AA8IA Amateur Radio

Archive for May, 2010


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Just in the nick of time, and with the help of the family, I got the shack table, equipment, computer, etc. set up.

So far I’ve been able to tune up and work stations on 80m, 40m, 20m, 15m and 10m. The Alpha-Delta DX-EE is performing far better than any previous wire I had, even on 80m. And, remember that the DX-EE is a 42-foot parallel dipole. On 40m it has coils and it shortened.

The first hundred contacts were made using a paddle and copying exclusively by ear. On Saturday I built a CW keying interface that runs off the parallel port. I also snagged CWGET, which is a great code copier. I set up N1MM to use the CW keyer interface and it worked flawlessly, although I am not too familiar with using N1MM just yet….been a few years. CWGet is only used to verify what I’ve already heard. I do not need to rely upon it to copy CW, but it certainly helps to have it available.

I was not using any DX Cluster spotting. It would be very useful, but I am not submitting my logs in the assisted category and thus cannot use a cluster.

As of now, I’ve made about 206 contacts. I wonder how many will be invalid. Hopefully not too many.

Station setup currently is:

Yeasu FT-100 (running 100w)
LDG AT100Pro tuner
Alpha Delta DX-EE 40-10m parallel dipole
Signalink USB interface
Parallel port CW keying interface
CAT control cable
N1MM logger for contest logging (making use of CAT control and CW keying interface)
CWGet (making use of Signalink USB for sound input)
HRD+DM780 (for digital modes and casual logging)

I have no complaints. Everything came together at the last minute and I’ve had a great time working the WPX. Not sure if I’ll fire up the station for any more contacts today. It is family day, so I probably won’t.

I worked a handful of stations on 3 bands and I think one station on 4 bands (not sure about that without looking at the logs).

i definitely enjoy working CW contests more than SSB/digital. The WPX sure was fun.

Written by Mike

May 30th, 2010 at 12:24 pm

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I Love CW

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A little after midnight I was tuning 40m CW portion on my Yaesu FT-100 and Alpha Delta DX-EE (40-10m parallel dipole, shortened on 40m). Given that this dipole isn’t a full size half wavelength on 40m, you’d think it wouldn’t hear very well and you’d think it wasn’t going to do much good on transmit. It has been surprising me all week though.

Ok, I’ll continue… I was tuning around 7000-7025 and came across 8P6ER on 7001.1. His signal was S9. I heard him in a QSO with another ham. I listened for another 10 minutes as he ran through some more contacts. The whole time, when Gary would throw out a CQ, he’d have a pileup coming back to him. I’m sure I was hearing nearly a dozen of them myself.

After one of his CQs I threw out my call along with the rest of the peanut gallery. No joy. I did it a second time, nothing. After another minute or two Gary CQ’d again. I heard stations trying to get back to him and I nailed the paddles on my MFJ keyer. Lo and behold, I hear .- .- —.. ..–.. (translated AA8?), from Gary. I nearly fell out of my chair. I felt like a kid in the candy store.

At that very moment everything on the radio was sounding mysterious – My 300 hz CW filter was kicked in and the attenuator was on to cut down on the nighttime noise. Hearing Gary’s booming CW coming through the speaker (directed at me) was exciting. It was an awesome feeling, and one I hadn’t felt since 1991 when I CQ’d on 10 meters and heard XE1MMJ (Maria) come back to me for my first QSO.

I finished the contact with Gary, logged it, and am now sitting back listening to dead air, with the hollowed out sound of a CW filter kicked in.

What made Gary come back to me instead of the dozen(s) of others calling him? I’m pretty sure it had nothing to do with a strong signal. All I know is that it never would have happened on SSB.

Who says CW is dead? Certainly not me. And, there are obviously still some really good folks hanging out on CW who are willing to give the underdog a chance.

Thanks, Gary, for making me feel like a kid again!

Written by Mike

May 24th, 2010 at 1:02 am

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Manchester Mineira All Americas Contest

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I was bored, a lot of people were in Dayton, and this weekend was a good weekend to play in a contest.

The MMAA is a CW-only contest on 80m / 40m / 20m / 15m /10m. It is a 32-hour contest, of which I worked 5 hours off and on. Participants are those living in South America and North America. I worked a few stations on 15m, most on 20m, and 2 on 40m.

