NanoVNA – First Thoughts

At some point in your amateur radio adventures you’ll eventually want to make your own antenna or you’re not certain about the antenna you have and want to make sure it’s working properly. You’ll have to get some type of analyzer. For many years the MFJ-259 series was a staple in the amateur radio community and you’ll still find them in many shacks. But at around $299, it’s a hefty investment for a lot of hams. You’re not going to spend hundreds of dollars to measure your $20 dipole. Just like with boats, you would rather find a friend that has one and use theirs instead. You may be lucky and your local amateur radio club might have a loaner. For a long time, this was the only way… Until now

I’m using a MFJ analyzer to read a J-Pole

With advances in technology, mass production and shipping, hobbyists can get their hands on some really advanced stuff without it doing much wallet damage. The prices for components are now at the level where it’s worth tinkering. For the amateur radio operator, it’s a blessing. Some really nice projects are being developed to where almost anyone can participate. Plus these projects are being shared with the general public which can be a blessing or nightmare depending on the circumstances.

The MiniVNA

Before when the MFJ-259 reigned, there wasn’t much out there unless you started getting to lab grade equipment which is not priced for the hobbyist. Now the market is flooded with all types of analyzers. Some are cheaper and some are more expensive when compared to the 259. They may or may not be better. When I was first in the market, I gravitated towards the mini radio solution’s miniVNA pro. I got a used one for a really great price. It had bluetooth connection and there was an app developed for android based devices where adjustments can be made at the antenna while the analyzer was hooked up at the other end. If you follow my blog, you’ll see many times where I’ve used it.

Using the MiniVNA to look at my Butternut HF9V

I liked that I could analyze antennas, measure coax (see if there is any breaks/shorts), sweep filters and I even measured LC circuits with some degree of accuracy. However, I’ve made a big mistake … I sold it and regretted it almost immediately.

After about the 12th time I kicked myself in the butt, I started looking at getting an analyzer or hobbyist grade VNA. The RigExpert brand of analyzers looked tempting and there were some kit style VNA’s but their prices didn’t justify the purchase .

The SI5351

One of the things I’ve noticed in my very limited electronics skill set is the Silicon Labs Si5351 programmable clock generator chip. Considering they cost around $1USD, I was excited to see what hams would do with the style of chip and there are many kits and products. I could imaging many projects that would need a VFO would use this chip. I’ve purchased breakout kits thinking I would be able to make something from it but my lack of knowledge and time stopped me. However, there are some really cool projects that use the type and style of chip.

New VNA on the block

One of those people was twitter user @eddy555 He was developing a small handheld VNA with a touch screen using the Si5351 Chip. He made it available so that anyone could make it but I just didn’t have time to source the parts and build it. It made having an “affordable” VNA within reach.

Due to the project being completely out in the open, Chinese electronic manufacturers noticed the demand for these kits and started mass producing these VNAs. The market recently flooded with them to where the prices are getting lower and lower. You can now obtain one, assembled with an internal battery for about $50 USD. You can’t really beat that and I feel that they will even get lower in price. Word of mouth is spreading quick in the amateur radio community. So of course I had to get my hands on one.

I purchased mine from the Chinese exporter Aliexpress. People have mixed results when dealing with Aliexpress but from what I’ve read the units coming from a particular vendor were very decent and compared to the likes of lab grade equipment.

After 3 weeks from purchase, I received a box containing the VNA, SMA calibration kit, two SMA patch cables, SMA barrel connector, USB-C Charge/Data cable and a plastic case. The VNA itself is about the size of a credit card and about 1/2″ (11mm) thick. It uses standoff and PCB boards as a case. I removed the screen protector (involves unscrewing the top board) and eventually 3D printed a case I found on thingiverse

My NanoVNA with a 3D printed case and a US quater for size reference. it’s really that small.

First Thoughts

You get a lot for your money. Of course I had to immediately calibrate and test all my HT antennas. Since I’ve had experience with the miniVNA PRO, I felt right at home. It didn’t take me long to figure out where everything is and how to see the measurements I want.

Next was the 3 element tri-band Yagi antenna that is on my roof. I am doing just basic SWR plots. I guess my antenna is still good! Well… At least SWR wise. The screen is indeed tiny so I have a feeling that the older hams might take issue with that. The software that is publicly available has issues as well. But other than that, I really like this unit. For the price you can’t really complain

Software showing my ButterNut HF9V. I guess there is some work that needs to be done to it.

Possible Future

I feel the NanoVNA went viral and I feel that you’ll see many ham shacks with their own in the near future. It’s spreading which I feel is a great thing. The prices will lower and you’ll have many more contributors working on the project. There are people working on some new software that will make reading the VNA results much easier. I’m excited about the future of this device

Final Thoughts

If you are looking for an analyzer, for the price of the NanoVNA, I’d strongly suggest you get one. Small enough to fit in a tool bag and it has many uses that can benefit the amateur radio operator.

I’m not dead…

For those who are actually following my blog, thank you! It’s been awhile since my last post and I just want to say that I’m not dead and I’m still active in the amateur radio hobby. Just not on the air as much as I would like. Since it’s been awhile, there will be a lot of reading.

What Happened?

Noise! The ever increasing noise at my QTH has led me away from the airwaves. Or has it? I haven’t been interested in making contacts lately. Not sure if it’s because of the noise, solar cycle, equipment, antennas, lack of enthusiasm or a combination of them all.

