WSJT-X 1.8.0 rc2

The latest release candidate of the WSJT-X software incorporating FT-8 mode has been released (rc2), and it seems to have cured my power output problem. I worked several stations on 20, 17, and 15 meters this afternoon and everything looks ok — JT65, JT9, and FT8 all worked great.

The bands seem OK today … much better than the recent past. Hopefully I’ll be able to get on later this evening to see who’s about. It’s a dreary day outside with thunderstorms in the forecast so that might put a damper on later operations but hey … that’s ham radio, isn’t it?

73 de Dick N4BC

Weekend Doings – Storms, QSO Parties, and a New One!

This was the weekend of the big storm … Hurricane Matthew … so I planned on hunkering down at home and doing some operating (if the power cooperated). Well, we didn’t lose power (except for a few momentary blips), but we did get a LOT of rain (10.5 inches at my QTH) and some pretty stiff winds (gusts up to 35 mph). There was a lot of flooding in the area and lots of downed trees. I’m just lucky that I never really lost my AC. Of course, I could have gone to qrp and battery power. I’m also lucky I didn’t get called in for work … that could have been nasty during the heavier part of the storm.

This weekend was the Pennsylvania QSO Party, and I spent a bit of time chasing PA stations. Lots of fun. I was mostly on 40 meters, but did operate a bit on 80 and 20 meters as well. I didn’t make a lot of contacts, but that was by choice. There were certainly a lot of stations to contact. Participation was high.

I also worked a lot of DX, mostly on JT65 and JT9. There was a lot of activity in the digital segments of the band as well. I still find it strangely satisfying to sit there for a minute with nothing happening and then the exchange is displayed. Magic!

I worked my one and only Delaware station EVER on 80 meter SSB, too. For some reason (other than the fact that there aren’t a lot of Delaware hams), I have never worked that state before. I was happy to finally fill out my WAS. To top that, he’s already confirmed the QSO by LOTW.

All in all, it was a fun, productive weekend, in spite of all the drama with the storm. It was a great weekend to be indoors!

73 de Dick N4BC

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

What happened to Spring?

We had a few nice Spring days, but it seems like Summer has arrived about a month early. Temperatures and humidity here in coastal Virginia have been Summer-like already. I sure hope this is not a taste of an unbearable August.

Saturday, we had our annual Southeastern Virginia Ham picnic at Deer Park, in Newport News. It was a nice get together, with a chance to put faces to some of the calls I hear on the local repeaters. We had hamburgers and hot dogs with a few sides, and just generally relaxed and got to know each other a bit better.

Field Day is approaching, and once again our club, PARC, will do a joint venture with SPARK at the usual Hampton location. Things will be as usual, but I don’t think we are going to run a GOTA station this year. Last year we had zero luck with that. We are always looking forward to improving every year, and hopefully we can make a better CW showing this year.

I still haven’t had a chance to get an 80M antenna up in the air yet, but with the good weather, I’m going to have to get out into the yard and just do it. I’ve got the wire, 9:1 UN-UN, rope, coax, and slingshot, so the only thing holding me back is lack of motivation! I’m going to go out on a limb here (not literally!) and promise myself to GET THIS DONE!

I’ve recently started trying to make a contact or two at lunchtime from work, using the HB1B from the truck, but not a lot of luck so far. Yeah, I’ve gotten a couple of contacts, but with only a half-hour for lunch, it’s difficult to get some food into myself, get the rig connected and then dismantled, and not feel terribly rushed. Maybe it’ll get easier as I get more familiar with it.

73 de Dick K4FTW

Spring!

The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and my sinuses are dripping because of allergies … Spring is officially here now! I’ve started digging through winter storage boxes to collect my portable QRP goodies so I can once more play radio from the great outdoors.

I was going to operate while on a Scouting weekend last week, but it was cold and rainy … not a great experience. As it turned out, I was pretty busy as well, so time was at a premium. Everything seems to work well set up at home, so I’m going to at least get out into the back yard and test things in an actual field setting on Saturday or Sunday.

I have been on 20M CW recently, and worked a few Europeans. The signals have been a bit poor when I was able to get on, but the QSOs went OK. I hope to get organized enough to be able to operate /P from the parking lot at work at lunchtime soon. I think that affords the best chance for a regular radio session.

