Sunday, January 31, 2016

2016 Ham Radio Goals and January Retrospective

I've been doing some thinking about the kinds of goals I want for 2016, including my ham radio goals.  I dislike using the term "resolution."  "Goal" is a bit more apt for the situation.

So, here they are:
  • Get on the air with HF digital communications (especially PSK-31, WSJT, SSTV, Feld-Hell, etc.)
  • Earn my WAS award from my home QTH in northern Virginia
  • Integrate a rig control program and a panadaptor to my Elecraft K3S
  • Get to 850 SOTA activation points (I'm currently sitting at 690).  So, earn 160 points.
  • Generally, on days when I'm at home (not traveling), have at least one QSO per day.  I've been good with this thus far this year.
It has been a good January for ham radio.  I've installed a CC&R friendly antenna (A W1AB Killer Antenna installed into a tree--it's basically a 40 meter ground plane fed with 450-ohm ladder line and a balun near the transceiver and antenna tuner.)  I've had about 150 QSOs on both SSB and CW with 36 DXCC entities (to non-hams, read "countries") and 34 US states.  It's been great fun and a good challenge.  Getting those last 16 states should be pretty easy once I start doing digital modes.  Incidentally, I've really enjoyed working in the DX window of 80 meters (3.79-3.8 MHz.)  The W1AB Killer Antenna loads up just fine on that band and has given me some great results.  (Loading it on 160 meters has been a bridge too far so far.  I think I need to improve the counterpoise for that, and even if I did, it would be very inefficient, but still fun.)

I love this hobby.

Monday, January 11, 2016

NAQP Contesting Bleg

The CW portion of the North American QSO Party (NAQP) happened this past weekend.  I'm not really a contester, but I will be happy to generally jump into the contesting fray so I can work a few new stations or try my hand at some different modes.

The object of the NAQP, of course, is to work as many stations as possible using CW on a range of bands over a given time period.  There are multipliers for the states and provinces, etc.  Normal amateur radio contesting stuff.  But what constitutes a contact?  Well, two way communications between stations that manage to exchange some given information with each other.  For North American stations in the NAQP, that basically meant I had to send my name and state.  Easy enough.

But I guess that people have a tough time understanding my name in CW.

My name is Nate.  Or, Dah-dit---di-dah---dah---dit.

That sounds remarkably like "NAME" in CW.  Dah-dit---di-dah---dah-DAH---dit.

The extra DAH added for emphasis.  One little CW sound is enough to confuse the living $%#@ out of about 80% of the other operators.  It led to a lot of "Who's on First?" moments.

Ultimately I had to settle on sending, "name es nate," which was still enough to confuse people.

Maybe I should just pick another name.  Like Jebediah or something.  Di-dah-dah-dah---dit---dah-di-di-dit---dit---dah-di-dit---di-dit---di-dah---di-di-di-dit.

Ok.  Bleg is over.

The Phone portion should be easier.  November-Alpha-Tango-Echo.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

New Elecraft K3S

As you can probably see from the previous post, I am now the proud owner of an Elecraft K3S (Serial number: 10556).  Construction was a snap, with only two small hiccups:
  • The kit was short two #2 washers, which unfortunately are needed almost immediately upon starting construction.  After emailing Elecraft, they rapidly sent me the necessary washers and construction proceeded.
  • Using a computer to calibrate the Transmitter Gain settings is the preferred method.  I connected the computer using the USB cable (instead of the RS-232).  I couldn't get the computer to recognize the K3S, though, until I found a K3S menu setting which sets the USB port as the default port for computer communication (vice the RS-232 serial port.)  This was not mentioned in the calibration instructions in the Owner's Manual, nor was it mentioned in the Assembly Manual.  Once that menu setting was adjusted, calibration was rapid and simple!
Construction was also lots of fun.  I didn't keep track of how long it took, but I guess that it took maybe 12 hours.  This time includes the installation of numerous additional options.  In fact, the only additional options I didn't get were the subreceiver option and internal two-meter transverter option.  I plan on adding those later.

My next challenge will be to make an antenna system commensurate with the formidable K3S receiver.  At the moment I have only a 20 meter dipole hung in the attic, and an end-fed wire with an EARCHI UnUn hanging from the window to a tree.  The dipole favors stations in the Caribbean and the southern part of Africa.  I haven't figured out the radiation pattern of the wire, since wire antennas can exhibit some intense lobes and nulls when you load them on non-resonant frequencies (the K3S internal tuner can load this antenna on 80-6 meters).

I'm also learning that I have to find a way to cope with ambient noise levels in the suburban development, too.  So that's a challenge, to say nothing of dealing with the local CC&Rs.  The ambient noise levels tend to be S5ish.

Right now I'm investigating whether I can install a "W1AB Killer Antenna", which is basically an elevated ground plane that is fed with balanced line through a balun (in order to keep feed line losses low).

Even with the very compromised antennas, I've had decent DX.  Aruba, Bonaire, Brazil, Haiti, Spain (on 75 meters phone!), Slovenia, Cayman Islands, and others.  Not bad for a few days of casual radio fun.

The K3S beauty!  The key is a Kent Twin Paddle (a gift from the XYL).  The straight key is just a plastic Aamco key (which works fine, thanks.)  For phone, I'm using the Heil Pro-3 matching headset, which I also really like.