Sunday, March 21, 2010

N1MM Logger Part Deux

This weekend was another teaser for summer as there was lots of sunshine. The bands left a bit to be desired but with the help of Sean, KL1SF and his suggestion using EXTFSK, I was able to get the latest version of N1MM Logger working. I had an older version of N1MM logger that I exclusively used for RTTY contests. Now that I have transitioned over to using Win-test, I have found a few contests not yet supported by their software. With that in mind, I decided to see what I could do with the latest version of N1MM Logger.

As mentioned, I have run N1MM Logger for a long time but when I went to use the latest version, I could not get it to work with my Icom 756PRO. I used the same settings with nothing but a dead carrier when attempting to send RTTY. My close friend Sean, KL1SF mentioned he had to use EXTFSK to get his working. So, I downloaded it and after some tweaking and setting adjustments, I was sending mark & space just like before. Seems the EXTFSK is an add on that when used, it allows software control of FSK and PTT for the MMTTY engine. That was the ticket!

I went a step further and set up rig control with N1MM as well. Now that makes for much better contesting! I am a bit slow getting around to upgrading software and getting with the times but I am normally glad when I finally take the plunge. Another dive into upgrading software and I only wish equipment was as easy. My station is getting old and tired and my equipment is letting me know that. There are times when I wish I was a testing ground for new Icom radios and Ameritron amplifiers (I dare the other manufacturers to make me switch). I dream every time I open my QST or CQ magazine but my equipment is a direct reflection of what I can afford, just as it is for many others. I have a very small station but at the end of the day, I have fun with what I have so I guess, that's all that matters. With N1MM working wonderfully, I made about 70 contacts in the BARTG RTTY contest. Mostly search and pounce but with the way N1MM Logger was working, I'm excited about the next RTTY contest, whenever that may be.

The latest round of nice weather keeps reminding me that my operating will soon drop to a minimum as we venture out to enjoy the Alaskan summer. Either way, I have summer maintenance that needs to be accomplished if I even plan to participate in next winters contest season. I'm approaching 30 thousand contacts in my logbook since moving to Alaska 6 1/2 years ago. I'm happy with that number even though there are contest stations out there that can do that in a season. I'm hoping to be around here long enough to enjoy some great 10 meter propagation and with the upswing of the sunspot activity, hopefully it wont' be long now. The sun is entirely responsible for all my fun, both on the bands and outdoors. When the day comes that I have to choose between operating my ATV outdoors or working a 10 meter pileup for several hours, I'm not sure which way I will turn. My guess is, I won't have any mud on my pants at the end of that day.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Time for Change - DST that is!

A sure sign that spring is not far away is the adjustment of our clocks to Daylight Savings Time (DST) . Last year or so, some Alaskan political figure attempted to sponsor a bill (House Bill #19) that would allow us to quit adjusting our clocks for daylight savings time. So far, it has not seen the Governor's desk but maybe someday it will. There are arguments for and against but I personally would like to see it go away. I think the 21 reasons listed in the link to House Bill #19 are valid. Not that it has a major effect on my life with the exception of changing the numerous clocks, timers, automatic timers throughout our house and garage. But, there is always the saving grace of ham radio! We use UTC time or Greenwhich Mean Time and that never changes, thankfully! Those hams in the USA who use logging programs and contest programs on computers that display local time need to make sure that they double check their offset. My adjustment is 8 or a 9 hour difference depending on if I'm entering or leaving DST. With the daylight savings time move, now midnight GMT is 4 pm local here in Alaska.

This weekend was a low ham participation weekend for me. My youngest reached her 21 year old milestone and the weather was also very nice so I spent most of Saturday outdoors with close friend Sean, KL1SF! Lots of sunshine with a clear sky and this time of year, with the return of the sun, outdoor activity will trump indoor most of the time. I was interested in the Feld Hell March Sprint (Lewis & Clark) but the higher bands are not open normally that early (1600z). I do begin to hear signals but normally not until after 1700z but that still gives me an hour. My low band antennas are substandard and are better for receiving than transmitting. But, I did manage a few Feld Hell contacts before the contest ended on 20 meters. That was the extent of my operating on Saturday. Sunday I participated in the SKCC Weekend Sprint but I only had a few hours to enjoy that as well. I was able to make just under 40 QSO's but the band (20 meters) was very poor with not a hint of a signal on 10 or 15 meters. When propagation is like that, it's easy to spend time away from the shack.

