Ham Shack Cleanup

As you may have noticed from my Virtual Ham Shack Tour video, things were a bit mess at chez W8NAT. Add that I also use the space for my work-from-home for the last couple months, and I had to do something.

I bought a riser for my monitors and a power distribution unit for Anderson Powerpoles. It’s not perfect, but man, it is an improvement. I’m actually enjoying longer sits at the radio and even working from home at the station.

Here, I made a video about it:

I’m a YouTube Starrrrrrrrrr

Moral: Build up, not out.

Win4Icom (Video!)

I finally caved and bought Win4IcomSuite to use with my 7300. I played out the 30-day trial long ago, after waffling for ages about whether or not to buy it. I recently discovered the latest version includes a feature for the waterfall that I didn’t have available during my trial, and it pushed me over the edge to buy it for my set up.

I made a video demoing the software, and here is is:

Pay no attention to my family laughing in the background.

New Video, New Channel

So, I decided to make a ham-centric YouTube channel instead of uploading Ham and non-Ham stuff to my general account. I copied the two radio videos that were already uploaded over to the new channel, and added links to avoid anyone thinking there was content-theft involved, and updated the embedded videos here to point to the new channel versions.

The new channel is HERE.

And to celebrate, I uploaded its first video, a tour of my Shack:

Moral: Doing stuff is fun.

Across the Rainbow Bridge of Asgard

Where the Booming Heavens Roar

I may have mentioned previously that I like the chatty digital modes. One of the things that encouraged me to get back on the air a few years ago and upgrade to General was the various digital modes that had surfaced over the years. And this was before FT8 took over everyone’s attention.

To date, my favorite mode has been Olivia. It has several variations, but is robust and easy to use, and its sending rate is just slow enough that I can type ahead while transmitting. I’ve had several pleasant ragchews on Olivia over the last few years.

While I’ve had a few opportunities to play with other related digital modes, Olivia is certainly the most popular of its kind. But the other night, while I was about to call out on Olivia, I saw something unusual– multiple THOR signals.

One was in a QSO and using a higher width that I can’t remember, and two others were using THOR-4. I began googling to see if there was some sort of THOR event that day, but found none. Then I responded to a CQ, and had a nice conversation with someone who used to live almost in my neighborhood.

During this conversation, I got to see the power of Mighty Thor. There were considerable moments of signal fading going on, reducing the incoming signal to inaudible to my ears and dim on the waterfall. But THOR’s Forward Error Correction stayed at 100% through it all and I didn’t lose a word, or even a letter, and I didn’t get any errant characters.

When I finished that QSO, another fellow called me and I had similar results. I am now completely sold on THOR’s amazing anti-fading power in situations that would make an OLIVIA QSO have holes.

THOR, like any other mode, is not perfect. The main drawback with THOR-4 is how slow the character rate is. At one point, I finished typing a response and added my BTU macro at the end, got up, went to the restroom and got some drinking water, and returned to my radio desk to find my transmission about 75% complete. It’s not for people in a hurry.

But it *IS* quite fun, and so I shall be calling CQ on THOR much more often.

Moral: Beedlebeeboobeeboobeeboobeeboo

The Simplex Things in Life

Years ago, when I was a little ham, and my only radios were an Alinco DJ-162 and a Radio Shack HTX-212, I was very happy on just 2 meter for a long time. The reason is a group of people I knew. Just before I first got my ticket, a friend, who was an Amateur Extra, told me that he and some friends hung out on a simplex frequency most of the time instead of talking on a repeater. I got the Alinco handheld while I was studying, and while I was waiting for my license to come in the mail so I could transmit, I started listening to them.

By the time the license came, I knew who all of them were (I actually knew the aforementioned Extra and another guy in the group from, well, another radio service). They were a very funny crew. Dry, biting humor, silliness, and best of all, a complete lack of regard for the pomp that was (and still often is) popular on repeaters: saying every call sign in the conversation every time you finish a transmission, worrying about who’s turn it was in the rotation, etc. Just a group of people hanging out and talking. One habit they had, which I still have to this day, was taking pauses between transmissions. Before wisecracking, pause and give someone a chance to break in.

Anyway, other than a drive to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula wherein I and a friend decided to see just how far away I could drive before I wasn’t hitting the BIG repeater anymore, hanging out ragchewing on 2 meter simplex was the most fun I ever had on 2 meter.

Well, this week I got tired of the bad recieve and terrible microphone audio on the cheap UHF/VHF radio I was using, and got myself one of these to use as my base station:

That’s an Icom IC-2730. Yes, that’s a D-104/TUG-9 desk mic behind it, and yes I hooked the D-104 up to the 2730, but the audio is all wrong for FM.

Not only does it receive repeaters I couldn’t get through the noise on the old radio, but people say the audio sounds great when i transmit. So of course, I wanted to try it on simplex as well. I got on 146.520, the national 2 meter simplex calling frequency, and just started occasionally calling out. I was pretty casual about it. Stuff like, “Hey, is anyone hanging out on simplex today? This is W8NAT”.

It wasn’t long before I got an answer, which led to a nice long conversation with a fellow about 8 miles away who makes it a habit of having his radio listen on 146.52. I had a blast.

So, I will also make it a habit of monitoring .52 when I’m around the radio. Repeaters are fun, but simplex is more funner.

Moral: nostalgia can be a good motivator.

2020 CQ WPX!

Being busy has kept me from radio activity for a while. But some radio things have happened that have not been documented here. Like the trees sprouting leaves and getting too close to the 6BTV antenna, and me pretty much wrecking the antenna trying to relocate it.

While I really like the Wolf River Coils antenna I posted about and will be using it for portable ops, at home I have been using an EFHW-4010 wire up about 30 feet for most of the last year. It does well enough on 40 and 20 to keep me happy, but really this year’s CQ WPX SSB contest was a nice test of the setup. It performed great on 40 and 20 meter, and held its own on 15 and 10 meter when there was traffic there.

I am NOT a serious contester, but for me it is a great excuse to get out there while people are actually on the air. As you may recall, I made a whopping 50 contacts in my previous WPX run 2 years ago (last year, personal life took me out of the game). This year I hunkered down, got serious and DOUBLED THAT NUMBER. I AM A BIG STATION NOW!

To give you an idea of how casual a contester I am, I only went to 100 contacts because I found myself at 80. I had already beaten my record, but I decided I wanted to try for a full 100, just to do it. In the meantime, I was talking to stations giving out serials in the two-thousands. When I hit 100 contacts, I stopped, and uploaded my log even though the contest had more than 3 hours left. I was done.

But it was fun and rekindled my enthusiasm, which is always nice. It was also fun to compare the hectic Friday night big gun activity with Sunday having a lot of running stations who were, like me, under 100. I again stuck to hunt & pounce this year.

Biggest hint I learned this year? Your RF Gain is even more powerful than your filters when trying to quiet interference from adjacent frequencies.

Biggest complaint? Running stations who “QRZ” 10 or more times in a row without identifying themselves. I’m not calling you if I don’t know who you are. Second biggest complaint is repeating my call with nonstandard phonetics so I think you got it wrong. Me: “Whiskey Eight November Alpha Tango”. Them: “Washington Eight Noodles Aroogah Tsunami, 59 178”.

Anyway, a splendid time was had again.

Moral: Make yourself play.

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.