless Society.

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Operating FT8 on the Elecraft K3

Last night on 30m

Last week, I put up a new HF antenna and this week, I set the station up to operate in FT8 mode. Below, I describe a minimalist implementation using an Elecraft K3, a computer and two audio patch cords. I am focusing only on items specific to the radio and not found in the WSJT-X documentation.

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SOTA W3/SV-041: Pigeon Hills North

After Fairview Mountain and Emmaville Mountain North, we continued roughly along Interstate 70 towards Pigeon Hills North. This area is a mixture of private houses and farms, and from various postings, I got the sense that the folks here value their privacy and aren’t all that warm when it comes to visitors. Continue reading “SOTA W3/SV-041: Pigeon Hills North”

SOTA: FL/NO-120

I have a few days of meetings in Paris before returning to Madagascar and before arriving, I mapped out a couple SOTA peaks near Paris. I was not sure when I would work them in since my only free time will probably be in the evenings, but I have already operated from one: FL/NO-120.

I had some confusion about the name and designation. There area references on the sotawatch website that list F/NO-120 as “Buttes de Parisis”, and Google points to older versions of the sota.uk website that also referenced that peak.  The French SOTA website indicates that as of February 1, 2017, there was a reorganization of France into the FL and F associations, so these websites just need to catch up. I had planned the trip back in January 2017, hence my use of the older term. For logging purposes, since the Nord-Ouest summits now fall under FL rather than F, I used the FL/NO-120 designation. Oddly, the name seems to have changed to “Fort de Cormeilles”, which is a historical building in the area. In any event, the GPS coordinates are the same.

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¡SSB en fuego!

This past weekend was the CQ WW SSB contest — one of the big ones. I usually have a vague idea about the approach of a contest and decide whether to take part on Friday of the contest weekend, but I had marked this one on the calendar ahead of time and was prepared. Aside from setting up everything and working a bit of SSB earlier in the week, I spent some time looking at propagation and figuring out where to point the antenna at different times of day to hit both areas with high densities of hams (NA, EU, Japan), but also beam heading that would cover the most DXCC entities, the multiplier for this contest.

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FOBB 2013

sidepluslighthouse_smWhile on vacation on the beach in Montauk, New York, I took part in this year’s Flight of the Bumblebees, a QRP event in which portable stations receive a bumblebee number in advance of the event, and work home stations and each other during a four hour period.  I wasn’t sure that I’d have time to play radio this weekend, as this was a family outing, but by the Sunday of the event, the family had enough sun and sand, and I was able to drive to Camp Hero to set up my station.

This is about the best location that I could ask for: the very tip of Long Island: surrounded on three sides by salt water, no neighbors or noisy interference (except occasional low-flying planes and helicopters), and a flat plane in all directions. Camp Hero is a former US Air Force Base, but is now a New York State Park. It is a little less traveled than the rest of Montauk as there is a small cover fee to enter the park, and there is no beach. The park is surrounded by cliffs with warnings that the edges may be undermined and that people should keep back from them.

birdWhen I got to the parking lot on the Atlantic side of the park, I took it as a good sign that a giant (now inactive) radar dish was keeping watch over my site. I struck on foot to the NE along a path that parallels the cliffs. It was tempting to set up on what must have been a missile placement, but I kept going, past various bushes until I came to an area that had a conveniently placed wood fence. In the distance, the Montauk lighthouse alternately faded and resolidified in the mist.

I managed to carry in everything in one trip: a push up mast, antenna, radios, chair, operating table, batteries, water, etc. Earlier this year, when W7SUA moved to Arizona, I had purchased a push-up mast from him, and that mast was used to support the center of the “untangleable folded dipole” that I had made earlier this year for the W5O operation at the QRPTTF event.  I attached the mast about six feed down because the top gets pretty thin and I wasn’t keen to guy the pole. In fact, I got away with duct taping the pole to the fence at two points and called it a day. I tied down the two ends of the folded dipole to form an inverted V. The antenna had given me about 1:1 swr when flat topped at QRPTTF, and it did likewise in this configuration — which is good, since I didn’t bring a tuner.

I set up the FT817nd using a 2Ah battery as a support and a 7Ah battery as a back-stop. As usual, the palm paddle key mounted magnetically on the 817. Since the 817 is wide as a barn, with no roof filter, I ran the speaker output through my recently built switched capacitor audio filter based on the New England QRP Club’s NESCAF design. I cranked the filter over to “narrow” and peaked it on my side tone. After that, the filter made all the difference in the world in pulling out close-in signals. Thankfully, there were no other major contests that weekend except the NJQP, which was inside the skip zone, so front-end overload was not an issue.

equippileI slathered myself in sun block, downed a liter of water and settled in about half an hour before the event. I had a test QSO with with Mark, K4NC, who said that he was also getting ready to try QRP in the FOBB. I wished him luck and was glad to work him again a few hours later during the contest proper.

In four hours, I logged 69 contacts, although three were duplicates. It may be that those stations didn’t copy all my info on the first pass or that like me they were logging by hand in a notebook, so I happily worked them a second time.  Of the 66 stations worked, 40 were fellow bumblebees. I noted that a couple stations were on the event listing as bumblebees, but gave their power in the exchange, so I assume that they were folks that had planned to get into the field, but had to work as a home station on the day of the event, likely due to weather.  Contacts included 27 US States, including all three continental west coast states. In Canada, I had two contacts to Ontario, and my best DX was with France grâce à F6BZG.  Most of the non-bumblebee stations sent 5W, and the lowest power in my log was 2W K4MU and 3W AA7EQ.

