Author: AE4RM

New Hosting Company

New Hosting Company

I changed the host for my blog today. What a pain in the behind that was! I did it because I was hosting at WordPress.com but they really hamstring you on what you can use on your site and they want $$$ if you want to add anything.

So, you may see some changing themes to the site and layouts as I experiment with the new site.

Going for a Record

Going for a Record

K3WWP_QRZ
K3WWP – John. From his QRZ page

There is an amazing ham radio operator on the bands. His name is John Shannon, K3WWP. Besides being one of the founding members of the North American QRP CW Club and FISTS  member where he wrote articles for the monthly newsletter for over 20 years, he holds the “unofficial record” for  the most consecutive days with a QRP QSO (low power contact). He is currently at day 8,419. Thats over 23 years!!!! For 23 years, everyday, he has managed to make a CW contact using less power than a nightlight. You can see his current streak on his home page.

John is also working on another record. He is currently at over 1,620 days with a DX (International) contact. Once again, over 4 years! This guy is amazing. And at 72 years young he shows no sign of slowing down.

Besides making his daily QRP contacts, John also keeps up a diary online. Notice, I didn’t say blog. He was “blogging” online before it became popular. His diary goes back to April of 2006. It is his online journal of his ham radio escapades. It is something we can all learn from.

So, if you know me, you know I like goals to shoot for. Its one of the reasons I have all the certifications I received when I was working. Its why I like the NAQCC challenges. It why I like to chase DX and get that rare QSL card. I like to have a goal in front of me that I can go for.

Am I going to break John’s record? I highly doubt it. 23 years is a long time. Yet, Being 50 as of this Thursday, and starting now, I could break his record by the time I am John’s age! Yet, I was always taught to make my goals SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. So, my first goal is to have a CW QSO every day until the end of September. Including my current streak that would put me a 37 days. A far cry from 23 years but you have heard that old saying, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Well, that 27 days will be my first bite.

In all actuality, I do not realistically think I can meet or even come close to John’s record. I can, however, set a personal best and compete against myself.

So, here is to the first step in a journey of 8,419 steps.

NAQCC-WFL Outing

NAQCC-WFL Outing

IMG_0037
The view from our operating position at Anclote Park

Friday I went out to Anclote Park for the monthly NAQCC-WFL outing. NAQCC-WFL stands for North America QRP CW Club – West Florida. Being in Lakeland, I can attend the WFL or FL outings as they both are just as far from me. I almost wonder if we need a Central Florida chapter, but thats a subject for a different post.

20841960_10209957789841411_6432239897059527457_n
Ron – N9EE

It was almost a 2 hour drive and I left the house a little before 7:00 am for the 9:00 meeting. The only other member that showed up was Ron, N9EE. Three members if you include Sam! It is the first time I’ve met Ron and we had a good “meeting of the chapter.”

Ron set up his FT-817 and wire dipole and I set up my KX3 and Buddipole antenna. Band conditions were not that great and we had our antennas too close as we both got interference from each other even when

20993078_10209957791001440_6302919301666702671_n
Mag Loop Antenna

on different bands. I made one solid contact to Mark, AF4NW, in North Carolina. Ron had made a few contacts. Ron also had he friends mag loop antenna and he tried that out. We were not very successful and we were not 100% sure we were tuning it right. Receive signals were a good 2-3 S-units lower than his dipole.

Overall, I had a good time. It was a long drive. In fact, drive time was greater than the time spent with the radio. Yet, I plan on attending these on a regular basis. I think its good to get out and meet other people and have some fun on the radio at the same time.

IMG_0034
Of course, where ever I am, Sam will not be too far away!
Not a Good Radio Day

Not a Good Radio Day

Not a good radio day here for me. First, bands are band. There is a solar storm. Next, I’m waiting for a guy to come and find/fix out pool leaks. Finally, I’m still in a rental car as my truck has been in the shop for almost 2 weeks now getting a rebuilt engine put in (actually the second since the first one failed before I paid for it). I can get out and about but I’m not comfortable bringing Sam in the car since she sheds a lot.

