NT1K – Welcome

ISS We Meet Again

by on Dec.20, 2014, under Digital Communications, General Ham Radio, Uncategorized, VHF

It appears that the International Space Station (ISS) was transmitting slow scan television (SSTV) off and on for the past couple of days. The Russian ARISS team was transmitting images commemorating the 80th birthday of Yuri Gagarin, the first human to orbit earth. It was being transmitting from the Russian service module using only 5 watts of power. I wanted to see if I can get one of these images on my own. They were using 145.800Mhz as the downlink frequency so at least I have the radio for it.

It was advertise that they were going to be transmitting on December 20th starting around 12:40z and will end around 21:30z . So from about 7:40am to 4:30pm locally which is almost a 9hr run. Due to its orbit, it only allows me a couple of chances to receive the transmissions

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Due to work schedule, I was not going to make the 17:17z pass so I concentrated at 18:52 because the elevation would put the ISS right over my house instead scanning the horizon. It was my best chance.

At around 1:00pm, I made sure everything is in working order. The equipment I was going to use was a Radio Shack police scanner, Elk antenna, my laptop with a USB sound card, audio patch cable and the software MMSSTV.  At around 1:30 I took everything to the much colder outside and setup shop. Now that I think back, I should have also setup my home 2M using the vertical antenna on my roof to decode as well.

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I stated waving the antenna around at 1:50  and finally around 2pm is when I started hearing the ISS. If you want, you can watch the following video. Please ignore everything wrong. I thought of recording it last second and would have at least not wear my work clothes.

Once I locked onto the ISS, It was already too late. The ISS was already transmitting an image. But I was able to decode the majority of the image

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That’s not bad. All I am missing is the RS0ISS header which is the callsign used by the Russians on the space station.

I had a blast doing this. It was really fun and I hope NASA and Roscosmos would do more things like this in the future. It could really encourage people to join into the amateur radio community.

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Update: QRZnow.com situation

by on Dec.02, 2014, under Annoyances

Last week word got around that the website QRZnow.com (No relation to QRZ.com) was stealing content and bandwidth from other hams and making a profit from the work of others. They have been doing it for awhile but people finally had enough and started complain publicly in mass. There have been threads on Reddit.com’s amateur radio subreddit (forum) as well as activity on Twitter and G+.  Content creators who’s work was taken from them were speaking up. I even came out hiatus to make a post about this situation because my work was stolen as well.

I honestly thought it wasn’t going to end well. The staff over at QRZnow.com have not said a word and they we’re actively deleting evidence, comments and mentions of content theft on their websites and  social media streams. They even locked down their twitter account so @QRZnow mentions about content theft would not show up on their feed. I thought they were going to keep business as usual and steal content while denying everything.

They are not the only ones

I just want to make it known that QRZnow.com is not the only site stealing content from other amateur radio related websites for profit. There are many more but it seems that QRZnow.com was the most popular.

It appears QRZnow.com has changed their ways… For now. 

Even though the staff at QRZnow.com remains quiet about the situation, they have started to change their ways. Instead of stealing content word for word, stealing bandwidth and stealing images, they have captured and posted a low res screen shot and also posted a link to the source. That means the reader, if interested has to visit the source for more information. This a change in the right direction. There is still room for improvement on their end but it’s much better than stealing content. They still get advertising income and the source gets more traffic. It’s more a win-win for all.

However, due to the lack of communication from QRZnow, I am not sure if these are permanent changes. Who knows, after everything dies down, they might revert back to the way they used to do things. Even though it’s wrong, they might go back to what worked for them. They also might find some other ways to make a quick dollar from the hard work of other hams. I’m not sure what the future holds. I hope the staff at QRZnow.com have learned from this and can’t just take other people’s hard work and attempt to make profit.

It could be a good site

QRZnow.com could be a really good site. It could post interesting information and drive traffic to those site and create attention and awareness. It could be the place to go to see what other ham radio operators are doing. Due to the massive amounts of amateur radio related websites, we do need a website that brings attention to some of these websites, articles and projects.

They should take notes and learn from how hackaday.com does it. They’ve managed to become a very popular aggregate for the DIY electronic and maker. It drives a ton a traffic to websites, articles and projects that otherwise wouldn’t see much attention.

Hopefully everything works out and it benefits all who are involved. That’s all I hope for.

Thanks for reading,
NT1K

 

 

 

 

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Content Thieves – Please Do Not Support Them!

by on Nov.30, 2014, under Annoyances

(UPDATES SINCE 12/2/2014, PLEASE READ BOTTOM)

Let me start off by saying that I put hundreds of hours and a lot of money into my website. At this point in time, you don’t see advertisements on my website nor do I solicit money from my readers. This site was never created with the intentions of making any sort of profit. I wasn’t thinking about money. I just wanted a place to show all my adventures in amateur radio. Maybe someday I will come up with something that will change amateur radio for the better but I doubt that will ever happen. I think of NT1K.com as more of an online journal than anything. I’m glad people are reading.

Approximately one month ago I was browsing my  G+  account when I saw the 3D illustration of the 3 element tape measure yagi that I made. I was thinking, “Oh great, someone is sharing my website”.  Upon a closer look, I saw that it was a link to a different website, QRZnow.com (not to be confused with QRZ.com)

QRZnowNT1Kstolen

When I clicked on the link, I was amazed to see that my entire article including pictures and video were posted to the site. My entire article was taken word-for-word, grammar mistakes and all and posted on their site. They didn’t even bother to re-upload the images to their servers. They were stealing my bandwidth which I pay for. And to make it even worse, there was no mentions or links to my website other than my images that were marked with NT1K.com. This is strike three in my book.

