Thursday, March 28, 2013

What Key Will You Use

Some of you may be on the AT-Sprint Yahoo group that is a place to hang out if you are an afficianado of Steve Weber's, KD1JV, QRP radio designs. After the recent re-release of his popular 2 Band, Mountain Top Rig (MTR), a thread broke out on what types of morse key operators would use with these portable QRP rigs. The results were intereresting.

PortaPaddle from American Morse

The PortaPaddle seemed to be the most popular. These keys come in a kit and can be deployed in many different ways. They seem to be popular anchored to the top of a RockMite rig

Te Ne Ke

The Te Ne Ke also received several endorsments. This key is very light and can used in a varied of ways. You can actually hold it in you hand with the paddles pointing away from or you can order it with a base that holds the key pretty firmly.

P3W Touchkeyer

This key comes is a key and takes some soldering, but is very compact if built into the rig you are using.

WG0AT Home Brew Goat Paddle

This is Steve's ergonomic paddle made from wood found on one of his SOTA Activations.

KT5X Home Brew, Te Ne Ke Type Keys
Note the bolt that hold the key down on the logging clipboard

The top key is made of very light wood.

Obviously there are as many key configurations as there are hams with imaginations. I thought you might be interested in looking at these different keying options for you next QRP adventure.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Antenna Maintenance and other things

It's that time of year, at least in Texas where I live, the flowers start to bloom, the temperatures start to rise and antennas need some work. This past weekend a friend of mine, Hector, AD6D/XE2K, came to help me (he did most of the work) with some tower climbing, element straightening, rotor fixing and antenna building. In a addition to the antenna/tower work we completely reorganized my shack, so it was a busy weekend. I am now greased and gassed and ready to go for while. I found some things in the shack that I hadn't seen in a while, so I will be getting reaquainted with some of my toys.

I also received my new Yaesu VX8-GR with the build in APRS/GPS capability. I was up on APRS in a matter of minutes, pretty cool. There are various applications of APRS, but for a hiker/climber it is a nice safety device so that you location is known in case of emergency and if you are activating a summit, chaser can follow your progress up the mountain.

I also managed a QRP QSO with EY8MM, so the new restored antennas are working great.

After I recover from the weekend, I will write about some more interesting topics.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

QRP Gear: The Temptations

Can you ever have enough radios? I suppose that is the question. As technology advances, it is hard for me to resist upgrading the QRO rig every few years. Better filtering, more sensitive receivers and many other bells and whistles that come with today's new radios. One limiting factor for the big rigs however is that as functionality grows so does the price, which for most of us necessitates that we hold on to what we have for a while before trading. After all, you can't just to drop $3,000- -$5,000 casually to try out the new stuff. Usually the life cycle of my main QRO rig is 5 - 10 years and I know for many its 10 -20 years depending on  your interests and activity level. The same with the rest of my QRO station, it usually changes slowly over the years.

QRP rigs however are quite a different story. As a general rule they are more affordable and this introduces a dilemma to me. Currently I own a K1, KX1, FT-817, ATS-3, ATS-4 and a KX3. This begs the question of how many different ways do I need to cover 20m with a QRP radio? The answer to that question, at least for now, must be six!!

However, operating QRP portable is not limited to transceivers. Unlike a home station that usually has resonant antennas that are at least semi-permanent, QRP/P deals with temporary poles, various antenna configurations, tuners, batteries, backpacks, logging, raingear and on and on. Oh the combinations one can come up with to operate portable. As I have written, I am a backpacker and there is something in my genes that is attracted to the smallest, lightest and most efficient way to be functional when traveling, either with a suitcase in my hand or a pack on my back. So I am always on the lookout for lighter more efficient gear. As I process all the possiblities I find myself driven to eBay searching for any little gadget that I don't have, kit providers for a new piece of equipment and backpacking stores  for lighter ways to travel.  A good is example of my compulsive behavior was just the other day I was looking at the Ten-Tec QRP transceivers. To their credit, Ten-Tec had put together a nice package, to tempt people like me, that included either a 2- band or 4- band radio, with a portable mulit-band wire antenna and a very cool shoulder bag to carry it in. All of this for a reasonable price. It was almost more than I could take and just before I hit the buy button, I came to my senses and realized I didn't need a seventh radio to cover 20M with QRP. I was also looking at a cool portable tuner to add to the three portable tuners that I already have. I just received in the mail another version of the end fed dipole antenna with a 9 to 1 balun to compliment my Alex-Loop, Buddistick, center fed doublet and my End Fedz multiband antenna. Oh the shame of such excess. But, you never know what the situation will call for, right?

