July 29, 2018 – FT8 breathing life into the hobby especially when the bands are dead – I’ve only been doing digital (psk31 and FT8 – but mostly FT8) modes for like 4 months. I have greatly benefited from having Elmers (such as N1RWY) coach me into digital – which at first didn’t really interest me much. I mean “computer to computer” communications didnt seem all that interesting… – until I tried it. So I find myself really enjoying FT8, either operating from my FT-857d and a signlink, or from my new FT-991 (See Jay’s great post for setting up the 991 to operate FT8) with it’s build in digital capabilities. I still prefer SSB voice QSOs a bit more, but there are some very cool benefits to operating FT8 in my opinion. Such as:
- When the bands are dead, there is still usually some QSOs to be made on FT8
- When I am looking to make some contacts, I typically spin the dial on the bands while looking at dxsummit and seeing if I can hear any of the spotted stations. If everything is dead (or at least dead for me and I cannot hear anyone), I’ll either call CQ (somewhat rare) or would resign myself to not do any HF due to the dead bands. This would often bum be out because I dont get a ton of time to do radio, so when I do I want to work some stations and make some QSOs. BUT – with FT8, even when then bands are dead, there is almost always some activity to be had on FT8. So, I have been finding myself on FT8 more and more, especially when there are no contacts to be had on voice.
- You can make contacts on FT8 and multi-task other work
- With my job in IT, I am able to work from home one or two days a week depending on my calendar or the projects I am in. Being able to make some FT8 contacts while working from home is a nice break from the workday stress
- FT8 forces you to get to know your radio and the various settings that play into producing a clean signal on the air
- Getting a clean signal on the air on digital is pretty important (so I am coached) and so this has really forced me to become acquainted with many of the setting on the radio which I would mostly ignore otherwise (DT gain, width, ALC, etc)
So there you go… computer to computer radio. Much cooler than I thought it would be
July 28th – Pine /Lakeside Hamfest – Dave/AC7FF, Jay/N1RWY, Christi/KG7NAD and I jumped in Dave’s van and got out of the valley and over to the Hamfest today. It was a pretty small fest, but we had some great fellowship on the road trip out of town. Despite forgetting my shopping list on the kitchen counter, I am pretty happy with the items I picked up. I wanted to continue my foray into antenna builds using the hamstick / buddipole mount, and was happy to be able to get a fistfull of hamsticks for a great price. With that I also picked up a couple more pole mounts. I also got an external SWR/Power meter for the 991, some lightning arrestors and some Anderson connectors. All in all a great day and some nice finds. The next one hamfest is Tucson!
July 22nd – 20m monoband vertical – I made some changes to the 20m vertical I built from Buddipole parts and a CD whip. I wasn’t happy with the previous mount I was using as it was bending a little bit under stress of the wind. I pretty much just moved the antenna parts to a stainless steel mirror mount made by Tram ($9.99 on Amazon) and mounted that to a 3′ steel pole I had in the garage. I then used PVC and duck tape to take up the slack in the PVC sleeve mount I have on the roof. It worked pretty well and what is nice is I can throw this up on the roof for over the weekend and can take it down just as easily. It gives me a vertical option on 20m and allows me to have both Ft-857 radios going on HF at the same time. While I write this I am on 20m FT8 digital on the vertical and am listening in on the 20m OMISS net on the OCF. Little by little gaining some flexibility and functionality.
July 20th – Netlogger – While on the OMISS website trying to figure out how to take advantage of joining the net and picking up some contacts (ultimately for the WAS award), I ran into the note about Netlogger. So I downloaded it and did the install and realize that this is a pretty cool utility! To be able to see the HF nets that are in progress and see who is checking in, in order to try and pick up a specific contact is actually pretty cool and a brilliant idea. I was just poking around the software and it appears to be pretty straight forward and will probably be quite helpful – and adds another layer of fun to the hobby. I love the technology “adds” I keep running into.