I’ve seen my work on many other websites before and it never really bothered me because they were going about it  the right way for the most part. They didn’t steal my entire article and they placed a link citing the source. If the reader wanted more information, there was incentive to click on the link to the source to receive more information.  It’s sort of a win-win for both parties involved. Even though I don’t think it’s exactly fair, they get income and I get more visitors to my site. There are some well known news aggregator websites such as hackaday.com that give snippits of articles/projects with some input from the author. It gives the viewer the option to go to the source and check it out for themselves. It brings attention to the article/project while hackaday makes a little money. However QRZNow.com does not give the reader incentive to go to source website because they took the entire article and/or content. Why would someone click on the link to the source when they already have all the information from the source in front of their eyes.

At the bottom of every page on my website you will see the following image in two location

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All my work listed on my page is licensed “Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs” . That means I allow others to use my content as long as they give appropriate credit, can’t use it for commercial purposes and they can’t edit/transform the material and redistribute. QRZnow.com  has basically broke the license agreement by not giving appropriate credit and they’re using my article for commercial purposes by collecting revenue from advertisements.

Am I the original designer of the tape measure yagi? Nope. A lot (not all) of my articles are from projects that I’ve seen from others. I was interested in the project and documented my experiences with it and if possible, improve on either the design or how it’s presented with up-to-date parts lists and blueprints.

After looking into QRZnow, it became very clear that they are harvesting content by taking content/information from other websites, blogs and social media websites. It appears there is not one thing original in their content and it’s all copy and paste. Even though some articles on QRZnow have a links to the source, There is no incentive for their readers to go to source because QRZnow has completely copied the material giving no reason.

What’s Being Done About It?

I’ve attempted to e-mail the webmaster asking to have my article removed. All I received is a generic “Thank you” message. Nothing else. At that time I didn’t pursued it much further. I also mentioned  my issue on an online amateur radio chatroom where it caught the attention of some other hams that took more issue to it than I. After seeing more and more content being shared from QRZnow in the /r/amateurradio subreddit that I’m quite active in and help moderate, , a fellow moderator took it upon himself to make as many people know about what QRZnow.com  is doing. He did some research and gathered many examples and created a thread stating what QRZnow.com is doing. It caught the attention of some facebook users and a lot of those on twitter. Since then, other content creators came forward and claimed that QRZnow.com stole their material as well.

Instead of trying to remedy the situation, QRZnow.com decided to cover it up by deleting the articles on their site that were used as examples in the Reddit thread. They’ve also deleted any mention of content theft on their social media streams and even locked down their twitter account so any mentions of theft will not be displayed in their feed. Then they tried to attack the reddit thread by reporting it stating that it was “attacking my site with false accusations”.  Since this article was written, they are still taking content from others. I am assuming that they still doing it without permission. Even though it appears they are linking to the source, they are still taking the content in its entirety giving their readers no reason to visit the source.

It shows that they don’t care. That’s what bothers me. They have over 60,000 followers on facebook and is most likely making a good deal of money from advertising on their website. They are profiting from the hard work of fellow hams

I’m not calling for QRZnow,com to be shut down (yet). I just want them to change their ways. Give their readers some incentive to actually go to source so the person who actually did the work can benefit. That can be done easily by not re-posting entire articles. Give a portion of the article and then give a link to the source. If it was done  with a “Click-Through” type of platform, both QRZnow.com and the original author would benefit. They would get to advertise and the original author would get more attention. A part of me thinks they will never do that because it involves more work than CTRL-C and CTRL-V. I hope I’m proved wrong.

In most cases, I’ll support any site that is trying to help promote amateur radio. Even more so if the people behind it are not trying to make a profit from it. But if they are stealing the works of others and they are making a profit from it, I think they should not be supported.

Sorry for the rant but I felt this needed to be said.
NT1K

UPDATE  12/2/2014, PLEASE READ

At this point in time, We’ve heard nothing from the staff at QRZnow.com. However they’ve made changes on their website since this article and the threads on reddit were posted. They have stopped directly taking articles word for word. They now grab  low res screenshots of the source and give the reader much more incentive to visit the source. They have also unlocked their twitter account so it’s now public again.

Since we’ve not heard from QRZnow.com, I have no clue if these changes are going to be permanent or if they are going to revert back to what they’re used to doing after everything settles down. There are still rumors that they are taking and posting photos without permission or credit on Facebook and other social media sites they run. Due to the uncertainty of the future, I am leaving the above article up. QRZnow.com appears to be changing their ways but they are not the only site that is guilty of stealing content from other hams for the sake of profit.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t “hate” QRZnow.com, I think it could be a really good source of information and a great way to promote other ham radio related websites as well as amateur radio in general. At the same time they get to collect money from their ads (there could be less ads). There is still a ton of room for improvement and hopefully they work at it as long as they don’t steal content and bandwidth from others.

So I am putting my pitchfork away… for now.

 

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Field Day Weekend – Contact with the Space Station

by on Jul.16, 2014, under HF, VHF

It’s been a couple weeks since field day (FD) and I finally got around to writing something about my experience. For the past 4 years I’ve been doing field day with one of the local ham clubs. My first year I was a digital station and then for the past 3 years I’ve been the 40M SSB station in a 5 (or) 6A setup.  The HCRA puts on an impressive field day with 50′ portable towers, beams and wire antennas. It’s amazing to see a lot of the area hams come together and work for this one weekend. It’s something that I look forward to doing every year since before I was ever licensed.

In my first year running the 40M SSB station, I treated it like a contest even though it’s not really a contest. After looking back it, I treated some people very poorly because either they weren’t making contacts fast enough, calling long when there was a pileup and other things. Field day is meant to attract people to operating, not scare them away. So for the past couple of years, I made sure that other people got to operate with as little pressure as possible. It’s about having fun and not the rates of contact. The only time I would jump on the air is if there was no operators available and only then would I try to beat any personal goals.

This year was much better and felt that it was one of the best field days I’ve been a part of. Everyone seemed to leave happy and one potential ham had a great time racking up over 100 contacts. He went from being almost afraid and hesitant, to running on a frequency and holding his own.