Broad-banded Noise At My QTH

I’ve also been doing other things that had taken me away from the blog. For a couple of years I was at the helm of my local radio club and dedicated a lot of time and energy to it. I was very excited when given the opportunity and was hoping to move the club into the future and make it more exciting. However it proved to be difficult and it was getting to a point to where I felt it wasn’t worth the time away from my family. It felt like the board wasn’t really sharing the same interests and that was made apparent when I left when they reverted most of my decisions. Can’t fight the status quo when it comes to ham clubs. However, there were many good times, met lots of nice people and I’ve learned a lot so it wasn’t time wasted.

What Am I Doing Now?

I’ve been dedicating a lot of time and effort into helping those interested in amateur radio to get licensed and help those who want to upgrade by providing free amateur radio examinations. Towards the end of 2017, I created a Laurel VEC team in Western Massachusetts known as the “Pioneer Valley VE Team“. We now have over 25 VEs and administered over 8 exams throughout the pioneer valley. Our goal is to connect new hams with local and national clubs. We are currently the only VE team in Western Mass that is giving out free exams.

Just one of our examinations!

I’ve also worked on various amateur radio related kits and projects. Built one of the MicroBitX QRP transceivers. I’ve also destroyed it trying to install modifications. Might buy another one with an updated board.

My uBitX before it broke.

To combat the noise issues I have, I got my hands on Noise Canceler kit from VK5TM from Australia. It has a decent price (around $60USD) and it didn’t take that long to assemble. The hardest parts I’d say were winding the torroid and soldering these very tiny voltage regulators.

The VK5TM almost completed. Cut the shafts on the pots so the knobs don’t stick out

It works very well. I tested it by tuning into WWV at 5MHZ. Prior to the build, I could never clearly hear the signal. I would just hear little bits and pieces. After putting the canceler in-line, the was a major different

Here is a screen shot of it in action. On the Waterfall, you’ll see when I switched it on or off.

I have since been able to enjoy SSB and actually make contacts. Bit of pain having to adjust it but if there is a station I need to talk to, I can easily turn it on and adjust.

I Have Been On The Air

Just not really much from my QTH. I have been using Dave Robbin’s (K1TTT) contest station here and there. He is an excellent host.

Dave’s 40m/SO2R station during 2019 WPX SSB as NE1C.

He has an impressive station. The downside is after you leave his station, go home and turn on your station, you get bummed out about all the missing signals. I really enjoy contesting and I don’t think I’ll ever get away from it.

I’ve also done some FT8 here and there. It’s a really excellent mode and I think it’s a godsend for those operators who can’t have a large station. I see a lot of operators dismiss the mode claiming it’s a cheap way to get DXCC but I see it as a mode that re-generates interest in Amateur Radio.

FCC Petition

As of writing this, The FCC is still seeking public comments about my rule making petition to give residential preference to hams applying for a vanity callsign when the applications are in competition (multiple people applying for the same call). There is still a few days left before they close comments.

You can read about it in detail here

The Future

There are some changes coming to the NT1K shack and I hope that I will be back on the air participating in chasing DX and contesting . I’ve abandoned my dreams of SO2R (For Now). I’m concentrating my efforts on being able to enjoy operating from home again. I’ve sold off basically all my gear which includes my amp (that I miss very much), roller tuner, KX3 and I am currently selling my K3. I am going to have a fresh start. I’m going after a cleaner station with more antenna options.

Since spring is here and summer is around the corner, I doubt I’ll be able to dedicate time to my station. I set my goal to have my station fully operational again on all bands for the CQWW SSB contest.

I guess you’ll have to stay tuned. Thanks for reading!

Please Support RM-11835

I’ve petition the FCC for a rule making change that would give residential preference to amateur radio operators applying for vanity callsigns that reside within the district of the callsign only when applications are in competition with others.

I don’t think it’s fair to see callsign applications that are in competition to be awarded to operators who reside outside the district of the callsign when there are operators who are also applying for that live within. They should have preference. If there are no competing applications for a callsign then it’s up for grabs by anyone. I am on requesting residential preference on ONLY competing applications, nothing else.

This mostly applies to callsigns in the 1X2 or 2X1 format (N1AB or NA1B for example) as they are very difficult to obtain. There is usually at least a half dozen applications for a short call the day it becomes available. When the FCC dropped the fees associated with vanity applications, the difficulty increased.

Background

When I’ve obtained my extra class license, I wanted to get a shorter callsign to replace N1BMX. I often do contesting and felt it would be nice to have something shorter in CW. This meant I would be going after a callsign either in the 1X2 or 2X1 format (N1AB or NA1B for example). I’ve noticed there are not many of these short callsigns available anymore. When one becomes available, many people apply for it on the same day. If you are not aware, when multiple people apply for the call, it goes into a lottery situation where the FCC randomly picks one of the applications and grants the call. Even if you applied at 12:01am, it doesn’t matter.

I applied for K1HF when it came available and lost out to someone in Maine. I didn’t win the lottery which is fine. Then N1DE came up and I lost out to someone in California. I wasn’t fine with that . Then I noticed many of my peers loosing out on competing applications to operators who reside outside the district of the call they were applying for. I didn’t think this was fair.

I understand that the FCC has dropped residency requirements and I still support that. Your callsign is part of your identity. It’s who you are when you are on the air and sometimes you are only known by your call. I still believe that you move, you should be able to retain your callsign. Even though the FCC has dropped that requirement, they still issue call signs by district. When operators travel, they attach an identifier telling which district they are in (NT1K/6 for example).

If I hear US station with a 6 in their callsign, I am going to believe they are in California. Same with hearing a KH6 or a KL thinking they are in Hawaii or Alaska (BTW, those calls are restricted to those who reside in Hawaii, Alaska and other islands).

