Sunday, December 11, 2016

Simple Solution for a CW Paddle/Key Selector

I really enjoy CW, it's my preferred mode. However, it's not just the mode I enjoy, but the different tools of the trade. There are paddles, straight keys, bugs and the variations on the those themes, single lever, double lever, and then iterations within iterations of key and paddle design. Well, I enjoy all of them. I collect keys, paddles and bugs, but not just to look at, I love getting them on the air. I have a K3 which allows me to connect a straight key or bug into one plug and a paddle into another which allows me to switch seamlessly between a paddle and a bug or straight key. However, I wanted to have a straight key, maybe a couple of bugs, and paddle ready to go on demand and in addition a WinKeyer that interfaces with my contesting software that has to be plugged into the radio also. I needed a more efficient method of changing between the keys rather than  leaning over reaching down among the tangle of wires and cable, feeling for the plug before I could make the change.

I needed a switch, one that would allow me to select the key or paddle that I wanted to use. So I begin looking for a switch to suit my needs among ham equipment suppliers, but found nothing. I finally found a couple of schematics on the web to build my own and decided to take that path.

I was about to start ordering the parts when a friend of mine was visiting the shack. I told him about building the switch and his response was; "why do you want to that, you can a switch on EBay that will be relatively cheap and do the job". He told me I wasn't Googling with the right words. He suggested I try "3.5mm audio switch ". Who knew? Much to my surprise and delight several devices came up that would meet my needs. Here is the link to the one I bought.

A cable with an 1/8" on one end (switchbox) and a 1/4" connector on the other, (K3 plug)  works for the K3. Simply connect the switch via the cable to the radio and then plug in your keys, paddle, etc. into the switch. As can be seen below I have a straight key, bug and Winkeyer plugged into the switch, while the paddle is plugged directly into the radio. I actually have an empty port in the switch where I usually have a second bug plugged in. You could actually get a second switch that would allow multiple paddles to be at your disposal as well.

So when I'm chatting with my CW buddies I can change my method of sending code with the push of a button. I can answer a CQ'er with a like kind instrument. An operator calling CQ with a bug, I can answer with a bug, etc.. This switching solution is very easy and very economical. There are 8 position switches available as well.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Remember An Old Friend This Holiday Season

As we get deeper into the Holiday Season it's easy to get caught up in all the activities that can run you ragged this time of year. There are parties, events, travel, family gatherings and the list goes on and on. We get so busy that we lose sight of the meaning and spirit of the Holiday Season, whatever your religion. It's Christmas time for me, but that has come to mean busy schedules and trying to get as much done in a short time as we can.

Today, I think I may have started a tradition, something that put the holiday season into a little clearer perspective, I contacted an old friend, a ham radio buddy that I haven't communicated with in at least a couple of decades. He was IOTA chasing buddy and fellow activator. I used to visit him on business trips to Calgary and we would meet up and share a Molson and talk the hours away. We did a couple of Canadian Islands together and genuinely enjoyed each others company. Then I changed jobs and don't get back to Calgary and eventually our friendship faded from a lack of use. Today I wondered how he was doing. He is 34 years older than me, I  thought I should check on him., he is about to turn 93 years old.

I sent him an email, not sure of a response, but let him know that I was thinking about him and those old memories were as fond now as they ever were. To my surprise, in a couple of hours he responded. He was clearly happy to be communicating with someone and to renew our friendship and hopefully to refresh a few good memories from the past. He still ties fishing flies and trout fishes, mainly with the sons of his fishing buddies. He still volunteers in his community and has been recognized for his volunteer work. He lost his wife of 69 years in 2013 and misses her dearly. He still gets on the radio and told me of his latest exploits on air. He wants to stay in touch and wished me a healthy 2017.

It made my day, my week, my month. I need to do this sort of thing way more often and it made me think about how good it feels to be remembered. After you read this look up an old friend, someone you haven't seen or heard from in years and let them know that you remember and that you were thinking of them. It will do you a world of good.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Activating SOTA's at Philmont Scout Ranch

Philmont Scout Ranch belongs to the Boy Scouts of America and is located near Cimarron, NM. Philmont consists of some 136,000 acres of rugged back country ideal for backpacking and any number of other outdoor activities. ( Philmont offers a variety of backpacking itineraries that cover 10 days of hiking ranging in distance from 56 miles to 106 miles.

