Monthly Archives: November 2015

ARRL SSB Sweetstakes Update

Glad to report that close to 40% of my SSB Sweepstakes contacts were logged on LoTW. Gained three states towards by WAS (ND, NE & SC) leaving me to the last three (NH, DE & VT). All of these states were worked so there is still some hope that I can snag a few more as well. I  uploaded by contest logs without issue. There are still five days before the logs are due so there may be a few more posted soon. Time will tell.

USB Hub causes Havok…

I have two USB hubs that connect various peripherals to my main PC running HRD among other things. One is a generic that is connected but never used while the other is an Amazon branded hub that supports all my USB connections from the radio gear. I noticed that nothing connected to the hub was working…sigh. Everything appeared to come back up once i swapped the connections to the other hub. I pulled the wall wart from the Amazon hub and sure enough it wasn’t putting any voltage out. I have ordered a replacement.

Meanwhile, I tried some PSK31 today and found some strange behavior. I was able to receive signals without issues but I could not transmit. The Signalink would click briefly then DM780 would hang. After goofing around with it a bit I moved to the signal link website FAQ. It suggested that this behavior might be caused by an under powered USB hub. I moved the Signalink to connect directly with the USB port on the computer and I was back up on transmit.

Very strange and very subtle behaviors but hey at least its working again now.

UPDATE (12/3/2015): I received and installed the new USB hub and it worked pretty much as expected. I was locking up the RTL-SDR dongle again when transmitting on 20m and above.I added a ferrite to the rig control cable and the issue went away. Only RFI issue remaining now is the USB speakerphone which still goes whacky on 20m and above. I have some more ferrite on order as I am motivated to get this fixed once and for all!

 

RFI Rears it’s Ugly Head Again

Started noticing RFI issues again after I swapped out the LDG tuner for the new MFJ. Problems were noted mainly on 40m and below this time. I also noticed the tuner would not find a good match on 15m and 17m. I checked all the connections today as well as the cable routing today. I found a subtle problem with one of the patch cables I was using in which the connector was rotating a bit. I replaced it and the RFI went away on all bands but 80m. The tuner now seems to be finding a match on 15m and 17m without any issues. Looks like everything is running well again now.

November SSB Sweepstakes

Participated in the ARRL November SSB Sweepstakes this weekend for the first time. This was overall a great experience and allowed me to try some new tools, make some needed WAS contacts, practice on the low bands  and experience the full effect of radio contests. I realize that contests are not every Ham’s cup of tea and yet there are many who clearly take the whole thing way too seriously (both for and against them). I don’t mind contests as I see them as ways to measure the performance of my radio system  as well as ways to improve operating and listening skills.

I started off about a week ago and downloaded the rules and became familiar with the exchange needed which matches a radiogram header. I decided to run as Low Power, single operator, no spotting assistance and  single transmitter which defined my precedence as “A”. I did everything on the FT-450D at 100W.

I decided to run a contest logger so I downloaded and installed the N1MM Logger+ program. This type of logger is a big help vs my standard HRD logger. Super partial check, dupe alerts, entry error checking against contest rules, running section display & points count and automatic frequency download from the rig are all features that were new and had to be explored somewhat to use. The benefits are solid though. When I was done the log was saved as Cabrillo format as well as ADIF format for upload into my standard logger. Really useful for this application.

I started a few minutes after the contest officially started and used my RTL-SDR panadapter to view the now busy waterfall. Unfortunately, I could not use the DDE feature of the HRDSDR software as the logger takes control of the rig (vs. HRD doing this under normal use). Upshot…I had to manually tune the rig.

I ended up operating for a total of just under 9 hours as measured by the logging program. During this time I made 101 QSO’s across 52 ARRL/RAC sections for a total of 10,400 points. No clean sweep and no high score but a respectable showing for a first time out. Worked 20m and 15m during the day and 40m and 80m at night. Only made 2 QSO’s on 10m.

The nighttime work was notable as it was really my first hard usage of the 80m band. I was pleased that the antenna tuned up well on 80m and I was able to make 6 QSO’s on that band. 40m was comparable to 15m contacts. Everything was done as “Search & Pounce” as I did no CQ’s.

Overall a fun time on the radio this weekend and still managed to do a healthy mount of other activities with the family.

Successful Test Session

We had a successful test session yesterday morning at the Sunrise Mall Food Court. Two candidates gained their Technician Class license and one candidate upgraded to General Class. Congratulations!

Field Day Score

The December 2015 edition of QST published the final Field Day scores. I entered my scores this year as a 1B1B station, i.e., one operator, 5 watts or less running on battery power. If you recall I ran my first ARRL Field Day from my dad’s front porch in Mercedes, TX. I only operated for about 4 hours right after the 1800UTC start. I made a total of 45 SSB contacts on 20m and 15m during that afternoon running my solar powered FT-817ND and the homemade Buddistick.Here is my call on the QST list:

qst

Next year more points will require that I work more stations on Phone or I have to learn CW or operate digital. It is interesting that QRP phone earns less points than QRP CW which would seem to be harder to  make contacts. Oh well, good incentive to finally learn CW!

Finished Field Strength Meter

Finished putting together the field strength meter. Not much else to say expect that it works as expected.