Please Support

Instead of complaining, I decided to do something about it. Back in September of 2018 I submitted a rulemaking petition that for the most part, sat in their inbox. I didn’t think anything was going to come of it until I saw an ARRL article where it was mentioned. The FCC accepted it and assigned a rulemaking docket number 11835 (RM-11835).

I ask that if you support, please submit a comment to the FCC. Even if you don’t support it, submit a comment to the FCC anyways. You can add an express comment by visiting the following website

https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/filings/express

In the Proceedings box type RM-11835, fill out the rest of the form and add your comment.

There is also a similar petition (RM-11834) asking for residency preference on ALL vanity applications. The difference between mine is that I am only asking preference on competing applications. I was not aware of this petition and didn’t see it in the FCC’s ECFS system.

Thank you,
Jeffrey Bail (NT1K)


ARRL DX SSB 2018 – Extended Soapbox

With the not so great weather we had around my QTH, I figured to turn on the radio and participate in the ARRL DX side band contest this weekend. It’s been almost 2 years since I’ve did any sort of SSB contesting from my own station. It’s a combination of the solar cycle, RFI from solar panels in my area and being spoiled by operation at contest station K1TTT.

This happened just a couple houses away. The trees on my street have seen better days. They are not mostly hollow and were constantly shedding limbs. Thankfully the town cut the tree that was directly in-front of my house. They left the stump but after this weekend, I’m grateful. However, I was worried about my roof mounted beam (CL-33) surviving the weekend.

Getting Back On The Air

I was surprised to turn on the radio and hear signals… Everywhere. It sort of felt like 2011 again. My ears piqued and I was scrambling to set up my logging software and headset. I recorded my macros and away I went.

Since I wasn’t really planning on putting in a serious effort (Which I have yet to do from my home), I turned on the cluster and did mostly S&P (Search and Pounce). I was sticking with 20 meters with the hopes of entering as single band until I looked at the rules. Since I was using the cluster/telnet, It puts me into the “Unlimited” category that doesn’t have single bands. I ended up entering as “Single Operator All Band, Unlimited, Low Power” (SOAB(U)-LP). I went with low power because I no longer have high power gear at the QTH.

My Goal Was 100 QSOs

One should always set a goal. I decided to be easy and make just 100 QSOs. I figured with the way 20 meters was sounding, I should be able to get that in a couple hours. Nope! I had to fight a bit because I was running low power. I started noticing a lot of spots on 15m so I went over a played.

It took a few hours but I met my goal. Turned off the radio and did stuff around the house. I though I was done but Sunday morning came along and knew there was more people out there.

Don’t be an appliance operator

I was starting to get frustrated during the contest. I recall being easily able to work Italy and Germany. I was struggling. The mix of QRM from everyone trying to squeeze into a tight band, local RFI and poor conditions wasn’t doing well with me. That was until a colleague made a side comment about features of my K3 that I wasn’t using.

I narrowed the filter to use my 1.8Khz filter, shifted the filter, turned the AGC from fast to slow, enabled the noise blanker and turned on the noise reduction at times. My biggest aid was the RF Gain knob.  All of those combined made operating in my environment much easier. I paid good money for this equipment and I am certain you did as well. Take advantage of what you have. In my case, I forgot about it.

Overall thoughts

I ended up making 155 contacts. I was hoping to make 50k points but life took me away from the radio.

There are some “ATNO”  (All Time New One) contacts in the log. Z60K (Kosovo) sticks out. I thought PZ5K (Suriname) would be another but I worked PZ5RA back in 2015. Hopefully I get some new band slots.

I had fun. It proved that I could do contesting from home. I have to work harder but it’s still possible.

Thanks for reading!

Yes I am still here. Updates and other stuff!

It’s been over a year since my last post.  Amateur radio activity at station NT1K has slowed down quite a bit. There has been RFI issues at my QTH and heading into a solar null doesn’t help. Sold/Selling off my high power equipment and gave up on trying to convert my station to SO2R.

I’ve recently moved NT1K.com to a new host.  My old host increased their price by at least 40%. They were hesitant about changing my account and since I use very little space/bandwidth, it wasn’t worth the increase. I decided to get full use out of the VPS that I purchased for a different project. It was a huge learning experience but I’m saving hundreds a year by doing it myself. During the move I restructured the site to drop the /blog. I didn’t realize that it would cause issues with search engine results. I have since fixed that… Hopefully.

I am not out of the hobby. Portable operations is picking up, I am working on some projects, I have started a local VE team. There are some articles coming down the pipe so please stay tuned.

Thanks for reading,
Jeff

 

Ham Radio Deluxe – A tale of the worst case scenario

Back in 2010, I was getting back into amateur radio. I wanted to do more with hobby other than hanging out on the local repeaters. I wanted to communicate with the world. Until then I never made a true “DX” contact. I’ve upgraded my license and soon as I made my first DX contact, I was hooked. It was easier than I thought, I was working the world on a simple doublet antenna.

The DX contacts started rolling in. I was having fun until I got my first QSL card. “Oh no! What now?” I thought. Did I make contact with the person? Their callsign sounds familiar. From then on I knew I had to log my contacts. There must be some kind of software that will help me out. Of course I found many types of software but this one piece of software was glaring out from the rest. It was Ham Radio Deluxe (HRD).

At the time HRD was being developed by Simon Brown. He did a very excellent Job with the software and had it easily hooked up to my FT-857D and was logging contacts with it in no time. I then notice Digital Master 780 (DM780) and it opened my eyes up to the world of digital communications. I purchased a soundcard interface and was tearing up PSK, RTTY, FELD HELL and all sorts of other modes. I was now more on digital than compared to SSB with thanks to HRD.

