Category Archives: Amateur Radio

POTA: KFF-4354 Point Beach State Forest

My XYL and I just returned from another camping trip. This trip almost didn’t happen as my XYL’s appendix decided that it needed to be removed a few days before our planned departure day. After a run to the emergency room at 4:30 AM and subsequent surgery I was sure that the trip was off. However the surgery went well and the surgeon said that she could go if she was feeling OK with some restrictions (such as no bike riding.) Within a couple of days she was feeling well enough so we departed one day later than planned. I guess the outdoors is good for what ails you.

XYL @ camp several days after an appendectomy

While at camp, in between taking care of my XYL, I was able to squeeze in some radio operation. When I started operations the band conditions were:

Band conditions – 9/6/17

Given conditions, it appeared to be a 100W day as opposed to a 10W day so I left the KX2 in its bag and pulled out my TS-480SAT. I used my LNR EF-Quad antenna strung across the campsite with one end at about 30 feet and the other at about 8 feet.

EF-Quad Matchbox view

The 40m band was pretty dead but I was able to make about 15 contacts calling CQ for POTA with some stations interested in the POTA numbers and others not. There wasn’t really any pile-up and it was more like a nice bunch of casual contacts.

480SAT @ camp

While calling CQ between contacts I was observing a red squirrel collecting green pine cones. It would grab a pine cone from a group of them about 20 feet in front of the picnic table I was sitting at in my campsite, run about 30 feet to a stump, stop, drop over the side of a slight depression, pop back up on a stump adjacent to the one that it just was on, look around, run to a portion of a hollow log, look around some more, proceed back to the pile pine cones, pick up another, and start the whole process over again. It must have made at least 15 trips following the same process.

Squirrel process flow

After about 2 hours of calling CQ, making an occasional contact, and watching the squirrel, local weather was closing in (passing bands of mild rain) so I ceased operation for the afternoon. I believe that the squirrel did as well.

Damselfly visitor

Later that evening the local weather had cleared and conditions were dramatically improved (I forgot to capture the chart.) It was a clear night and about 50 degrees F so I set the station back up on the picnic table and found the 40m band was very much alive. I found a clear spot to call CQ for POTA and while it started a little slow, after about 40 minutes and a spot by Mike, KK4KHS, I had a nice pile-up going.

Night operation

Over the next 1.5 hours I made 78 contacts. It was a lot of fun. I was actually quite amazed at the amount of interest. It reminded me of an NPOTA activation. It’s nice to see the interest in POTA. There were some calls that I recognized from NPOTA and when I added the contacts to my ACLog there were quite a few that I had worked during the NPOTA event.

Among a bunch of very nice contacts, there is one of note. I worked NU0C, Jim in Nebraska early in the pile-up. About 35 minutes later he called me back to tell me that he had been reading a recent blog post in which I mentioned that the last state that I needed for an FT8 WAS was Nebraska. He wanted to tell me that he’d be happy to setup a sked to put Nebraska in my log with FT8. I told him thanks but I had already logged a Nebraska station. It was very nice of him to call back with the offer. What a fine example of an Amateur Radio operator.

After shutting down for the night my XYL and I walked out to Lake Michigan and were treated to a nice moon over the lake.

Moon over Lake Michigan

While I had planned to be on the air more, as it turns out that was the extent of radio operation for the trip. Between the local weather (more rain) and band conditions I wasn’t able to get on the air again.

Band conditions 9/8/17

It was a nice trip that almost wasn’t. My XYL is doing very well and we’ve got one more trip planned before we put the camper away for the season.

 

Advertisements

FT8 WAS: One more to go

It’s over. I’m all in on FT8. It actually is very interesting and a lot of fun. Over this last month aside from some WSPRing the day of the eclipse and some SSB contacts mobile while driving to and from work, home operation, which actually hasn’t been all that much in the face of other non-radio projects, has been 99% FT8 on 20m and 40m. I’m down to one more state, Nebraska. I’ve got multiple contacts in Alaska and Hawaii and even Washington, D.C. but I haven’t found a station in Nebraska yet, but I’ve enlisted the help of PSK Reporter to find the needed station.

FT8 WAS

WSJT-X provides the ability to send all of your decodes to PSK Reporter.

