Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Minnesota QSO PARTY, 2022

Let's see...I  covered ANO, ISA, KNB, MIL, BEN, SHE, and STR counties. And, I have 11-1/2 pages, 15 contacts each, to plug into N1MM. It was a long though adventurous day! My only sticking point was after the 2nd stop on the Google maps itinerary, the App kept trying to direct me back home. I finally figured out it was a no-win battle, and started popping the next town into Maps one at a time. From then on it went smoothly. But there was some waisted time, exasperations, and prayers of desperation before then! LoL
I used a full length 20 meter hamstick on a tri-mag mount on the roof of my Kia Nero hybrid. Put it on at the first stop, and left it there throughout the day's driving withouta hitch. No problem. Though the mag mount did seem to whistle a bit at 55mph. Ha! I was 20 meters only today. And, 20 meters worked fine until the last couple hours. Then, I started getting weaker signals, and in the last hour, fewer of them. 

Thanks so much to Roger, K0MPH for getting me setup with the route. It worked really well, and his years of traveling it served me well. I really enjoyed the roving overall. I'm already used to doing that with POTA, and today was like doing 7 parks in one day! LoL 

Now to the shack and to logging! :)

Monday, January 17, 2022

I am digital!

Showing WSJT-X, Log4OM, jTAlert, and GridTracker.

My move into digital ham radio has been slow and progressive. Since obtaining my General license in April 2021, I directed my attentions to Parks On The Air (POTA) via phone. I knew others were doing "digital," but somehow that just didn't sound appealing to me. I wanted to talk to people in other parts of the country, perhaps the world. That seemed to me to be what ham radio was all about. And, I did have some really exciting times out in my local Minnesota state parks doing POTA. I got long distance calls from places like California, Alaska, Mexico, and even from Spain once or twice.

Then, when I got back to my suburban town-home and tried to get phone contacts, it was a real struggle. I was using the same antenna I got great results with out in the state parks - a Wolf River "Silver Bullet" vertical with a 213 inch whip. I clearly had a higher noise floor at home, and it was more difficult to pull in distant stations (I'm talking just US stations!). 

Over time I began to consider whether weak signal digital might be a good alternative to my limited send/receive options at home. Toward the end of 2021 I began to wade into the exciting waters of contesting. But, I had that propagation problem at my home shack! My temporary solution was to setup a weekend End-Fed Half-Wave (EFHW) on my small lot, extending some 20 feet of it vertical on a Spiderbeam pole, and sloping the rest of it down and out to the yard. I got pretty good results with that, and it remains my contesting setup, though only something I can get away with for a short time. And, I am not the least bit interested in trying to set it up during a Minnesota winter!
That relegates me to my next best option, which is my "gutter antenna." Some time ago I screwed a wire into my gutter downspout, and ran it to a 9:1 Unun and an MFJ choke. That gets me pretty reliable results from 10 to 80 meters. My Wolf River vertical antenna requires manual tuning via the coil on one band at a time. Whereas, with the gutter antenna I can switch bands at will, and with the aid of my MFJ external tuner, I am able to get pretty reliable and acceptable results (at least as good as the WR, and with less hassle). 

Finally, after I had a couple of contests under my belt, I decided to try WSJT-X and digital. In part, because it provided more contesting venues, and also it had the potential to let me capture more QSO's from my home station. I installed WSJT-X and began another learning curve on a brand new (to me) venue for ham radio. The first integration was between N1MM logger and WSJT-X. After viewing several YouTube videos on setup I was good to go. But it does seem that N1MM is setup more for contesting, so I decided to try Log4OM for my personal digital activities. It wasn't long before I included GridTracker. And, now I have also incorporated jTAlert. The digital home shack is complete (for now, what ham doesn't try new things?!).

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

My first year as a ham

 In the past few days I have made the most progress yet with respect to ham radio logging and signal monitoring tools. I can now run WSJT-X by itself. I can run WSJT-X from N1MM logger. Or, I can run WSJT-X from Log4OM. I have CAT control through N1MM. And, I have CAT control through Log4OM via OmniRig. Additionally, I have GridTracker working, and am able to quickly identify my working contacts, and better visualize areas of the country/continent I'm working in. Substantial progress was made in just the past few days. But, it feels like its been a long time coming.

I obtained my General class operator license on March 19, 2021. I had never been a "ham" prior to this. So, essentially it has taken me a year to get to this point of comfort with digital modes. For many months I heard fellow hams talking about FT8 digital mode. But, I had it in my head that voice communications (i.e. "phone") was the "real" ham radio operating mode. Through the Spring and Summer I got involved in doing POTA (Parks on The Air) from nearby State parks. It was great fun and provided me with many good opportunities to setup a mobile ham radio operating station. 

During the course of the year I gradually built up my home "shack" in the basement family room. I installed an antenna junction box on the outside wall and drilled through a 2 inch hole for my coax to get into the shack. I got each of my antennas hooked up to a lightning protector mounted on a copper plate, and tied the plate into a copper ground wire that runs to a buried 8 foot ground rod. Indoors, I mounted a copper grounding plate on the wall and connected all my equipment via straps, and ran a ground wire from that over to my incoming main water pipe.

My next objective was to get to know my equipment better. The main radio in my shack at present is the Yeasu FT-991a. Since I have a variety of antennas, I also use an MFG antenna tuner. Initially, I was using a logging program called RumLogNg on my Macbook Pro. But, as time progressed, and so too my operating interests, such as contesting and using digital modes, I turned to the Windows 10 OS and programs such as N1MM logger, WSJT-X digital communications, and Log4OM (log-4-old-man). 

Clearly, I have moved from "phone is the only real ham communications" to embracing weak signal digital modes. I have to admit I resisted this direction for sometime. While I enjoyed excellent propagation and contact with other hams doing POTA, once I got home and CQ'd with my more limited HOA antennas it was a far different experience. Eventually, I wanted to try doing contests, like the November Sweepstakes. To get decent propagation I had to temporarily put up my longer 10 to 80 meter EFHW. Unfortunately, that's not the kind of antenna I can keep up year round with the limited space I have at my town-home. Finally, the thought of more contacts through weak signal digital communications seemed like an approach worth trying.

I'm happy to report that WSJT-X and FT8/FT4 have become very good friends. I am making far more contacts through them, and some at much greater distances. My first year in ham radio has been filled with much learning and exploration and many new friends. Ham Harder! 73

Minnesota QSO PARTY, 2022

Let's see...I  covered ANO, ISA, KNB, MIL, BEN, SHE, and STR counties. And, I have 11-1/2 pages, 15 contacts each, to plug into N1MM. It...