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Showing posts from 2008

Bad weather, bad bands

This morning it's -5 F, the wind is blowing hard out of the west and snow is drifting across the driveway. I'd say it's a good day to go in the basement and play radio, but between poor band conditions and my high line noise, I'm not having much luck.

Over the weekend I did manage to squeeze out a few nice contacts. Here they are.

This morning I talked to Vic, WA6MCL, in Riverside, CA. Vic was running an old Heathkit SB-102 and SB-200 amplifier. These were kit radios built in the early '70s. They were considered very nice radios back in their day. It's always nice to talk to someone on vintage gear, and we had a nice talk about running old gear. A few years ago I ran a lot of old Drake gear, but sold it all and am sticking to the modern gear -- for now.

Last night I talked to w3ANX, Geo, in Apollo, PA. It was our second or third contact this year, and we compared notes on weather, Christmas plans, and updates to our stations. A nice, high-speed cw QSO.

Earlier I ha…

Sorry for silence

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It suddenly dawned on me I hadn't posted in weeks. Sorry.
That reflects a little on my radio acitivity -- it hasn't been that high.

Two weeks ago I spent a little time running the CQ WorldWide DX contest. The first day I was plagued by high noise level and poor conditions, so did very little. The second day my noise disappeared and I could hear Europe and Asia on 40 and 80 meters, so I spent some time running both bands. Not a huge effort, but that was fun.

Last weekend was one of my favorite contests, the ARLL 160 meter. But I was travelling last weekend, so never got on the air. After all, this is just a hobby, so you do miss some contests.

This weekend is the ARRL 10 meter contest, but so far I've heard two signals on 10 meters. Hopefully it will pick up this afternoon and I can work a few stations. On 10 meters, you are entirely at the mercy of propogation -- the radio gods. It doesn't matter how good your station, etc, if the band is dead, it's dead.

In the meant…

A good Sunday

With all my recent posts on the run-up to Sweepstakes and SS itself, it's easy to overlook how I spend most of my time on the radio -- with casual random contacts with other hams.

Today -- Sunday -- was a good example of a day of radio for me.

This morning I had a couple short contacts, then got in a long conversation with W3ANX, Geo, in Pensylvania. We quickly we discovered we had a common passion -- radios -- and spent about an hour talking about different radios, pluses and minuses of each, etc. etc. It's like when a bunch of car guys get together, they can talk about cars for hours. We can do it on radios, but we do it via radio and with Morse code.

This afternoon I was doing something else when I heard a loud CQ on 80 meters from K5HZ. I answered, and started talking to Ron in Autrian, MI, in Michigan's Upper Penninsula. As we talked, I discovered he lived on a lake I've driven by several times, always thinking that a home along that lake would be ideal. Now I'm …

I almost met my goal

With over 500 contacts I only managed 79 sections, one short of the coveted clean sweep.

On Sunday morning I only had four to go, ND, and NLI in the US. and NWT and NL (Newfoundland) in Canada. I got them all but NL.

Oh well, that gives me a goal for next year, to finally get that clean sweep.

In the end, I had fun. That's all that matters.

Sweepstakes goals

It's Saturday morning and Sweepstakes, the biggest and toughest contest, starts this afternoon. It's tough because the exchange is long and unpredictable. People complain about contensts having a meaningless 599 exchange, but Sweepstakes is just the opposite. I'll be sending a
serial number, precednece or the classification I'm in, my call, the check which is the year I was first licensed, and my section -- 1 U K9OZ 65 IL. That may not seem like much, but copy different variations from different stations a few hundred times at high speed CW and you start to see the problem.

I ususally set a goal for myself prior to the contest. Last year my goal was 400 contacts and a clean sweep -- working all the sections. I wound up with 380 and 75 sections. Someday, I'd like to do the clean sweep, but most years I wind up in the 75 to 78 range. There are a few tough ones, like the Northwest Territories in Canada. So my goal this year is 500 and a clean sweep. I'll report back…

Ready for Sweepstakes

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After what seems weeks (okay 2 weeks) of swearing at the computer, I have the station fully set up and ready to run for the contest season. In this screen shot you can see LP-Pan giving me a visual display of the band, CW Skimmer decoding a signal, and N1MM logger running.

I had most of this running on an old XP computer two weeks ago, but I was at 100 percent processor capacity. So thinking it would be too much work to upgrade to a bigger processor on that machine, I bought a basic new gaming computer with Vista, a high-powered processor and lots of RAM. That made sense to me. I could get the machine for $500 or so, move the sound card and extra port cards from the other machine and be ready to run. If Vista was a problem, I could downgrade to XP.

