RM-11835 Denied By FCC

Today I received word that the FCC has denied my petition to give regional preference to hams applying for a vanity call sign when in competition with others who reside elsewhere. I wasn’t surprised.

For years I’ve been mentioning how I think it’s unfair that call signs are being issued to people outside their districts when you have people within that are applying for the same call on the same day. Personally I feel that those within should have preference when multiple people are applying for a call. I still feel that way.

Instead of complaining, I decided to actually do something about it and submitted my petition to the FCC.

Bit of Confusion

Seems like there was some confusion with my petition and that I was trying to geo restrict callsigns for all. That was FAR from my intentions. The FCC did away with that a long time ago and I support their decision. I still believe that if you apply for vanity callsign and it’s available, you should be able to get it. I also believe that you should retain your call if you move. However, If two or more people applied for the same callsign on the same day, I strongly feel that the person whom lives within the district should have preference over the others.

I have feeling that people thought that my petition was the same as RM-11834. Mr Borghi asked the FCC to restrict ALL vanity applications to their region. My petition was asking for preference when it comes to competing applications which wouldn’t effect most vanity applications. There is quite a difference between the two.

Learning Experience

I have never really submitted any type of letter to the government before as it really shows if you’ve read the actual petition. I try to always use any situation as a learning experience to better myself.

I wanted to get right to point and keep it as short as possible. That may or may not have backfired. Should have gathered more data and submitted it with my petition but I’m not sure if that would have made things better.

I’ve learned what exactly the process is and how long things take within the FCC.

Thank you

I’d like to say thanks to those who took the time to write to the FCC in support of the petition and also to those who weren’t as supportive. Your voices were heard and considered during the review process. It was an interesting experience and hopefully this can be re-visited down the road.

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

Update: 9/25/19 – Rune Broberg (5Q5R) has been working on his own software for the NanoVNA that can run on windows and other systems. Check out his github page dedicated to it (also download it from there)

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.

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)


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.

 

 

 

 

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

20150816_165422

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.

20140308_121257

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.

portableKX3SC

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.

kitepolesota

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 Sweepstakes Recordings

Here are all the MP3s.

For now, press CTRL-F and search for your call. They are sorted in alphabetical order. I am working on ways to make all my contests recordings searchable.

Callsign Mode Date Time Band Link
AA1HK LSB 20151122 200238Z 7MHz Listen
AA2VK LSB 20151122 203045Z 7MHz Listen
AA7V USB 20151121 215817Z 21MHz Listen
AB1J LSB 20151122 174711Z 7MHz Listen
AB1WQ LSB 20151122 175440Z 7MHz Listen
AC2MT LSB 20151122 143124Z 7MHz Listen
AD0H USB 20151122 192449Z 21MHz Listen
AD5XD USB 20151121 212557Z 21MHz Listen
AD6NR USB 20151121 222657Z 21MHz Listen
AE0EE USB 20151121 220709Z 21MHz Listen
AK3V LSB 20151122 143304Z 7MHz Listen
K0BBB USB 20151121 220648Z 21MHz Listen
K0BUD USB 20151122 165747Z 21MHz Listen
K0CN USB 20151122 162320Z 21MHz Listen
K0EJ USB 20151122 161312Z 14MHz Listen
K0EU USB 20151122 163418Z 14MHz Listen
K0FD USB 20151121 220041Z 21MHz Listen
K0GND USB 20151122 180904Z 21MHz Listen
K0HC USB 20151122 172539Z 21MHz Listen
K0OB USB 20151122 172114Z 21MHz Listen
K0OU USB 20151121 210446Z 21MHz Listen
K0RJW USB 20151122 164506Z 21MHz Listen
K0TT USB 20151122 154747Z 21MHz Listen
K0VXU USB 20151122 194252Z 21MHz Listen
K0ZL USB 20151121 224506Z 21MHz Listen
K1DCT LSB 20151122 141426Z 7MHz Listen
K1DQV LSB 20151122 143040Z 7MHz Listen
K1JB LSB 20151122 200151Z 7MHz Listen
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CQWW SSB 2015 Extended SoapBox

CQ World Wide Contest for SSB was just this past weekend. For those who are unaware, it’s basically the largest Phone contest of the year and it’s the un-official kickoff to the contest season. Now that I have a beam, I wanted to play and put an honest effort in making as many contacts as possible. I want to put in a serious effort and help my local contesting club but the real motive is to get all time new DX contacts and increase my DXCC per band counts.

