Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Settling In

We moved to the new apartment in North Plano over the holiday weekend (thankfully a 4 day one for me).  It was pretty smooth, all things considered.  Saturday and Sunday we did most of the boxed up items and all that was left for the movers on Tuesday was the real big stuff like the couch and washer/dryer.  There's still a smattering of things at the old place to bring over but we're pretty much out of there now.  

I found a few minutes to get something set up radio wise on Sunday night too.  I put my Arrow J-pole antenna and a 20m hamstick on the balcony railing.  I don't have enough coax to run back to the shack yet but I had enough to do some testing from the living room and it looks like my NE facing balcony will be OK for HF and not so OK for VHF.  Unfortunately most of the activity on VHF/UHF will be back towards the center of the metro which is through the building for me.  We'll see how things go once we get everything unpacked and I have more time to play.  

I got my desk put together yesterday and started setting up the operating position again.  Here's a quick snap showing my new TH-D72A along with the 590.  I'm enjoying the HT but I have to say that the stock antenna is kind of crummy and the coverage for APRS is really surprisingly bad.  Even with the J-pole on the balcony, I have trouble getting packets in.  I'm not sure what the deal is with that.  


This weekend is CQWW WPX CW and I'll be travelling to the Houston area to the NR5M super contest station along with a few other guys from the DFW Contest group.  I'll be sure to make a full report when I get home.  It'll be the biggest station I've been to yet and I hope we put up a good score.  NR5 is a pretty good prefix I think so we should be plenty busy if the bands permit it.

Until then, 73!

Monday, May 18, 2015

A spot of SPACE!

I was happy to find some goodies in my mailbox when I got home from work today: a nice personal QSL card from KG6EYC, Frank, and my new (to me) ELK dual band log periodic antenna.

Frank's QSL is one of K1NSS's special creations, a personalized piece of art.  Frank's card features his two daughters and some of their art work.  Very cool!

The coolest part of receiving this card though was that it was our first CW contact.  Frank isn't so much a newbie at CW but he's still learning.  He's completed the CWOps Academy and it shows, he's got a good pace going.  Just a few more months and he'll be eligible to join the club I'm sure.  It's always nice to know someone as interested in CW as he is and at his age.  Best of luck Frank!  Also check out his blog at http://vadept.com/.

As far as the Elk goes, I unpacked it up in the office in my apartment and as soon as I figured out how it all gets together, I got a text on my phone alerting me that there was an SO-50 pass in just 10 minutes.  I had planned on being able to make it but everything seemed to fall out of sync so I was not prepared.  I quickly grabbed everything off the desk I'd need: 817, voice recorder, mic, bag, coax and antenna.  I ran up the 4 flights of stairs and got myself situated on the roof of the parking garage just as the satellite peaked over the horizon.  
I started getting the radio set up for the cross band split and sure enough, with some pointing, I could hear a bit of activity on the satellite, but for some reason I had insane SWR when I transmitted.  I had tested the antenna briefly in the shack and everything seemed in order so I couldn't figure it out.  I fiddled with it through the whole pass and didn't have any luck.  As the satellite passed below the horizon, I reassessed the situation and checked on the next pass.  SO-50 wasn't due for another day and the next one was FO-29, one of the linear transponder sats, in about 20 minutes.  
In an act of desperation, I swapped the ends of the coax I was using and much to my surprise, the result was a suitable SWR.  Don't ask me how that works!  (Yes, I'm going to have to get some new coax methinks...)  

So I sat for the next 15 minutes until FO-29 came up.  The pass was a decent one with about a 35 degree max elevation.  I have not had a ton of luck working the linear sats half-duplex but it was worth a shot.  There was a strong QSO going on in the upper part of the passband but I stuck right in the center and called a few times.  The thing about these sats is that you can never be quite sure where you're coming out on the other end so I have to tune around a lot to find the person calling me.  About 8 minutes into the 15 minute pass, I finally heard my call coming back to me from that familiar voice of Wyatt, AC0RA, back up in Cedar Rapids.  I have worked Wyatt a few times on the satellites when I was in Iowa so he also recognized my call.  I had one under my belt!  I kept tuning around and calling but I was unable to stir up any more activity.  I followed the strong QSO a while and I heard a 6 station calling towards the end of the pass but didn't have the brains to figure out where I needed to tune my transmitter to get close to his signal.  Maybe in time I'll get there!  