Photo Nov 07, 2 59 25 PM

Antenna Launcher

Went to Wal-mart an bought a “wrist rocket” style sling shot to make a homebrew antenna line launcher. I have an old spinning reel that i have commandeered for this as well. Should be a simple build and hopefully I can get some wire up in the tree in the backyard this weekend. Will detail the build on this and the Field Strength Meter as they progress so stay tuned.

MFJ-939 Autotuner First Impressions

I received the MFJ-939 yesterday without incident. The unit came with the MFJ-5114Y interface cable to use with my Yaesu FT-450D radio. The radio also comes with a banana plus to connect a longwire antenna and a DC power cord. First up, I wired the power cord with Anderson Powerpoles. After disconnecting the LDG tuner and reconnecting the radio PC interface directly to the radio (rather than passing through the LDG tuner) I went ahead and connected the new tuner. This was pretty straightforward. Coax connections from the radio and to the antenna and ground wire were connected pretty easily. The interface cable uses an 8 pin din connector to connect to the rig and the other end is an RJ-45 connector. I went ahead an ran through the reset and self tests on the tuner and no problems were indicated. On the Yaesu, this tuner is supposed to emulate the Yaesu FC-30/FC-40 autotuners when using the interface cable. The rig is configured to use external ATU. All in all the wring and configuration were very easy. Unfortunately, I could not get the tuner to work with the FT-450D in this configuration. So much for plug and play…sigh.

I spent the next couple of hours debugging the problem and searching the internet for any clues. Basically what was happening is that when I press the tune button the rig nothing would happen with the tuner. The tuner light would blink and then the antenna light would start blinking. I disconnected the cable and manually tried to tune by first applying a 5W  CW signal then hitting the tune key on the tuner. This time things started happening and a match was found. So at least now I know the tuner operates properly just not in FC-30 configuration. After playing around with the connections several times I finally just left the interface cable off. I programmed the FT-450D Voice/C.S. key to activate SWR mode which sends out a 10W CW carrier. When I press and hold this key the tuner automatically starts up and finds a match. This is really quick.

I called MFJ Technical support this afternoon and it was refreshing to have a person answer the phone after two rings. I described the problem to him and told him my suspicion was a bad cable. He felt the problem was more likely with the firmware on the tuner and suggested the Voice/C.S. workaround. No resolution to the interface cable problem but he was going to try and get me the cable pinout.

I went ahead and started playing with the tuner and even with the terrible band conditions today confirmed that everything still works. I made contacts to Colorado, Brazil, Guatemala, Canada and Bonaire. I like that the tuner finds a match so quickly and it really facilitates changing bands quickly with my DXtreme Antenna.

I tested the cable pinout a bit and found some things that just don’t look right so I will likely call MFJ again tomorrow and share my findings. I am still thinking that the cable has a problem. Specifically that lines 7 and 8 on the RJ-45 are reversed. I will measure again tomorrow then call up MFJ and see if I can get a confirmation on what the pinout should be.

Overall the tuner is a keeper just a bit more hassle getting it working than I expected.

UPDATE: Just to be clear the tuner itself performs as it should. Last night I carefully checked the cable pinout against the FT-450D and MFJ tuner manuals. From what I can see it looks like pin 7 and pin 8 on the RJ-45 side of the cable are switched. I have sent my observations to MFJ and opened a trouble ticket. I do not have the tools to attempt a rewire of the connector so I will see if MFJ will make good on the cable.

UPDATE (11/18/15): MFJ confirmed that the cable is not wired right, specifically that pin 7 and pin 8 are swapped. They have promised to send an updated cable today.

UPDATE (11/30/15): New cable arrived and I verified the cable was wired correctly. There is communications now between the rig and tuner now but I still have an issue. Pressing tune on the radio starts the tuning cycle, the tuner finds a match BUT it never returns control to the radio. I’ll call MFJ again tomorrow and see if this is what the firmware change fixes.

UPDATE (12/1/15): MFJ is sending a new chip containing updated firmware. They are not sure that this will fix the issue but its worth a try. If this doesn’t work I will need to send the unit in for a swap or just live with the problem. Fingers crossed!

UPDATE (12/8/2015): Received and replaced the MCU chip with the new firmware. The swap was pretty straight forward and it helps that I had an IC puller. After opening the cover you need to remove the front panel and then the circuit board attached to the panel. After swapping out and reassembling the tuner I hooked up the cable and set the rig to external tuner. Same behavior as before, i.e. the tune cycle starts but control is not returned to the rig. So this is my final update on this. I don’t plan on returning the unit to MFJ as the SWR button workaround still works and I don’t want the downtime this close to the holidays.

New Antenna Tuner

I have ordered a new antenna tuner for my base rig. I have been using an LDG YT-450 which is specific for use with the Yaesu FT-450D. Using a tuner for me is a must as I am using an end fed antenna on multiple bands. The YT-450 tunes ok but it has some shortcomings. First, it is SLOW….a full tune can take 30 seconds or more. A tune cycle with this tuner must be triggered using the button on the front and cannot be triggered from the rig or through HRD software. I am going to replace this with the MFJ-939Y (Y for Yaesu cabling). This tuner can be activated from the rig and is apparently very fast. My goal with using this will be more than just convenience, I expect to be able to setup my station for remote use using HRD.

2015-11-02_9-42-14

The unit should arrive on Wednesday so stay tuned for the unboxing and first use report.