Fast forward a few years and I noticed that Simon’s attention started drifting elsewhere. He is now working on SDR-Radio. Ham Radio Deluxe wasn’t getting as many upgrades as before. I honestly thought HRD was going to be a lost and forgotten project. Word through the grapevine was that a group of hams got together and would purchase the software from Simon and continue where Simon left off.

I was looking forward to see what the new version 6 would have to offer. I’ve had some issues with the software randomly shutting down. Since I wasn’t paying for it, I didn’t mind. I was hoping the new crew would fix the issues and the software would improve.

Sometime later version 6 came out.  I was excited until I went to the new website and saw the $100 price tag for a lifetime license of that revision. Thankfully they released a trial version and I gave it a go. I’ve noticed some changes but nothing that really stuck out that was wanting me to pay for it.  The other thing that turned me off is that after the first year, if you wanted to continue with support or receive updates, it would cost an additional $50 annually. Just not sure if it’s worth it.

Let me just state that this has nothing to do with being a “cheap” ham. I don’t mind shelling out the money knowing that I am getting a quality product that lasts. This has more to do with having a free product that does almost the exact same thing compared to the paid version of the same product. At this point I decided it wasn’t worth the money and I’ve decided to switch to DXlabs suite. I would periodically check back to see if there were any major improvements that would make me want to purchase HRD. However there wasn’t. Awards tracking seem to improve but since my trial expired, I couldn’t confirm it.

For the record, I LOVED HRD. Their DM780 program is what got me into PSK and since I’ve switched to DXlabs, I haven’t been able to comfortably do digital modes using Winwarbler. It’s not the same. I couldn’t get myself used to it. I wanted to use HRD. I would constantly read the reviews over at eham and I would pay attention to their press releases over at QRZ.com to see if there was something that would attract my wallet. There were rumors of adding JT modes to DM780 so that really got me looking into it.

As I’ve looked into reviews and postings on forums, I’ve noticed that support from HRD is questionable. Sometimes they give excellent service, sometimes they give horrible service. I always take reviews from hams with a grain of salt. I understand that some people don’t bother to read the manual, some are lazy and some are flat out incompetent. There are some people who take the term “The Customer Is Always Right” out of context and demand way too much. With a piece of software that has to support so many different pieces of hardware, it will be impossible to please everyone.

Recently there was a review on eham.net from N2SUB about HRD, He gave it 1/5  and offered in great detail about his issues and he even gave them a tip on how to make it better. It wasn’t one of those cranky “this sucks” type of review because the reviewer couldn’t instantly get it to work and is too good to read the manual or search for similar issue. It was a legit review.

In the background a much bigger story was unfolding. N2SUB reached out to HRD support to figure out what was going on and how to fix it. According to the support ticket, HRD  instructed him to download the latest version. Soon as the user installed the new version and started it, it quickly shut down. When he asked HRD support about it, they responded that his support was expired and they requested that he doesn’t renew support because of the review on eham. HRD then referenced section 8 of their EULA that states “We reserve the right to refuse service and disable a customer’s key at any time for any reason”.  They also stated in order to have access to the software, he would need to remove the negative review from eham.

What HRD just did was extortion, N2SUB (Jim) paid for the software and now he can’t use it at all until he removes his review from eham.net. In some countries this is flat out illegal. Just recently, US president Obama signed the “Customer Review Fairness Act” into law which basically forbids what HRD just did.

Jim posted his experience on the QRZ.com forums. So far it was just hearsay until he posted his support ticket for all to see. Over on Twitter.com, @textfiles (Jason Scott) who is a well known internet archivist, questioned HRD about the support ticket. HRD replied that the ticket is “copywrited” and shouldn’t be posted and will be looking into alleged libel issue.

It appears HRD is doubling down in attempts to remove and/or coverup what happened. According to Jim, Rich Rhul (W4PC) called him on the phone and left him a voice mail where Rick threatened to sue him and will have Fred (Owner of QRZ.com) remove the thread. A short time later, the thread on QRZ.com was removed.

However it was too late. Since then news of what happened were posted on eham.net and the amateur radio subreddit over on reddit.com. As a moderator of the subreddit, this where I started following the story. At first I thought this was an isolated incident and that maybe the support staffer was having a bad day.

A bit later Fred (Owner of QRZ.com) posted his own version of what happened and his explanation for deleting the thread is that is was full of “misinformation”.  He then added “QRZ would also like users to note that HRD is not a QRZ advertiser and other than for free technical exchange we have no business relationship.” In Fred’s version, he forgot to address the part about the extortion. This got the people on /r/amateurradio to really start looking at the actions of HRD and the relationship between QRZ.com and HRD.

Full out Streisand Effect.

In attempts to cover up HRD’s wrong doings, It caused more people to pay attention to what’s going on. It got people looking and many interesting things came up. There is indeed a business relationship between HRD and QRZ.com. There have been many times where Rick (co-owner) of HRD mentioned that him and Fred are “Business partners” and that HRD gave QRZ.com $$$ over the years for advertising. It’s also clear that QRZ.com staff delete threads and banned some of the users who were critical.

There is also a history of horrible abuse of customers by the HRD staff. HRD has license check server. When the software starts, it will check your callsign against their database. At the time, it would return one of three replies. You had valid, deleted and blacklisted. All of this was plain text on an un-encrypted server. The “blacklisted” return is what got the people over at amateur radio subreddit interested. User /u/fohdeesha started polling the server against negative reviews posted on eham.net and noticed that at least 50% of the negative review came back as “blacklisted”.

Since then many people stepped forward and shared their experiences with HRD. It’s apparent that this is no longer an isolated incident. People are being “blacklisted” because of poor reviews. They were even banned from the software because they were on a Yahoo group.

