ZERO Sunspots

The sunspot count is ZERO! Can’t get much lower than that. But … in spite of the low numbers (and a minor solar disturbance), I still make contacts. Even CW seems pretty sparse, but the digital parts of the band still amaze me.

I have been mostly working JT-9 and JT-65, and there’s been a lot of action. Good openings into Europe and South America, as well as stateside  and Canada. Twenty meters has been productive as has forty meters, but that’s about it. Above 20 just sucks, to put it bluntly (although they say 6 meters has been promising).

Well, tonight we’ll have the PARC 2-meter net. At least propagation is consistent on the repeater 🙂 .

73 de Dick k4ftw

More Digital Thoughts

Well, I’ve been using JT-65/JT-9 for several days now, and I do have a few thoughts to share. It’s amazing being able to copy a signal you can hardly see on the waterfall or hear. As a weak-signal mode, it is really unsurpassed. I’ve been using 5 to 10 watts output and find that more than sufficient in most cases. Using WSJT-X software from K1JT, it’s almost foolproof once you’ve got a few QSOs under your belt.

For me, the biggest negative is the limited ability to actually say anything of consequence. With a 13-character limit on your message — well, that’s not a lot of chat time. But all this has been said before, and it is what it is. Within the constraints of the format, it works exceedingly well.

It’s been a while since I’ve dabbled in the more verbose digital modes, so I’m going to try to get back to the “keyboard” modes for a while (PSK-31/63, etc. While the JT-x modes are great for propagation research (pskreporter) and snagging some new ones relatively easily, I think I prefer the more free-structured keyboard-to-keyboard, give and take of the more conventional modes.

73 de Dick k4ftw

DIgital and Low Power Stuff

I finally got around to setting up WSJT-X and JT Alert on the new laptop, and found quite a bit of action. I worked 18 stations (mostly Europe and the US) in a couple of hours on 20 Meters. I seemed to have a lot more luck on JT-9 than on JT-65. Sort of like watching paint dry, but I did fill in a few missing digital Grid squares, prefixes, etc in the meantime.

QCWA Chapter 119 activated Fort Monroe National Monument recently, and although I couldn’t lend a hand with the operation due to a prior commitment, I did manage to work them on CW. I haven’t heard how they did number wise, but it was a beautiful day to be operating portable.

We’ve found a site for W4MT, our 146.73 repeater. We lost our previous site and had been searching for a new location for quite a few months. In the interim, we’ve been having our Tuesday evening club net on the WN4HRT repeater.

Overall, the bands have not been the greatest, but the digital modes offer an opportunity to make contacts with lower power. I made those 18 contacts this evening using 10 watts to a vertical tied to the clothesline pole. Nothing sophisticated about that, folks! Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Don’t forget, CW was the original digital mode.

73 de Dick K4FTW

Back Again

I seem to show up here apologizing for not posting in a while quite often. What is it they say? “Good intentions pave the highway to Hell” … or something like that. Anyway, I have been somewhat productive. I’ve been experimenting with a homemade magnetic loop antenna for QRP operation, and it looks promising. I am AMAZED at what I can hear and work with a 13-ft loop of wire at ground level on twenty meters. Sure, it’s obviously not as good as a beam at 75 feet, but I can get on the air and communicate with it.

I also finally gotten around to loading FLDigi onto the new laptop. I expected a lot more trouble, as I remembered that there were problems when I first started using it. I must say, WIndows 10 cooperated wonderfully. The setup seemed to go much easier, too. Maybe experience counts for something.

I’ve been lurking on 20 meters in the digital portion of the band (14.070+) and reading the mail. Just trying to get a feel for QSO content and so forth. The last time I really was serious about RTTY/PSK/DIgital/etc. was when I was operating as VQ9RB on Diego Garcia. Those were the good old days … hamming pretty much every night from the club station, and a great bunch of guys. Some now Silent Keys and others still very much alive and kicking. It was a good mix of people, too. Navy guys who were fluent in CW and Merchant seamen (mostly Radio Officers who, in those days, were REALLY CW ops). Satellite communications on ships was fairly new, and CW was still required. Me, I was one of the few there that did CW only for fun! For all the others, it was job-related.

I think the first time I ever did RTTY was when I was VQ9D or S79D in the Seychelles. I had a Commodore 64 computer with a plug-in module on the backside that generated the keying signal. Worked great.

Well, enough reminiscing. Look for me again around the digital frequencies. I’d be pleased to have a chat.

73 de Dick K4FTW

Computer Crashes and Antennas

I spent a bit of time last night working the various QSO parties (IN, NE, 7QP) and had a pretty good time. N1MM kept crashing the computer, and I couldn’t figure out what had changed since I last used it. I was using the FT-450 hardware file for my FT-450D, and had had the occasional crash before, but it was getting worse, so I decided to try the FT-950 file. Night & day, folks. I haven’t had a crash since I changed, and everything seems to work OK. I guess the FT-450D is a lot more like the FT-950, since they are both SDR digital DSP boxes. I’m not sure how the FT-450 is different in how the computer sees it.