It was fun and relaxing. I worked 18 stations, two of them on two different bands. Score was somehere around 370. Yeah I know, pretty damned weak. A real contester would do 300K+ in this contest. So I guess I’m about 1/100th of what a real contester is.

Next year I should make many more contacts since I’ll have a better antenna system. And, supposedly the MMAA will turn into a 5-continent contest starting next year.

It was nice to brush up on my CW. I’ll do more CW contests since it’ll always be my favorite mode. No matter how you slice it, it all comes down to Morse Code. If you haven’t learned CW, you’re losing out. No doubt about it.

Thanks to the CWJF Group for putting on this nice contest. It was a pleasure working many new SA stations.

Written by Mike

May 16th, 2010 at 5:03 pm

Ordered some antenna stuff


Sure, I can make a dipole… I know how, and I have. But i’m not in the mood. Plus, Alpha Delta makes some good dipoles.

I ordered an Alpha Delta DX-EE (40 through 10, shortened on 40). I also ordered a Max Gain Systems MK-6-HD

Once I get this put up and test it out, I imagine I’ll buy an Alpha Delta DX-CC (80 through 10, shortened on 80). The goal is to eventually have the DX-CC set up as an inverted-V strung N/S and have the DX-EE strung NW/SE as a flattop dipole.

A flattop would exhibit some additional gain upwards (good for more local) and an inverted-V would be more omnidirectional.

I’m excited because i am pretty sure I’ll have at least one decent dipole up by FD; although I’m really hoping that by then I’ll have both AD dipoles up in the air. I really want the ability to get on 80 during the QSO parties. The DX-CC isn’t a full length dipole on 80. It’s a compromise. But it beats trying to load up this POS G5RV I’ve got.

Should have the antenna and fiberglass mast Tuesday. then I’ll have to figure out the best place to put the mast and get it secured. It’ll need guyed if I push it all the way to 35′ to secure the dipole, likely at the 20-something foot level. I haven’t decided if I’ll find a way to mount it on my back deck (which is about 10 feet off the ground) or if I’ll mount it at ground level. If I mount it at ground level, secured right above 10 feet at the deck, and have the guys in place, it should have no problems withstanding the winds here. If I mount it on the deck, I’ll likely have to guy it in two places to keep it stable enough.

Written by Mike

May 14th, 2010 at 4:56 pm

Antenna for HF – What to do?

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I haven’t ruled out a vertical antenna. A vertical is doable. I’d sure make use of it from the standpoint of DX. But, in the meantime I’d really like to put up a dipole that will perform as best as it can possibly perform.

This means I have to get it up in the air and in the clear of as much as possible. That way it has a good pattern and is able to hear something. Keep in mind, I’ve had dipoles up at various times since 1991. But during all of that time, I didn’t care whether it performed as well as it could… as long as I was making contacts. But now i do care.

If you can picture an inverted-V dipole that lost its middle support and fell down exactly 90 degrees from vertical, that is what my current antenna looks like. It’s a horizontal V, with the center supported at 12′, one leg sloping down the end of the yard at a 45 degree angle and anchored near a fencepost and the other leg sloping upwards at a 45 degree angle in the opposing direction anchored about 25 feet up in a tree.

There can be no predictable pattern; there can be no gain; and the performance is mediocre at best.

So, I want to get a dipole up for 40 through 10. I don’t have 35 foot anchor points for two ends of a 40m dipole, so I have to go with an inverted V and a push-up mast.

To add insult to injury, if I expect it to tune up and have any efficience at all it needs to be fed with ladderline. I’ve never tried to run ladderline into the house and find that it’s not going to be easy to do while isolating the ladderline from nearby objects that might affect it. If I feed it with coax, I potentially can get it to tune on more than one band — but that doesn’ tmean it is efficient. I’ve read a lot about dipoles and what happens when it has a significantly high SWR at the antenna feedpoint and you then tune out that high SWR at the end of the feedline. You end up with a situation where most of your signal is lost between your transmitter and the antenna, depending on the band.

Then there is the issue where a 40m dipole on 10m just isnt’ going to have the pattern I would want on 10m.