I had a good meeting with my CWops Elmer last night. I’ve been stressed that my brain injury would hamper my code training. I told him where I was at and he said that is normal. I guess I’m overly sensitive on failure since my TBI. I also received a new set of paddles. They are inexpensive MFJ paddles (MFJ – Mighty Fine Junk) but they will work for the class. If I end up liking paddles over the bug or strait key I’ll get a better set. In fact, by the time the Orlando Hamcation comes around in February I’ll know if I want a better set and I”ll be able to try some there.

I’m going to try to go the the NAQCC West Central Florida (WCF) outing tomorrow morning. Its all the way at Anclote Gulf Park. That’s over a hour and a half away but I need to get out and see some people! I’m hoping this is a friendly group and is accepting of Sam and I.

Well, thats about it for today. I’ll try to play radio a little later today and hopefully make a few contacts.

CWops – relearning CW

CWops – relearning CW

I’ve been accepted to CW Academy given by CWops. This is a very successful course in teaching CW and stresses head copying vs. copying onto paper. Copying onto paper is a hinderance to copying speed because you can only write so fast. I heard somewhere that you cannot write any faster than 15-20 words per minute.

I have to admit, I am struggling with this. In order to head copy you need a decent short-term memory and if you know me, you know mine is shot. For those of you who don’t know me, I am “disabled.” I was in a serious auto accident in November of 2015 that caused permeant brain damage. One of the main things caused by this is short-term memory loss (long with a host of other issues). This is making it very hard for me to copy without a pencil, even the short three letter words. I forget the first letter by the time the last letters sent. At the same time, this will help rebuild some of the pathways damaged by the accident and stretch my cognitive abilities.

The great part about CWops is they assign you an “Elmer.” For those of you uninitiated in the ways of ham radio, an Elmer is a mentor. No one really knows where the term Elmer came from. My Elmer is Ken Talbott. I wrote him last night about my frustration and we are going to meet on Skype today to discuss this. I told him under no circumstances do I want to give up but I’m not sure I can meet the expectations of the class.

Wish me luck as I try to bring my code speed up and be able to copy it better.

Putting Together a WinKeyer (MacKeyer)

Putting Together a WinKeyer (MacKeyer)

It’s been a long time since I soldered or put anything together electronic related. It used to be a regular thing for me 30 years ago when I attended DeVry (where we are serious about success) and worked in the electronics industry. It all stopped when I started working on copiers then computers where everything was board replacement.

I decided to embrace my inner geek this week and bought a kit to put together. It’s the W1EL WinKey. It seems simple enough for my first project in 30 years. All the surface mount components have already been installed and all I have to put on is the big things like buttons and connectors.

I made it through the first page with no issues. I did figure out if I continue to do kits I need a smaller solder iron and solder! The key jack, USB port and speaker are installed. Now onto the switches.

Enter a caption

The switches were a breeze. The next step was the RCA phono jacks that were easy to solder on too.

When I had to do the next step, solder the wires for the speed potentiometer and battery case I remembered why I hate soldering. You need a third set of hands. I was able to get it all together now on to the tests.

IT’S ALIVE!!! I put the batteries in and it passed the first test, it sent an “R” in Morse code when it got power. It passed the next test – it sent an “MT” for each button pressed (stands for eMpTy). I plugged in a key and it sent dits and dahs! All stand alone functions work. Now to test hosted mode… It worked well on MacLoggerDX. I also got it working with my contest logger, Skookum Logger, which was the primary reason I acquired the WinKeyer (in my case, MacKeyer).


The hardest part of this project was getting the cover on! The space between the battery and the RCA jacks is very tight. Like fractions on an inch tight. I had to reposition he battery in order to get everything to fit.

Overall, this was a very easy kit to put together. You just need a small soldering iron, some solder and some patience.

Taking a Forced Break

Taking a Forced Break

My luck has not been to good lately on trying to activate parks. First, my KX3 had issues just when I was getting rolling and had to go in for warranty repair.

Just as after I got it back and was going to start activating again, my truck starts giving me fits. I either have to get a "new" truck or put an engine in this one. Since I don't want a car payment, it's looking like the engine is the way to go.

Once all that is fixed, I plan on activating two parks a week. If they are close together, maybe more. I really enjoy activating an miss it even though I just started. My goal is to activate all the parks within 75 miles of my home by end of next year. That's about 80 parks.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch… I've gotten active again with SKCC. I'm also a member of FISTS but have not been active with them. I'm looking into them I found out I am really close to quite a few awards and didn't even know it. I'm going to start participating more in their activities as well. I don't think I've touched my mic in a month!