Probably the highlight for me this past week and weekend was working ZK3YA on 40 meters on March 10th and then getting ZK3OU on 30 meters on the 15th. Great operators with great ears as again, I don't have much on either band. I actually tuned my 80 meter wire for 30 meters to take advantage of a bit more elevation which seemed to help. The 30 meter operator got pieces of my callsign, first the "DX" then the "8DX" and then finally came my entire callsign. Thankfully, 30 meters is one of the few bands were the playing field is somewhat even. Granted, there are stations that have some nice metal for this band but many use wire antennas and with a output power not to exceed 200 watts, it becomes more skill than horse power to snag a DX station. Now, it sure helps when there is not much between me and the DX station but open ocean which is my saving grace working anything in the Pacific. I remember being in Ohio at my station there and having a time trying to work through the West Coast wall to anything in the Pacific. I suppose propagational fair play comes around when those out West attempt to work anything in Europe or Africa, short path anyhow. Either way, I was excited to work a new DXCC Entity and log them, ironically on a few bands that are normally challenging for me.

I've managed to change most of my clocks and work a bit of DX with a side order of some contest activity. All in all, a great weekend with some beautiful weather. As summer approaches plans will be made to repair some equipment, tweak and add some antennas, and enjoy the midnight sun from one of the most beautiful places on earth. From the views I got to experience this weekend, I don't think that 63 degrees is really that far from Heaven.

Monday, March 8, 2010


Recently I purchased my first hamwear for my travels outside of my normal stomping grounds. I'm not one who puts my callsign on my license plate or plasters it over the the front of a ball cap. Not that there is anything wrong with that, I just prefer to remain a bit more anonymous. But I decided to take the plunge and venture into a bit more of the self advertising realm. My license plate suggests that I am a ham radio operator but does not give my callsign.

Recently the SKCC Club hooked up with Astrid's Embroidery to do their clubwear. The previous low life moron (different company) took a few orders and left with the money. This however is not the case with Astrid's. A quick check of eham dot net will provide a list of a few companies that do the same quality work with outstanding reviews. For me, I chose Astrid's due to their connection with SKCC.

Upon receiving my shirts and cap, I was extremely impressed with the quality and workpersonship (rather than workmanship) that went into each. And not only is their work great, the clothing appears to be very good quality as well. I liked their work so much, I just placed an order for my wife and an additional purchase for myself. Heck, my daughter liked them so much that I told her if she gets her "ticket", I would gladly purchase some for her. Hum...

I am not affiliated with Astrid's in anyway, just a satisfied customer. I will be putting this wearaphernalia to the test in the near future as I venture abroad. A way of advertising a club, a hobby, and a bit of who I am. Not shown in this photograph is a straight key on the other side of the cap. Now I just need to find a hamfest so I blend in!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Analyzing Leads To Summer Maintenance

Our antenna (Mosley TA-34-XL) has been up for several years, first in Ohio and then here in Alaska. I packed the station up from 8land and put my beam into operation here a year or so after our arrival. Same feedline, same everything.

Lately the station has been having some issues from the tuner going out in my PRO to my AMP not wanting to work on 15 meters. And to top it off, I am seeing my beam is no longer in resonance where I had measured it oh so carefully a few years ago. Just like in the photo here, things are a bit blurry until you start the process of elimination.

Today I noticed an unusually high SWR on 20 meters which made me drag out my Analyzer. When I hooked up my MFJ-259B directly to the feedline leading to my beam, things became a bit clearer, kind of.
It's obvious that my antenna is no longer resonant at the bottom of 20 meters where I had left it. As seen in the photo above, it is now resonant well outside of the 20 meter band. This alone tells me it's time to plan some summer maintenance. What is and where could the problem be? Only a bit more summer time investigation will tell.