WSJT-X PSK reporter Spotting

My understanding is that WSJT-X reports a spot for every station that you decode, not just those that you work. Using PSK Reporter in combination with WSJT-X effectively closes the loop on your digital operations. With the spotting information available you can use PSK Reporter to determine who is hearing your signal including signal strength in a manner similar to that of WSPR. I’ve been varying my power output to see how it impacts signal reports. Additionally, the spotting information can be used with FT8 to attempt to make a directed contact with a station. I had this happen once to me while in an FT8 QSO. I noticed a call to me in the Band Activity pane (left pane) from a call different than that of the station I was communicating with in the Rx Frequency pane (right pane.) Once my QSO was complete I  responded to the other stations call on the frequency upon which they called me. I adapted a form of this technique to get my North Dakota contact with KDoUXO. I noticed in PSK Reporter that he heard me but didn’t see his call in the Band Activity pane so I picked a clear spot on the waterfall and called directly for him. After a few rounds of calling CQ he responded to my call and I put my first (and only thus far) North Dakota FT8 contact in the my log. Given a bit more time and observation of PSK Reporter I should be able to put a Nebraska station in my log for the fastest WAS I’ve ever completed.

FT8 cat

Our youngest cat appears to like FT8 as well, while our older cats find it too fast paced. Or it could be that they can’t fit on my desk between the keyboard and radio.

UPDATE: FT8 WAS is complete! AJ0Z confirmed Nebraska.

 

Eclipse WSPRing

In the run-up to the eclipse there was plenty of information concerning the eclipse and its relation to propagation. Of particular interest to me was the Eclipse Experiment proposed by HamSCI and especially their use of data from WSPRNet and PSK Reporter as well as the Reverse Beacon Network. There is an amazing amount of data collected each day by these systems that has a practical use for checking propagation conditions and a scientific use for observing the affect of events like the eclipse. WSRPNet alone averages around 1 million spots per day. Yesterday was over 1.2 million. The spots per hour broke the chart:

WSPR Spots per Hour

About 1600 UTC of the morning of the eclipse I started my WSPRLite on 20m. Band conditions were as follows:

Band conditions @ 1631 UTC

I was using my 4BTV with the WSPRlite transmitter at 200mW. I let it run for a couple of transmit rounds as a test and obtained the following results:

WSPR @ 200mW (1637 UTC)

As you can see, all the spots are in North America. I then changed to my TS-590SG and WSJT-X with the 4BTV so that I could both transmit and receive. I set the TX power to 5 W and started to WSPR on 20m.

By 1709 UTC the map looked like this:

WSPR @ 5W  (1709 UTC)

As you can see a lot more North America stations and VY0ERC on Ellesmere Island in the Arctic Ocean. VY0ERC claims to quite possibly be the most northerly Amateur Radio club in the world. At 79 degrees 59 minutes N there really isn’t all that much latitude remaining for challengers.

By 1742 UTC I received my first spots in Central and South America as well as the first spot by a station in Europe, F4GUK in France.

WSPR @ 5W (1742 UTC)

According to this NASA map, in the US, the eclipse started at 9:06 AM PDT\16:06 UTC in Madras, OR and ended in the US at 4:06 PM EDT/2006 UTC in Columbia, SC, so the US time window for the eclipse was roughly 1600 to 2000 UTC.

WSPR @ 5W (2100 UTC)

WSPR @ 5W (2100 UTC)

By 2100 I received a spot in Australia, VK2CBD and Europe as well as South America had opened up to some degree and a spot by VE8GER, northwest of Inuvik, Northwest Territories. I had two odd ones, KG9BEP that appears to be in the middle of the Sea of Okhotsk and KC6EVC which was off the top of the map. Neither were legitimate callsigns.

US WSPR detail @ 2100 UTC

I forgot to capture band conditions at 2100, but at 2153 they were as follows:

Band conditions @ 2153 UTC

The most noticeable changes were that A dropped to 11 from 22, and K from 3 to 2 over the course of roughly 5 hours. I want to say that conditions improved over the course of the day and the data supports this to large extent, though what portion of this is attributable to the eclipse or just the fluctuating conditions that we find ourselves in is hard to say.

