Thursday, December 28, 2017

Home Station Build - Polarity and Relays

One of the most contentious concepts when building Satellite stations is the idea of polarity. Normally with terrestrial stuff, this concept is pretty easy to understand. FM is usually vertical (due to the prevalent whip antenna that is everywhere) and sideband/weak signal stuff is usually horizontal (for ground gain). Satellites - and for that matter EME and Scatter - don't quite follow the same rules though. Polarity can get messed up on the signal by all sorts of things in transit, and considering with birds we're dealing with powers <1W often, having that extra 30db of gain you get by matching your polarity exactly makes a big frigging difference. Of the birds that are floating up there, all but FO29 and AO7 currently have linear antennae on them, so to get the best match you want a linear antenna down here on earth, aligned perfectly to what the bird in space is aligned too. This obviously gets tricky in a fixed position station. Enter the X-Pol antenna, which I spoke about here. Now the question comes though, how do you best take advantage of what is basically 2 different antennae, with 2 different feed points, with a single radio?


I decided to use Tohtsu CX-520D relays to best utilize the X-Pol design. They take 2 N-Inputs and put them on 1 N-Input, and switch between sides based on a 12VDC current. Current off - Take the horizontal side.. current on - take the vertical side. I had, of course, do a little soldering to make it work the way I wanted, but I attached a little stub of wire, and then put 12VDC quick connectors on the wire, so I essentially had a 'plug' so I could disconnect the long run of wires back to the shack, and keep the relay in place. 


Coming out of the common side of relay I hooked in a N-Type Barrel connector, and then went straight into the common side of a Comet CF-4160n duplexer. Obviously on the 2M side I'm using the 2M side, and on the 70cm side I'm using the 70cm side. In Satellites since we're receiving a signal at the same time we're transmitting a signal, the concept of 'desense' comes into play often, where a 2M transmission will overwhelm the 70cm receive. I've never had this problem with my Icom 821, but I didn't want to chance it. The duplexers essentially act as a filter to make sure only the signals I want are coming in the coax I want them to come in. 


Finally I mounted everything inside a waterproof plastic box, and sealed up the coax ingress/egress points with silicon. I took a U-Clamp and attached the box to my cross boom, then cut specific LMR400 length to go from the Relay to the different polarity side of the antenna. I sealed up the coax holes with Silicone, let it all dry, then took the whole thing outside and stuck it up on the mast.


The goal was simple with my controller, adjust my polarity from the computer. That way when I was remoted in from another location, I could make changes no matter where I was. A quick search of Amazon led me to THESE little gizmos. For $29 and free shipping I could click a button on my computer, and open and close a 12V circuit. This worked perfectly to control the Tohtsu relays, as well as turn on/off my Preamp, and do things like wire in a PTT toggle switch and control a small 12V LED light above my computer. I stuck it to a piece of plywood, and then used some Marine 12V bus connectors (to split the power from my power supply) to wire everything out so it was clean. 

I fused everything (cause duh) and I also wired in a Solid State relay (12VDC in - 12VDC out) that I tried using to turn the power on and off to my 821, however I found out later that most SSR's have an inherent 10%-15% voltage drop across them under load, which doesn't work to well for sensitive Icom's. There are specific SSR's that don't have that high of a drop I've found since, but for now I've just been leaving my rig on when I need to use it remote (more on that later). Final product was clean and easy, and gave me a great source of 12V control in the shop, all from the computer. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

My AMSAT Etiquette - Rule 3

Rule 3: I don't jump in the pile when I don't need the grid.

This is one of my personal biggest beefs on the Satellites. I think it bugs me so much, because it's something that is done almost exclusively by operators that should know better, but choose to do it anyway. 

If a rare grid (or a rare DX for that matter) is active on a pass, and you already have their grid or entity confirmed, you should exercise that RTL (release to listen) button, kick back, and enjoy the show. If you instead choose to immediately jump into the inevitable pileup, likely using all the watts you have, you're taking up precious time that the DX could be responding to others, giving them a new grid or new entity. Choosing the option to work a DX a 2nd time, makes you a showoff, a jerk, and otherwise makes active rovers who might also be listening less inclined to give you the time of day next time they're somewhere rare. In short, use that Situational Awareness skill that is always getting brought up, and make sure you're not screwing someone else out of a new contact, just to show others on the pass how awesome you are... cause - pro-tip - You're not. 

