My head hertz

Field day is a lot of fun, even if you can’t go out in the field. This year between work schedule and getting Whooping cough (I am not kidding), I was trapped inside. Lucky for me, I was trapped inside my house where my radio is.

So I participated in Field Day as a 1D– a 1-person operation in a base station with regular power. In other words, the “I want to play on field day but I want to keep effort to a minimum” class. Not only did this allow me to join in, it allowed me to work in bursts between coughing fits, choose my pace, and not have to worry about messing up anyone else’s goals. I figured that while I couldn’t go out and play, I could still help other people get contacts and make some of my own. After all, the bands would be active.

I did say it was fun. And it was. But I also aged quite a bit. I am only 50 years old. Some of you think that is old. Others know it is not old yet. But boy did playing Field Day bring out the grumpy old man in me in several situations, particularly because:

Element 3: General
Subelement G2 – Operating Procedures
Group G2B – Operating courtesy; band plans, emergencies, including drills and emergency communications

Question G2B05
What is the customary minimum frequency separation between SSB signals under normal conditions?
A. Between 150 and 500 Hz
B. Approximately 3 kHz
C. Approximately 6 kHz
D. Approximately 10 kHz

Correct Answer: B

A SSB signal is just under 3kHz wide. About 2.8kHz, really. When you study for your license, if you study the material and not just the question pool answers, you know this well. But even if you memorized just the questions and answers, you should know this 3kHz guideline from memorizing the above question.

Field day is a busy and crowded situation. Everyone operating SSB 3kHz from everyone else is probably an unrealistic goal, especially on the congested 20 and 40 meter bands. Fine. But even if you find yourself skimming the bandwidth, you should know this 3kHz guideline from memorizing the above question.

However, that is assuming you actually know what a Kilohertz *IS*, and what one looks like on your radio display.

For example, 14.268 Megahertz is also 14,268 kilohertz. If you know this, you know that 14.259 MHz is only 1 kHz away from that. Adjusting your display from 14.268.000 14.268.003 is only 3 Hz. Adjusting to 14.268.3 is only 300 Hz.

This is where I got grumpy. If people were trying to get away with 2.5 or 2 kHz, or even 1.5 kHz knowing there would be some interference but that communication could probably be achieved, I would write it off as people trying to squeeze the most out of congested bands. People who know they aren’t fully in their lane, but trying to squeeze through with everyone else.

But I don’t know how many times it turned out the loud splatter interference I heard was coming from a station EXACTLY 3Hz, 30Hz, or 300Hz away from the one I was trying to respond on. This is basically driving in the same lane but a little closer to the line. There’s going to be a collision.

The ‘3’ was right, and yet the result was so wrong. The only way I can think to explain this is knowing the answer to the above question while not actually understanding what it means. For crying out loud, learn your decimal places, people! Or more to the point, memorizing the question pool is like bringing the answer key with you to the test. You’ll pass, but that won’t mean you’ve learned anything.

Moral: Ok, I am old now. Get off my lawn.

My pole is 24 feet long.

The new Hustler 6BTV (6-band trap vertical) arrived, and I got it assembled and raised this past weekend.

I did something that will get me yelled at in forums. I mounted it to a fence post, using the fence as my grounding system.

No tuned radials. No untuned radials. Just the fence. But trust me, I had found several examples online of others who tried this and had it work. My space is limited and I can’t do radials on the ground, and I can’t climb roofs anymore to put tuned radials up high.

Guess what? It works. SWR curve is almost perfect (I need to tweak the 40 meter section a bit because it is tuned a bit low), and first day, I made contact with a grid square hunter from Calgary who could not hear me at all the week before.

Putting it together was not terribly difficult, though the instructions refer to two washers I didn’t get. But I stole washers from the screws that would have held the radials. Hahahahahahahahah!

My biggest issue was that I made a miscalculation in that I measured the width of the fencepost and noted the size of the U-bolts for mounting the base. They were the same. But that was for the OUTSIDE of the U-bolts. They were too narrow to encircle the post. So I ran to Ace Hardware and got some hoseclamps, and used them instead, like this:

It works. It works well. That thing isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Here she is in all her low-key glory:

Is it perfect? I’m sure not, but so far it is so much of an improvement, I don’t care. I have some coax-run adjustments I want to do, and, as I said, I want to shorten the 40-meter section a bit. The 80 meter whip on top is a bit of a joke, but I already knew that when I bought it. Gonna shorten that too, though, because its best match is well below my privileges.

I am posting this here, but I doubt I would post it on a forum anywhere. Any time discussion goes to verticals, the preaching begins about how many radials you need, etc. Experience has shown me that sometimes, ANYTHING will provide the ground/counterpoising you need (and yes I know that can include some of my coax). You just need to try and see if it works. And I already found people who it worked for, so I went for it.