The Icing on the cake however was making contact with the ISS. During field day Astronaut Gregory Weiseman (KF5LKT) was using the NA1SS callsign making contacts on 2M. The first pass of the ISS was approx 20M into field day. Kiley (K2KHA) managed to make contact with the ISS using the club call but we were informed that the contact didn’t count for as a SAT contact for field day so on the next pass we we’re going to line up and use our own callsigns. I lost track of time and was on the air when the next pass came. I looked up and saw people making contact so I jumped out of my seat and ran over.

Here I am making contact with the ISS.

(Credit to: Matt Williams, W2MDW)

You can see that I am still in field day mode and didn’t understand how Sat/ISS contacts are made but it still counts.  We all lined up to make contact before the pass was lost.

Great times!

 

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My Mountain Topper Radio project

by on Jun.23, 2014, under CW (Morse Code), HF, Projects, SPOTS, Uncategorized

After doing some portable operations with the KX3, I felt that having something smaller and lighter would allow my pack to get smaller and smaller. The only problem is that there is nothing smaller than the KX3 that is comparable unless you get a CW only rig. I decided to get the MTR (Mountain Topper Radio) that was developed by Steve Weber (KD1JV). It’s a 2.5-5W QRP CW rig that gives you the options for two bands.

The problem is that the MTR kits are produced and sold in small quantities with high demand.  I’ve learned that Steve developed a version 2 of the MTR (3 bands) and had a pre-sale. Even though he gave out the wrong URL, people managed to figure out the correct URL and sold out within hours. I found out a tad too late and ended up having my money refunded.

I was a little bummed out. I was very excited that I might get this kit. I’ve never worked with surface mount devices and the CW only aspect of the rig would sort of force me to actually learn CW. After making my disappointment known, a local ham mentioned that he had an unbuilt kit from the orginal run that he might be willing to sell to me. Making fun of him didn’t help but I think the fact that I might learn CW might have compelled him to sell me his kit.

What did I just do?

Once I got my hands on the kit and took it home I inspected it (what ham doesn’t when they get a new toy?). That’s when I saw the components I’ll be dealing with. Very tiny resistors, capacitors and IC’s. The toroids were tiny and were not wounded.  Everything is so… small. I have built ham radio related kits before but they were all through hole meaning that the parts like the resistors and IC’s had legs and pins the fit into the holes. They were large enough to where I can easily work with them.

I am not prepared for surface mount work. My soldering iron is this $10 Radio Shack 35W fixed iron. I knew it was not ideal for SMT as I have tried and failed using that iron. I need to learn how to solder surface mount and I need the proper gear to do it with. I’ve learned over the years that working with the correct tools makes the job much easier.

New Tools In The Shack

I’ve learned the hard way many times over that having the proper tools can make things a lot easier. I feel that I have everything needed for the job except for a soldering iron. I looking at the sub $40 Chinese type irons but I stopped myself from purchasing one. I wanted an iron that can last me for many years so I ended up purchasing a Hakko 888D soldering iron. At around $100 I felt that it was worth the purchase.

The Build. Day One!

Soon as I got the iron in, I went straight to work. Following the assembly guide I started with the IC’s and the MCU. I felt that you are starting with the hardest part of the job by soldering small SMT IC chips with small leads and small gaps. I avoided installing the MCU and DDS chips until the other ICs were installed.  Once all the IC’s were installed, I used a jewelers loop and checked my connections. The MCU was crooked a bit and thought it was still good so I kept chugging along. I installed the resistors on the bottom of the board and called it a night.

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My working area. You’ll see the board with solder, tweezers, assembly manual, solder, 10X  Jewelers loop, desk lamp with magnifying glass and my new soldering iron. When I purchased the soldering iron, I also purchased different sized and shaped tips.

The Build. Day Two

Next day I got back from work and installed everything else.  It wasn’t really bad as I thought. The soldering Iron was tight in some places but it appeared everything went quite well.

smttsd

Here is a close up of my soldering. It could be better but I would say not too bad considering I’ve never done SMT work before.

Power On Time.

I didn’t want to wire up the power, headphones or anything else because I was going to design a case but in order to make sure it worked. I needed to wire it up.  Soon as I hooked up the battery… Nothing!  It did’t lite up, It didn’t beep. The only thing I notice was a slight noise in the headphones. Sounded like the noise of when you turn something on.

What Went Wrong?

As panic starts to set in, I was worried that I now have a nice new expensive brick  on my hands. All that time, energy and money spent on the kit and tools needed seemed be wasted. Out came the jewelers loop and soldering iron. I double checked every connection. Then I took out the multimeter and followed the troubleshooting guide in the manual and started checking voltages coming out of the regulators. Everything was checking out. The only thing I see is that the MCU was a little bit crooked.

I tried re-soldering the MCU but it proved to be very difficult. I used solder wick and suction tools that did not help, the chip would not move for me. For me the only choice was to remove the MCU. But how? After some internet searching I decided to use enameled wire and snake it under the chip where the leads meet the chip. I then touched the soldering iron to the leads and slowly pulled the chip off.

eIpMXvS

Using that method allowed to me to remove the chip, but in the process I damaged the MCU. The above images is not representative of my soldering work. It was more of a panic move and I just wanted to get the chip off without damaging the pads or board. The pads were in great shape and I’m just lucky nothing else happened.

Dealing With Steve Weber

Well it’s obvious the chip will need to be replaced. There are two options available. Beg steve for a new chip or purchase the MCU and flash it using a MSP Launchpad. I almost went the latter because Steve just released V2 and I am sure he was busy dealing with that and life in general but I decided to e-mail him anyways.

Dealing with Steve was a pleasure. I know these radios is not his full time job but he replied within a reasonable time and he was willing to send out a pre-programmed chip for my version of the MTR. Since I was having him sending me stuff, I purchased a case because the price he was asking was more than fair.