Getting Ready

If you want to do well with any contest, preparation is important. You want to make sure your station and antennas are in working order, you want to make sure all your software is working and up to date and you want to have a good idea of what band to be on and when throughout the contest.

In the weeks prior my CL-33 has not been behaving and I was seeing 7.0SWR across 10, 15, and 20. I am thinking water got into something because it happened right after a bad rain storm. I wanted to get on the roof to clean and reseal all the connections but now there is some mental block about getting on my own roof. Thankfully the SWR returned back to around 1.0 the week of the contest.

Thinking the beam was toast, I revisited my Butternut HF9V that I’ve basically never used. I switched between that and the G5RV using the heathkit SA-2060 tuner I had.  I never liked the butternut as the G5RV seemed to out perform it almost every time. I tried adding more radials during the summer and even tried re-tuning without much difference. I’ve been planning to add Inverted V antennas for 80 and 40, I purchase a used B&W Coaxial 5 position switch to replace the 2 position switch that was switching my beam or the tuner. I took the butternut off the SA-2060 and fed it directly to the new switch. There was a major difference to where the Butternut was just as good, if not better than the G5RV.

For this contest I will be using the CL-33, Butternut Vertical and my G5RV dipole.

A couple days before the contest I went to VOACAP to get an idea of what band to be on and when. Since I now have a directional antenna, I have to also think about when and where I need to point it in order to utilize my rates.

Running as SOAB (A) HP

I decided to run SOAB (A) HP which means Single Operator, All band, (A)ssisted, High Power.  Depending on the contest, you have a choice which class you want to enter. Sometimes it’s wise to pick a class that the big guns won’t use or one that no one uses. I know for a fact that I won’t win ANY of the classes that I would try out for. Even though I think I have a great station, in this contest it’s menial compared to others in the area. I cared more about DX contacts than points so I wanted to use the amplifier and make use of the spotting network to assist me in making contacts.

Let the games begin!

Contest starts at 00:00z which is 8pm ET. I was able to help out my local club with a VE session and had enough time to get on when the contest starts. I didn’t follow my own advice and my station was not setup for contesting. I had to find and plug in the headset and configure N1MM+ for the new contest. I ended up starting late.

Problems right out of the gate

Soon as I transmitted on 20m, bye bye N1MM. RF is getting into my computer and it was nasty. Things were typing itself and my computer was making restart attempts. I immediately suspected the keyboard. I unplugged the keyboard and sure enough my computer RFI went away. My expensive (to me) DAS mechanical keyboard is not ham radio friendly. I plugged in my backup keyboard and sure enough, windows decided to take forever to install the driver. I ended up using a PS/2 keyboard and had to restart the computer.  I ended up starting almost an hour late. This is why you should prepare your station before the contest.

Things are getting better

Once my computer issues were fixed, I was back on the air.  10m was closed for me and 20 and 15m were meh. 40 meters seemed to have all the action so I was fighting the contest with the G5RV and vert. Not a good way to start but at least I am making contacts.

CQWW1540m

Here is a view of 40m about 2 hours into the contest. I have my SDR taping the IF stage of the K3 and I use it as a pan adapter. It gives me an idea of what the band is like. I can cycle through the bands and stop on the most active one for contacts.

I made as many contacts on 40m as possible. I decided to give 80m a try and wasn’t able to make many contacts. I can hear a lot of stations but even with 500w, they couldn’t hear me. I ended up giving up the fight and went to be around 1am ET (5z).

I ended the night with about 50,000pts.  I was sort of bummed out about it and I was thinking that I wasn’t going to break my 300k I made in 2011 before I lost power due to a really bad snow storm.

A New Day

After waking up, getting some much needed food and coffee in the system, I went back to station and thankfully the bands were open. I spent the morning working as many mults and double mults as possible and then circled the bands for contacts. I was depending more on the cluster but as time went on, I started to use the dial.

15mCQWW

15 meters seem to be the place for me. I spent a good part of my day on 15 spinning to SA and EU and sometimes out West/North.

Night Time Asia

Up until now, I had a very hard time working ASIA. I almost NEVER hear anything in Asia. I would be lucky to hear Japan every once in awhile but this night was different. Not only did I make Japan contacts, I also made contact with China, Singapore, Asiatic Russia and even heard South Korea.  I was a very happy ham radio operator.

Things are looking better!

Even though I walked away to spend some time playing with the kids and doing some work around the house, I crushed my 2011 record. I was now in “contest mode” where that was all I thinking about. Once I started struggling on 40m, I went to bed hoping conditions will stay the same for sunday.

I went to bed with 700,000pts. I now had dreams of making my first ever 1,000,000pts from home.