Exceptions: Obvious exception is that if there IS no pile and the rare DX is calling CQ, by all means give them a call. I will usually listen for at least 2 CQ sequences with no takers, before I make a QSO with someone rare I've already got logged. I will also cut a little bit of slack to people calling someone right at the edge of their footprint. Sometimes you just have seconds to determine who a caller is - that's OK too.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Meteors and EM43

So, in my last article talking about 6 meters, I mentioned EM43 and the desire for it to get activated. Well, since then I've done just that - twice now actually. So let me tell you my tale, first though, a quick precursor on grid chasing in the land of Six.

In my little part of the world, grids on Six are not that uncommon. Unlike Satellites, there are a LOT of people that do Six, and anyone with a dipole and 100W during Sporadic E season can make contacts pretty fast. There are also several contests each year where Six is a big part of the score, and rovers specially build themselves to cover lots of ground and make as many contacts as they can on VHF bands that include 6 meters. None of this stuff happens on Satellites. So as a general rule, if people live somewhere, there are usually at least some sort of active Six operators there. Well, that takes me to EM43. This grid is primarily in the River Delta area of Arkansas and Mississippi. There are not a whole lot of people out there, and it's not a particularly well to do region financially. That said it is beautiful in its own way, and has some of the best southern cooking you'll find.. so I enjoy trips there when the opportunity arises. EM43 also happens to be one of the only 2 grids near me that greater than 25% of the 'FFMA Leaders' need in their chase. Switch gears back to Satellites real quick, and the state of Mississippi is one of the rarest on the birds. It is often on people's "last to work" list for WAS, so I make it a point to go portable down there with an arrow at least a few times a year. With these two things in mind, a mission was cooked up to activate EM43 on Six, and activate the state of Mississippi on the birds. A date was chosen, and we were off.

Part I - The Perseids

I got up at 4AM on August 12th and headed southeast. It was going to be just shy of a 2 hour drive, and I wanted to be onsite an operating by 6AM. I had packed all my gear the night before, so I stumbled to the Mustang, turned on APRS, and hit the road. About an hour down the road I exited the pine forests and hit the true delta country - while there was some fog, the drive was mostly easy going. K9CT was emailing about every 15 minutes watching my progress, especially once I crossed into EM43 waiting for me to setup. I crossed the Mississippi river at the Greenville crossing, found my spot, and got the Moxon up in the air.

As soon as I turned on the radio I could hear the telltale sounds of MSK144, and I figured K9CT was already calling me. As I got WSJT-X booted, sure enough he was there, and I quickly answered him. At this point, Problem 1 reared it's ugly head. The sounds came back after my first call, and I could tell I should be decoding them, yet nothing was happening on my screen... I noticed my fast waterfall display wasn't moving.. the wsjtx program was working, but it wasn't decoding clearly audible signal. I rebooted the program after 2 or 3 sequences where nothing was happening, and it promptly decoded Craig's R-01 report. I started sending my RRR, but after 2 or 3 sequences, noticed the waterfall stopped moving again. I rebooted the program, again, and as it came up I got his 73 message. So, QSO complete. Yay.. first new one handed out. Meanwhile though, WSJT-X was freaking out, and I didn't know why. This problem continued the entire morning and I never did fully solve it.. let me tell you, restarting the program every couple sequences got real old.