As for my CW progression. Well, I've hit a wall. I just lose one letter then an avalanche of lost letters follows getting me frustrated. I can handle the SKCC exchanges with no problem, but once I'm in a rag chew, I get lost real fast.

In January, maybe earlier in September, in going to take the CW Ops classes. It's two months of intense CW training that is supposed to take you to 15 words per minute in 2 months. I've heard nothing but good things about it and it must be popular. The waiting list is about a year! I hope it helps. I'd really like to become proficient at CW.

In the meantime, I'll just keep plugging along.

My New R-9 Antenna

My New R-9 Antenna

The R-9 Antenna

IMG_2203The R-9 Antenna by Cushcraft or similar is something I have been looking at since I got back into amateur radio. I’ve always heard verticals are good for working DX because they have a lower takeoff angle. Don’t get me wrong, I am not unhappy at all about my Alpha Antenna DX-CC fan dipole. Its got me my DXCC in a year with casually working stations. Yet, I still wanted to try a vertical but since the DXCC worked so well I could never justify the $700 price (including guying kit) plus shipping. I also did not want all the radials in the ground – not an issue with the R-9.

I May Need an Intervention…

How many of you constantly browse the classifies on QRZ or QTH? I admit it. I do. There should be a 12-step group for us that are always looking for a deal.  I’m always looking for that thing I cannot do without. Procrastinate. Then find someone else has bought it.

Not this time. I saw that R-9 for a fraction of the price of what they go for. I thought it was one of those “too good to be true” scenarios and may had been a scam (lots of those on QRZ). I did my homework on the seller, got more pictures, and sure enough it was a great deal so I bought it.

Installation – Houston We Have a Problem

FYI – This is at least a two person job to install. Three would be better. The antenna is very top heavy and you really need someone to help steady it when you work on mounting it.

The R-9 has not been a disappointment. It was relatively easy to set up. I already had a 10′ post I could mount it on so that part was not an issue. Although, I did have to make 3 trips to Crowder Bros Ace Hardware for some screws, nuts and clamps that were missing. The original owner must had lost them when he took it down. We did run into one problem. Tuning it on 40 and 80 meters.

40 and 80 meters on this antenna, unlike the rest of the antenna, uses coils with taps for tuning and is connected to the rest of the antenna by a wire and clamp.  I ended up taking the antenna down 3 times because 40 and 80 would not tune. After the second time we took it down I vowed we’d only take it down one more time. I started researching why this would happen. Then I got the August QST magazine. Guess what is reviewed in that issue. You got it, the R-9 and the writer had the same issue I did. He said his clamp that connected the 40 and 80 sections was missing. That got me thinking my issue had to be in the same area.

I took down the antenna for the third and last time. I spent time checking for cold solder joints, loose screws, and anything else that could be the issue. I finally really cranked down tightening the clamp and voila! The SWR fell right into place. I took the advice of the QST article and tuned the antenna 200k lower than I wanted as his resonance point went up when he raised his antenna.

We got the antenna up and it all worked. The resonance point on 40 and 80 are still a little higher than I’d like but well within an area I can work with. If I take it down again, I’ll adjust the taps but it is going to stay right where it is for now.

How Does it Work?

OK, you heard all about how it was putting it together but how does it work? To be honest, I have not been able to do a good A/B comparison yet between the R-9 and the DX-CC but I can tell you this. I had no problems working Australia on 40 meters on Saturday with the R-9. I’ve also worked many local and other DX stations with it. I have noticed the R-9 is a little bit noisier than the DX-CC but that is to be expected in a vertical.

What I do have that I did not have before is an antenna that is resonant on 6m, 12m, 15m, 17m and 30m. I’ve not worked a lot of stations on those bands yet but I’m sure there will be a difference since more power will be going to the antenna now.

Final Thought

My final thoughts on the R-9. Although it says it only needs the same area as a child’s sandbox once set up you need at least a 40 foot area to lay it down on saw horses to set it up and tilt it onto the mast. Also, at 31′ tall on a 10′ mast the guying kit is not an option. Let me repeat that, THE GUYING KIT IS NOT AN OPTION. You need it, in fact, I think Cushcraft should make that part of the antenna kit.