I’m thinking that if I get a dipole up in the air, I might construct what some call a fan dipole. Now, we won’t debate the name — although I’ll say that technically what I’m referring to likely isn’t a fan dipole. One feedpoint, two or three sets of wires of differing lengths for the separate bands that I want to have available. A 40m dipole should cover 40m and 15m (7 mhz and 21 mhz) with 21mhz being the third harmonic. then add a another site of wires at the same feedpoint for 20m and another set of wires for 10m, with each set of wires spaced far enough apart from each other so that they do not have appreciable effect on one another. I’m thinking this would likely give me a good performing setup for 40m / 20m / 15m / 10m and I could potentially work 17m / 12m somewhat inefficiently.. but maybe not.

Ok I’m just thinking out loud. at any rate, I really want to get a dipole up. I’d get a push-up mast, probably a 35 foot pushup mast. I’d use a 90 degree angle on the V.

The needed minimum height on a 40m inverted V with a 90 degree angle is 21 feet. However, one would want to have it a little higher so that the ends of the V could be a few feet off the ground. A 35 foot push-up mast should do the trick nicely and allow the ends of the dipole to be up off the ground a significant distance and out of the way of humans/animals.

Then another problem arises. if you are using a push-up mast, at least in my area, you must guy it. Guying is a pain in the ass. Suddenly that inconspicuous dipole that you erected isn’t so inconspicuous when you have to have guy wires flailing around all over the place.

I want a dipole, regardless of whether I have a vertical or not. A vertical’s takeoff angle is going to be one that favors DX, and there is a lot of the US that I would like to work as well. Plus, a dipole as a general rule is going to be quieter, since a vertical is more susceptible to manmade noise. It’s only logical for an amateur radio operator to have at least one dipole in his/her arsenal, regardless of whether they have a couple of 100 foot towers with stacked arrays on them covering the bands or a nice vertical.

There are more opinions about the best antennas to have around than there are assholes, and a lot of those opinions come from assholes. But, there also are a lot of knowledgeable people out there who are willing to share their thoughts and offer some assistance. The QRZ forums have a handful of such guys. I’ve been reading a lot written by these guys. This is what is causing me so much delay in getting any antenna at all up.

I want to get some antennas up for HF that in total are cost effective, that aren’t complete eyesores to the neighbors, that will weather the high winds here, and that will fit into the limited space that i have available (65′ x 100′).

Written by Mike

May 13th, 2010 at 3:16 pm

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The Digital Modes – My thoughts after a week

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I’ve been working the digital modes for about a week. I have made a number of PSK31, PSK63, PSK125, DominoEX, and RTTY contacts.

I’m using a Yeasu FT-100, a very poor excuse for a G5RV, and a Signalink USB interface for digital modes.

The first thing that comes to my mind is the ease by which one can make PSK and RTTY contacts. It’s a no-brainer. I would feel guilty if it weren’t using such a piss poor antenna system. There is various software out there to use when working the digital modes. I happen to use Ham Radio Deluxe and like it very much. It has rig control, a logbook, easy uploading of logs to EQSL and exporting of logs to ADIF format. It doesn’t have every amateur digital mode built in, but it has the most popular ones.

I’m not sure it takes much skill to work the digital modes, from a technological standpoint. Most of the new modes work extremely well with minimal signal and can tolerate a bit of noise on the band. Now, I’m not putting down operators of digital modes… It’s just a fact that you can make a PSK contact with 30 watts in instances where you would have extreme difficulty making the same contact on SSB.

One thing for sure, the digital modes are fun and are less stressful than trying to pull out weak SSB/CW signals.

I am feeling guilty about only having made a handful (or less) of CW contacts so far. That’ll change. I’m still getting the station together, and by Field Day I’ll be ready to go on CW, hopefully wiith a better antenna system.

Bottom line – If you haven’t tried the digital modes you should. And if you are adamant about not accepting the digital modes because you feel you are an “old skool” operator and that CW/SSB are the only modes, you just might be biting off your nose to spite you face. Loosen up and give the digital modes a try.