I waw wrong on every assumption. The sound card I had -- an M-Audio Audiophile 2486 -- has no Vista drivers and it was a bear to get the Power SDR software to run on Vista, so I decided to downgrade the computer to XP. It didn't want to d…

Illinois QSO party

I took part in the Illinois QSO party today, racking up arond 250 contacts in about five hours of operating. The K3 with the LP-Pan peformed great, and I'm ready for Sweepstakes in two weeks.

I even plugged in the microphone and did 40-some phone contacts on 40.

More on LP-PAN

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Here's a screen shot of the setup, ready to rock and roll. You can see N1MM logger ready to control either radio, and the PowerSDR is showing the bandscope from the K3. If I see a strong signal on the bandscope I can click on it and the radio will move to that spot.

And I'm just getting started with this.

K3 as a software defined radio

I've added the LP Panadaptor from Telepost to the K3 last week. The LP-PAN take an IF output from the K3 and adapts it into the sound card of a computer. You can then use Power SDR software, the same software used to run the FLEX radios, and use the computer as your receiver with full filtering. You can use the computer as a second receiverm while using the K3 as your first receiver. It also gives you a very nice band scope you can use while choosing to use either the receiver in the radio or the computer.

In short, it adds a whole lot of versatility to the K3. It also adds complexity. Getting this all set up isn't for the computer illiterate, or someone who doesn't want to spend some time reading manuals, user groups, and puzzling through getting all the settings tweaked. Enjoy the video.

I got this set up last Saturday night, just before leaving for a week on the road for work, so I haven't had much time to play with it. I'm still learning. Like any computer thing,…

Getting the station set up

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With new radios, it always seems to take a while to get the software, the wiring, the station set up correctly. I've got the K3 now running throught the ICOM PW-1 amplifier, along with the 756 Pro. I've got both radios interaced withe the computer logging program, and a different computer set up as the contest station.

There are still a couple bugs to work out, but I'm getting close.

I tried testing things this weekend running the Texas QSO party, but propagation seemed to be against me. On both 20 and 40 meters, I could barely hear anyond from Texas this afternoon.

Oh well, it's almost contest season. I'll be trying to update my contest activity more regularly as the season progresses.

I'm now feeding the RSS feed of this blog to my twitter account. So if you're a twitterer, you can follow this at twitter/bplantz.

K3 contacts

Okay, here's the contacts with other stations with K3s.

W7ZQ, Jim near Riverton, WY. He was running a two-element quad at 180 feet on 40 meters. He was loud. I'm having a case of antenna envy.

W5WSF, Jack in Raleigh, NC. Running a K3 and Steppir vertical. Identical station to mine.

W9AC, Paul in Jacksonville, FL. A K3 and vertical.

That's just the ones I noted the K3 in the log.

A word on logging. In the old days -- 60s -- hams were required to keep logs. With the advent of two meter FM in the 70s, the logging requirement went away, and many quit keeping logs. I keep a complete log using WinEQF software, and upload all of my contest logs into the master log. Since 2001 when I started computer logging, I've got 12,000 contacts in the computer. If I hear a station, I type in the call and the log tells me of past QSOs. I've gotten better at keeping notes in the log, I try to keep age, and rig used, and often a couple other details.

Here's a funny story. I was working a …

Too active

I've been too busy with the new radio to get on the air much. I'll try to catch up this weekend with some updates. It's funny, but about half of the people I've worked -- okay, maybe one fourth -- seemed to be running K3s as well. Having a good time with it.

K3 on the air

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Last weekend we had 12" of rain, so it a good one to stay inside and play with the new radio. All I can say is I agree with the reviews, this is a very, very nice radio. The receiver is great, the noise blanker and noise reduction can take out my horrific line noise and it's a very nice CW rig. There isn't much more I could ask for.

Here's the K3, with my K2/100 and KX1. I like Elecraft.

The K3 is here

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I ordered my K3 from Elecraft on May 12, trying to get ahead of the orders placed at Dayton. It arrived September 9. The first picture shows the boxes unpacked and unopened about 7 p.m. After a quick trip to pick up an anti-static mat, I started assembling.

The second photo shows my stopping point the first night, after a couple hours. The third photo my ending point on Wednesday night. The fourth is late Thursday night, where I had it together and on the air. All in all, it was maybe a 6 hour process. The result is a very sweet little radio. More on that later.