We’re still looking for a location for our 2M repeater (W4MT). We lost our site a couple of months ago and are working several possibilities now. There are several other repeaters in the area that we can use, but it’d be nice to get ours up and running again.

73 de Dick K4FTW

Hamfest Time

Last Saturday was the Virginia Beach Hamfest at the Virginia Beach Convention Center, so I made the trek. I already had a ticket, purchased at the club meeting. It was a nice time … met some old friends, saw some new things … also saw a Heathkit DX-100B for sale for $100.00. It was pretty clean, and according to the seller, worked flawlessly. Nostalgia is great, but no thanks. I’ll pass.

I was looking for some mobile hamstick-type antennas, and one of the flea-market sellers had some, but not for the bands I wanted or the price I wanted. I got home and ordered what I needed from HRO in northern Virginia, and should have them Tuesday. Even regular shipping is pretty much overnight to my QTH.

I’m not planning on mobile operations, but more truck-portable ops. I like Larry’s (W2LJ) habit of getting on from the parking lot at work for lunchtime, and a mobile antenna is a quick way to get on the air from there. He seems to have great luck, so I’ll give it a try with my FT-817nd and a hamstick.

The Hamfest, while worth a trip, is a shadow of its former glory. There were NO major ham radio vendors there (Elecraft had a local team there). Not even a lot of second-tier companies there. If you were looking to buy a name-brand, new hf rig, you’d be better off ordering it. I think this is a problem with all hamfests nowadays. The manufacturers just don’t have the budget to hit all the non-major hamfests. It’s a shame, really … no chance to “touchy-feelie” things.

I’ve been very busy lately at work. We’re updating our 800 MHz Motorola trunked system from analog to digital, so I’ve been involved with developing the new fleetmap and templates for programming the radios. Working at the computer for 8 hours a day makes your eyes cross after a while, so frequent breaks are needed and welcome.

73 de Dick K4FTW

Happenings

I haven’t been very active lately. I’ve had lots of other irons in the fire, and ham radio has had to take a back seat. I got on 20m sideband tonight and worked a RA7 and AM08TL. That one threw me for a bit, but it’s a special Spanish call in honor of the new King. The station is in Tenerife, in the Canary Islands.

I’m getting things together for my trip to Pennsylvania for Boy Scout summer camp with two other adults and eight boys. We’ll be at Hidden Valley Scout Reservation, and I’m taking “ham stuff” with me. I’ve picked up an FT-817nd and am carrying that for some portable, battery-powered QRP. I think the boys will be more interested in SSB than CW, because they can actually hear what’s going on. I’m hoping to make a few more converts.

I got a certificate in the mail this afternoon from the Virginia QSO Party. I was the “High Newport News Mixed Mode 40M” scorer. I suspect I was the only Newport News Mixed Mode 40M entry ;-). In any case, it’s always nice to get another piece of paper for the shack wall.

That’s it for now, I guess. I’ll write a bit more later.

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

Hammin’ in the Woods

Operating has been pretty spotty lately. I’ve just been so busy with other things that radio has had to take a back seat. I have worked a few of the W1AW/x stations, but not much else.

This weekend, though, I did get on the air in a different manner. I am also a Scout leader, so I took all of my portable gear with me on a weekend camping trip into the woods. I wanted to expose the kids to ham radio, and gauge the interest for participation in the Radio Merit Badge.

This was really the first weekend I’ve had the time (and the decent weather) to get out and do some portable operation. This past winter was too nasty for me to trek to the woods and do ham radio!

I had the Ten-Tec R4040 QRP transceiver, the ZM-2 tuner, and a 40-6 Meter End Fed antenna with 9:1 balun from Steve at kx3helper.com, along with the assorted odds and ends needed to connect everything. The antenna was up in a “L” configuration, no more than 20 feet high at its highest point.

I powered up everything from a 12V 7AH battery, tuned up, and got on the air. The Florida QSO Party was going, and the signals were pretty good. I answered a few stations and they came right back to me. I was impressed. I was even more impressed when I noticed I’d made quite a few QSOs with the ZM-2 in the TUNE position … I wasn’t even connected to the antenna! I flipped the switch, and the results were much better!

This was the first “Field Test” of the entire setup and I was duly impressed. Everything worked just like it was supposed to, and I had several of the boys (and adults) interested in learning more. It was really a great weekend in all respects.

73 de Dick K4FTW