Written by Mike

May 9th, 2010 at 8:36 pm

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Volta RTTY Contest over

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Decided to try my hand at some RTTY contesting. This weekend was the Alessandro Volta RTTY Contest. In this day and age, and with the Signalink USB it was a no brainer to make RTTY contacts. On the antenna front I was severely lacking. I had put a coax choke inline to try and get some RF out of the shack. It was semi successful. However, I can no longer tune up on 6m, 10m and 15m, all of which I were able to tune before the coax choke. For those wondering, Google “ugly balun”.

I worked predominantly 20m with a smattering of 40m. There were a lot of stations. I had no stamina, and I had only worked the contest in a relaxing way. 25 contacts, claimed 72,000 points. Before you think that 72,000 points sounds like a lot, these RTTY contests appear to be judged differently and there are stations that get 10s of millions of points and even a couple multi-multi that had gotten billions of points in the past.

At any rate, It’s a fun mode. I particularly like the brief contest exchanges. I’m not a ragchewer. I just want contacts. So anybody who is willing to keep it short has my vote. The RTTY ops seem to be a pretty cool bunch. I’m sure many of them take contesting very very seriously, but they were all tolerant and patient with this new RTTY operator. With this being Mothers’ Day weekend, I really didn’t want to spend all my time operating an amateur radio contest. I suspect that i probably could have achieved 100 contacts had i operated throughout the 24 hour period and worked on more bands, even with the crappy antenna setup.

The Signalink USB works like a charm in conjunction with Ham Radio Deluxe. Probably not the best contest RTTY software, but it was already installed and I’m already somewhat used to it and it did the job well.

Thanks to those who put on the Volta RTTY Contest and the operators with whom I had the pleasure to make a contact!

Written by Mike

May 9th, 2010 at 8:24 pm

HF Station back on the air

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Although I’m still working on a decision regarding other antennas for HF, I decided last week to string up a dipole with the help of a friend. It is a 40m diapole in a V configuration. However, it’s essentially a horizontal V because that is my only option at present.

I dragged all of my equipment out of the mothballs and managed to get it all hooked up in a very disorganized way. I bought a Signalink USB from DX Engineering to use for digital modes. So I’m currently using a 20-amp PS, a Yaesu FT-100, the aforementioned dipole and Signalink USB, and an LDG AT-100Pro tuner.

This weekend a few QSO parties were going on including the 7th Call Area QSO Party. I made a single CW contact, almost a dozen SSB contacts, and a few PSK31 contacts.

Jay, N8SJS, encouraged me to get into the digital mode action on HF, which is why I ended up getting the Signalink USB. We hunted down signals this weekend and I made a few more PSK31 contacts and a DominoEX contact. With the help of the PSKReporter website I was able to determine that others were hearing me on the various bands on PSK. This is really handy. Jay conned me into downloading and installing Ham Radio Deluxe, which I was familar with using a few years back. This is a great program for operating the digital modes and has just about every feature known to man in it. It’s a large program suite and taxes a computer a bit, but my laptop handles it with no problem.

I ended up hearing John, AC8JB, pick off somebody on PSK right before I was getting ready to. It was cool to hear another local [he’s from Wellsville] working HF.

Although I realize the pattern of this dipole and its efficiency on the various bands is very unpredictable, it tunes up all the bands I wanted to work with no problems using the LDG tuner and I am able to make contacts. This is great, because now I don’t feel so much pressure to make a decision on other more expensive, cumbersome antennas. I can take my time thinking about what to get next.

I need to get some new coax. I’m using garbage RG8X that is at least 10 years old for HF. I have LMR-400 here and i may put that on. I need to put a coax choke in place to try and curb some RF from coming down into the shack. I also need to get everything set up on a desk and get the station grounded as best as possible.

I have a USB-to-Serial converter ordered so that i can use my serial CAT interface on the laptop [which lakes a bonafide serial port as we all know them]. This will make using HRD / DM-780 that much nicer.

Although thunderstorms were predicted all weekend, we had no T-storms and only had rain. This was great. I really enjoyed this weekend on HF and hope that by next weekend I’ll even have more fun.

Some good sites to monitor DX and band conditions:

DX Summit

Written by Mike

May 2nd, 2010 at 8:26 pm

Posted in Antennas

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