10 Meters was alive and business was a booming

I missed grayline but after my Sunday Morning coffee and Bagel, I went back on the air to find 10, 15 and 20 booming with activity. 40m was booming but I was hearing mostly the big guns working people that I couldn’t even hear. After clearing out any possible mults I went to work at my rate. I was clicking and spinning as fast as I can. If I couldn’t establish contact in two tries, I moved on unless it was a multiplier or much needed DXCC entity.  Western Sahara (S0S) took a good hour to break.

cqwwsb10m15

10 meter was just amazing. People were complaining about 10m band conditions a week prior but by looking at the above spectrum, 700Khz were packed with stations. I spent a good part of my day on 10 and 15.

15m open to Japan

Towards the end of the contest, 15 meters opened up to Japan. When everyone was on 40, I was still on 15 working as many Japan Stations as possible. My rates suffered but I was having to much fun working areas I never worked before. I’ve exceeded my goals so now it’s just working mults and needed DX.

I will say that the K3 with the 1.8KHz filter worked like a charm. However the best option for the K3 was the Digital Voice Keyer. I control the DVK using CAT commands through N1MM and it made contesting much easier. I can still talk after the contest!

The fun must come to an end.

I went back to 40m for the last 5min of the contest and watched my pan adapter to see the entire spectrum that was alive with signals fade out to just a few. I am sure the ragchewers and net participants jumped for joy but I was also jumping with joy. It’s done. I can return to life.

Claimed Scores

NT1KSCreenShot

I ended up with over 1.25 million points. I wanted to stop at 1 million but when I reached it, I had around 890 contacts and I started concentrating at making at least 1,000 contacts. Too bad I wasn’t focusing on countries worked because I would have pushed harder to get 3 or 4 band DXCC instead of putting around towards the end.

It felt great. I’ve broke many personal records and now I’ve set the bar high when it comes to future contests. I also felt like I am finally helping out the Yankee Clipper Contest Club (YCCC) in which I was logging for. I often feel intimidated by the YCCC members due to the massive score submissions and their station. Even though every point counts, 50k or even 100k appears to be small potatoes to them. I know I can run with the best of them on phone, but I don’t have station to prove it. This year was an improvement for sure.

Lessons learned

No matter what I do, I try to walk away with learning something. Even though I participated in many contests, I am still learning and being reminded about things I forgot about or don’t care about.  I need to work on antennas for 80, 40 and maybe even 160 meter. The solar cycle is not going to improve and if I want to maintain 1 million points, I need improve my antenna situation.

Due to my property size, I am looking at some options. I think I could get away with a double L antenna for 80/160. However I feel I might end up with inverted V dipoles. I also need to complete my 300′ receive beverage antenna that is looking at Europe. I may even upgrade to a reverse-able beverage so I can hear SA better as well.

I was reminded to make sure my station is in COMPLETE working order. CQ World Wide CW is a month away and I need to make sure my homebrew winkeyer can do the job. I

Overall thoughts

It was fun and thanks for reading my Soapbox. Scores have been submitted to CQ and YCCC and logs have been uploaded to LoTW and Clublog. Now I  get to see what LoTW confirmations come through. So far two new DXCC contacts and a ton of band confirmations. Well worth getting on the air.

  • Jeff (NT1K)

ISS We Meet Again

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

ISSpass3

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.

20141220_135105

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

Hist5

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.

My Mountain Topper Radio project

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

 

 

NT1K Op-Ed: The Start!

I am going  to try out posting my thoughts and opinions when it comes to Amateur Radio here on NT1K.com. Reason I’ve been holding back is that I consider myself to be nice guy… Well, most of the time. I do “bust chops” but I try to let people know that I’m not after them. Most times, I am just trying to help. I don’t want to be just another blogger complaining about things and cast myself in a negative light. When it comes to talking about any subject, I always try to keep an open mind and look at ALL sides of the topic. Everyone is different and I try to write for everyone but at times, it proves to be difficult. When it comes to Amateur Radio, there is always someone who is never happy and will find any excuse to make it known.

One of the big reasons why I created this website was to help people by either showing them how to do things in an easier way to understand. I often come across articles that either don’t give much information or the information is so complex that you’re left scratching your head. The original goal of this site was to make it easier for those who are just getting into the hobby to understand how to do things from scratch and why. I am still going to do that but at the same time I am going also going to tell you my thoughts and how I see amateur radio. So if you can withstand my horrible grammar and spelling, please take your time to read what I have to say. Who knows, you might enjoy it!

Thanks for reading,

Jeff – NT1K