QRP contesting

Monday night I participated in the Michigan QRP Club Labor Day Sprint. In two hours, I worked 35 stations in 25 states, two Canadian provinces and from Maine to Washington. I had a great time with it. I plan on doing more QRP contesting over the winter.

One thing I learned, QRP contesting takes a good, no great, receiver. I started out with a different rig, but soon switched the the Elecraft K2. Running a frequency in a QRP contest is easy, but you have to listen carefully. Look for me on further QRP contensts this winter.

More radios

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My biggest problem is I enjoy messing with different radios. Every now and then, I run out of room and sell some off, then I start buying again. Today, here's the lineup.

Icom 756 Pro -- love this radio. I had a 756PROIII I sold a few months ago and was really having buyers remorse. I'm glad I found the Pro at a nice price locally.

Elecraft K2/100. It's my baby. I built it. I love it. I'll never sell it.

Icom 765. I bought this used a couple years ago for $500. A big rig, big knobs, lots of controls, great receiver, great sound. It's showing its age by making some funny noises every now and then, but still a great radio. I use it a lot.

Patcomm 16000A. Anotehr $500 find on e-bay. A strange radio, you don't hear many, or hardly any of them, but a very nice cw rig. Great QSK. I won't say I love it, but well worth the $500.

Orion I. I really tried to love this radio, but it's currently for sale on E-bay. I just never got comfortable with it, and it had way to m…

My dog

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Second op Buffy

Contesting

Last weekend was the North American QSO Party -- cw. I always enjoy this contest, it's fast, only lasting 12 hours, and simple. I messed around on 15 and 20 meters for a while in the afternoon, and racked up about 50 contacts, but didn't really sit down and operate.

Then Saturday night I went downstairs and 9:30 and started out on 20 meters, quickly switching to 40 and 80 meters. By 12:30 a.m. I was closing in on 250 contacts, so I shut it down. I had a good, high run rate for those 3 hours and ran a frequency on 40 for the last hour. I seem to have passed a milestone in my contesting skill, where I can now sit and run a frequency for an hour or two. That's a new one for me.

On the radio side, I picked up a used Icom 756 Pro. I had sold a Pro III a few months ago, and had a serious case of seller's remorse. I'm really happy to have the Pro, and I can live with the minor downgrade from the Pro III with the extra $$$ I have in my savings account.

Slow summer

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I've been remiss in keeping the blog up, but the month of July isn't a great one for Ham radio. Too much band noise from thunderstorms, too little time, and too many other things to do.

The only exception for that was the IARU contest a couple weekends ago. This is a short, simple contest, with a very simple, fast exchange. I went downstairs Saturday night, and managed to rack up neary 400 contacts. I acheived a high QSO rate running a frequency for a couple hours. That got my contesting juices flowing, and I'm looking forward to next fall's contest season. More on that as we get closer.

I have other interests and hobbies, one of which is cars. My daily commuter car is a 2007 Mini Cooper, and as a friend told me "Minis aren't a car, they are a cult." I participated in the cult this weekend at an event titled Mini Takes The States. It was a Mini rally, with several hundred Mini Coopers at the Road America race track in Elkhorn Lake, WI, about 150 miles north…

Field Day results

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Well, I made it to Nebraska to operate Field Day with my cousin Brad, KG0GY. Despite breaking both of our antenna supports, we managed to get low antennas on 20 and 40 meters and make about 370 contacts -- 368 of them on CW.

We both learned a good lesson -- you can't have too many antenna plans for Field Day. When the first support broke, we joked about going to Plan B. By Saturday afternoon we were on Plan D, but luckily, that one held up.
Next year, we'll do more antenna preparation.

For me, it was a kick to operate from Nebraska, and send NE as the section. It had been 30 years or so since I had done that.

The photo above is Brad, hard at work. We ran my K2/100 and his Icom 746Pro.

Field Day is coming

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Field Day, where Hams all around the country spend a weekend "in the field" operating under emergency conditions is coming. Next weekend I'm travelling to Nebraska to mount an operation with my cousin Brad, KG0GY, from Juniata, Nebraska.

Brad and I have similar operating interests, and we've been talking about doing this for years, so it should be fun. He's been active with the Lincoln Amateur Radio Club for years, and I've been active with the Wheaton Community Radio Amateurs. We've both been active in Field Day with those clubs, and have both been very active in those clubs. We also share the view that we're tired of clubs, but like Field Day, so this is our solution.