20 meters yielded a fairly steady rate, and having carried in 9Ah worth of battery, I was not adverse to calling CQ all afternoon. I had a couple lulls, but was happy enough with 20 meters that I didn’t feel compelled to dig into my bag for the 15 meter end-fed that I had also brought along. Twenty seemed to be in good shape all afternoon.

I worked W7CNL‘s 4W station from Idaho just under the wire at the conclusion of the contest – this was a 339/339 exchange, and we were both struggling as the clock counted down.  Thanks, W7CNL for hanging in there!  FOBB was a FB event.

Washington Times Marketing Scam?

[We interrupt this stream of usually relevant material, for a gripe about a local service. Please bear with me, after this vent, back to the usual topics]

so-called renewal notice from the Washington Times newspaper - redacted for personal identifying informationA few weeks ago, plastic-wrapped issues of the Washington Times started arriving sporadically on or near our door. For those not familiar with the paper, it’s a far second in the DC market to the respectable Washington Post, and the editorial slant of the paper is strongly to the right. Add in that it was founded by the Unification Church cult.

For the first couple weeks, I’d just throw them away if they ended up near my door — then a bill came, asking me to pay for my subscription.  What? There’s no way I’d ever subscribe to this rag.  From past experience, I know that I don’t have time to read even a good newspaper, so from an environmental perspective, I would not want one delivered (much less piling up on my door step, my neighbor’s lawn, and in the storm sewer in their plastic wrap).

I phoned the Times, had a bit of a wait, and talked with a representative who suggested that college kids may have gone around selling subscriptions. I don’t recall any students selling anything, and certainly not the Times. This seems like a very lame excuse for what appears to be a marketing scam. After shoving newspapers at people, how many feel obligated to pay when they receive a bill? This seems like a  particularly scummy business practice, so I’m sharing it here in the hope that other people in the region will read it and be forewarned, and also that similar stories can be aggregated.

According to the representative in the call center, the subscription is cancelled (how can you cancel something I never had… oh, never mind) and the account is zeroed out. If bills continue to arrive or this shows up on my credit report, I will be showing up physically in their offices, not in a good mood.

The Pink Princess Laser Modulator

The pink laser princess box projects a red beam on the receiver boxLast weekend, a bunch of us from the Vienna Wireless Society set up a table for a Sally Ride Science Festival held at George Mason University. This is annual event, which promotes science, math, and engineering for girls in grades 5 to 8. Part of the fair takes place outdoors in the morning and early afternoon, with seminars held indoors in the afternoon.

Since it was drizzly, we set up on three plastic folding tables under tarps.  We brought a smattering of equipment for show-and-tell including a portable satellite station, an HF station, an electronics demonstration, and some of the equipment from our most recent high altitude balloon launch.

My instructions on the event were to bring stuff that would be attractive to kids, so I asked with my kids about what kind of presentation would catch their interest. They suggested demos that would either make noise or “be shiny”. They also suggested candy.

To cover the noise angle, I brought a few morse code keys and paddles hooked to a code practice oscillator. I made a little cheat sheet for sending morse code and handed them out. For the demo, I printed a few sheets of five letter words, chopped them up, and put them in a tupperware bowl. I put another bowl right behind it full of candy and a sign: “send code. get candy. 5 letters = 5 Calories”. I ended up handing out 75 pieces of candy, and some of the kids had good fists. A couple used the paddles in addition to the key.

While I was shopping for the candy at the store “Five Below”, which caters to girls of just this age bracket, I noticed that they were selling laser pointers for $2 each. I figured the little batteries were probably worth that much alone, so I bought four lasers to play with. It occurred to me that I could cover the “shiny” criterion with some sort of laser project.

I had seen on the net a description of simple circuits for amplitude modulation of a laser by an audio signal, so that’s what I put together. Line level output enters through 1000:8 ohm transformer and directly modulates the supply voltage to the laser. A couple diodes are thrown in to protect the laser diode from spikes, but that’s about it. A couple months back, the Dollar store had been selling overruns of Disney Princess puzzles in nice tins, a dollar each, so I had bought a bunch of them for projects that didn’t quite fit the Altoids form factor.

The day before the event, I recorded the audio from my radio tuned to 14.070 USB, to capture USB conversations. I had the 2.4 kHz filter on, so there were quite a few PSK31 conversations in the audio band pass. I saved the sound as a *.wav and transferred it to my ipod. The ipod then plugged into the Pink Princess Laser Modulator.

On the receiving end, the circuit was even simpler, all that stood between a 1.5v battery and the audio output jack was a photoresistor. I knew that I had one kicking around, but couldn’t put my finger on it for most of the day, until I remembered that a CdS photoresistor is included with the Arduino experimenter kit as an optical sensor.  The receiver went in an Altoids box, and the output ran into an audio breakout box that allowed me to split the signal to a speaker and to a computer. I duct taped the speaker to the awning of the demonstration booth and let visitors click on individual psk31 streams to decode them.