Attempt #2

Now that I have the new MCU, I promptly installed it. This time I quadruple check to make sure the chip was aligned properly before soldering. It went much better.

9xY2xy6

When I applied power I jumped for Joy as I saw the LED come to life and the sounds of CW in my headphone. I did some initial testing and then installed the last toroid.

It’s… ALIVE!!! ALIVE!!!  

Now that it turns on, it’s time to make the adjustments needed for proper operation. Thankfully I have Acquired the test gear I needed over the years from mostly local hams looking to clean their shack. I have a decent frequency counter, oscilloscope and a station monitor.

The manual found on the Yahoo Groups page provided step by step installation and tuning. It made things a lot easier.

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First thing I did was adjusted the reference oscillator frequency to match exactly 10MHz. This was very easy. Just pushing a button until I see 10Mhz on the counter. There are reference points on the board to where you can easily measure things.

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Adjusting the LO to find the center of the passband. This was a little tricky because I didn’t fully understand the manual and process. In the tuning mode the MCU sends out a tone and I adjusted it by watching the signal peaking on my scope while counting the steps between the peaks. I then went backwards only half of the steps. Hopefully it was done correctly. For me, this was the hardest part of tuning.

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Here I am adjusting the receivers filters. With the station monitor I injected a signal into the MTR through the antenna port and adjust the band capacitors until the signal was at it’s loudest. I did the same thing on the other band. This was quite easy.

Last thing I did was hooked it up to a dummy load and checked for output wattage. Using a variable power supply and a DMM hooked in-line, I’ve sent out a tuning signal and adjusted the power supply until the DMM read 9Vdc with a TX load. I was seeing approx 2.5W which is within spec.

Time to get one the air

Now that it’s built and tested, It’s time to get on the air and see what I can (not) do.

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Heh, it’s smaller than my paddle.  What’s great about CW is that you don’t have to call CQ over and over again hoping someone would come back to give you a signal report. Just call CQ a couple times and head over to the Reverse Beacon Network where you can see almost in real time where your signal is being heard. There are receivers all over the world scanning the bands for signals.

TdHhvUi

Here are my results using just a crappy 9V battery. I am pleased to see that not only are stations hearing my signal, but they are on the frequencies that the MTR is tuned to. While I was testing the worst thing happened… Someone replied. I tried very much to work the person. I know the call was a K2 something but that’s all I could make out.

Final Thoughts

This was my first actual kit that I built, It’s also the first time that I ever worked with tiny surface mount devices and even though I messed up the MCU, it was really fun to build. Soldering SMD seems to be a nightmare but after the first couple of parts, it felt real easy and it felt that I was working much quicker compared to through hole parts. This project is also a big kick in the ass to learn CW because I want to use this rig. I’m all about packing very lite when it comes to SOTA and even though I love the KX3, I feel it would be more of an adventure using the MTR. We’ll see.

Thanks for reading!

– Jeff

 

 

 

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SOTA Activation Report – Peaked Moutain (W1/CR-006)

by on Jun.20, 2014, under HF, SOTA, SPOTS, VHF

I had some time to myself on Saturday (6/14) which is rare so I decided to play a little radio on top of a mountain/hill. I found that when it comes to doing SOTA that ends up being a last minute effort to get my stuff ready. This time I wanted to do a summit that I have never done before. I decided to go to Peaked Mountain located in Hampden/Monson MA.  I notified SOTAwatch and local SOTA/Ham facebook groups that I will be out. I find that letting many people know that you’re going to be activating will increase your chances of a successful activation.

The Hike

Expecting the unknown for both the hike and summit I over packed which is better than not packing that one item you’ll end up needing. The mountain is closer to my QTH then I originally thought which was great. The hike also wasn’t bad. The trails were (now) clearly marked and was able to make it to the summit in 20min or so. My only concern was the rain.

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Welded Sign/Box near the summit

The Setup

Due to the overcast I didn’t have much time to really enjoy the view. I wanted to get on the air as fast as possible in case it was going to rain. However I have a new G5RV jr that I home brewed to replace the crappy G5RV that I was using. I also took along the  vertical end fed (EARCHI) as I’ve never used it for SOTA. I wanted to put both up.

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Here you can see the G5RV mounted to the Jack Kite 31′ fiberglass pole. I used an eyebolt that is connected to the center insulator and slid it down the mast. I might place some tape at that spot to keep the eyebolt from wearing out the fiberglass tube. Also pictured is the end fed that is attached to the tip of the pole.

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Another photo showing my mini G5RV. I made custom insulators using plexiglass that doubles as winders

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Here is a photo showing my old G5RV next to my new one.

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Here is a shot of the antenna with both antennas attached.
Setup took less than 10Min with most of my time spent untangling wires.

Getting On The Air

After sending out a spot to SOTAwatch and my local SOTA group I was on the air. However no one is coming back. Usually I get people within minutes coming back to my crys of CQ. After about 10min or so, Jim (KK1W) came back to my crys and made my first contact. Other people started to trickle in.  After AJ5C and N4LA I heard a couple DX contacts from Romania and England but was un-able to establish contact

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My setup with the KX3, Wouxun for VHF and my 9:1 match for the endfed

I tried switching around bands and antennas to make my contacts. I knew I could make contact with KB1RJC and KB1RJD if I went onto 40M and sure enough they were on and waiting (thank you). They made my 4th and 5th contact.

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My Seat with Antenna in the background

After making a couple more local contacts, I called it a day. I have 7 contacts so I can consider the summit to be officially activated. The sun started to come out and the skys started to clear up a bit and was able to enjoy the view from the mountain top

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Views from the top of Peaked Mountain.

Overall Experiences 

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I’d say this was the hardest HF activation I’ve done to date. It was not the hike because that was very nice and easy. It was hard because I am not sure if it was my antennas, location, band conditions or a combination of all three that was making it difficult for communicating. There were also many hikers up on the mountain and I ended having to explain “what that is” many times over which took me away from the radio. Even though I love explaining what my setup is to non-hams, I just wasn’t in the mood but I didn’t want to come off as rude. I love the location and mountain and this location is now on my list of summits to activate next year.