By the time that I pulled the hook at about 2200 UTC I had received 1868 spots. I placed all of my spots in Excel and made a simple chart of the number of spots per time period. I hesitate to put this up as there are about 34.785 variables at play so don’t take this too seriously:

Spots over time

The red lines are the time boundaries of the eclipse. The time runs from 1628 UTC to 21:58 UTC. The maximum number of spots was 99. The first two points were at 200mW and the rest were at 5W. That explains the jump to the third datapoint. As I said, 34,785 variables. My station was heard by 297 unique stations and I heard 179 unique stations. There were a lot of receive only spotters.

As for what all of this means, that I’ll leave to the actual scientists, based just upon WSPRnet they certainly obtained a pile of data. My conclusions are that WSPRing continues to be intriguing and as always, Amateur Radio is an interesting hobby.

 

More FT8

Around a fair amount of non-radio activities this weekend I was able to fit in a wee bit of digital operation with FT8. Band conditions were poor but there was a fair amount of FT8 activity on 20m and 40m. I was up Saturday night well past midnight operating. It’s growing on me. I now have 38 states (including two contacts in HI, AH6BI and KH6DC) and 12 countries. Plus K1JT himself:

K1JT with FT8

I’ve added JTAlert with WSJT-X. It comes in handy for tracking and announcing decoded stations, indicating those that are new among a bunch of other alerts that you can configure. It has some interface to ACLog for logging though I’ve not configured that as of yet. I simply let WSJT-X log to an ADI file and import that to ACLog at the end of an operating session.

There were two that got away, FK8HA on New Caledonia and 5W1SA on Samoa. I could hear both of them with good signals (-4 or -5) but they couldn’t hear me. It’s interesting that a wee bit before they appeared in the decode I had worked ZL3TRR, John in New Zealand again and he was using a KX3 at 10W (-7 signal report in WSJT-X, -13 when I worked him on 8/13/17) and a Hex Beam (verified by an email exchange.) It was good to be able to hear them and I’ll try again next time I see them appear.

I was using my TS-590SG and Hustler 4BTV typically at 30 watts though I occasionally varied the power up and down (watching ALC) to see how it impacted signal reports for contacts and reports by monitors on PSK Reporter.

The lowest signal level report that I received was -21 from LU2CHP in Argentina and the lowest I was able to receive, decode, and respond to was -15 to 9Z4Y in Trinidad & Tobago.

My status as a CCOG™ (Certified Crabby Old Guy) is in serious jeopardy.

 

The moment has finally arrived…

The most anticipated moment in recent Amateur Radio history has finally arrived. No it’s not the pricing and release for the ICOM IC-7610. Nor is it the next radio from Elecraft (KX3.5? K4S?) or when Kenwood is going to introduce an SDR-in-a-box rig. Nope, it’s way more important than any of these.

LoTW now accepts FT8!!!

With the recently released update for TSQL’s Config.xml file (version 11.1), contacts made with the most amazingly popular new mode in Amateur Radio, FT8, are now supported in LoTW.

LoTW updated

Has there ever been a mode that has been adopted so quickly? FT8 seems to be everywhere. As of the time of this writing look at the PSK Reporter stats:

PSK Reporter stats 8/16/17 @ 01:02 UTC

I added my comparatively small FT8 log from the wsjtx_log.adi file created by the WSJT-X software into my ACLog software log file and uploaded to LoTW tonight. It appears as if there is a rather large backlog at LoTW Server Central:

LoTW processing queue status

I’ve not looked at the LoTW processing status page before so I don’t know if this is normal. It seems like a lot of QSOs have been processed or are in process in the last several hours. Based upon the PSK Reporter stats I wonder if this is a flood of pent up FT8 contacts? Was the Internet bogged down today with thousands of operators uploading their FT8 contacts? I know that the WAE DX CW contest was this past weekend. Maybe that accounts for some of the influx? That would certainly put a smile on the face of the average CW op to know that somewhere in the neighborhood of 300,000 CW QSOs were recently added to LoTW!

As for me and FT8, it’s sort of growing on me. Typically I’m a CCOG™ (Certified Crabby Old Guy) and don’t take kindly to all these newfangled modes. I dabbled with it a bit this past weekend on 20m and I must admit it is sort of fun and pretty interesting. With not all that much time invested I was able to make a fair number of contacts across the US, some in Canada, a few in Europe, and three New Zealand stations in a row! The lowest signal levels I decoded were -14 from DL9RDM in Germany and -13 from ZL3TRR in New Zealand (the other two New Zealand stations were -7 and -9 and all within 5 minutes of each other.) The lowest signal level reports that I received were -18 from ZL3TRR and -16 from MM0CPZ in Scotland. Most all of these contacts were made with 30 watts (some with a wee bit more) from my TS-590SG into my 4BTV.