So if you're on the birds, keep an ear out for my little signal from EM13 and chase me around the band, transmit fixed.  

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Secrets Revealed! Welcome the new Elecraft K3S Transceiver

Today at Four Days In May (FDIM) Elecraft's Eric Swartz unveiled their new transceiver, the K3S.  They also released details on the P3 TX monitor upgrade which has been rumored to be in the works for some time now.

The K3S Transceiver features a new USB interface (which includes audio) as well as Ethernet connectivity (sorry the RJ45 connector is for RS232 only) the recently upgraded Synthesizer for best in class receive. See the data and FAQ sheets here:

http://www.elecraft.com/manual/K3S%20Data%20Sheet%20rev%20A1.pdf

http://www.elecraft.com/manual/K3S-FAQ%20rev%20C5%20customer.pdf


Prices start at $2,099 for the 10w kit version and go up to $2,899 for the 100w factory build version.

New: the price increase is about $500 over the previous base K3 model! We'll see how the numbers work out when Sherwood gets one but hopefully the numbers justify the price hike.  Luckily many of the options are available for existing K3s (little S).

What a great way to start the Dayton weekend!  Keep your eyes here for more exciting stuff from the Hamvention!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Dayton Rumors Begin!


Elecraft posted this image teasing their new offering they will be unveiling at Dayton Hamvention this week.  Nobody is quite sure what it is yet but it is clearly some sort of ruggedized K3 looking thing.  With a little kung-fu magic, NT1K determined that the picture was taken by Elecraft engineer Wayne Burdik, N6KR, at his home in California.

A number of the rumors I've seen floating around include a K3S where the S stands for SOTA, with built in APRS and SOTA database, etc.  Or perhaps a K2S, a timely upgrade to the legendary transceiver that launched Elecraft's success.  A fully user built radio with K3 specifications.  A post on the Elecraft reflector posited a handheld K3 but isn't the KX3 already almost hand-held?

Whatever it is, we're all very eager to find out and you can bet I'll be updating the blog when more information is available.

UPDATE: Rockwell, WW1X, posted this "enhanced" teaser on Twitter:
(its a joke!)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Moving...again

Happy Spring everyone!

In my last post I talked about getting on D-Star and all that jazz.  Well I'm happy to report the VHF/UHF repeaters in the area are pretty active so there's a lot of travel time stuff to listen to and take part in.  I actually played Jeopardy on a repeater one night.  That was something new!  There are even special interest nets on the main repeater for astronomy buffs, food buffs, and Raspberry Pi people, and the net controllers seem very down to earth.  All in all, it has been enjoyable listening in.
We signed the lease at our new apartment complex, Bella Vida Estates.  It's further north in Plano, just about to Allen.  They have a brand new remodeled club house which is really nice.  They have lots of community activities and events and they invited us to their grand opening party last week.  There was a few contests and drawings including an Instagram drawing that I managed to win!  So I've got a few bucks to spend!
A sample of the decor in the clubhouse
So now that we know where will be moving to, I've started to plan my activity for the next year and I decided with the challenges I've experienced so far, I'm going to try a bit more to play on VHF/UHF.  Oh a whim I spun the dial around the bottom end of 2m to see if there was any weak signal (SSB/CW) activity and was pleased to find a round table going on.  With the polarization losses and lack of directivity with my Arrow J-pole, I could only hear one or 2 guys but I figured out what the net was so now I know what to look for next week.  With that gift card I won at the party, I am going to get an Elk dual band log periodic antenna to get some gain and directivity too.  Of course, I'm going to go back to trying my hand on the satellites too.