We'll be operating 80, 40, 20, and 15 meters, primarily on CW, but may run a little SSB, if we're bored. We'll be running my Elecraft K2/100 and his Icom 746Pro. I've got a small Honda EU2000 generator that will provide our power.

My Field Day philosophy has always been &q…

Novice station

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The wife was cleaning out some old trunks and found this picture from january 1966 of my Novice station. Yes, I was 12 years old, WN0NHG, and the proud owner of a Heathkit HR-10B receiver, a Globe HG-303 transmitter, and a Knight Kit SWR bridge. Note the QSL cards on the wall, most of them with other Novice calls.

For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, in the past there was a Novice class of license, which was how most people got into Ham radio. It required passing a 5 word per minute code test and a simple test, mostly covering regulations. It was good for one year, and you were limited to three 50 KHz bands on 80, 40, and 15 meters. Transmitters had to be crystal controlled and limited to 75 watts.

But with those limitations, and a rotten, wide receiver in the HR-10, I worked all over the U.S. and Canada and had a ball. Note the Heathkit speaker in the upper right corner of the photo. I'm still using it today. You can spot it in some pictures of my current…

Summertime blues

It's finally spring, and while that means warmer weather and May flowers, it also means thunderstorms, poor band conditions and less activity on the radio, at least in my case. Last weekend was a beautiful weekend, so a couple of quick contacts early Saturday morning was the end of my activity.

I did buy another radio during the last two weeks. Ever since the Dayton Hamvention last year -- the world's largest gathering of hams -- I've been thinking about ordering an Elecraft K3. I've held off, thinking that I'd wait until the new radio was in full production and there wasn't a six-month wait.

Then I talked the N4LQ, Steve in Louisville, KY, on his K3 the other night. When I asked about the K3, he told me he had replaced his Icom 7800 -- a $8,000 radio -- with the $2,000 K3, and was hapy he did. That sold me and I went to the Elecraft web site and ordered my K3. I won't see it until September or October, but that's ok. I'll have it ready for contest se…

A good radio weekend

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Saturday morning is probably my most consistent time to get on the air. I usually get up early, the wife is still in bed, and I head for the basement to play with the radios for a a couple hours. For some reason, the dogs have gotten in this habit, and wait for me by the basement stairs on Saturday and Sunday morning and are upset if I'm not heading downstairs by 7 or so.
Here's a quick wrap-up of this weekend's contacts -- all on 40 meters and CW.
K4UY, Ron in Madison, AL. This was our third contact in the last year. We talked about where he lives, the Huntsville area, and how nice it is. I travel a lot for work, so often know the area where my contacts live. People like to talk about where they live, so that's often good fodder for conversation. NS9F, Gene, Lockport, IL. This is maybe 10 mile from my house. I've run into this gentleman a couple times on 40 meters, we had a nice chat.
KB5GXD, Angelo, St. Joseph, MO. I've talked toAngelo, a retired doctor, several …

A little about me

When I'm not in the basement playing with my radios, I work as a editorial director of a small publishing company, producing a variety of trade magazines and web sites in the woodworking and agribusiness markets. You can view a couple of those at Countertop Business and EcoAgri.Biz.

I grew up in a small town in west Nebraska, and got my first ham license at the age of 12. My call was WN0NHG. I got my General license a year later, and was assigned the call WA0QMZ. Back in those days, your only choice of a call was the random call assigned by the FCC. When I got active in ham radio again in the late 90s, I discovered the FCC had instituted a vanity call sign program, so I chose my current call, K9OZ. The 9 is for the 9th call district, which inlcudes Inidiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. Nebraska is in the tenth call district, hence the calls with the 0 in them.

What is CW?

CW is sending Morse code, yes those dits and dashes you learned in Boy Scouts, over the radio in a continuous wave mode, hence the abbreviation CW. It used to be widely used in maritime, military and railroad communications. It's a highly efficent, highly effective way to communicate. You can communicate farther, with less power and a more simple radio, than in most other modes.

A lot of the arcane phrases and abbreviations in Ham radio stem from its roots in telegraphy. Long before kids were texting short messages, telegraphers were figuring out abbreviations. Some of these are being picked up by the texters today, some not.

An unmarried woman is a YL, short for Young Lady. When she gets married, she becomes an XYL, ex-young lady. My wife doesn't like that phrase, she still thinks of herself as a YL.

