Tag Archives: FT8

FT8 Blarp!

Today was very hot and miserable. A day that makes one very thankful for the invention of air conditioning. My wife was gone for the day so that made it an all day radio day. I started out by making another attempt to try and like a magnetic loop antenna that I bought a few years ago. It’s an Alpha Magnetic Loop Jr that I purchased used at a hamfest. The price was right and it was in great condition so the impulse to buy was triggered and I came home with a magnetic loop antenna that has largely sat in its bag since the day I bought it. I’ve read about them but never used one. Over the past few years I’ve purchased a length of LMR400 and a very nice vacuum variable capacitor with the intent to build one but the build\buy decision tree flipped to buy that day as it sat staring at me from the table at the hamfest. It’s supposed to cover 10-40M at 25 watts.

Alpha Magloop Jr.

(It got a formal picture today in the music room as it was so humid out my camera lens kept fogging over.) The antenna is well made and seems to work but it is extremely touchy. I get that narrow bandwidth is a feature of magloops but after a while of fiddling it gets kind of old having to constantly re-tune the antenna. I’m not sure that my experience today endeared me to this antenna. I’ll keep it as an option but honestly my Par End-Fed antennas will see much more portable usage than this thing. So it went back in its bag. Perhaps age will improve it like fine wine or I’ll grow some patience. We’ll see which happens first.

After that less than satisfying experience I moved on to looking at a friend’s (Josh, KD9DZP) Yaesu VX-3R. For some reason it had stopped functioning and would not power up. He figured that it was bricked but asked me to take a look at it. I’m not much for troubleshooting micro mini electronic devices. I think they are made that small with the intent that they are disposable. Anyways, I endeavored to take a look. Not far into the troubleshooting process “BLAM,” the dreaded magic smoke release occurred. It was quite an event for such a small device and not one I’ve caused in quite some time. Those electrons pack a wallop no matter how small they are. Well, if it wasn’t a brick before it was now. I felt bad for blowing the thing up so I found a nice used replacement and bought it for him. He doesn’t know that yet so don’t tell him.

After that inverse Midas Touch experience I went upstairs to eat some lunch. No flames were involved. After lunch I decided to relax on the sunporch and tune around the HF bands a bit with my IC-7100. The bands seemed rather slow so I hauled out my notebook to check FT8 activity. There was a reasonable amount of activity on 20M and 40M and I made a handful or two of contacts. Then I went up to 10M and found a fair amount of activity. I made some more contacts and as I was in the middle of finishing up a contact with KC3BVL I got a “BLARP” from some oddball stations.

QP32 anyone?

The calls aren’t real and the grid square is deep in Western Siberia. Maybe it’s someone with a KX2 that is taking this International Grid Chase a bit too serious. Or maybe it was just a spurious decode. In the tradition of Don Martin (MAD magazine) “BLARP” was the first word that came to mind. Don Martin always had the perfect word for the sound of his cartoons. I checked the official Don Martin Dictionary (http://www.madcoversite.com/dmd-alphabetical.html) and oddly, “BLARP” isn’t on it. It sure seems like a word that he would have needed at some point.

After making some more contacts on 10M I decided to check the activity on 17M. For no real reason I don’t operate on 17M all that often. There was a fair amount of activity on 17M and a fair amount of it was DX. I made some US contacts while I continued to watch the DX roll by, attempting to get a sense of which were the most constant signals as opposed to those that fade out as fast as they fade in. One station that I was consistently decoding was ZB2R in Gibraltar. After watching him make a handful of contacts I decided to respond to his CQ call. I responded to his call below his transmit frequency and after a few calls I was rewarded with:

ZB2R

Thankfully we were able to complete the contact in the usual crowded conditions.

ZB2R 73!

That makes ZB2R my first 17M DX contact with FT8. (Setting aside the fact that this was the first time I’ve operated FT8 on 17M.) What makes this contact even more interesting is that the antenna I used was 17M add-on that DX Engineering used to produce and sell. I bought it shortly after I bought the 4-BTV and figured it would give me some options. I’ve only used it a few times. It’s a horizontally oriented coil with some short wire radiators that clamps onto the 10M trap of the 4-BTV.

4-BTV with 17M add-on

17M add-on

Is it the finest 17M antenna known to man? Nope. Did it allow me to make a contact with a station in Gibraltar? Yup.

While I went on to make a few more contacts I savored the ZB2R contact for the rest of afternoon. I’ll likely even savor it for a bit this week. It’s fun to pull one out with less than the best setup and it sure beats the sound of the magic smoke release playing over and over in my head. For a day that started out marginal and then got worse, it ended on a very good note.

 

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Last camping trip of the season

The last camping trip of the year is done. It was a great week with NO RAIN for the first time this year. Every other trip this year featured rain on way too many days. The temperature was right on the edge of warm at the start of the week and cooled each day. As with most trips there was plenty of bike rides, walks, naps, and reading, with a bit of radio operations tossed into the mix.

Q: Why is this man smiling?  A:It’s night in Wisconsin and there are no mosquitoes!

As usual conditions were up, down, and sideways so you need to have options. Based upon how conditions seemed I operated SSB with 10W using my KX2, SSB with 100W using my TS-480SAT, or FT8 with 5W using my KX2 on either the 20m or 40m bands using my LNR Precision EF-Quad antenna strung across the campsite. With the KX2  I was able to make a fair number of contacts including nice QSOs with AE8O in New Mexico, N4AVV in Myrtle Beach, and AE2B in Macon, GA. All with good signal reports. FT8 operations were good but five watts wasn’t enough to get outside of North America.

The best contact of them all was with Rich, K2RLF in New Jersey. He is newly licensed and had literally just got his antenna up and his station going. I was his first HF contact. That’s a better contact than the rarest of DX.

There were a few openings to Europe in the afternoon on 20m and later into the evenings on 40m. I made contacts with stations in Scotland, Belgium, France, Slovenia, Italy, Madeira Island, Austria, and the DXpediton of 5T5OK in Mauritania. That one surprised me the most. They were working split on 20m. I heard their call and “5 up.” I quickly put the split into the 480SAT, made one call and instantly got a response.

Late night operation

Most every night was beautiful, clear, and insect free so if the bands were open I was outside at the picnic table operating for awhile.

Moon at camp

For some new reading material I loaded a bunch of old 73 issues on my tablet. It was fun to read articles and reviews from years ago.

The squirrels were busy with their pine cone gathering.

Red Squirrel

Squirrel lookout

And someone clearly has a caffeine issue:

When one is not enough

Other than the rain this was a good camping season. I’ve got my portable station pretty well sorted out. The only additions I’m going to make for next year are a 20Ah Bioenno Power battery and I need to sort out the interface for  my SignaLink USB so that I can use it with the 480SAT to have some more digital options.

Last campfire of the year

 

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.

 

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.