Thanks for reading,

Jeff – NT1K

 

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To Skywarn and Beyond!

by on May.31, 2014, under General Ham Radio

I’ll be upfront and honest and say that I’m not really a fan of “Emergency Communications” or as the ARRL would like to now call it, “Public Service Communications”. It’s just not my cup of tea. I think that SOME of the people that are involved are using emcomm/skywarn as a way to flex their egos and/or as an outlet to their dreams of being a public safety official such as police, fire or EMT for whatever reason.  I don’t want to discourage anyone and there are hams who are really care about their community and help out without getting caught up in the whacker fest. But that’s what’s great about ham radio, there is so many aspects to it that you can dislike an entire aspect but yet still enjoy the hobby overall. Anyways, I’m not hear to harp about emcomm.

 Tasting the Skywarn Kool-Aid

I’ve decided to participate in a Skywarn class that was presented by the NWS (National Weather Service) of Taunton MA. I’m not exactly sure exactly why I went. I guess I wanted to see what it was all about and I was able to get out of the house that night so
why not.

Like everything else, I arrived to the class early so I got to see who was showing up. I recognized a lot of the people that showed up to the class as local area hams which I was expecting to see. However I also saw a lot of people that I’ve never seen before and I’ve seen a a bunch of new hams which is great to see them being active in parts of the hobby. Hopefully they don’t drink too much of the emcomm kool-aid.

The Class

I went to the class expecting that I was going to fall asleep or not be really interested about weather or skywarn because I wasn’t really interested.  I was expecting the class to be dull and boring with slides of clouds after clouds with the sleep inducing monotone voice over of the likes of Ben Stein.

However once the class started, I actually became very interested. The hosts were lively and you can see their passion about weather. It wasn’t going to be a snooze fest. I’ve learned quite a bit about weather that applies to more than just skywarn and amateur radio.

A Visit From The Local Media

One person I instantly noticed in attendance was Brain Lapis, the Chief Meteorologist from WWLP  TV 22. I’m not sure if he was asked to show or he showed up on his own intuition. Either way it was great to see a local meteorologist in attendance. I gained a little more respect for not only Lapis but for WWLP overall as I didn’t directly notice anyone else from the media there.

I didn’t know but they even did a little story on their newscast about the class

http://wwlp.com/2014/05/29/there-are-thousands-of-weather-spotters-in-the-northeast/

Overall Experience

I’m glad I attended. Ham radio reasons aside I’ve learned quite a bit and could apply it to everyday life. When it comes to Amateur Radio and reporting, I was glad to see they weren’t encouraging “storm chasing” and I finally know what information they want compared to what I often hear on the radio during significant weather events.

If you ever plan on reporting to skywarn VIA radio then I would strongly suggest to at least attend a Skywarn class.  That way when you make a report, you know it’s a report of information that the NWS actually needs instead of  tying up the airwaves with un-wanted information,  information that you personally didn’t witness with your own eyes (e.g. Reporting stuff you’ve heard from a police scanner) or the wrong information that could make things worse.

I don’t think I will ever be glued to the radio during weather events but I left the class learning a lot about weather.

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My Experience as W1AW/1

by on Apr.16, 2014, under Contesting, QSO

If you’re not aware of it by now, the ARRL is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Along with the many things they are  doing, they are  putting on an ARRL Centennial QSO Party.  It’s a year long event where it’s encourage to make contact with as many ARRL members and staff as possible. There are also stations that are allowed the use the W1AW callsign in their state for a week twice during the year. Known as a portable station, it’s possible to obtain worked all states award just by contacting  the  W1AW/# Stations.

This past week it was Massachusetts, Virginia and Puerto Rico’s turn as W1AW. For Massachusetts, the host was David Robbins (K1TTT) located in Peru MA. K1TTT has what some consider a “Super Contest” station that is designed around contesting. It’s the perfect station to host the W1AW/1 call. Problem is that it’s impossible for Dave to be on multiple bands at the same time for an entire week straight. Dave needed help and asked the local ham community for operators and I jump at the opportunity and put my name on the list. I decided to show up on Friday night (4/12) and stayed until the morning.

20140410_194610
Custom sign I’ve made for Dave since he has let me use his stations so many times over the past few years.

It’s Showtime!

I’ve been to K1TTT and operated in contests many times. I was going to treat operating W1AW/1 as how I would do contesting. During pileups I would just make the exchange and work as many stations as possible and during slow times I would be a little more chatty. Soon  as I arrived, I was promptly placed on 10m SSB. The band wasn’t really “alive” at the time but I had a constant stream of stations which was really nice. It was a great warm up for prime time operations. Another operator came in and I let him get on 10m SSB and decided to play on 15m SSB where it felt the same. nice steady stream of contacts.

Here Comes The Pileup!

Jim (KK1W) was operating 40M CW and had to return home. I was asked to hop on 40m and do SSB around 7pm EDT (23:00z Friday). I was figuring that it was going to be the same as 10 and 15. I got on, asked if the frequency was clear and starting calling CQ. After the first couple of contacts I was spotted on the cluster. Soon as I was spotted, a huge wave of callsigns which seems like thousands of people were trying to contact me. It was so thick and so loud (20-40+) that I couldn’t even string together two letters of anyone’s suffix to call back “Yankee Bravo station?”. It was the biggest pileup that I ever been on the other side of.  I was terrified and excited at the same time. It’s was so much that I wanted to run split but didn’t want to   any more bandwidth on a already narrow band. There was pretty much no choice and had to call by numbers. I really didn’t want to but I had to in order to speed things up. So I called 0 through 9 and then asked for QRP stations. As I’ve been a QRP station in a pileup. It’s not fun at all. and figured to give everyone a chance. Even though I was calling by numbers, the pileups were just as bad but tried my best to work everyone as fast as possible. After a few rounds of calling by numbers, I stopped calling by numbers because I understand it can be frustrating waiting for your number to be called. Soon as I said “Anyone Anywhere” the huge rush of calls were just as big and loud as before but I was able to string together some of the callsigns.