Moral: Let others try the big stupid stuff, and if they say it works, try it.

Station Upgrades That Might or Might Not Work!

While I enjoyed making contacts in the contest, my station needs improvement, especially if I want to hear or be heard on SSB. The biggest part of this is antenna. But while I’m at it, I also have other projects. I am currently in the LIMBO time between ordering things and waiting for them to arrive. Here are THE PLANS:

1) Coax Run. Stop using THIS, as cool at it is, so we can open the door wall. Instead, route the coax through a window, with this guy’s highly complex and technical idea for passing coax through a window:

2) Resonance, resonance, resonance. While I was going to do dipoles for this, space is being a huge issue if I want more than a couple bands, even with fan dipoles. So, I decided I will be putting up a Hustler Six Band Trap Vertical, if it ever ships. Currently backordered, might ship on the 9th of April.

3) Panadapter. This will get a post of its own. I was originally going to tap into my IC-718’s IF to get a signal to pass to a cheap SDR dongle for this. Until I opened the radio and realized how far I’d have to take it apart. I trust my soldering skills. But when I take things apart, I lose pieces. This is a long-known issue. Instead, I’ve ordered an SDRPlay, which can receive HF natively, and an MFJ-1708SDR, on backorder at least 3 weeks, which will let me share one antenna with the radio and the SDRPlay for receive, cutting off the SDRPlay on transmit so it doesn’t blow up. I finally got one SDR program on the Mac, CubicSDR, to play mostly nicely with rig control, so I can truly use the SDR waterfall display on the computer to change frequencies on the radio to the signal I click on. I WILL make a video if I get this to work.

So that’s the plan. Of course the SDRPay will arrive first, then maybe the antenna a couple weeks later, then the switcher. This is all in the wrong order. Unless they bump the antenna date again. But if they do, I end up getting the switcher before the antenna, and at least I can play with the panadapter project on the current wire antenna. The coax run may happen this weekend if I get rid of this plague I have today. And if there is no precipitation, which is currently looking unlikely.

Moral: Patience, virtue or not, is required.

CQ CQ CQ CALLING CQ World Wide QPX SSB contest

Yearly comes the CQ World Wide QPX SSB contest. It came this year, even.

As my previous posts indicate, I am in no position to contest seriously with my current antenna setup. But I decided to play along. See who could hear me, be a hit in other people’s logs as opposed to doing it to get a good score. But I did decide to keep track and give out serial numbers as IF I cared, just to see how many places I could talk to on my oddly placed random wire.

I made a whole 51 contest contacts. I thought it was 50, but I accidentally gave two people number 48 (sorry guys). That’s low, but I only sat still long enough for several bursts of 10-13. because with my setup, it takes a long time to make 10-13 contacts.

I had to fight hard for many of them. repeating things often. If it wasn’t a contest I would have been ignored in many of the scenarios. A couple people lost me. I’m sure I was frustrating for more than a few runners.

Observations:

  • Runners, that is contesters staying on one frequency for a while and working through the pileup of suitors, must need tons of patience. Some of them sound like they have none, though. I feel like I could hear who was having fun, and who was obsessing impatiently. But I’m no snitch
  • Some folks manage to be friendly even though they are impersonal exchanges.
  • I was not expecting to be heard by any DX countries, but I got South America, Europe, and Eastern Europe.
  • Hardest-fought-for: 9AØBB in Croatia, a club call. I must have had to repeat my call and his number 8 times each, easily. Kudos to the operator for his patience and persistence, where stateside operators would have said they just couldn’t hear me and to try later.
  • When my resonant antenna set-up is up in the next couple weeks, I really expect to have some fun. Finding out that I could get out enough to have fun on my way-too-low non-resonant wire was nice. Maybe next year, I won’t have to yell or repeat myself so much.
  • Since I upgraded to General last summer, I have never heard a single operator on 15 meters. Until this weekend. While it certainly didn’t get as crazy as 20 and 40 got, 12% of my contacts were on 15 meter, just scanning through the band and pouncing.
  • Hardest fought for and lost: a Hawaii station. After much ‘again again’ he finally gave up on hearing my serial for him when I faded the rest of the way out for him. ‘No contact! No contact!’. I admit I was bummed. We ALMOST got it.
  • I don’t care what anyone says, there is no good contesting logging software for Mac. Hamlog is a really nice simple logging program, with nicely integrated call lookups. But no auto dupe-detection, and no dedicated fields for sent & received serials. But I winged it, and would use it again for the same contest, in pounce mode.
    • Edit one day later: I take back what I said about software. RUMlogNG does what I wanted, but its documentation is not so great so I had to find the features just playing around.
  • If I do find better contest logging, maybe I’ll try doing some runs next year.