There was one thing in common… Rick. It’s apparent that he is the main source of all the negative issues. He is a co-owner, lead programmer and handling support. Most of the negative experiences users shared were in result of dealing with Rick. It appears he is a bully and very vindictive. Even support volunteers were stepping aside because of his actions.

Some time goes by and there is finally a response from the HRD staff. Rick replied on the thread on QRZ.com and on eham.net the following

We we have an official statement soon, but we do not condone anyone that blacklisted any ham for a bad review

As of today, Randy, Mike and I went though the license server and removed all blacklisted hams. That’s not good business or good policy.

More to come.

It was rather odd considering there is overwhelming evidence that he was the person that was blacklisting hams for bad reviews. From the looks of it, they were getting ready to blame someone else.

A short time later, another co-owner (Mike, WA9PIE) of HRD chimed in with a more official apology.

I want to make a statement of apology on behalf of HRD Software.

We regret that we have been unable to maintain our high standards of quality in our service to one of our customers. I have reached out to this customer to correct this regrettable situation. I am looking forward to speaking with him.

We apologize for what has happened here. I have stepped in and personally taken corrective actions to ensure that this mistake does not get made again.

It is not the policy or practice of HRD Software, LLC to retaliate, in any way, when negative reviews are made about our company, its products, or our employees. If this has happened in the past, I’m sorry. It won’t happen again. We will strive to avoid, even the suspicion of, such things in the future.

Best wishes in your continuing enjoyment of our hobby.

Regards,

It seemed to be a heartfelt apology and I personally thought it would end there. However some of the wording of the last couple paragraphs didn’t sit right. “It is not policy” and “If this has happened in the past” stuck out. Well it was policy because it was being done and it did happen. There is no question of IF.

Then Rick chimed in with

Jim,

No one is going to be sued. I made a serious mistake and error of judgement in this and many cases and I am truly sorry.

Jim, I apologize publicly to you. I do have diabetes and sometimes this affects my judgement and it did in that voicemail I truly regret it. I’m talking to my Doctor about changing my medications so I wont have any more low sugars.

Randy, Mike and I are discussing my future with HRD.

It appears both Rick and Mike were treating this whole situation as an isolated incident. It was clearly not. Rick also blamed his poor treatment of Jim as a reaction to his low blood sugar at the time of the phone call. Their reactions angered me. Their attempts at an apology made it even worse. It also appears the Mike isn’t not really privy to what is really going on over at HRD. He does mention that he doesn’t participate in the day-to-day operations over at HRD and that he claims he had no idea of what was going on. Personally I believe for that to be false because there has been years of abuse and even other HRD staffers (volunteer) knew what was going on. However Mike is insisted that he did not know.

Why Should I Care?

I care about what is going on because I really do like the software and there is a chance that it will go away. I actually want to purchase it at some point. I’ve also been treated horribly by other amateur radio software developers. I was told by the support of a popular software that they weren’t going to support my homebrew hardware and that I should purchase the real thing instead of looking into my issues. That’s what I get for trying to shake the “appliance operator” that gets attached to newer hams.

Digging A Deeper Hole

One of the co-owners of HRD stuck around in the ongoing thread on QRZ.com in attempts to take blame and recover from the damage that was done. Even though he had good intentions, he made things much worse. This started getting the attention of some news markets. A major international IT related news publication, The Register (el reg)  released an article about the whole HRD situation. They reached out to HRD for comment and HRD released a press statement that was basically deflecting what was going on and trying to define what they meant by “blacklisting”. HRD also claimed that it was “outside support staff” and not the co-owner that was responsible. That lead to a much bigger response to where The Register had to release another story about Ham Radio Deluxe a couple days later. HRD also deleted their twitter account which to me was an attempt to cover up some of the public tweets from HRD staff.

Since then there have been articles on Slashdot, Techdirt and many others about what has been going on. It even got attention from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). These aren’t some blogging websites like mine, these are some respected international publications and digital rights group. It’s not looking good for HRD and I honestly don’t want to see them go away. I wouldn’t want people to be out of work and I didn’t want to see this software tossed aside. But the actions from HRD are not helping.

About a week later, HRD annouced that co-owner Rick stepped aside and is now retired. HRD also claims they will be editing their EULA to renew their commitment to their customers. This is a step in the right direction. Some were sad to see Rick go but I feel it had to be done in order for HRD to move forward. I’ve publicly spoken with Mike and it appears he really cares about the company and HRD users. Even though I don’t agree with everything he said, it appears he is sincere and wants to improve.

HRD now faces an uphill battle. They no longer have their lead programmer, there are known bugs within the software and they are now swimming in a sea of negative press. I really hope that the staff from HRD learn from this and I hope other amateur radio developers learn from this as well. It goes to show that even one bad experience could lead to major trouble. Even though the term “The customer is always right” is often taken out of context, you should at least take the high road and respect those who prove to be difficult.

The future and their actions will set a precedence on what type of company they will be. I really do hope HRD recovers and even prosper from what happened. There are thousands of satisfied customers, hopefully there will be thousands more. Only time will tell.

Thanks for reading.
– Jeff (NT1K)

This article is of my opinion. I’ve came to this opinion based on what I’ve read throughout the past couple weeks. I try to be un-bias as much as possible. Since I do not work or have never worked for HRD, I am uncertain of what exactly happened. Just sharing what has been said elsewhere. I could be wrong. Please view the evidence for yourself.

 

 

 

 

My first attempt at NPOTA

The ARRL is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service by doing a year long event called “National Parks On The Air” or NPOTA.
It’s where operators go to National Parks and “activate” them by making contacts from the NPS site/unit. Chasers that make contact with the activators will get points which encourages more operation.

