Wednesday, December 31, 2014

W1AW-Portable - Thanks for a fun year!

Well, it's over now. All the W1AW-portable operations are complete. It's been a great, great year. I have had a ton of fun chasing these stations. I only wish I had gotten started in the first couple of months, rather than just the last 10.

According to my log, I've worked W1AW-portable stations 1276 times. It's been a lot of fun. I'm definitely going to miss this in the new year.

ARRL 160m 2014

Two radio setup for the ARRL 160m contest.
K3 on right, K2 on left.
For the 2013 running of the ARRL 160m, I put in more operating hours than ever before, but I fell short of my personal best set in 2010. For 2014, I wanted to make sure that I set a new record.

Two radios would allow me to call CQ while I am scanning the band for other stations. I had used two radios in 2013, but it proved to be ineffective.

The inverted-L is my only 160m antenna. That would go to the K3. What I needed was some type of receiving antenna for the K2. The 80/40m dipole wouldn't cut it, as I found in 2013.

I had intended to set up some K9AY loops, and I've been working on a push-button controller for it. That project ran into a snag at the last minute, so some creativity was in order. I ended up stringing a 150 foot "Beverage" antenna into the woods. At such a short length and unterminated, it's not a true Beverage, but it did allow me to receive with the K2.

The two-radio setup was configured in haste about an hour before the contest. While the K3 continued to overload the K2 even with the receiving antenna, I used the K2 to populate the band-map while CQing. This did not produce a significant change in the number of Qs, but it did allow me to listen to other parts of the band during the slowest periods.

Started the contest at 2201z and continued all night to 1230z, right at sunrise. The all-night shift was tough, but netted 544 Qs and 68 multipliers. Conditions seemed good but not great. Worked 47 states - all but AK, HI and MT. Early part of the contest was nearly all CQing, with short sessions of S & P to look for mults, as well as when rates got slow after 0600z.

Second night started at 2210z until 0456z. It might have been better to stay on until 0600z, but I was exhausted. Got back on at 1040z, and switched off at 1240z. That's over 23 hours of contest time. There are only 28 hours of darkness in this part of the world at this time of year, and I was on the air for 22 of them.

Passed 700 Qs around 0430z the second night -- which put me into personal record territory. What I needed was mults. In my previous best, I had 78 mults. However, there was no DX to be found. I heard no Europeans, and very little from the Caribbean. Worked XE, PJ2 and ZF. Heard a V3, but he did not hear my calls.

Very hard the second night to decide between calling CQ and S & P. I ended up mostly S & P, because the rate was slightly better.

Found missing mults the second night, with MT, LAX, SCV, SV, MAR and WTX. With three countries that makes 74. Total 745 QSOs for a total score of 111,148.

I really feel like I am pushing the limits of what can be done with 100 watts and 1500 feet of wire suspended from trees. Score might be a little higher if I had stayed up the second night.

This contest is always a blast. See you next year.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Logbook of the World

In the last month, I passed a significant milestone. I now have over 25,000 confirmations in Logbook of the World. Not bad for using it for the last eleven years.

I went back and checked, my first upload was on November 11, 2003. It took me just over a year to upload all my logs, including all of the hand-written logs that had to be typed in.

Every QSO I have ever recorded, as WN8WOY, WB8WOY, N8BHE and AA4LR has been uploaded to Logbook of the World. However, those early callsigns have not been very fruitful. My novice calls have not garnered any confirmations, and my general call just two, both from my brother NJ8J.

With those confirmations, I have qualified for several awards. I earned DXCC in three and a half years. Today, I have DXCC Mixed, CW, Phone, RTTY and on 40, 20, 15, and 10 meters. I've earned WAS Basic, CW, Phone, RTTY, Triple-Play, and Six-band WAS (160, 80, 40, 20, 15, 10). And from Floyd County, I have the confirmations to get WAS Basic, CW, Phone, RTTY, Triple-Play, and bands 40, 30 and 20m, with two other bands (160, 80m) just one state away.

Logbook of the World is a tremendous resource. While getting your account set up is just a little bit of trouble, gathering confirmations is so easy and inexpensive. Much better than the old-fashioned method of using physical cards.