IMG_0095

Here I am on 15M SSB. I was making that crabby face on purpose as a joke but it doesn’t look so at all .
(photo courtesy of James, WD1S)

High QSO Rates

After ditching calling by numbers and dealing with what seemed to be the never ending pileup for some time, My ears got used  to it and now I’m able to pick out callsigns from the sea  a little bit easier. Since it’s likely that I’ll never get this many people wanting to make contact with me ever again and that I’m using a station that is pretty much optimized for contesting, I wanted to see what I can really do. Now it’s my time to shine. Haven’t confirmed it yet but I recall seeing between 220-260 QSO per hour rates at times. Not bad for a guy who doesn’t contest that often. I could have gone faster. Since this is a QSO party and not a contest to likes of CQWW, I wanted to at least make some exchanges  other than 59 with people. Even though people on the frequency knew I was W1AW/1  in Massachusetts, I made sure to repeat the call and state I was in (since there are 2 other W1AW portable stations on the air) as much as possible. I also made comments about nice signals and nice audio, I exchanged my name and thanked as many people as possible for waiting. Other than calling by numbers, I tried as much as possible to avoid doing the things that annoy me when I am in the pileup trying to contact that wanted station.

After The Storm

Things started to die down. it was getting easier and easier. Then I looked at the clock. It was 2am. I was on 40m SSB for at least 6 hours straight. Time flew by really really fast. Even though I was sore (mostly from work) and my voice was shot, I had a really fun time. That sit down and work stations non stop is thrilling to me and wish I could do that type of operating from my home.  I wish I could do it more often without getting trouble at home for doing so. I ended up going to bed around 3am at K1TTT.

Wake and Shake.

I woke up in pain at around 6am. With only a 3 hour nap, I went back to the station to get as many QSOs as possible before I had to return home by noon. I was hoping 20M would be open to europe but wasn’t hearing much  on 20, 15 or 10 so I went back on to 40m. I made sure to call QRZ a bunch of times and to make sure the frequency is clear as always. This time I wanted to work DX so I went lower into the band to work those outside of the USA. The pileups weren’t  as bad and I was able to work a bunch of Australian and Japanese stations.

20140412_092555

Very blurry image of some of the ops that were there. NJ1F, N1RR  and WM1K pictured

How Rude. 

After an hour of so of operating. I was told to QSY because there is a net starting up on frequency. I informed the net that I’ve been on frequency for the past hour and kept making contacts. Without any care they started jamming me with CW, tuning carriers and running their net right on the same frequency that I’ve been already using. I held back every ounce of energy to start yelling at these people.  It’s like they never heard of a VFO knob. They don’t own the frequency and really shows the class that these so called “Experienced” operators showed. These are also the same people that think No-Coders are ruining HF. Since I’m using the W1AW call, I did not want to create any type of issue so I simply turned the station over to a CW operator.

Other than that one incident, things went very well. I was excepting for some operators to give me their entire life story right in the middle of gigantic pileup, or yelling at me because I didn’t call them or their area. But for the most part, everyone played nice and I hope I did as well. I also viewed the cluster and only saw a couple things but oh well. I’ve noticed with ham radio that it’s next to impossible to please every person.

Lessons Learned

As always I try to walk away with learning something along the way.  Since I never operated a beam before and mostly used vertical and wire antennas, I thought pointing the beam 90 degrees would get me into Europe

free-vector-world-map

I honestly thought that this is how it should be. Thanks to a little help from N1RR, I’ve learned that I was WAY wrong.

AzimuthalMap
Map Thanks To NS6T

That’s how I should be looking beam headings. Hopefully someday soon I’ll be able to take advantage of that and apply it to my own directional antenna.

I also now truly understand what DXpedition and other rare station operators go through when they are on the air.  Seeing the amount of QSOs that these operators can make with the short time on the air is impressive. I busted my chops and didn’t get close to the rates from the ops on these DXpeditions. Maybe… Just maybe if I had a “Big Gun” station and the right location, with think I could get close. A G5RV in the side of a hill isn’t going to cut it.

Some Stats

More photos and results can be found over at K1TTT.net for the entire W1AW/1 MA event

QSO Per Band Breakdown for NT1K

  • 80M – 2
  • 40M – 652
  • 20M –  6
  • 15 M – 248
  • 10M – 87
  • 6M – 4

Total amount of QSO’s : 999 (I couldn’t have made just one more!!!)
Highest QSO Rate: 2014-04-12 0029Z – 17.0 per minute (1 minute(s)), 1020 per hour by NT1K

QSO’s per hour break down for NT1K

Starting 2014-04-11 @ 21:00z
21z – 1
22z -86
23z -98
00z – 79
01z – 117
02z – 149 (Contact approx every 20 seconds)
03z – 137
04z- 137
05z – 26
06z – 43
07z – 1
10z – 28
11z – 36
12z – 51
13z -5
14z – 5
Ending – 2014-04-12 @ 1400Z

Overall experiences.

20140412_092607

 

Dave (K1TTT) and myself on 6 and 2M during the morning. Lots of CW that I couldn’t do.

Even though I was tired and in pain for most of Saturday, I had fun. It was exciting, I got to operate a nice station, met some nice people and enjoyed my short time there. I wish I could go back and operate as W1AW/1 but I was lucky enough to get out and play during prime time Friday night. There is always W100AW that I can hopefully operate before June.  Thanks to all who stood by and to those who worked me on 40M SSB.