Have no fear though, I'm not giving up on HF.  I will probably give up on my magnetic loop for the time being.  Unfortunately it just doesn't do the job most of the time.  I have my hamsticks from mobile ops (which are very very few and far between) so I might go ahead and try to get them set up on the balcony somehow.  HamCom is coming up here in Dallas so I'll probably pick up the goods to get something going on the balcony at the new place then.  

Speaking of HamCom - I'll be there both days.  I decided to take Friday off of work and peruse the goods.  I think all of the presentations are on Saturday and I don't want to miss the deals in the flea!  Anyway, if you're coming in, let me know.  We'll definitely set up some sort of Reddit/Twitter meetup as we get closer to the date!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Digital modes... Digital *VOICE* modes!

Yeah, you'd never put me in the digital voice camp I'm guessing.  Well it turns out, being apartment bound with a lust for DX just makes you do crazy stuff sometimes.
We're still house shopping and with our best luck, we'll be close to work, but chances are my commute time will increase by at least 100%, so I convinced my wife to allow me to upgrade my old TM-V7A mobile to a new (to me) ID-880H from Icom.

I had an 880H on loan from the Collins club up in IA a few years ago and I found it to be a very agreeable radio.  Our D-Star activity was severely minimal, mostly due to the fact that the N0CXX repeater has a terrible network connection which makes the linking functions basically useless.  Needless to say, I didn't use D-Star much back then.  The 880H is a great FM radio too!
Fast forward to today, and D-Star is far more prevalent worldwide, and the DFW area is no exception.  In fact, the US Trust server that serves as the registration backbone of D-Star started in Dallas with the K5TIT group, so I have lots of choices for digital repeaters here.

I've had very good experiences with these repeaters.  I've kept myself tuned in to the K5PRK (Plano Amateur Radio Klub) repeater for the most part since it is the closest to my apartment, and is rarely linked to any reflectors when I hop on.  I'm trying to maintain proper D-Star etiquette and if the repeater is linked already, I'll leave it alone.  Usually it isn't and I'll hook up REF001C during my short 10 min drive to and from work.  It's really simple once you figure out how to program the radio.  The 880H has something like 60 UR field memories which is where you put the linking commands so you just pick the one you want and key up, then go back to CQCQCQ.  Pretty easy stuff, but honestly, the videos on YouTube make it look a lot more confusing than it really is.  Anyway, I've talked to quite a few guys on the reflectors now and generally the audio quality is pleasant unless there's packet loss, which causes all kinds of weird beeps and boops that are not very pleasant.  It has its moments.
Crummy shot of the 88H control head installed in my 4Runner
So using the repeaters has been fine, but I can't help but feel I'm using up too much of the repeater's resources by linking up every day at the same time, what if someone else wants to use the repeater?  Well then there's hotspots and DVAPs for the rest of us.  I have looked at these options to play with but they're all pretty expensive (well not bad at ~$150).  Then I found out about the ircDDB system which has a few software applications, including one that can actually make a GMSK modem using the soundcard: no AMBE chip needed!

I took a couple nights to play with my FT-817 and a variety of computers from my Raspberry Pi B+ to my wife's Windows 8 tablet to Windows XP running on a virtual machine on my Mac Mini but unfortunately I was unable to get the system to work reliably.  It was incredibly cool to know I was receiving D-Star data from my 817 but for some reason I could not get a clear decode on the receiving end of things.  The worst part was that maybe 5% of the time, I would change something then get a perfect copy on the 880H, filling me with hope that I had figured out the problem, only to have completely garbled nonsense on the next transmission.  There was a lot of this back and forth until I finally gave up and threw in the towel.  I may revisit the project again but I'm probably best of just going for one of the GMSK modem boards instead.  Still it was an interesting investigation no less.

In other news, it looks like our lease is up at our current apartment and after everything we've had to go through with management we decided to just move to another complex while we continue our house hunt.  We're probably justified in moving just because of the management but the real reason we can't stand to stay is the road noise!  We live on the corner of 2 very busy streets and only a couple blocks from the police and fire departments.  Needless to say, even with good windows and doors, it'd be noisy.  Unfortunately we don't have good windows or doors either so the noise is incredible.  People don't usually believe us when we tell them!  We're looking forward to some peace and quiet for sure.