If you have any interest in awards-chasing or DXing, you should be using Logbook of the World.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What Ever Happened to 2m FM?

My first 2m FM rig was the Icom IC-230, like this one.
I was reading an article in a recent issue of QST, talking about the rise of FM in amateur use, and it dawned on me. It's been nearly 10 years since I had a VHF FM radio in the car.

Thirty-five years ago, in September of 1979, I got my first 2m rig -- an Icom IC-230.

My brother Ben, now NJ8J, had gotten a 2m handheld several months before. While home before college, I noticed how much fun he was having on 2m, and I wanted to be part of it as well.

One of his 2m contacts, a gentlemen whose call I have forgotten, had a Icom IC-230 for sale, and the price was reasonable for my college-bound budget. Ben and I went out to his house and came home with the rig. I fashioned a 1/4-wave whip using 19" of coat-hanger wire with four copper wire radials attached to an SO-239 connector. A quick jaunt out the dormer window and the antenna was attached to the roof just above the window.

That old house was in a prime spot for VHF. Right at the top of a hill, it was the highest spot for a couple of miles around. And it didn't hurt the antenna was near the top of the roof.

Propagation that week of September, just before I headed for school in Georgia, was also fortuitous. There was a massive troposphere opening, and I worked FM repeaters in four or five states in just a couple of days. I don't believe I've ever experienced such an opening since then.

Back in the days before frequency synthesizers, the IC-230 was an ingenious design. It used about 18 different crystals in a mixing arrangement that allowed it to generate all 67 of the 30 kHz spaced channels from 146.01 through 147.99, plus the standard repeater offsets of +/- 600 kHz.

Ingenious as it was, this arrangement was obsolete by the time I purchased it. The 2m band had expanded to allow repeater operation in the 144 and 145 MHz sections of the band, and some repeaters were operating on the 15 kHz splinter frequencies, which the IC-230 couldn't access. The rig did have provisions for adding three extra crystals to generate oddball repeater frequencies, as well as a switch position for an external digital VFO. On my college budget, I never could afford these options.

Even so, I could generally find plenty of activity on the main 30 kHz channels. Somewhere along the line, I bought a car, and of course I put the IC-230 in it. My antenna was a home-brew magnet mount made out of a tuna can with a plastic lid, a phono connector with a 19" curved copper wire sticking out of it. Not sure where I got the magnets, but they were strong enough to hold it in place. While the IC-230 was sold long ago, I still have this home-brew mag-mount.

Driving around downtown Atlanta, I often heard other hams complain about intermod from the other VHF signals and the tall buildings. Not with the IC-230. The designers put five helical resonators in the front end to pass the 146-148 MHz signals. Those resonators were like a brick wall to out-of-band VHF signals. In downtown Atlanta, I might hear some picket-fencing, but never any intermod. That's the one feature of that rig I miss.

I eventually traded in the IC-230. I had a Heathkit HW-2036 for a while. I also bought several hand-held transceivers. Today, I have an Alinco DR-570 as well as an old Yaesu FT-227RA Memorizer. Neither of these rigs has seen the inside of a car in over 10 years.

I don't know what it is - perhaps it is the rise in cell phone, but there doesn't seem to be as much activity on 2m as there was a couple of decades ago. Maybe it's just because hams stopped putting rigs in their cars....

Monday, November 10, 2014

Dipole Back Up!

I wrote back in May that my 80/40m dipole had fallen down when a tree branch broke off and came through the antenna.

While there was no real damage, it did dislodge the rope anchor I had cast over the tree. Because it is so difficult to cast a line into the trees when the foliage is out, I had to wait.

It was fortunate, however, that I did wait. During the summer storms, this same tree shed a couple more large branches. Well, the leaves have thinned out considerably from the trees, and I've actually been out in the woods a couple of times to cast a new line.

Those sessions didn't end well. You see, I'd go out with a weight made of a 1/4 to 3/8" bolt and a few nuts, and on the first cast, I'd lose them. They came sailing off the end of the line, never to be found.