Despite the software problems, I was making QSOs, so I kept at it. Problem 2 occurred after working N8OC I got back out to spin the Moxon around to the south, and as I doing so something went 'snap' above my head, and I looked up to see my Moxon wire hanging loose on the back right corner.. not good. I promptly too it down and started looking it over. The wire had snapped right on the corner where the stress support connects. I seriously considered calling it a day, but figured I'd see what I could do. I had thrown in a small butane torch, a roll of solder, and my coax crimpers, to compliment my normal road-trip tool bag and lifetime supply of duct tape I carry everywhere, so I got busy... after 5 minutes of some very crude repair work I got the wire back together, and duct taped it to the mast. It wouldn't survive being taken apart again, but I just needed it work for another couple hours.... and it did. Every QSO I made after 1200z, was made on a busted, field patched antenna held together with globs of solder and 12 foot of duct tape. Moral of this story - ALWAYS bring tools with you to the field.

After Murphy was beaten down twice, things started getting better. The rocks were falling, and the pings were coming. I was fighting some weird noise at 50.283, but a QSY to 50.263 solved most of those issues. Pingjockey worked well as a place to announce my spots, and folks did a good job adjusting as I had to. While running several skeds with people, I activated auto-seq and got out to work some AMSAT, making 38 QSOs on 4 passes on the birds, so it really was a multi-mode rove with lots of happy chasers all around. Along with my 8 QSOs I made on the meteors, I wasn't unhappy for my trial attempt at 6m roving, but it left me wanting more.Oh yea, I of course did some live periscope too.

Part II: Upgrades, and a Retry

I was hooked - but before a re-attempt, I needed an upgrade. The homemade moxon and PVC mast on a speaker stand tripod worked, but it didn't work well. The flimsiness of everything, un-optimized runs of coax, and of course the lack of gain needed to be dealt with. So, first order of business was a proper beam. Thru some wheeling and dealing I managed to score an MFJ-1762 for next to nothing. I acquired some military surplus 'Camo Netting Supports' which are 4' long aluminum interlocking mast sections that easily will support a small beam at anywhere from 16'-24' feet, but are small enough to fit in the mustang. I got some scrap iron together and had a Ham buddy weld me up a 'drive over, tilt down' base that also fit in the Stang's trunk, but still be a nice solid place to put my mast. Finally I measured out a run of LMR400uf that would run to the new antenna on my portable mast and be just right to fit back inside the car so the RF was only going the distance required, and no more, thru some quality coax. I tested everything out at home, and it was working good - so I picked another date to try again. October 14th, 2017 at 4AM I was on the road again.

I didn't have to travel quite as far this time, as activating Mississippi wasn't the goal, just the EM43 grid. So I stopped in EM43FV in the town of Mitchelleville, AR where there is a large grain elevator, with a huge gravel parking lot for the rice trucks to park and wait. Luckily it wasn't rice season, so the parking lot was completely clear, and provided a nice spot to park and operate. It took about 10 minutes to get the base/beam/mast fully assembled and up 20' in the air, which was a little bit longer than the Moxon, but it paid off big. I immediately was hearing much bigger signals that I had with the Moxon, and the contacts were coming much faster.

The cooler morning was working better too, as the rig was staying chill, and the laptop was running fine. I was making contacts with people that were further away, and making contacts with people running smaller stations. For example, I picked up Jim K5ND over in EM12 my 3 Elements and 100W to his Moxon and 100W in about 13 minutes - which is pretty fantastic considering the size of our stations. While running rocks, I also did setup the Sat station and work a few passes, considering there's always new folks on the birds. 

I operated for a few hours, made 17 contacts and decided to call it a day. My improved setup had done everything I'd hoped it would, and I was happy with its performance, based on what I'd invested in it. Obviously a bigger beam and more power would yield more contacts faster, but that's down the road. What matters now, is I think I've become a somewhat successful 6m rover. And that's definitely another tool in my Ham belt.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Home Station Build - New Beams!

Now that I'm wrapped up with school, I'm going to try and get back on the blogging wagon. One of the biggest developments at KG5CCI the past few months, has been the setup and deployment of some new Innovantennas X-Pol Yagis for Satellites. As you've seen from some of my other pictures, I had been using an Arrow mounted to the cross beam on the G-5500. It sorta worked, but there is something like a 30db difference in signal on the VHF/UHF frequencies if you get polarity mismatched - so sorta working didn't cut it. A buddy of mine (KB1PVH) had put up some LFA Loop, Cross polarized Yagis, designed and manufactured by Justin, G0KSC, and had been very happy with them. They were the size I was looking for, manufacturing and shipping was relatively inexpensive (especially considering they came from England) and the performance looked good. I decided to give them a go. A few months after sending the necessary emails and exchanging the required funds, they arrived. 