From my point of view it looks like the ARRL got the NPOTA idea by combing SOTA (Summits On The Air) with POTA (Parks On The Air). SOTA is very popular with portable operators but POTA is not as known. The POTA website hasn’t been updated in a long time but locally there is a group that are trying their best to keep POTA alive and well. Hopefully with NPOTA, it will get more people in POTA and hopefully it will improve.

I wanted to give NPOTA a try because there are a couple places locally that I can activate. It also seems that NPOTA is quite active on social media with their Facebook Group. I figured a dual SOTA/NPOTA would be perfect. Be able to do what I know and give NPOTA a try at the same time.

Short Notice Activation

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Like usual, I decided the day of that I am going to do a dual activation. The weather forecast for the next week included cold, rain and snow. I figured this was my only shot but there was strong winds. I thought I could fight it and decided to activate Bare Mountain (SOTA W1/CR-014) in Hadley/Amherst Massachusetts as it’s close by and is on the National Scenic Trail (TR06).

Due to my past SOTA activations, I knew it’s best to spread the word so that I’m certain that my activation will count. I posted SOTAwatch, ARRL’s NPOTA upcoming activations page and numerous facebook groups. I am set!

Fighting The Wind

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As I started my hike, the wind started to get worse and worse. There would be moments of calm followed by this huge gust of wind. I was worried that I wouldn’t even get my antenna up but it wasn’t stopping me. The hike wasn’t bad at all really. I was proud because I didn’t have to stop to catch my breath at all. Not sure if it was because I’m hiking more or that I am used to doing these hikes on snow and ice covered trails.

Setting up against the wind did prove to be a pain. The end insulators on my homebrew G5RV acted as a kite and cause some funny moments of me trying to secure the wire ends. Even the twin lead took to the wind.

Finally On The Air

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The true reason why I did the activation was that I just purchased a new battery from Bioennopower through Hamsource.com . I wanted to test it out.

I found a nice quiet frequency on the upper portion of 20m and sent out a self spot on the SOTA cluster. Some operators get grumpy when someone self spots but this isn’t the CQWW contest. It’s some guy running low power and is portable on top a windy mountain.

After a few CQ’s some of the SOTA regulars come onto frequency and made contact. It was great to hear them because it confirms that I can at least get into the west coast since they were out of Washington state and Oregon. However I wanted those NPOTA pileups I hear so much about.

Thankfully someone from the SOTA group spotted me on the AR cluster. You can tell because it’s like someone opened up the flood gates. Calls were pouring in which put a huge smile on my face. I love pileups.

Murphy’s Law

Since I was very excited because of the pileup, something had to go wrong. After 6 or so contacts, the pileup was silenced. I was hearing nothing. Due to the wind I had earbuds in my ears which blocked out the sound of my antenna falling. I scrambled to get everything back up and running. I picked up the antenna, added more straps/cord and got back on the air. During my first contact back on the air, the antenna mast collapsed. Once again I am scrambling to put it back up and making sure to tighten each telescoping section as best I can.  I didn’t even have a chance to make it back to the radio when a big steady gust of wind came and pulled the BNC connector off the ladder line.

At this point I had enough contacts for a SOTA activation. I decided it was best to packup and leave. I didn’t even last 15 minutes on the air and I didn’t even make it to 0:00z or even to the other bands. It was getting dark and didn’t want to deal with it.

NPOTA Nut Jobs

Since I had to cut it short, I wasn’t able to get on 40m that I stated I was going to be on. In the SOTA world, it’s common for an activation to be cut short for weather reasons. However it doesn’t fly with some of the NPOTA chasers.

I attempted to post on the NPOTA facebook group that I had to go QRT due to the wind. However it didn’t stop people messaging me on Facebook and E-Mailing me. They were chastising me because I wasn’t on the air long enough and were upset because they were waiting for me on 40m and didn’t make enough contacts on 20m.

There was also a lot of poor operating during my short time on the air. There were at least 3 operators who didn’t seem to listen. I am not even sure if they heard me because they kept calling and calling even though I was in mid Q with someone else. I was also hearing other operators yelling at them to “Shut Up”.

I was very upset by the comments and poor operating at first until I realized that a good portion of these chasers probably never did a true portable setup before. A lot of the NPOTA activators are doing these activations from the comfort of their own vehicles and RV’s. They have the comfort to stay on for hours at time. I think the SOTA crowd is more understandable because they know what it’s like to be portable on top of a mountain. SOTA ops tend to make as many contacts as possible and get moving. However there is no excuse

Thoughts about NPOTA

I love the idea behind NPOTA. I hope it encourages more portable operating with POTA and SOTA after the event is over. But with what I see on the NPOTA Facebook group and my own personal experiences, there needs to be improvement.

Honestly I don’t think I will be publicly advertising that I am doing NPOTA activations in the future. The attitudes of some of the operators was just outright rude. Both on and off the air. You can’t “Turn the big knob” in this situation.

These are just my opinions, I very well could be wrong.

Thanks for reading,
NT1K

 

 

 

Recording Contest QSOs

You will see on my past couple of posts that I am starting to record my contesting. I’ve received a few questions about how so I figured it deserves a blog post.

I’ve been interested in recording contacts since I found GW4BLE’s online recording archive. If you ever worked him in a contest, you can go to his website, search his logs, and be able to listen to the exchange. I was amazed by this because I was always interested in how I sounded. I wanted to do the same.

The obvious choice was to contact GW4BLE and ask him how. I wanted the exact same thing. However his response was that someone else wrote the software and that I would have to contact that person. I tried with no response so I wanted to find another way. I was disappointed because it appears they do not want to share. I will have to find another way.