July 19th – Sometimes when you slow down, you reap the best rewards – Me and the gang have been talking a lot about CW lately, and several of us are very new and getting our radios set up and trying out different keys. Well, a really nice local Elmer, Jim/KF7E who happens to be highly proficient at CW, offered several of us to try out some of his keys from his collection. I took Jim up on the offer and swung by his shack yesterday to borrow one. While I am typically flying around and in a rush most everywhere I go (sad state of the reality of my life sometimes), but in going over to Jim’s I intentionally wanted to slow down and enjoy some time hanging out. You see Jim is one of the nicest guys you’d ever meet – and he is a wealth of knowledge in the hobby (and pretty much everything electronics and RF related), and he has a vast amount of history in the hobby to share. I knew I would be blessed if I hung out as long as he would let me. Jim has got dozens of dozens of keys of all sorts and each with a story behind it. Some keys are workhorses that have seen years and years of service, and some are collectors items – very old but in pristine condition. Sometimes if we just slow down a bit in life, and be present with those around us, we can really enjoy the time spent. While we hung out and talked Jim tuned up both a J-38 key and a J-37 key to ensure they were operating great, and then allowed me to bang on them with the very little code I know. CQ CQ CQ, and my callsign. Both of which I messed up (and not because I wasn’t used to the keys lol). In the end I took home the J-38 to practice with. Its pretty cool to be practicing code on a key that is about 80 years old and perhaps has had as many operators use it. But after Jim tuned it up its operating as if it was new. A pretty cool afternoon visit.
July 14th – Shack Simple Grounding project – Seeing as how I was having all kinds of funky things going on lately with my tuner and speakers and presumably other stuff, I figured doing some simple grounding would go along way. I took 10awg copper wire, two 5 position grounding blocks, and I fabricated a wall outlet cover and then went through the wall where I installed an exterior weather proof cover. From there I just connected up to the already in place 8′ grounding rod I put in last year. Took about 90 minutes start to finish and about $25. Hoping things are a bit more RF “clean” in the shack. Time will tell of course.
July 13th – Grounding, ah – I have been having some weird issues with my LDG tuner lately. I think I’ve journaled this a a few pages below. The symptom is that the tuner would start to lose its tune. it would tune up the antenna/radio and would be fine at 1.5:1’ish SWR, but that on FT8 after a few transmits the Ft-8757 would start screaming at me about high SWR. I was thinking the tuner was broken. But… At a lunch discussion today where I was describing the issue, Jay/N1RWY suspected that I was exceeding the rated watts on digital through the tuner. Sounded weird to me since I was only sending somewhere between 50-80watts. Welp, the LDG is apparently only rated at 30 watts PSK. Dang… that’s not a lot of watts available for digital mode. I guess it is fine for most times HF.. but sometimes its nice to pump up the wattage a bit on HF during rare contact opportunities and certainly on 6m VHF. Oh, well. Its good to know that my tuner isn’t busted.
July 12th – The start of my CW journey. Not sure what type of journey it will be yet…
July 10th – I documented my foray into Ham Radio Go box creation and evolution
July 8th – Improving the OCF antenna compromise – All in all, I am making the best of my HOA restricted home and my antenna situation. I have approval for the Diamond X50a, and have piggybacked on my OCF dipole which is only visible from the rear of my home. The OCF tunes with my LDG antenna tuner, but I this past week I’ve been considering ways to get the dipole a little farther away from the stucco/chicken-wire house construction. It has only about a foot from the house hanging from a steel all-thread screw. Thinking that the all-thread and the stucco/chicken-wire situation is no doubt negatively effecting the antenna, I decided to extend the dipole away from the house by another 30″ by using a fiberglass tree stake. It was a pretty easy project that only took about an hour. I cut the tree stake to size, painted it, and then secured it to the all-thread with hose clamps. Hoping that this makes the compromise a little less compromised.