This QRP equipment thing is an addiction and I have to re-commit on a daily basis to be rational, the temptations are beyond calculation. But one small success is that I still don't own a Ten-Tec QRP radio, yet.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Good SOTA/DXCC Weekend

For those of you who haven't tried the Summits on the Air program, you are missing a great time. As previously reported, no QSL's are required, awards are based on a point system, and you can work a summit for points once per day. So there is always someone to work and the challenge of working these portable summit operations makes for a worthy challenge. The link for the program is on my Blog page under Links.

Starting Friday, UTC, time I managed to work 16 summits for a total of 94 points. Summits range in point value from 1 to 10. It would be possible to work 16 summits and get 16 points, but this weekend the activators were putting some quality summits on the air, which meant they were working extra hard to make it to these summits to activate them. To make earning the points all the more fun  I worked summits in OE, DL and OK as well as across the US. So thank you activators for putting in the effort.

On the DXCC front, creating my separate QRP log paid dividends this weekend. In an earlier post I talked about my decision to create a separate QRP log on my DX4WIN logging software that would highlight needed countries on the DX Cluster. In the past I was hit and miss, having to take time to query my total log to see if I had worked a station QRP. Since there was a lot of contest activity this weekend, I decided to look around for needed QRP countries. I hit a gold mine. This weekend, thanks to my logging software I worked many relatively easy countries that I hadn't taken the time to work before. I was able to log HR, C6, J3, KP2, PJ7, KH2 (as mentioned in my previous post) for new ones and the catch of the day was 9M4SLL (1S). I worked the 9M4 on 17 CW, when no-one was calling. So my QRP DXCC count is now up to 126. I have worked 15 new DXCC countries on QRP since creating the log about 6 weeks ago.

So it was a good weekend, now back to work:-)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Little Victories

There is a song I like by Chris Knight, one of my favorite musical artists, called Little Victories. The chorus goes,"little victories, there alright with me, these days that's all I need". And so it is with QRP operating. Working state side with QRO and a beam is no victory at all, but you cut your power to 5 watts and its cause for a small celebration, work a good DX station and there might be some victory dances in the shack.

I've had a couple of little victories in the last 24 hours. The first was working KH2L on 10m CW for country #121 on QRP. I was reminded during the QSO that a QRP operators have to use all the tools at our disposal to make QSO's more probable. This time I was calling with no success and noticed on the KX3 display that I wasn't quite centered on the KH2's transmitting frequency, for those with a KX3, its the CWT display. I zero beat his signal and bingo, in the log.

My other little victory was this morning. I was chasing a SOTA peak, Gespitzer Riegal, in Austria on 17m SSB. Mike, OE4MXB, was QRP on this mountain top. I was using my QRO rig and beam for this one, as I really wanted the QSO and I'm sure that Mike wanted it also. There was a lot of QRM on adjacent frequecies and Mike was in and out. Finally, the window opened and Mike was a solid 44, heard me and we made the QSO. A little QRP rig on a mountaintop in Austria worked Texas with 5 watts and a portable antenna. Oh the joy of little victories.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Cost of a Summit Activation

For those of us that chase awards, be it DX, Summits, Islands, etc...  we have all heard about the costs of expeditions and in many cases we individually choose to support those  that interest us the most. Costs for expeditions to rare places like Bouvet or Peter I can approach $400,000 or more. Those expeditions require ice class ships, helicopters and tons of equipment. Even a jaunt to rare IOTA qualifying island can run into the tens of thousands of  dollars. Major expeditions have found ways, other than greenstamps in envelopes, to fund their adventures, e.g,  by  offering online QSL requests for a fee and by just making it easy to contribute by accepting PayPal. Often times we will read what the cost per QSO was as the expeditions try to recoup their costs.