I want to say a couple of words about the W1SFR End-Fed 40 – 6 m Antenna that I bought from Steve at kx3helper.com and used for the first time last weekend. This is a quality product and Steve really stands behind what he sells. Just because the website says kx3helper, there’s plenty there that’s useful for other small portable rigs, too. Yeah, sure … I could have built the matching network in a box myself and cut some wire and had something functionally equivalent, but what I didn’t spend was TIME. Between work, family, scouting, and church, I don’t have a lot of time. I treasure the (too few) moments that I have to myself to do ME things (like ham radio). To me, it’s worth buying it ready to go. Visit Steve’s site and see what he has to offer, especially if you like portable operation.

Well, that’s about it for now. 72 and 73 de Dick K4FTW

Antennas and One and Zeros

Digital modes are addictive. I’ve worked several days now of JT-9 and JT-65 and managed to pick up a few new states that had been elusive in the past. I tried a couple of different software programs and settled on WSJT-X with JT-Alert and linked everything to my DXLab software.

I was noticing a few tuning issues on my vertical antenna, so I finally went out to the back yard and checked it. It’s a 31-ft wire on a Jackite collapsible fiberglass pole and one of the sections had collapsed. I had a wire tie at each joint to keep that from happening, but I guess this one was not snug enough or had slipped. Anyway, to make a long story short, I re-extended the pole section and twisted it to lock it.SWR readings are back to normal now.  I’ll put another wire-tie on it when I get around to finding one :-).

Tomorrow is a Holiday — President’s Day, so maybe I’ll have a chance to get some operating accomplished. I did work a couple of stations in the ARRL International CW contest this weekend, but those don’t count as a ragchew, for sure!

73 de Dick

 

New modes (for me)

This weekend I was stuck in the house with a cold and feeling generally miserable, so I decided to look around at some of the digital modes I had never tried. I took a look at JT-65 and downloaded WSJT-X to give it a try. Lo and behold, it was really simple to set up and I worked MM0AMW.

I set up WSJT-X to work with DXView Commander, using my Signalink USB, and nothing could have been simpler. I did do a bit of reading beforehand, so I sort of understood what the heck I was doing, and the QSO was painless. I still have mixed feelings about JT-65 (and JT-9), but I have to admit, there was a bit of excitement when I saw MM0AMW come back to me. I think it’ll be added to my bag of tricks. It’s pretty interesting, even with a 13-character limit.

Other than that, not much happening. I’ll be so glad when this winter is over. The older I get, the more I seem to become a warm-weather creature.

73 and CUL,
Dick K4FTW

What’s New

The short answer is “Not much.” I have had so many things going on other than ham radio that it’s had to take a back seat. Work has been very busy, trying to resolve issues with an 800 MHz trunked system. I think we have a handle on what’s going on now, though.

I don’t know if I mentioned it before, but I am pretty heavily involved in Scouting, and the Troop I work with has several camping trips coming up in the next month, and I’ve been working with the boys planning those. I’m also getting my course materials together to work with them on their religious awards. Busy!

Hopefully, I’ll get some time in on the radio this weekend. Bought a new cooking stove and refrigerator this week, and it’s supposed to be delivered on Friday, so I’ve taken the day off to be there for the delivery. Maybe I’ll get on during the wait.

I’ve also been looking pretty closely at the new Ten Tec Rebel 506 QRP, open source transceiver. That really interests me. An affordable SDR radio. Hmmm …

73 de Dick

Good Ops

OK … finally getting some action above 14 MHz. Ten through seventeen meters all were showing some life this weekend. The WARC bands were especially fruitful. I suspect the RTTY contest drove quite a few onto the newer bands. Forty meters was a zoo with the RTTY contest pretty much covering the whole band. Not much room left for CW. Got shoved right down to the bottom of the band.

I worked a few new countries and a bunch of Texans in the Texas QSO Party so I’m happy. It never fails to amaze me how supposedly “dead” bands come to life during a major contest weekend.

The new vertical is working out pretty well, but I’m not sure if its better or that much different from the Windom. I did a bit of work on the OCF antenna, fine tuning the length and getting the ends up higher and do see some improvement in its performance. Sometimes one antenna is better than the other on receive and the next time it’s the other. I do notice that the vertical has a lower noise level most of the time, which is exactly the opposite of what I’d always been led to believe. So go figure … I’ll use whatever works the best at the time.

Well, the bands are still pretty good so enough writing … back to the radio!

73 de Dick