I’m not going all in and selling my mic and key but I suspect that there will be some additional FT8 operation in my future. If a CCOG like me finds it interesting you may as well.

UPDATE: 8/17/17

The spanner in the works at LoTW Server Central has apparently been removed. There was quite a backlog to chew threw. I just updated my ACLog with LoTW and a whole host of FT8 confirmations came pouring in. We now return to our regularly scheduled program…

LoTW back to normal

 

GPS time sync for digital modes

Following Bas’ (PE4BAS) recommendation, I obtained a USB GPS receiver to sync time for portable digital operations when cell data service is unavailable.

I purchased this device for $13.96:

USB GPS receiver

The Amazon listing is:

Diymall Vk-172 vk 172 Gmouse G-mouse Usb Gps Dongle Glonass Ublox Support Windows 10/8/7/vista/XP Raspberry PI B+ 3 Vehicle Aviation Tracker

It was primed into my hands in the usual two days. Following Bas’ recommendation I downloaded and installed a Windows GPS time sync application by IZ2BKT called BktTimeSync.

The laptop I’m using it with is running Windows Xp/SP3. I plugged in the GPS receiver and within a couple of minutes the LED in it began to flash green indicating that it was receiving GPS signals. I started the BktTimeSync app, set the serial port to COM8 (which is where my laptop assigned the GPS receiver) and the software found the GPS and updated the clock on the PC. I had intentionally set the time on the PC back a few minutes to verify that the application worked properly. It also found my location, as indicated by the coordinates:

BktTimeSync Application

The BktTimeSync application continued to receive updates and update the clock but it became non-responsive to inputs from the UI and the only way I could close the application was to terminate the process tree in the Windows Task Manager. I did a bunch of testing with it (starting without the GPS plugged in, not syncing on startup, syncing on startup but manually syncing as opposed to automatic, etc.) Without fail it would receive updates and update the clock but then sit at about 50% CPU utilization and not respond to the UI.

IZ2BKT has a forum for questions and I found an old thread with a person asking questions about the same GPS receiver that I was using. I added some information to the thread and Iz2BKT promptly replied. His response was that there appears to be a problem with the serial comms with the GPS. Given that there are a fair number of variables at play here not the least of which include the variance in implementation of serial comms with a multitude of devices and an old OS I was just happy that it worked at all. There don’t appear to be a plethora of Windows applications available to simply read a USB GPS receiver and update the system clock.

The BktTimeSync doesn’t need to run all the time. For my needs one sync is enough as I doubt my PC clock drifts at all in the time that I may operate. This is a good solution for my time sync needs when operating portable digital and thanks to Bas for  suggesting it.

USB GPS receiver

 

KX2 Digital modes configuration examples

I spent a lot of time working on digital mode configurations with my KX2 this weekend. I got involved in a thread on the Elecraft mailing list regarding FT8 configuration using a SignaLink USB. Even though I had a functioning configuration using a USB soundcard I pulled out my SignaLink USB, the jumper board, and cables in order to put that configuration together for use with my KX2 as well. I got it going for both WSJT-X and Fldigi. One thing led to another and as I was putting together a little document with notes for myself I decided to polish it up a bit and post it.

Here it is:

KX2 Digital Mode Configuration Examples.pdf

It’s hosted in my lutherie domain so don’t worry about the download source.

Understand that there are more than a couple of variables involved in setting this up. Your situation and\or needs may well differ from mine. It’s not an exhaustive document, there are other bits for you to sort out, but it may be useful to get you started. As I said, I was preparing a simple document for myself to keep track of my configurations and it sort of took on a life of its own. I’m early into my experience with these modes and the KX2. Also, I only have a KX2 with which to test but I’m pretty sure that all of this works the same for a KX3. If you find this useful, great. If not, so be it. As they say, YMMV.

73,

Tim, KA9EAK

Ps – If you find any errors please let me know and I will correct them and re-post.