This brings me to the costs of my recent trek to the top of East End Summit in Arizona which qualifies for the Summit on the Air (SOTA) award. I was able to fit this into a business trip so it's hard to allocate travel costs to the expedition. I did rent a car to get to the trailhead and some food to eat on the trek and water to drink, none of these costs were outrageous. However, there was a huge expenditure that is worthy of mention and that is burned calories.. Using my "Lose It" app, I burned approximately 2,500 calories on my trip up and down the mountain. Given that this activiation took place on a weekday, the QSO's were limited with 18 QSO's made. So I propose a new measure of expedition economics, and that is, calories per QSO or C/QSO. With the numbers above my C/QSO ratio for this trip was 138.9 to 1. So to help reimburse me for my costs, it might be more appropriate to send me a pastry with the QSL request rather than a green stamp.

So the next time you need to drop a few pounds, maybe you should try the SOTA activation diet, it can burn a lot of calories.

Friday, March 8, 2013

East End Peak Activation SOTA ref. W7A/MN-038

As previously written in this blog, I enjoy chasing mountain summits for the Summits on the Air (SOTA) program. Until now, all I have done is chase peaks activated by others. The attraction of the program to me is based on my love of the mountains as I have done many miles of backpacking and climbed 6 of Colorado's 14,000 peaks. Both of my sons are Eagle Scouts and hams, AB5EB and KB5SKN, and we used to take yearly trips to the Rockies. However they are both married with children now, so my time in the mountains has diminished considerably, that is, until this week.

Since joining the SOTA chase, I have been looking for summits to activate, but the problem is that the closest accessible peak that counts for the program is several hundred miles away from my QTH. So, I had to look for opportunities. As I checked my business calendar I had a two day meeting in Scottsdale, AZ. Ah, there are mountains there. So I did a little research and contacted another SOTA activator from the Phoenix area, Jim Davies, K7JFD. Jim was kind enough to offer a few suggestions of both easier peaks and some good candidates that had yet to be activated. As my schedule developed I was able to have most of day free and so I planned use that time activating a summit.

Based on the results of my research, I settled on East End Peak, a summit that had not been activated.  It is located in the northern region of the McDowell Mountans outside of  Phoenix, AZ. It is the highest peak in the range, at 4,057 ft (1,237 m). East End is mainly covered in rocky boulders and is accessible from the Tom Thumb Trailhead in the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy. From the trailhead East End Peak is 1.82 miles, one way, and 1,405 feet vertical assent.

My wife of 37 years accompanied me on the trip and is also experienced in the mountains, so we saw this as a challenge and renewal of our love of the mountains.

My lovely wife Cris, KC5HZQ

The packing for the trip took some thinking, but to keep this story from getting too long, my station consisted of a Buddistick vertical mounted to the top of my hiking stick, an Elecraft  KX3 and a 4 amp/hour battery for my power supply. The hike up the mountain was pretty tough as the last 400 feet were without a trail. There were a lot of boulders, cactus and thorny bushes to navigate, however, we found our way to the summit to set up the station. Since this trip occurred on a Wednesday, the number of summit chasers would be limited, but I had announced the activation, so I knew there would be a few folks waiting on me.

We first set the station up a few feet below the summit and the path to the east coast was blocked by some boulders, so after I worked a few W6's and W7's we moved the station up to the absolute summit where I was able to work some of the guys on the east coast. After switching bands a few times and several unanswered CQ's I shut down and packed up. I put 18 stations in the log, coast to coast, with my QRP set up and my wife and I enjoyed a lovely day in the mountains. The calories burned per QSO was pretty high, but we had a lot of fun and we slept extremely well that night. I can't wait to do it again.

Making QSO's from East End Peak in Arizona

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

QRP Tactics and XT2TT

It is always an interesting discussion among QRP'ers when the conversation rolls around to just "how" a contact was made with  a significant DX station with 5 watts or less. Significant is a relative term of course, but suffice it to say a station that you are willing to endure a pile-up to work is by definition significant DX. My previous post on my QRP contact with 9U4U was such a story. I was in position when the opportunity for QSO presented itself, that is, no callers, late in the expedition and I had a path to 9U.