Anyway that’s about it. I wasn’t in it to win it, but I was in it to have fun. And I had a lot of fun in various bursts over the weekend, so that’s a win for me. Moral: Use what you got.

Four stars, would play again.

FT8 Acoustic coupling

To me, FT8 is almost a bit too robotic for my tastes. I like live interaction. But it can still be a lot of fun, especially when you can get it to work in conditions other modes can’t. It really is amazing what it can do in high-noise conditions like my backyard.

The other day, I was working on getting Rig Control working from my Macbook Air to my IC-718. To test it, I opened wsjt-x to make sure it could change the radio’s frequencies on demand.

In the process, something cool happened, which I videoed for a buddy. (PSE excuse the sloppiness and my manner of speaking- I really was originally just recording it for my pal.)

The radio was on and the FT8 noises were coming out, and getting picked up by the (highly inferior audio quality) internal mic of the laptop, and that was enough for wsjt-x to decode the signals.

So then, I tried acousticly coupling the microphone, too, to see if it would work. Everything was the same as in the video, only when wsjt-x went to transmit, I keyed up the hand mic near the laptop speaker, and unkeyed when the sound stopped. It worked with these results:

Moral: Always try stupid things.

The story so far

So after several years, I got off my butt and upgraded to general last summer so I could do the HF stuff I wanted to do all along. Plus there were some new digital modes to try there, particularly psk31, that I was interested in.

But I had a problem. I know from SWL experience that this neighborhood is noisy. For a permanent antenna, I would have to do some comparison… and get some help. I am not in a restricted neighborhood, but I do have restricted space. The best place to put an antenna around here is on the roof, which likely means vertical. But verticals can be noisy.

My first experiment was with an “End Fed Half wave” wire and an extendable/collapsable poll. The main reason for this was price and a chance to see how vertical would do. I raised the wire up the pole, spiraling up the length to hold it tight to the mast.

It was noisy, but with a tuner, tuned up on everything 40m and up without complaint. But also almost completely without QSO. I believe I managed one psk31 contact with this antenna. Otherwise I was in the mud and could only hear the strongest of stations.

So, while I knew this couldn’t be my permanent setup either, I got hold of the Sotabeams “Bandhopper” 40m/20m linked dipole. I highly recommend this thing, by the way. But understand it is meant for portable and temporary set up. I extended the pole, put this up on 20 meters, and had amazing results.

After a weekend of 20 meter fun, I raised it again the next weekend, linked up for 40 meters, and had a good weekend as well. So, I decided to leave it up all week so I could play after work.

The collapsable pole collapsed. It had been up in the wind too long. I raised it again and it collapsed after a couple of days, this time just before the lawnmower guys came through and ran over one side of of the dipole, removing a large segment of one of the elements of the Sotabeams. But it was pretty clear to me now that, in this location, resonant dipoles are king.

Then the snow hit. I tried a repair of the Sotabeams but the weather really kept me from playing outside. And it seemed very clear that I cannot count on the collapsable pole to be raised for more than the one day outings it was meant for.

So while it was freezing, I tried playing with the sotabeam inside the house. No go. In the meantime, my buddy W8AAR, who is confined to indoor or stealth antennas (thanks to his condo association), got hold of an Alpha Loop antenna and started playing with FT8. He was having so much fun, that I got an MFJ-936B loop tuner to play with for the winter. I hooked it up and made a loop appropriate for 20 meters. I got it to match up quite nicely. Unfortunately it was basically deaf. Except, it turned out, on FT8!

This was pretty cool. I was seeing stations from all around the country, and quite a few from Europe!

Not a single one of them could hear me.

I was fighting with this on the weekend after all the snow melted, got exasperated, and went outside and raised the collapsable pole again, with the end-fed-half-wave running up it.

Lo and behold, I made tons of FT8 contacts. pskreporter.info was showing me being heard all around the world, on 20, 30, & 40 meters. But no other modes seemed to get me out at all.

So I decided to work out a solution for putting up a dipole permanently.

In the meantime, I bought the desktop radio I’d wanted for a while. The simple workhorse IC-718. I had been using a Xiegu X108G. Besides being able to use more wattage when needed on the Icom, it turns out the receive on it is nicer in this neighborhood, and apparently the transmitted audio has more punch, because for the first time, people can hear me on SSB through the end-fed half-wave. Previously I only had SSB success with the dipole. And on a bizarre side-note, the collapsable pole has been up without collapsing for almost 2 weeks.

Moral: It’s always the Antenna. But sometimes, it’s the radio.

In this blog I will likely be documenting some antenna stuff though. The end-fed hasn’t fallen yet, but its days are numbered, and I believe I have worked out just how I plan to layout a more permanent dipole set-up. I’ll save that for a post in the next couple weeks.

And I have radio hacks planned I’ll be posting. Maybe.

It’s all maybe. This is a blog.