July 8th – 13 Colonies, 11/13 will have to do – Well the 13 colonies special event was a lot of fun. It was nice having a big chunk of the week off of work to participate in the event. the bands were up and down but I was able to contact 11/13 of the colonies. I tried hard to work the last 2 stations (K2E and K2H) over the last 28 hours, but no dice. Looking forward to the Route 66 event coming up!
July 7th – A good idea gone bad – I have a 3.5mm audio A/B switch box which I use to toggle from my Heil headset to an external speaker. Well the speaker audio is not very loud, and, while out an about with my wife I picked up a set of 2nd hand Logitec powered computer speakers to see if this will help boost the audio volume – and it did. However, after about an hour of on/off transmitting to make contacts for 13 colonies, my station(s) started exhibiting strange behavior. First, during FT-8 transmits the speakers would humm. I figured ok, I need so put some ferrite beads on the speakers power cord and that should clear it up. So, I went over to Amazon and ordered some up. But, things got worse and in several areas. Next, my LDG YT-100 tuner started acting really funny. It wouldn’t give me the standard “I’m ready, I detect the FT-857D blink and click” on radio power on. Then, I would tune up and it would say low SWR, but as soon as I would transmit the radio would complain of very high SWR. My antenna hadn’t changed – though I went and checked it. I fiddled with the tuner and radio settings for quite awhile, unplugged and re-plugged CAT and data cables – head buried in both owner’s manuals. To no avail. Next, my ft-450d and signalink started acting up. The radio would tune (internal tuner), but once I started to tune in FT-8 or transmit in FT-8 the radio would complain of high SWR and would adjust the power down to 10watts or less. Now I am going crazy because both of my stations are “broken” with high SWR issues. I did full power down of everything. Radios, power supplies. PC. Signalink. All powered down and back up. Nothing helped. Same issue. Components acting broken and high SWR. Then I asked myself, “what has changed?” At least thats the first thing we ask when we have an IT incident at work. Incidents are almost always change related. Well the only thing that had changed were the addition of these $2.99 2nd hand Logitec speakers. Could they be “collecting” spurious RF and radiating it along the back side of my equipment?. Worth a shot. So, I unplugged the speakers and ripped them out of the shack. Okay, now its back to before the change when everything was happy. Powered everything down again, and started fresh. Okay, LDG is now working normally and is playing nice again with the 857… hmmm. Okay, the fT-450 is now back up and running happily on Ft-8 at normal wattage. hmmm. I think/I hope I found the self-inflicted problem. Time will tell today as I try to work my last 3 Colonies (K2B, K2E and K2H). Dang speakers. Probably a rookie mistake.
Speakers Update (7/14) – Flip – Its a learning process – Well, thanks to Jay/N1RWY reminding me of the wonders of ferrite beads, I was able to pluck my previously “tossed in the trash pile” Logitec powered speakers and put them back in service. A bead on the power cord and one on each speaker wire and these things are happy and silent. No more buzz when transmitting on FT8! sweet! Hopefully no random RFI at the back of the radios… For now – glad to have them back because the nice loud audio is quite nice when I want the radio loud.
Speakers Update (7/16) – Flog – Well the noise came back – weird... they started making noise again after several hours…. I think I better just toss these and buy a new set that are not 2nd hand otherwise I might be chasing my tail
July 4th week – 13 Colonies Independence Week Contest – Been having a blast this week!! 50% of the fun is the actual “hunt” for the 13 colonies. As of today, July 5th, I’ve got 6/13 colonies logged. But surely the other 50% of the fun is doing the contest while texting with the EVQRP group. Comradery. Encouragement. Hazing. Coaching. And listening on a frequency while one of the team nabs the contact is pretty darn cool. Soooo much more fun this way! Here is a screen-shot of my monitor at one point. I scrapped this method and have stuck with just watching dxsummit.fi and switching between the FT-857D and the FT-450D and voice and FT8.