However, as they say, there is more than one way to skin a cat, so are there many ways to work big DX-peditions QRP. I did not need XT for a new QRP country, however I did need them on 160m. (before you say I know what's coming, I did not work XT2TT on 160m QRP). So after the IOTA Bash festivities on Saturday night I went to the shack to see if the XT was up on 160m. Not only did I need them for a new one on Top Band, but a friend of mine has already worked him on that band, so I was doubly motivated. As luck would have it, they were not on 160m, but on 20m CW. So rather than fire up the QRO rig, I thought I would give the KX3 a workout to see if  I could get a QRP QSO with Burkina Faso.

So I turned the beam to Africa, found the split and started calling. The Op was working primarily Russian stations that I could not hear so I had trouble knowing exactly were to call. He work several in succesion, leading me to believe that band was much louder to Eastern EU. My hopes of a QSO weren't very high. Finally he worked a W4 that I could hear, I moved the VFO to the W4's frequency and called, "AD5A/QRP" after which he came right back to me. In fact the online log has AD5A/QRP in it.

I'll admit that I was a little surprised to make the QSO, so I sat there thinking why was this relatively easy. After evaluating the scenario and remembering that the ARRL DX Phone contest was in full swing, it was a late night opening on 20m that isn't used that much,  the situation made more sense. For both reasons above, the competition was much lighter and therefore a QSO was much more probable.

I guess the moral of this story is to look for QRP workable DX on a major phone contest weekend on the CW bands and I suppose the reverse would be true as well.

By the way, I managed a QRO QSO with XT2TT on 160m last night so I have a new band country in the log, but more importantly, my buddy no longer has bragging rights:-)

Monday, March 4, 2013

HamLog Portable Logging App

HamLog Logo

There are many portable logging apps available and I expect there will be more, however, I have been using one for a while that just keeps getting better. It's called HamLog and is written by N3WG. Nick just continues to develop the software to the point that it is not only a logging program, but a a very handy resource when you are away from home. The Hamlog website,   is much more descriptive than I can attempt to duplicate here. However there are some nice features including, functionality, bandplans, real time grid square calculator, azimuth calculator, solar data, DX Cluster, SOTAwatch, audio recorder, contest calendar, ADIF export capability just to name a few. There is also a "ring the phone" option that simulates a phone ringing if you need to get out of a QSO:-)

In addition to all this, Nick has developed rig control software that interfaces with  a unit he calls Pigtail or a more recent  version called Piglet that allows you to control numerous radios, including the FT-817 and the KX3 from your iPhone or iPad. This software makes creating CW files or Voice files very easy to manage. These units are described on his website, I hooked this unit up this weekend to my FT-817 and it very cool.

I have no commercial interest in either of the products, I just find them extremely useful and thought you might want to know about them.

Rig Control Interface with HamLog


What a great weekend. As mentioned in my previous post, this past weekend was the IOTA Bash, a gathering of  IOTA chasers to eat, drink and talk about island chasing in Boerne, TX, just northwest of San Antonio.. Friday night is a dinner at the AD5A QTH with XYL's included. In addition to the dinner, we only fiinished off nine bottles of wine this year, short of the record 13 a few years ago.

Saturday dawned with preparations for the presentations, breakfast at the hotel where the conference was held and the XYL's loading up for a shopping trip. The presenters included:

G3ZAY, former member of the IOTA Committee talking about the IOTA program direction and his trips to ZD8, ZD7 and his trips to Antarctica
AB5EB, was on the recent CY9M expedition to St. Paul and told the story of rough seas, tough landings and 30,000 + QSO's
K5WQG, presented on a trip to P29 which netted  45,000 QSO's on five islands
N3QQ, told us about his trips to two rare islands in Alaska and a recent trip to Cuba on the T48RRC expedition

The presentations were rich in content and the time flew by.

We finished the day with a Dutch dinner at a local restauarant in Boerne. As always it's tough to say goodbye to friends, but another IOTA Bash is in the books and we all look forward to next year.

Information will be posted on the Island Radio Expedition Foundation website regarding next years Bash in a few months time.