Overall, I am very happy with this antenna. I’m glad I bought it and would again.

Once You Go Mac…

Once You Go Mac…

I’ve been a Apple person every since I used my first one in 1996. I’ve had quite a few different Macs through the years from a IIcx, to a 230 laptop, an original Mac Mini, a few MacBooks, and now a new Mac Mini. Why do I like Macs? Well, I’ve spent my whole career in the IT industry. Back in the Windows95 days and prior I spent most of my days fixing these beasts and just got sick on Micro$oft. The last thing I wanted to do when I came home from work was to fix another PC. So we went Mac in the Meadows household.

Fast forward to 2017. I started using Windows 10 and found it to work quite well. Using a Mac and PC side by side the only real difference is the amount of software available for the Mac, and even that has become a close race. Since I got back into ham radio in 2015 I’ve been using PCs because there was more software available for Windows. Yet, when I wasn’t using the PC for ham radio I went back to my trusty MacBook. I really wanted to just use one platform and had to decide – PC or Mac? It came down to software for ham radio. There is a great resource for all things Mac ham radio on the web – MacHamRadio.com. It gives links to all Mac ham radio software available and links to the new releases.

Enter MacLoggerDX. This is what tipped the scales to me going Mac in the shack. It does almost everything I want in a logging/control program. The only thing it is lacking is full control features like are in Win4k3 but with the PX3 panadapter and a few macros I am able to do everything I want with MacLoggerDX. All the other software I use – Fldigi, Elecraft, WSJT-X, and JT-Bridge all have Mac versions. The SKCC logger and Skimmer did not have Mac versions but by using Crossover I am able to run them on the Mac Mini.

The only thing I can not run on the Mac is the RT-Systems programming software for my VHF/UHF radios. I have adapted and overcome by installing Virtual Box. With this software I can run full blown Windows 10 on the Mac. I can also share files between the Mac and Windows as well as USB ports. With Virtual Box I can do anything I need to do on a PC without leaving my Mac.

What it came down to is I wanted a stable machine I feel comfortable with. That was the Mac. I have not found anything I can do on a PC that I cannot do on the Mac (albeit I may have to use a virtual Windows machine) and it connects up to my radios nicely. Add iCloud and all my files are available on my Mac Mini, MacBook and iPhone.

If you are considering using a Mac for your ham radio shack don’t let the naysayers dissuade you. There is great software available for Mac ham radio. If you have a Mac give it a try, I promise you – Once you go Mac, you won’t go back!

Shhhh… I’m WSPRing

Shhhh… I’m WSPRing

When I’m waiting for my KX3 to get fixed under warranty at Elecraft (the’ve had it 10 days so far, but I’m not bitter), I acquired a K2 and a very good price. I mentioned it on my last entry. I’ve found out it is an older one and I’m going to send it to Don Wilhelm once I get my KX3 back. He updates K2s to the latest and greatest at a fraction of the price of Elecraft. It will be equivalent to the current K2s once he is done. He’ll also be able to fix the low output on 20 meters I found I have.

Meanwhile, I’ve been playing a lot with the digital modes. The new FT8 is really cool and fast. I like it a lot better then JT65. It only takes 1:15 – 1:30 to complete the average exchange as opposed to 5 minutes with JT65. It also has a neat feature called auto sequence that will actually complete the QSO for you instead of you just sitting there watching paint dry waiting the minute for each exchange (15 seconds in the case of FT8). You really seem to need it in FT8 because the exchanges go so fast.

The mode I”ve really been playing with is WSPR. That stands for Weak Signal Propagation Reporting. It basically beacons out a signal at low power for 2 minutes, then listens for 6 minutes in 2 minute increments for signals. You then go the the WSPR website and can look and see who has heard your signal and whose you have heard plotting nicely on a map. What you see above is where my signal has been heard this morning on 40 meters. All throughout the USA and all the way to Australia!

What WSPR is really good for is seeing how band conditions are and how your antennas are working. I currently have 2 antennas – a fan dipole up 30 feet in an inverted V and a Cushcraft R9 Vertical. I can compare where the two antennas have been heard using WSPR to see which is the best to reach a particular area.

Why don’t you give FT8 and WSPR a try, I think you will like them.