I was fortunate to be able to do a 84 mile backpacking trek with my son, AB5EB, and my grandson, KF5GYD, at Philmont Scout Ranch near Cimarron, NM. It was 25 years ago to the day, July 5th, 1991 that I started a  trek with my two sons, the second, KB5SKN, to July 5th, 2016 that I started this trek. Pretty cool from a grandfather perspective. Aside from the trek experience I had in mind to activate a couple of SOTA peaks, within the Philmont boundries, that we would climb on our trek. Neither had every been activated for SOTA.

Philmont rates their treks by the magnitude of difficulty from Challenging, Rugged, Strenuous and Super Strenuous. The trek I was on was in the Super Strenuous category, for those familiar with the system, our Trek was # 31. I have been training for this trek for over a year and would need all that accumulated fitness to make the trip. We had a crew of eight, two adults and six teenage boys. What you learn, or maybe remember, is that youth covers lots of physical ills, in other words, they recover quickly.

The first summit on our trek was Baldy Mountain, W5N/CM-002, 12,441 ft. ASL. We would summit the mountain on the 4th day of our trek. Trek #31  started at ~ 6,500 ASL, so we would spend 4 days climbing with 50 lb packs on our back toward the summit of Baldy Mountain. There were a multitude of other activities on the way, but the trail was always going up. The day of the final ascent, we arose and 3:30 am, was on the trail by 5:00 am and we climbed ~2,300 vertical feet over four miles of trail from 9,200 ASL to 11,500 ASL with full backpacks to the shoulder of Baldy and hiked the final 1,200 feet with day packs. It was a full day.

Baldy Mountain getting closer
The SOTA activation of Baldy was a bit chaotic. Baldy Mountain is the iconic destination for Philmont trekkers so there was a significant number of scouts on the summit and trying to keep them away from my EFHW was a distraction. I used the KX2, needing SSB capability from my grandson. We made a total of 16 QSO’s in tough conditions, using both my call, AD5A and KX5BSA, a club call that my son is the trustee of. I’ve had my eye on this summit for a while, but the only way to access it is to do a Philmont trek. The descent was satisfying, but when we go back to our packs, we had to saddle up and hike another 3 miles, this time downhill, to our camp for the night. It was a 15 mile day, 12 miles of which was with full packs.

Operating from Baldy Mountain
AD5A In The Middle and AB5EB On The Right
Fast forward six days, the last day of our trek, we camped at ~7,500 ASL, We would ascend almost 2,000 feet again to Schaeffer’s Peak, W5N/CM-016, at 9.413 feet, with full packs. The final 100 ft. or so was with day packs. We had a nice activation there with 23 QSO’s between AD5A and KX5BSA. On this activation, my son and grandson both had sufficient QSO’s to qualify for the points and the scouts gathered around to listen to CW and SSB as my grandson activated. A couple of the boys expressed interest in getting licensed so we will follow up on that.

Baldy Mountain From Scheaffers Peak
Yes, We Hiked That Distance
My Grandson, KF5GYD Operating
From Scheaffer's Peak

After the activation of Scheaffer's Peak, we had to put our packs back on and finish the last nine miles of the trek. Another long day, but at the end, what a sense of accomplishment. Hiking 84 miles in rugged back country and activating two new SOTA summits.

What a great hobby.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Chinese Kit Invasion

I suppose that I might be a little late to the game, so to speak, but I was browsing through the variety of  QRP kits on Ebay the other day and was shocked at what I saw. Many may already be familiar with  this phenomena in the QRP kit world, however it was news to me. A new Pixie 2 kit for $3.54 plus a whopping $1.80 for shipping. Now that's a QRP price. The kits were from China. As I considered this, I rationalized that at that price, something was askew, surely the quality was suspect, the parts incomplete and the instructions resembled some graffiti on an inner city wall. I passed it off as maybe a joke and went about my EBay browsing.

A few days later I stumbled upon an entry on the SOTA reflector entitled "QRPp Activation with a $3.56 Chinese Pixie..." by Manuel HB9DQM. Manuel had seen the radio on EBAy and couldn't pass up the opportunity to give it a shot. He not only built the radio, which takes the better part of an hour, but he decided to put it to the test in the field.