– Jeff, NT1K

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Portable Antennas: The EARCHI End Fed

by on Mar.23, 2014, under Antennas, Projects, SOTA

In the search for the “Wonder Antenna” that is small, portable and easy to setup, I’ve decided to build an Endfed antenna using a 9:1 match. This antenna has been made popular by the Emergency Amateur Radio Club of Hawaii (EARCHI). It consists of 30ft of wire fed into a 9:1 UnUn (Unbalanced to Unbalanced).

Plans for the Antenna are available from EARCHI’s website 

I’ve been wanting to make the antenna for quite a while but I’m lazy when it comes to ordering things online.  During the spring of 2013 I went to a regional hamfest located in New Hampshire hoping to find the T106-2 toroid that was called out for in the plans. I saw a bunch of red toroids and decided to purchase them hoping it was the correct mix and size.

I ended up with what appears to be a T130-2 toroid. It’s a little bit bigger than the T1o6 but uses the same mix.

The Build

It wasn’t that bad… If you follow the instructions the build only takes about 15 minutes or so. I mounted everything inside of a plastic tooling container. Instead of using a chassis mount SO-239 I went with a small length of RG-58 coax with a BNC at one end. The reason I did that was because there is always a strong chance that I’ll forget the coax and could at least use the pig tail connected to the radio.

IMG_0674

 

The plan is to get this into even a smaller container.

Let’s hook it up to the Analyzer.

Before attaching it to my radio, I wanted to hook it up to the analyzer just to make sure I have the correct toroid being used. When it comes to buying toroids at hamfests, you could be taking a gamble unless it’s clearly marked. I might have purchased a different type even though it’s red in color.

IMG_0672

What I’ve done is hooked up a bunch of resistors to the output and ground of the unit. The resistors should add up to 450ohms. Since it’s a 9:1 balun (or unun in the end use),  9 goes into 450 50 times which we should see 50ohms on the otherside if all is correct.

EarchiScreenShot

With the 450 ohm load. The analyzer is see approximately 50ohms across the HF bands allocated for Amateur Radio. However on 6M the SWR and impedance is quite high. However this is most ideal situation. That’s not going to happen when the wire is hooked up as it will not have a 450ohm resistance.

Here is a video I made testing the EARCHI with the MiniVNA PRO

What about the counterpoise or the other half of the antenna?

If you look at the design, you will see that the “ground” is hooked up to the shield of the coax, so it would be suggested that you run some length of coax between the match box and your radio.

Testing the antenna in the real world

One could sit there and talk all day about using the antenna. Let’s see what it can do

I tested this right outside on my deck using a 31 foot fiberglass pole.  The wire is 30ft of #18 Poly-stealth.
The antenna only took around a minute or two to raise. I wasn’t really planning on making a video or even using the antenna that day so the batteries on the KX3 were not charged nor did I have it hooked up to an external source. I was using 3watts to conserve battery.

I went onto 15m and within minutes I managed to make a DX contact with LY10NATO which is a special event station in Lithuania. Not bad considering my conditions. The bands must have been in good shape. I then went to 20 and made contact with W1AW/4, an ARRL Centennial station in Tennessee.

I know it’s not proper to judge an antenna based solely on contacts but it just proves  that it works. If you need a QRP antenna that is portable and can get you on the air quickly then I would suggest the EARCHI to anyone. It’s easy to build and if you don’t have the time you can purchase one from EARCHI. It’s not a “Wonder Antenna” by any means but it’s hard to beat consider the cost and ease of use. Also having a decent match (tuner) helps.

Edit (4/3/2014): Someone on Youtube asked about SWR reading with the EARCHI. I decided to hook up the antenna to the KX3 with the internal ATU option using a couple configurations and here are the results. Please keep in mind the ATU in the KX3 has a wide ratio and could match a lot of wire. Doesn’t make the antenna any more efficient but it makes it work.

KX3 With KXAT3, EARCHI Antenna with around 30ft of #18 Poly Stealth and around 20ft’ RG 58 coax

Band Ratio
160m 18:1
75M 1.1:1
40M 1.0:1
20M 1.1:1
17m 1.1:1
15m 1.1:1
12m 1.2:1
10m 1.0:1
6m 1.0:1

KX3 With KXAT3, EARCHI Antenna with around 30ft of #18 Poly Stealth and around 1ft’ RG 58 coax

Band Ratio
160m 17:1
75M 4:1
40M 3:1
20M 1.1:1
17m 1.0:1
15m 1.0:1
12m 1.0:1
10m 1.0:1
6m 1.1:1

You’ll see that adding a length of Coax will help you out in the lower frequencies. Please note that results will vary depending on your equipment.

Let’s hook up the analyzer using the EARCHI w/ approx 30ft of #18 wire and approx 20ft of RG58 Coax

earchi20ftcoax

Thanks for reading!

 

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Introductory look into the MiniVNA PRO.

by on Mar.22, 2014, under Antennas

As I get deeper and deeper into designing and building antennas, I figured I need something better than a SWR meter to make sure that my antennas are performing well. Since I am also publishing the antennas that I’ve designed and built here on this website, I would feel more comfortable knowing that it was done correctly. I needed some kind of antenna analyzer.

There are so many choices out there today that I was not sure what to get. The most popular antenna analyzer for amateur radio use is the MFJ-259B. You’ll see it or a model similar in a lot of shacks around the world.  I’ve used and enjoyed them but I felt that it was “Old School” considering technology has improved greatly. It was between the RigExpert AA-150 and the MiniVNA PRO. I purchased the MiniVNA as I felt it had more to offer. Being able to use Bluetooth to pair it up with an android device is what won me over. I found a used unit on QRZ for the price I was willing to pay. Wasn’t entirely sure about buying used  test equipment but it ended up working out for me in the end.