CQ is a call you put out when you are looking for someone to talk to. I will send CQ several times followed by my call, K9OZ. Someone hearing that, knows I'm looking for a chat …

The other ham in the family

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My XYL -- that's hamspeak for wife or X young lady -- pointed out that I've failed to mention that she's also a ham. A few years ago she decided she wanted to be able to use the radio in the car, and got her license. She later upgraded to a General class license, and even passed the code test back when that was a requirement. Her call is K9GAL. I've managed to get her on HF a few times, but she spends most of her ham time on the local repeater. We took this picture a couple years ago in front of the vintage equipment I had at the time. Most of the gear in the background has moved on to other owners.

More radios

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One of my favorite new toys is a Patcomm 16000A, the top radio in this photo. I found it on E-bay last month at a nice price, and jumped on it. It is a nice cw rig, with nice filtering and a built-in keyboard. Patcomm went out of business shortly after introducing this radio, so it's one you never hear on the air. I tell people what I'm running and the general answer is "I never heard of it." Yet its a dandy little CW rig.

Contesting

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I consider myself a casual contester. Sometimes I wonder why, but yesterday was a good example why. Saturday morning is often my time to spend a couple hours in the shack playing with the radios. I'd had a couple nice cw QSOs and listened to part of an AM net, but tuning around I heard CQ 7QP. A quick check of the contest calendar at the ARRL web site and I discovered the 7th call district QSO party was on. Bascially, its a combined state QSO party of all the states in the 7th call district. I was hearing Wyoming, Montana, Washington, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon and Idaho on 40 meters, so I set up my logging program for it and dove in.

By the way, for logging I use N1MM software. It's great for contests, and you can't beat the price (free.) I ran the contest for a while, and went on with my day. I had some free time in the afternoon and went to 20 meters and dove back into the contest. Meanwhile the New England QSO party started up, so I was soon hearing stations calling CQ fro…

QRP

Tonight I worked WB3AAI/QRP. He was running an Elecraft K1 at 5 watt into a St. Louis Vertical, made from wire and a fiberglass fishing pole. Lou was on a mountaintop in the Allegheny mountains of Pennsylvania, and was a nice contact. It's amazing what can be done with a very small radio and a very simple antenna, even on a night like tonight where the atmospheric noise and static was very high. I need to get back on QRP more this summer. QRP is low power, less than 5 watts, by the way. Most large modern radios are rated at 100 watts. I run most of mine at 50 watts for day-to-day operation.
Well the band is noisy and I'm sleepy, so enough for tonight. 73

Radios and radios

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Tonight there are multiple lines of storms moving through the area, so not a good radio night. That makes it a good time to update the blog.
Unfortunately, summer is often tough for HF radio, too much static. Although I'm listening on 40 meters and hearing quite a bit above the noise level
I promised to talk about radios a little. In the last 10 years I've been active in radio again, I've found myself buying and selling a lot of radios.
Here are a couple of my favorites, that I'm running these days. The Icom 765 was a high-end rig when it was new in the early 90s. The receiver is as good as any I've ever listened to, and it's just a nice big radio to operate. Lots of knobs and buttons, so no menus to scroll through to set things up. If you want to adjust something, turn the knob. It's got a big, heavily weighted tuning knob, so it's just nice to use. I dont' know how else to describe it. I like it so much, I sold my number one rig, an Icom 756Pro III a…

My shack

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I have a wide collection of gear, most of it I've picked up used the past few years. More details later. I'm a cw operator, with 99 percent of my activity on cw. I've been a ham for 43 of my 55 years, and was a good cw op as a youngster, so it came easy back then. Through the years I've built up my speed to where I can copy in the 40 word per minute range in my head, but most of the time I'm conversational rag chewer at 25 wpm.
In this blog, I'm going to log my activity, and a few highlights of what I hear, what I do, and what I find interesting.
An example is last night. I started out with a lower-speed contact with K3OXG, Lou, in Waynesburg, PA. We chatted a while, and when I signed out I was called by F3NB, Andy in Toulouse, France. He had a good readable 569 signal, which was unusual for 8 p.m. on 40 meters from Chicago. We actually had a nice little QSO. It's always neat to have the DX call you.
I was running my Icom 765 to the SteppIR vertical. More on …

Welcome

Welcome to K9OZ log blog. I'm going to create a running account of my amateur radio activities, and hopefully shed some light onto why this is such an enjoyable hobby.
If you want to learn more about amateur radio in general, visit eham.net or the web site of the ARRL.