HB9DQM Pixie Station

Using the configuration above, running 300 milliwatts, he made 16 QSO's from a summit top bench. Pretty cool. 300 mw, wire antenna, battery power and a straight key, ah the magic of Ham Radio.

Of course the radio has limitations, it's crystal controlled, the radio comes with a 7.023 crystal (HB9DQM used a 7.030 crystal) and the bandwidth on receive is very wide, but as Manuel demonstrated, you can have some good, cheap fun with this little radio. He said he was listening to the world news, in English (courtesy of a BC station), while he worked the callers. An interesting diversion.

I did some further research on YouTube and found many happy campers who had purchased and assembled the kit. So I took the big plunge. I even went overboard and bought a couple of extra's as projects for my teenage grandsons who are hams.

There is one thing a little troublesome about this kit invasion however, at these prices, the other QRP kit providers can't compete. What will happen to them? Such is the world these days.

Chinese version of the Pixie 2
The inexpensive kits aren't limited to Pixie's, there are also '49ers, RockMites, etc.. Some even come assembled. I saw and assembled Rockmite, with a case for $35.00.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Mountain Goat Summit Revisited

A little less than a year ago I summited a mountain, known in SOTA terms as 9431 (it's elevation ASL) with a designator of W5N/PW-019, which put me over 1,000 Activator points and thus qualified me for the Mountain Goat award. This award is one of the most satisfying awards I've achieved in ham radio, including #1 Honor Roll. I did the summit that day with a couple of friends of mine, Fred KT5X (aka WS0TA) and John, K1JD. Both are also mentors to me as I learned the SOTA trade so to speak.

So, nearly a year later, the three of us returned to the same summit. Like the previous ascent we would need snowshoes to get to the top. The hike is a little more than 3 miles round trip and climbs 1,100 vertical feet. The hike starts in Black Canyon with a steady ascent to the shoulder, and then two different steep pitches to the top. The drifts on the summit were significant with our snowshoes sinking 1-2 feet into the snow. There were patches facing the south were the snow had completely melted, however most of the final ascent is on the north side of the mountain.

Below is a brief video of my set-up on the summit. I have configured my 3 band MTR (17m, 20m and 30m) so that I can hold it in my hand. As you will see in the video, the battery and paddle are attached to the radio and I use the back of the radio to hold my log. Very compact and very efficient. I certainly can't claim this as an original design since I coped it from Fred, KT5X. My antenna is a linked EFHW into an 81:1 transformer. The actual link connection design was inspired from Frank, K0JQZ.

Below is my log:


Saturday, January 23, 2016


Another small celebration in the shack. I wasn't sure the time was right to spend much time chasing South Sandwich with a QRP signal. I usually save that  attempt for the last day or two of a big expedition and the VP8 guys are still working to satisfy a lot of demand. In fact I did try earlier in the day and just rationalized, after calling for a while, that the pile-up was still too big. The other deterrent to my thinking was that they just weren't that loud. As a rule of thumb I figure the DX needs to be 559 or better for them to hear my QRP signal. However as the sun went down I checked the 20 meter pile up on the Elecraft P3, hmm, not too big on the screen. Their signal was probably only an S3, what the heck, let me have a go, as my British buddies would say. I turned the K3 down to 5 watts, hit the split button and started listening on the second VFO. I found him and followed him up for 4 or 5 QSO's and then he came back to me, just like he does with the big guns, AD5A 599:-) That was when the small celebration broke out.

I love this radio stuff.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

K5P on QRP

I managed a QSO with K5P yesterday on 20m CW with 5 watts out for my 180th country on QRP. I don't know why, but I am always amazed by this, especially when breaking a pile-up. I have a decent antenna, a log periodic up 50 feet, but so do most of the QRO guys. Always fun. I suppose that's what's interesting about ham radio, it's never the same two days in a row.

I will be looking to work VP8STI on QRP. I need some band slots on QRO, but still need them in my QRP log for the first time.The pile-ups will need to die down a little before I jump in.

I like this logo, nothing against the SSB guys, but it only has a morse key on it:-)