Assembled parts for the antenna launch weight
As I wrote about the Mark III Antenna Launcher, losing weights is inevitable. Given the beautiful fall weather we had this weekend, I decided I was not going to have my antenna raising session interrupted by a single lost weight.

Normally, I'd recommend you construct these antenna weights with hardware you're not likely to use for anything else. This likely means old, corroded nuts and bolts that you've taken off some old assembly. However, I did not have much of this kind of hardware on hand at the Micro-Shack.

Technique for jamming nuts together
Time to fight back with numbers. A quick trip to the local home improvement store found 100 1/4" nuts and a dozen 1 1/2" long 1/4" bolts for about $8. The plan was to jam on as many nuts as the bolt would allow. This would make for a reasonably heavy weight, but one that would fit well in the slingshot pouch.

Assembly is easy. Simply screw the nuts on to the bolt as far as they will go, and repeat. I managed to get six nuts on the 1 1/2" bolts, although I did have one overachiever bolt that received seven.

The finished product. A dozen weights, most with six
nuts, one with seven.
Once the nuts are on the bolt, but loose, take a couple of wrenches and jam them down on the end of the bolt, and then one against the other. Make them tight enough that they won't go flying off when launched into the air.

Less than 20 minutes later, I had a dozen antenna weights. Filled with confidence, I marched outside fully prepared to lose numerous weights in order to get the dipole in the air.

Naturally, given my readiness for sacrifice, I managed to get the line over the tree branch on the first shot. I didn't lose a single weight. Well. I am now prepared for the mid-winter antenna raising season.

I am very happy to have this dipole back up. I have missed it all summer.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Forth Quarter in Centennial QSO Party

No, I don't use paper any more....
We're now well past half-time. It's the beginning of the forth quarter.

Honestly, I'm amazed at the Centennial QSO Party. I have really enjoyed the W1AW-portable operations. I checked my records and I have made nearly 900 QSOs with W1AW-portable stations this year. 820 of those from Floyd County.

I'm kicking myself for not starting this right off the bat January 1, and pursuing these portable operations on every band/mode combination. Nope, I ignored these operations until February, and at first I was only trying to fill in bands - like 30m, 17m, and 12m - that I didn't have confirmed already.

Now, I'm having too much fun. I'm ducking into the shack each day to try and work a few band/modes that I can. It's been fantastic practice trying to break into the pileups.

I'm really, really impressed at how much I've been able to work with just 100 watts and wire antennas.

And the WARC-band WAS? I'm advancing. 30m - 45 confirmed, 17m - 40 confirmed, 12m - 29 confirmed. And there's still W1AW-portable logs that still haven't been uploaded.

If you haven't tried working these, there's still three months of fun left. Join in!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Yes! Found It.

I wrote earlier in the week about a disturbing amount of power line noise. It had sprung up sometime in the last couple of weeks and was a deafening S9++ on 160m. Not good at all for the start of the low-band season.

A day later, I had an opportunity to try scope it out. I found the noise was readily apparent on an AM broadcast radio. In my car, I tried to find the noise, but found it diminished greatly when I left the driveway, and returned once I parked my car near the church. This mean that it was very local, it wasn't something propagating along the power lines in the front yard.

Getting a little portable broadcast radio, the noise was quite loud in the shack, but diminished as I walked to the church. This meant the noise was likely coming from the parsonage itself.

Next step was to flip every breaker off in the parsonage as I listened to the radio. Of course, once I flipped the very last breaker, the noise disappeared. Turning all the other breakers back on -- no noise.  Then it was a matter of deducing what was being powered from that circuit breaker.

The circuit breaker in question, number 15, was powering a few outlets that supplied power to my internet router and other pieces of equipment on my wife's desk. A bit more unplugging found that the parsonage wiring wasn't the culprit, but something plugged into the wall. A bit more, and the cause was found -- it's a wall wart power brick that powers my AT&T Microcell.

When we got the Microcell back 3 years ago, the coverage underneath the parsonage's metal roof was extremely bad. Since then, it has gotten a little better. Until I can replace the bad power brick, we can live without the Microcell.

And no more noise on 160m. Hurray!