Some web searching later I came across a plugin for N1MM+ called QSOrder written by Vasiliy Gokoyev (K3IT). The software/plugin does exactly what I want… Almost. It’s able to record contacts and make individual files or it can record the entire contest or both. Since it appears to be my only option, it will do.

QSOrder Setup

How the software works is that it listens to a soundcard and creates a buffer. When you hit the log button on N1MM+, it will trigger the software to make a recording X amount of seconds before and X amount of seconds after the contact. It can create individual files for each contact or it can record the entire contest or both.

In order for the software to work properly, you need to make sure you have installed the LAME Encoder. This allows files to be output in a compressed .mp3 format. Each 45s recording ends up being around 170kb

Another thing you would need to do is modify an .ini file in N1MM+ to enable UDP Streaming. This is how QSOrder knows when to set the buffer and obtains the QSO details to create the file name from.

You would also need to setup your audio and this varies depending on your setup. If you have some kind of sound card interface that has it’s own sound card built in (like the Signalink), you can use that. If not, you will have to find a way to get the audio from the radio to the computer’s mic or preferably the line input.

Software installation is straight forward if you follow the directions listed on the QSOrder website. I would suggest you install it in a subfolder right off the main drive (C:/qsorder for example).

I would also suggest for the first couple times to run the software from a command line instead of trying to click on the executable. The reason why I say this is because if you have multiple sound cards, there is a good chance that QSOrder will default to the wrong card. You would have to tell the software to use a different card.

If you have experiance with DOS or other CLI clients then you should have no issue getting this up and running

QSOrder Review

As a person who is used to using a GUI (Graphical User Interface. i.e. Windows), the setup and install was a bit tricky. Even more so when I had to tell the software to use a different input device/sound card. However it wasn’t really that bad to get up and running.

Software works exactly like it should. It records contacts and makes .mp3 files for each contact. I would suggest that you make a test contact well before the contest to make sure both N1MM and the recorder is working. I would then listen to the mp3 file to make sure the levels sound good. I made a mistake on my first recorded contest and everything was loud.

Can it run with the big dogs?

Yes it could. There were a couple times where I had 100+ hr rates and the software held up nicely. I would love to try it out at a multi/multi contest station where I could get bigger rates to really test it out. But for my station, it works out great.

Now that I have all these mp3’s, what should I do?

I wanted to have the exact same thing as GW4BLE. However OSOrder doesn’t create a searchable DB that can be displayed on website for others to search. I also see that GW4BLE records the entire contest on one mp3 file and the software/website/db links to the section of recording that you want to listen to. QSOrder outputs each contact on it’s own .mp3 file.

However the filename allows you to easily make a directory listing of your contacts. I was able to print a directory listing and some cut and pasting later, I was able to share them here on my blog. Even though I now have my contacts online for all to listen, it’s not searchable like GW4BLE’s site or wintest.

Can This Be Automated?

I still wasn’t completely satisfied. I would like for an All-in-one software that will record the contest, upload the files to a website, create a db and make it searchable from a website. But for the price I shouldn’t complain at all. I decided to contact Vasiliy and see what can be done about it. I e-mailed him in November and he did agree that it could improve. At first I didn’t think nothing would become of it but a couple months later I got an e-mail saying that he created a searchable index with the use of the cloud storage service “dropbox”.

All I have to do is create a dropbox account (free 2gb storage), link my account through his website, upload my files to a subfolder that was created and embed an iframe into my website or QRZ page.

Check it out for yourself. Who knows, you might have contacted me. If not type in “K1KI” to see both a phone and CW contact.

You can embed this into your website or even your QRZ.com profile. It makes for an exciting page.

I was able to beta test this feature and even though I am not a fan of using a third party service like dropbox, it’s much easier to upload, search and manage. Vasiliy was very responsive and I am glad he devoted time to making it happen.

Contest Rules And Reg

Even though I love to share my recordings, I found out that uploading your contacts directly after a contest could cause some trouble. Other operators could use your recordings to scrub their logs for more points. In CQWW contests rule number 9 states

9. Correction of logged call signs and exchanges after the contest, by use of any database, recordings, email or other methods, is not allowed.

I would suggest to wait until after the log submission deadline to post any records publicly.

I hope to record more contests for all to enjoy. I hope that you do as well. It’s great to see how one sounds on the other side of the signal.

Thanks for reading,
Jeffrey Bail (NT1K)

Portable Operations – What I Carry

I guess I should post up something that isn’t about contesting. I am often asked about my portable setup so I figured just to post it up here to show all.

This setup works for me but it might not work for you. I attempt to pack as small and minimal as possible when it comes to portable. I know some who pack everything including the kitchen sink so opinions will vary.

Here is my portable setup

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That’s basically it. Here is a break down of the above picture

Elecraft KX3 – This is the most important part. When I was getting into portable operations, I wanted a radio that wouldn’t waste energy. The KX3 was just released and it met everything that was on my list. It can use AA batteries, the antenna match option works wonderfully, it has multiple modes and nice sized screen. I will admit it was expensive but I felt if I use it 50 times, it would be worth the cost. If the KX3 is not an option than an Yaesu FT-817 will do or those CW QRP kits like KD1JV’s MTR/Sprint radios.

G5RV Jr Antenna – Some people question as to why I went with a G5RV jr antenna and the answer is simple as that I had one laying around so why not use it. When stored properly, it doesn’t really take up much room. I had great luck with it so I kept using it.  However the one I had wasn’t suited for portable use. It was breaking apart and used solid core wire for the 450ohm “ladder” line.