I have an external antenna switch that I run all of my antenna's to. I like them as it keeps my coax runs into the house at a minimum. Also, my feedline is getting old and is in need of replacement I'm sure. The antenna could have also moved from it's original measurements due to the extreme weather that hits this area. We get constant 55 mph wind gusts throughout the winter with gusts reaching 70 mph. I also see temperatures to -45F during the deepest and coldest months of winter as well. So many variables that could lead to problems. Routine maintenance here probably needs to be a bit more frequent. Either way, this aging station is in need of some work and although I tend to push radio to the side a bit during the summer months, this summer will need to be an exception. Now that the days are getting longer and the temperatures are beginning to warm, my operating will become much less. Summer may seem long but I find the window of opportunity here rather short. Summer seems so short in relation to winter, but that's life at 63 degrees north.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

March'ing Ahead

Sure hard to believe that March is here and soon our weather will start to change as the days get longer. Propagation will also begin to change and hopefully for the better.

In looking at the contest calendar this month, I don't have any major plans. Of interest to me is the ARCI QRP HF Grid Square Sprint. Looking further down the log you may find me in the Idaho, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, North Dakota and Virgina QSO Parties. Depending on the bands, the BARTG HF RTTY contest looks like a possibility also. Nothing major, just giving out points and this month will be more of a casual operating month. I want to focus a bit more on my QRP activities and now that my second Buddipole order arrived, I can hopefully attempt another /P. In talking with Sean, KL1SF today on the way home from the office, he mentioned riding snow machines up to the top of Boot Hill in Healy. What a great place to operate from and a great view as well. I have not personally been up there but have seen Sean's photos. What a great idea! So, we shall see if the weather cooperates.

This past weekend I tried the new controversial mode, Ros. I was informed about the mode by Mike, N4QLB. A bit different mode I would say, but fun none-the-less. If set up correctly, it will automatically send reception reports, via email, to those copied on your screen, once their email address is sent. It seems to be gaining interest with the European digital crowed but it is also catching up here.
I gave it a spin and worked N4QLB with it.I had set up the email portion of the program so it did send reception reports to a few stations in Europe. An example of this is:

Operator Info:
Callsign: KL8DX
QTH: Alaska (AK) Alaska (AK)
Locator: BP53lu
Station: IC-756PRO 4 element Mosley @ 43 feet
ROS Version: 2.1.5 Beta

Signal Info:
Symbol Rate: 16 bauds
Frame Acquisition: 12/20
Final Acquisition:
Frequency Shift: 23.4 Hz
Symbol Errors detected by Viterbi: 25/50
Metric: -18 dB
Vumeter Level: -3 dB
CPU Usage: 46 %

Congratulations for the QSO

I also received two reception reports from N4QLB. One of em looked like:

********** Please don't reply to this email ********************

N4QLB has received your Radio Message sent at: 19:18 UTC

Operator Info:
Callsign: N4QLB
Name: Michael
QTH: Anniston, Alabama USA
Locator: EM73BR
Station: IC7000 into G5RV
ROS Version: 2.1.5 Beta

Signal Info:
Symbol Rate: 16 bauds
Frame Acquisition: 16/20
Final Acquisition:
Frequency Shift: 70.3 Hz
Symbol Errors detected by Viterbi: 24/50
Metric: -16 dB
Vumeter Level: -12 dB
CPU Usage: 55 %

Congratulations for the QSO

You can actually see the mode in action on YouTube at: ROS

So again, no big plans but I may send off my Icom 756PRO this month for some much needed service. Since I won't be needing it for 3 weeks or so, figured it would be a good time to get it repaired and tuned up. I always have my IC-751A which is not the best working rig and of course my IC-703Plus for QRP. As we get ready to spring ahead and turn our clocks forward an hour (for those that do, wish we didn't) my operating hours will begin to fall back as the days are nicer and the great Alaskan outdoors calls my name, in CW of course.