Packaging was well done, all the pieces survived the trip across the pond well. 

There was a ton of plastic wrap to cut thru. Not a bad thing, but have the razor knife handy :)

The day was hot, so I setup my portable tripod inside my shop and cranked the A/C to maximum. I knew I'd be sweating putting everything together. It got a little crowed, but it was nice to keep everything out of the weather until I was ready to test. The instructions were straight forward, and the assembly was easy. I sorted all the elements out in a line on the ground, matching size for number, and started in. Everything fit in place smoothly, and while my power screwdriver was nice, it all could have been easily assembled with a hand powered one too. The bolts that held the elements themselves in place were chosen well, with an 'under-flush' design that completely hid the nut from view, and then was covered with a plastic shield. The plastic end caps on the elements were also a nice touch, though both them and the shields that went into the nut holes were a little tricky to get in place. I ended up using a small plastic mallet I have for aluminum gunsmithing work to get the plastic in place, without dinging anything up - and it worked beautifully - though I question if that's a standard tool in most Ham's inventory. 

If I had a complaint about the assembly, it would be the match/balun configuration - especially on the 70cm side. I would guess that the balun was made for a non cross-polarized beam, because when attaching the horizontal, the vertical driven element got in the way. When attaching the vertical, the horizontal got the in way. The actual pigtails coming off the balun were also the same size - indicating that they were MEANT to go straight back, and not off to an angle, but off to an angle was the only direction they would go. I asked KB1PVH if he had the same issue, and he did - he said just run the balun however it will go, then use coax to loop it back around to the polarity switch, which I did. The pigtails got a little smooshed, but they seemed to handle it OK. 

I also really didn't like that I had to stack multiple nuts on top of the oversize bolt to clear the boom (it just felt dirty.. I can't explain why) but I suppose it's no different from having a slightly extended pigtail on coax feed. I also found out that Innovantenna makes a longer balun, so you don't have to cut your own coax and have an extra connector in there - In retrospect, I totally should have done that. Making my own jumper to run between the balun and the coax switch wasn't a big deal, but with weak signal stuff, every .02db matters. If there's any modifications I might make the future, it would be rolling my own match with offset pigtails, and cut exactly to the length 

The 2 Meter side went a lot smoother, bigger waves means bigger parts and a big more room to navigate around. I still didn't really care for the balun construction, but at least I didn't feel like was stressing the pigtails. Once both sides were assembled I hooked up my coax and my relays (more on that later) and took them outside for testing and tuning with my assistant..ermm.. uh.. assisting. 

If you've never messed with an LFA loop before, G0KSC build them with a sliding tube inside a large tube, that is then held together with pipe clamps. This makes it easy to loosen the clamp, and then make the loop larger or smaller. This may actually be my favorite 'feature' of Justin's design. It is super easy to fine tune your drive element to the exact operating frequency for the AMSAT band. I pointed the beams straight up and adjusted until the analyzer was closer, then fine tuned them a smidge more once I got them up in the air. 

My first mast was only about 8' up but I've got it on a 14' 6065 Aluminum mast now, and plan to take it take it even higher soon. They work great. 

All in all, I would definitely buy another G0KSC designed antenna. There are a few things I didn't like about them, but they sounds great, went together easy, and weren't overly priced. I had a few issues with actually ordering them (emails got crossed, delivery time was a bit longer than I expected) but the design is solid.  If you're looking for a great set of cross polarized yagi's for 2m/70cm - I wouldn't hesitate to recommend them. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Atomic AMSAT Roadtrip - Part III

After departing ground Zero, we began what was a crazy long day of driving, but we had lots of things to see and do, and a finite amount of time to do it. We headed north back to US380, headed east to Carrizozo and then south on US54 until we got to Alamogordo. It was the 'long way round' but those were the conditions of driving onto the White Sands Missile Range. In Alamogoordo at the suggestion of Gabe, we stopped at the Hi-D-Ho Drive In to get some burgers.