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I ended up making a smaller one. I made custom end insulators that act as winders. I also used polystealth wire and a BNC port. The new antenna is much smaller and is somewhat easier to deploy.

Here is the radio with the G5RV jr working some DX while portable in Vermont.

EARCHI end fed antenna – This is my other antenna that I use if I want to be very quick or the local environment prevents me from using the G5RV. It’s just 31 feet (around 15m) of wire that is hooked up to a 9:1 UnUn. Even though I much prefer the G5RV, the end fed works okay.

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Here is the Endfed on the beach in South Carolina. Salt water works wonders. Setup was less than 5 mintues and it didn’t take up much room in the car.

Jackite Telescoping Kite Pole (Mast) – For a long time I would tie rope to rocks and throw them over tree branches. In some locations there were no trees which made it much more difficult. Even though a portable mast is bulky for me, I think it’s necessary. I ended up going with Jackite’s 31′ Fiberglass pole because it was 31′.  It is designed for windsocks/kites but hams use it for antenna supports. It made portable communications much easier.

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Should have added something for scale. My only complain is the caps can easily come off which sucks when you’re in the middle of the woods when it happens. Little bit of electrical tape does the trip.

Logbook – I use two logbooks during operations. One is just a regular notebook that can fit in my bag and the other is the voice recorder on my phone. That way I can make youtube videos and also go back if I messed up my paper log. The notebook is just full of scribbles. Soon as I get home I enter them into the proper logging software or website.

Foam Pad – I carry a foam pad that gardeners would kneel on. It provides some cushion and ground isolation. It’s a must have and fits nicely in my bag

Misc Antenna Items – I usually carry a roll of RG-58 with BNC ends, tent stakes, small spool of nylon high vis mason rope and bungee/tie down cords. I avoid using any type of nail or screw. I do not want to disturb the environment. I say the stretch/bungee cords is what I use the most to secure the mast to trees and/or benches.

Dedicated Bookbag – When I was at costco I saw some bookbags on sale for $15USD and couldn’t resist. I dedicated it to portable operations since I usually don’t plan my operations.  When I get home after each portable operation, I make sure to organize my backpack and have it ready for the next time. I leave almost everything in the bag so I can almost grab and go since I decide to go out usually at the last second.

Future Plans

I’ve been trying to learn CW for a long time now. I am getting better but once I am confident that I can do CW without any kind of assistance, I will go out with a smaller rig and different antenna. I want a smaller light weight pack. I would also like to find ways to go without a mast but there are times where the area is unknown.

Thanks for reading,
NT1K

ARRL 10m Contest 2015 – Soapbox

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Contest season for me is still going strong. This past weekend was the ARRL 10M contest. I was looking forward to it because our local amateur radio club participates as a group effort and I would like to add to the effort. Last year I managed 345 contacts which I ended up with 103,452 points. I guess my goal is to break that.

I decided to enter as a single operator, low power without using assistance of the cluster/skimmer. I knew band conditions weren’t going to be so great. It wasn’t going to be packed with juicy multipliers everywhere and felt that I wasn’t going to be having high rates.

This year I put more focus in CW contesting. Without the cluster/skimmer I knew that Morse code will be much harder. No problem, I need less assistance anyways.

Starting Off Slow

0z came and I was off to the races. However around here 0z is 7pm and the band is pretty much closed to skywave contacts. There were a handful of local ops running and I managed to make contact with them. It was nice to make contact with locals. Plus it’s nice to see who around here is playing. through out the contest I would keep tabs on them and see who they were contacting.

I went to  bed making only a dozen or so contacts.

The Contest Continues On

I woke up Saturday thinking it would be like Christmas morning as a kid. Got my coffee and hopped on the air expecting wall to wall contesting like years past. Well the solar cycle slapped me in the face this year. There wasn’t much on. However I hear DX stations so I will work them!

South America was really strong. I was hoping to make some contacts with countries I need like Boliva and the Falkland Islands.

I ended up not making many contacts on Saturday as the day was nice and I had other on my mind. Propagation predictions said I should be around 2pm local time for the peak but I just wasn’t feeling it. I’ve notice some locals putting a good effort though.

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday

After the run I had on Saturday, I wasn’t expecting Sunday to be much better. Sure enough I got on the air and it confirmed my feelings. I don’t think I made any European contacts. I concentrated my efforts on making contacts to west on CW. I needed a bunch of states for the ARRL triple play award so my efforts were on the US and SA.

The K3’s filters are amazing!

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Here is an SDR shot of the CW section of 10 meters on Sunday. Compared to last year, this screen is empty. If you look to the right side of the image you will see a very strong CW signal. I thought it was going to wipe out the other two or three signals nearby. When I tuned into those signals, I could barely notice the strong station. It was there and I can hear it but it didn’t really affect the signal I was trying to listen to. This was very nice considering I don’t have a CW filter installed. I was using the 1.8Khz filter.

On SSB the filters got a workout as well. There were multiple loud Brazilian stations almost on top of each other. This is where the 1.8Khz filter really came in handy. I was able to hear each station even though some of the other stations were in the passband. Maybe it’s the kool-aid talking. Not sure.

Claimed Results

Once the band died down to local traffic, I called it quits

arrl10m2015-score

Made a 132 contacts. With the multipliers, I ended up with 26,000 points. Nowhere near the 103,000 I made last year doing mostly SSB. You will see that almost half my contacts were CW.

It was fun but you can see the solar cycle taking it’s toll. I better start working on better antennas for 40, 80 and the 160m bands. A good kick in the butt to make 5 band DXCC as I already have 10, 15 and 20 locked down.

Thanks for reading,
Jeff – NT1K