I'll be sure to update with the move and if I make any progress with the D-Star setup!  Thanks for reading as always and don't forget to subscribe and add the blog to your reading list. 73!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Long overdue update!

Hello readers!  I'm writing you now from the great state of Texas!  Yes, we've finally begun to settle down after our move in November.  Things have been good for us and we're very much enjoying the change of venue!

For starters, the move went pretty well.  Most of our stuff is crammed into a 15 foot by 10 foot storage unit, but I managed to keep most of my radio stuff with me and that made it to the apartment unscathed.  I did lose my mast I was using for my hex beam, apparently it was left on a different truck.  How someone forgets a 12 foot long pole I do not know.  That isn't a huge loss though, it was free to me and I didn't plan on using it at our new QTH anyway.  I'll be putting up a real tower instead.

As for our new QTH, we've been apartment bound so far and it looks like we'll continue to be for at least a few more months.  Luckily that has not meant I had to be off the radio.  I've had pretty good luck using my homebrew magnetic loop with my TS-590S from the apartment, even though I'm limited to QRP levels.  I've got a few DX contacts on sideband even in the ARRL contest!  All in all, I can't complain too much.  Noise levels are relatively low and I can get out from time to time so I'm not at all upset about the operating conditions.  It's keeping me on the air and that's what matters.

We have been shopping around for houses and we might even be building.  The housing market here in Texas is very dynamic and with springtime around the corner, things should be picking up again.  It isn't uncommon to see stuff listed and sold within a week so if we find something we're going to want to be ready to go on it.  So far, we have not seen much, which is why we're thinking about building.  As you know, HOAs can be a real big pain and there's no exception in the DFW area.  All the new developments have them and a fair share of the older ones do too.  We have found a few properties outside of the HOAs but we haven't fallen in love yet.  Whatever way we go, I'll be planning to include room for a 40' tower and a K9AY loop of some sort for low band receive.  It'll be quite a step up from what I'm used to so I'm very excited about the prospects.  Still, it all seems like it will probably be a long way out.  If I have a dipole up before next winter, I'll be surprised.

I am missing my contest club, N0MA, up in IA.  I'm still on the email reflector so I'm keeping in touch but I've missed a few of the good contests with the group and I have not found a good group down here yet.  There's a meeting for the DFW Contesters group on Wednesday this week though so hopefully I can make some face-to-face connections and get something planned for a future contest.

I went to the Irving Hamfest last weekend which was all right.  Back in IA it was one hamfest a year for me, and down here it looks like they're a little more common with many of the suburbs holding their own throughout the year.  I didn't find much worth looking at there but I was on the lookout for a D-Star capable mobile rig.  With our inevitable move to a house, we've been looking further away from work and my commute may triple so I figure a more capable mobile radio for the car may be in order.  There was a guy selling an ID-880H but he wanted too much and wouldn't take my lowball offer.  Other than that, it was a lot of boat anchor junk, and not even the "good" boat anchor stuff.  I did see a guy get a brand new Begali Traveler for the tiny sum of $150.  They go for $260 from Italy so I would say the guy got a pretty good deal!

I also ran into a young ham who somehow recognized me from Dayton last year.  Apparently he was working one of the vendor tables inside one of the halls.  How he remembered my face out of the thousands of people who walked by, I'll never know!  Regardless, we had a nice little chat on the benefits of digital voice on the VHF bands and he mentioned that he's been into P25, along with a few guys from the area.  He dissuaded me from D-Star a bit but I'm not really convinced either way.  We're going to keep in touch though and see if we can put something together for Field Day maybe. I guess he works pretty closely with the SMU radio club so we could probably put together a decent group of young guys.  I also know of several Rose-Hulman students working down here on co-op that I might enlist for FD too, but there's lots of time for that yet.

That's a big update, and all I have for now.  Keep tuned for more stuff in the following weeks and months!  Thanks for reading!