Mixed Reviews at First

The reviews for the MiniVNA and the MiniVNA PRO were mixed. A lot of people had a hard time getting it to work with their computer and a lot of people commented about poor documentation and how it was not “User Friendly”. Some claim to receive DOA Units. When it comes to reviews from hams (or anyone really), I don’t take them all for face value because I’ve seen people who are so called “Computer experts” fail to perform the simplest tasks like installing a driver. Instead of fixing possible problems with their computer/equipment, it’s easier to blame someone or something else. You also have those who have egos that are so big that anything they touch is the best because they only buy the best. Then you have those who give honest reviews that detail how good or bad the product is. It’s hard to know who’s reviews should be trusted.

First Impressions

Before the unit arrived at my house, I’ve read the 135 page manual about using the MiniVNA PRO and it’s software (vna/J ). I can see why people would think the manual is confusing. However I never used a VNA and I have no idea what any of the measurements mean other than SWR and impedance. I have a lot of learning to do so I can take full advantage of the VNA. Other reviews claim that the manual is NOT user (ham) friendly and geared toward experienced users but I feel that’s a challenge to learn more about the numbers I’ll be seeing. It will hopefully give me more insight into what’s happening with my antenna. I didn’t see much issue with the manual other than the order which topics were discussed.

Arrival

I’m lucky that the unit arrived right when I had some time to tear into it. Since it was used, I wanted to make sure it worked. It came with calibration slug/jumper cable and the seller even included a bluetooth module to hook up to almost any computer. Before even hooking it up to the computer, I went to FTDI’s website and made sure that I downloaded the latest drivers. Once installed onto my Windows 7 X64 OS, I hooked the VNA to the computer and the OS automatically recognized the VNA and  assigned it a com port. So far so good!

20140208_100753

Using  vna/J 

After downloading the latest vna/J (2.8.6f as of March 7th, 2015). I noticed it was a .jar file which tells me that it runs on the Java platform. Before running vna/J I made sure to update Java. Software started up with no issue and it was asking for a calibration file. First thing I did was go to the Analyzer menu > Setup. In the new window I highlighted the MiniVNA pro as well as the com port that is associated to the miniVNA. Once the proper unit/com port is selected, press the “Test” button. If successful, the status bar will turn green and  “Update” button will come active. After pressing “Update” the screen  will go away. You will still need to calibrate the unit.

First Calibration

Calibrating the VNA is easy if you ask me. All you would have to do is go to the Calibration menu and choose “create”. A box will pop up and if you have the calibration kit (SMA connectors), hook the “open” connector to the DUT port and press test. Then hookup short and then the 50ohm load. Once the calibration is done, save it and then press the Update. You are now ready to use the VNA. Whenever you load the vna/J software it will recall the last calibration file used. You can make different calibration files in case you’re adding adapters and cables you don’t want factored into the test. When you go into transmission mode, you will be asked to do a calibration using the jumper cable from DET to DUT. Similar to the reflection calibration.

Navigating around vna/J

I found it not to be confusing at all to use. The layout to me is simple and easy to use. Choose what you want to see (SWR / Reactance in my case), choose the frequency range by typing it in manualy or making a list, choosing reflection or transmission (reflection in the case) and pressing the “Single” button. I guess reading the manual helped but just messing around with stuff  helped me out even more. I ran a quick test leaving the 50ohm test plug on the DET port and the results produced a nice flat line at 50ohms and the SWR was 1.0:1

I’ve made a video showing the MiniVNA as well as installation and the first calibration.

First real test

Since I’m hot to trot, I grabbed whatever was nearby and tested it. It happened to be my Butternut HF9V located in my backyard. It’s 100ft away from my house fed with LMR 400. There is currently 7 radials in the ground.

u4agOxS

If the VNA is  correct, I need to go out and re-tune my antenna. From this plot I can see 75M has very narrow bandwidth (as mentioned by Bencher) and I’m off on a bunch of other bands.

20140311_182427

Tried re-tuning the antenna outside but it was so cold I decided it can wait for another day.

Bluetooth 

One of the main reason why I wanted this unit is because it’s truly wireless.  There is an application for the Android that allows the miniVNA to be used with a smartphone or tablet.
You could also use a laptop or desktop computer as long as it supports or could support bluetooth.

20140213_191537

 

I decided to try it wirelessly on a 10M dipole I had in my attic.
Screenshot_2014-02-13-19-23-08

If this is correct, then I need to shorten my antenna. It’s better than having too long instead of too short.

The application “BlueVNA” was developed by Dan, Y03GGX. For a free program it’s really nice.
I do have issues where the program force closes or stops working at random times on my Samsung Galaxy S3. It’s a minor annoyance but I can’t complain. reload the app and you’re back in business.
There is a claim that the miniVNA pro can transmit up to 100 meters which I would guess that would be under best conditions. Obstructions and quality of the other bluetooth module is a major factor. I’ve had it lose communications withing feet of the unit. I also tried it outside and worked well.

Measuring Transmission Loss

Someone gave me a low pass filter over and wanted to use the vna to measure it. An low pass filter allows “Low Frequencies” to pass through but attenuate or “block”

I was able to see how the filter reacts through a range of frequencies.

Here some other stuff I measured

Here is a video of it hooked up to a 1:1 current choke

eRsgZeV

The Diamond X510 on my roof. Not bad, it was as expected.

uIhPSqn

Rubber duck antenna that is on the TYT . I added a counterpoise to see what would happen as I feel that the chassis of the radio makes up the “other half” of the antenna.  Very very weird results.

Overall experience

After a few weeks of using the MiniVNA PRO, I’m quite impressed in what it can do for the small package it comes in. It was easy to setup (I think) and it was easy to use considering I never really used test equipment. Understanding what all the results mean is a different story but that means I have a lot more learning to do.  I’ve tested basically everything I can hook it up to.

If I were to get nit picky and they were going make a new version, I would ask for a metal enclosure, SMA connectors to be off the board and possibly an LCD screen with control buttons to make which would alllow to me to use the unit without the need for a computer or android device.

I think I made a wise purchase and I would recommend the MiniVNA to others that need something more than just looking at SWR

Thanks for reading!

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