May 21, 2018
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20m phone band was wide open to Europe this afternoon at the QTH. Made several contacts on 100W SSB. The waterfall looked quite active with stations coming in from pretty much all over Europe and the Middle East. Interesting that the solar indices (SFI=68 & SSN=0) do not suggest any improved activity. This could be a seasonal shift. I hope it shows up again tomorrow!
May 19, 2018
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The life thing has been pretty disctracting from ham radio the past few weeks. I just returned from a week long business trip to the Philippines and then had a bunch of catch up to do. This week I started making Field Day and Portable operation preps. I took out all my battery packs and charged them with the solar panels. All are ready to go now.
I ordered a cool little gizmo for the FT-817ND. It is a 3D printed power connector that fits nicely on the back of the radio and converts the power inputs to Anderson powerpoles. I got mine from Ebay:
Regarding Field Day, I am still thinking about a 20m beam. I’ll be doing some modeling comparing the Buddistick, the 2 element vertical beam and a 2 element, inverted-V wire beam. I have already built two of these three and have good results on QRP.
I tried some operating today but so far conditions have been…well they have been pretty bad. SFI=68 and SSN=0 makes for some pretty bad propagation. Definitely need to up the antenna game.
November 28, 2017
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Tried 20m FT-8 early this morning as VOACAP indicated this was the best time for EU contacts on this band. My signals were heard toward the Northeast US but very few were heard in the EU. I made no QSO’s. WSPR results over 24 hours are here:
This data appears to confirm that this antenna is directional (I have it pointed at a 45° bearing from my QTH) but the F/B ratio is still relatively poor. The antenna is about the same as the 1/4 wave vertical overall. I must say that my single reports in the forward direction on SSB have been very good. Propagation on 20m is not helping. VOACAP shows the following based on 100W SSB with the receiving antenna based on a dipole at 10m:
20m has been largely dead after dark. This chart indicates that 20m contacts with this combination of antennas and power will be challenging to the EU.
Overall, The ground beam – QEC antenna is an easy to carry and deploy vertical antenna with just enough directionality to help in some situation. It is well suited to my QTH on filed day as it has a wide enough bandwidth to cover the USA and Canada.
November 20, 2017
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The 2017 ARRL Sweepstakes was this weekend. I had some personal issues to deal with on Saturday and did not actually start working the contest until Saturday evening, 5 hours after the start of the contest. At this time of day 20m and up were closed down at the QTH. I started by working on 40m and spent most of my time there. The 40m 1/4 wave vertical worked great.I made contacts easily and the exchange was copied 100% about 95% of the time. I tried 80m on both the vertical and the DXtreme end fed and while both tuned up initially, there were problems when it came time to actually make contacts. The auto-tuner would start trying to re-tune every time I went to transmit. I only made one contact on 80m to North Texas. I worked Saturday until about 11:30 pm.
I ran a few more contacts on 40m early on Sunday morning before I left for church service. I picked up again in the early afternoon and started working on 20m and 15m. 20m was very busy and there was considerable QRM. 15m was open but there were significantly fewer stations. I struggled to make contacts initially but after about an hours they started to come in easily. I suspect that this was due to propagation changes. I quit around 5:30pm after making a few final contacts on 40m.
All in all, I worked the contest for only 6 hours and 33 minutes, made 124 QSO’s across 63 of the 83 available sections. I worked enough “rare” states that I completed my ARRL WAS for the phone endorsement using only LoTW confirmations.
- Very pleased with the 1/4 wave vertical, with the IC-7300 and received several complements on my audio quality.
- The Timewave ANC-4 has become easier and easier to setup and use. It is very valuable when noise conditions changes during the day. I am finding it to be effective at reducing shack noise.
- N1MM logger+ is very very handy for contest especially with the spectrum display on the PC with the IC-7300
What I need to improve:
- I don’t have a capability to work 80m and below effectively. This is a problem that I need to address as there were rich contact opportunities on 80m during the evening hours. I thought I could use the DXtreme for this purpose as I did in 2015 but I suspect there is something with that antenna that has changed. It may be time to bring it down.
- My foot gets tired using the foot switch. I switched back to the hand switch occasionally but I need a better switch for this purpose.
- Need to work on adjusting the receiver when there are many stations close in causing QRM.
I don’t really compete in contests for the prizes or fame. I work contests to test my setup over various bands and look for areas that I can improve. I think I was successful in that this year. That being said I was only 20 sections from a clean sweep mug so who knows? maybe next year?
November 15, 2017
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Band conditions on 40m to Asia have been quite good the past few days. Generally good conditions in Japan especially after 7:00 am until about 8:30 am local time. Here is my PSKreporter spots page after a few minutes of sending CQ DX this morning:
Nice ring of stations hearing my FT-8 signals starting in Hawaii then on to Figi, New Caledonia, Australia, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan. Also notice the density of signals on the waterfall. So many stations working FT-8 that there are increasingly few open areas to park in.
In contrast JT-65 is increasingly quiet. This is actually an advantage in tha the stations that are there can pick up my signal easily with little effect from nearby strong stations. here is my JT-65 map:
I am starting to get used to the pacer of FT-8 and today found the longer time on JT-65 a bit tedious. I guess it is hard to change gears and accommodate a different rhythm of QSO’s.JT-65 is definitely more relaxed now that there are fewer competing signals.
I continue to be very pleased with the performance of the 40m 1/4 wave vertical.
October 30, 2017
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I was on a short business trip to China last week and arrived back home late Friday night after the CQ WW SSB contest had already begun. I started working the contest after lunch on Saturday using the Icom 7300 on 100W and with the N1MM logging program. I took a little time before starting to enable the spectrum display feature on the logging software as well as the spotting capability. This was fairly straightforward and only required that I change the baud rate on the rig. How did this all work? Well all I can say is I wished I had this in earlier contests! Here is a view of my contest screen:
Spots match up with the spectrum display and a simple click on the signal of interest adjusts the rig. There are screens that display the spots that will maximize my score which is really handy. I operated search and pounce on 10m, 15m, 20m and 40m bands. Here is a summary of my score:
Action on the daytime bands was centered on 15m. There was some intermittent activity on 10m during daytime hours. 20m was very active but also seemed difficult for me to make contacts. Not sure if this was related to the antenna or propagation conditions. 40m at night was also quite active with very decent DX. Overall a good cross section of DX with 63 DX entities contacted over 35 CQ zones.
Lots of fun with this and a good test of the vertical antenna system.
October 18, 2017
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For the past three or four months I was having great success early in the morning with 40m JT-65 contacts to Asia on the 1/4 wave vertical antenna. The band would be great at around 6:45 am and be open till around 8:30 am. Japan especially would be easy to make contacts with on JT-65.
I have been noticing a definite shift in early morning 40m to Asia. First, I should note that JT-65 activity has dropped off quite a bit now that FT-8 is getting so rapidly popular. Just in the last few weeks I have noticed a drastic reduction in the number of JT-65 spots showing on pskreporter. The second observation is that the band seems to open to Asia a bit later now from about 7:30 am to about 8:30 am.
So this morning I started out trying JT-65 and made two contacts to Japan but there were very few signals on the waterfall. FT-8 had much more activity overall. I switched to FT-8 and started calling CQ DX and the first response was from Indonesia. The next 8 QSO’s were from Japan.
Overall, I have mixed felling about this. I enjoy the early morning pace of JT-65. I can check my emails while checking the bands. FT-8 takes quite a bit more work and attention. One other effect is that FT-8 is a bit more difficult to close a weak signal QSO. It is easy for the signals to drop below the noise floor and disappear between transmissions.
September 8, 2017
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I just wanted to document some observations I made during the current solar activity. Solar flux index was in the 120 range today with the sunspot number around 79. A CME slammed into the Earth’s atmosphere around 23:00 Zulu generated by an X class solar flare day before yesterday. The K index jumped to 8 indicated a major geomagnetic storm/blackout.
There was quite of bit of activity here. I made an SSB contact with a ZL station who was a strong 59 on 20m. Also made a strong 59 with an HI station. I heard ZS3D very clearly tonight on 40m but he did not copy my signal. 20m was open well after dark. So even with disturbance in the geomagnetic field, communications across several bands was open to DX.
Update 9/8/2017: 40m band was wiped out locally early this morning. No DX to Asia and few stations showing up on JT-65. Noise did not appear to be loud but very broadbanded and deep. Now at 16:45 Zulu the K index is at 8 indicating a severe storm. SFI is at 123 and the SSN is at 94. 80m and 40m is completely dead now. Some light traffic on 20m. 17m and above are dead now.
September 7, 2017
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After months of declining solar activity, our sun suddenly perked up. Today we had a solar flux index of 132 and a sunspot number of 122! These numbers are close to what we were seeing at the cycle maximum in 2014. Surprising activity and a X class solar flare and associated CME. 20m and 15m were noticeably stronger today on SSB. Made some good DX into the EU.
June 28, 2017
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I got a late start to field day this year due to a late breaking family commitment. Our club tried to setup at the local weather station but cancelled operations due to a large noise source crashing the bands at that location.
I started operating about 19:30 UTC. I started at 5W on SSB but over the first hour only made one contact. The band conditions were not good on 20m with lots of QRM and QSB. I added the amplifier and started to work on 45W. My power draw was significantly higher but my Q rate increased. The solar panel kept up with the power consumption even though there was quite a bit of cloudiness. I continued to operate on 20m until dusk when I switched to 40m. Overall I made 60 Phone contacts over the course of about 8 hours. My score this year will be lower even with more Q’s due to the higher power I ran. I did not get a chance to run digital.
- Digital logging – netbook needed one charge cycle during this period. The 12V to 18V DC-DC converter was running at abou 2.2A during the charging cycle. I used a 7Ahr for this through a spare Solar Charge controller. I am going to look at a tablet for next year.
- The EFHW antenna worked great on 20m.
- SOTAbeams travel mast + TV tripod worked great to support antenna with no guy lines.
- Solar generator box had enough juice to supply the day’s activity even at the higher power consumption and had some power to spare.
- Tube Tarp came in real handy as shade. Luckily no rain on Saturday. I’ll do better with the depolyment next time as I figured out how to guy it better.
What did not work so good:
- Can’t run digital mode while using an amp. The amp uses the ACC port on the radio but provides no pass through. I am looking at how I can accomplish this for next time.
- I don’t have the battery budget to run 45W phone for 24 hours. I figure I would have run out of power after about 12 hours. Partly cloudy day didn’t help.
- Didn’t take advantage of more 6 stations to raise Q count.
- Calling CQ consumes a lot of power. Need to refactor the power budget.
So I figure my score this year for 60 SSB QSO’s + bonus points for emergency power will work out to 310 for my 1B station. I am convinced now that I have to finish learning CW so that next year I can run 5W on CW and up my point count. A more directional antenna would be nice but a portable beam antenna remains elusive. For some reason I seemed to be doing better with stations in California than on the more densely populated east coast.
In summary, A great afternoon of outdoor radio fun and already looking forward to next year.