This place, was quite simply awesome. Epic Burgers, every topping known to man, sweet potato fries, drinks and shakes.. This place was the drive in of olden days that you would stop at on Route 66 Traveling the American Southwest. While chowing down on a burger I used the good signal to attempt to work AO-7 from my home station, via remote for some new grids. While zoned out on my table and headphones though, I missed the part where the rest of my crew (we met with some of Gabe's friends there, like 8 people at the table) got up and paid. After my pass was over everyone was ready to hit the road, so we bailed.... it wasn't until 15 miles down the road I realized I didn't pay for my burger. Well that sucks...  So we went back, fessed up to the mistake, and left a massive tip for the waitress. She didn't even realize I had walked out without paying, but said she definitely would have figured it out when she cashed out at the end of the day.

We left the Hi-D-Ho for a second time, and west in search of a clear western Horizon to work SO-50, from the DM62/DM72 Line. NJ7H already had these grids in his rover list, but I didn't... so after making a handful of quick Q's with some west coasters, We got back on the road and headed for El Paso. Now, for those of you who don't know Gabe, he has an obsession with crossing as many international borders as many times as he can. Since we were within, like, 4 hours of Mexico, we had to go there.. the rules of roving demanded it. So, we located a strategic parking lot in the Chamizal Natl. Memorial, and started walking towards the bridge to Juarez.

As our APRS tracks indicate, it wasn't exactly a smooth journey. The goal was to find some place to buy some genuine Mexican booze, and then come back...  we wandered around the Chamizal Park for a while, before eventually we found a convenience store, bought as much tequila and rum as we were legally allowed to bring back into the states, hit up a local grocery, bought a bunch of Mexican candy and a plaster Minion (for the kiddo) and headed back to the border. Walking INTO Mexico was a piece of cake, no one even glanced at us... walking back on the other, was a bit trickier. We had to wait at US customs for some time, and explain to the ICE agent why exactly we went to Mexico for 2 hours, then came back. The explanation of booze hunting seemed to be accepted. He did however ask specifically "What was in the Minion" and I promptly turned white thinking of what it looked like carrying a hollowed out plaster toy back from FRIGGING JUAREZ into the United States. My reply of 'God I hope nothing' seemed to satisfy him, and I had to run said minion thru a handy dandy x-ray scanner nearby I'm sure for just such occasions. No contraband was scanned and after a quick duty payment to the Texas State Alcohol Control board and we were safe and sound in 'Merica again.  The goal was to make it into Juarez, score some booze, and get out before dark. This goal was accomplished. Still hungry though, we headed to local hangout 'Chicos Tacos' for one of the strangest, yet tasty, ethnic Mexican dishes I've ever had.While there, of course we did a Satellite pass from the parking lot, and acted like a bunch of giant lids:

After our satisfying dinner and satisfying periscope, we headed into one of the more remote regions of the Lower 48, The TransPecos Texas Panhandle, our destination - Project Gnome:

Along the way we stopped for a Satellite Pass on the DM71/72 Line, which also happened to be on the TX/NM state line. Of course we live periscoped that too... courtesy of Jacket Guy as the camera man. 
We made it to Carlsbad after several hours driving thru the desert at night, gassed up and headed thru "Nuclear Alley" to the site of Project Gnome, our next stop on the Atomic AMSAT roadtrip. It was well after midnight at this point, and there were only a few decent passes coming up. But we still operated on a western FO29 and made quite a few contacts. We also posed with a picture at the Ground Zero plaque, this time with an arrow.

Even though there was basically nothing around, I would have liked that have spent more time in extreme Southeast New Mexico. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant was just a few miles from where we were - and taking some pictures of the sign near it would have been a welcome stop on the Atomic Roadtrip. The National Enrichment Facility, where the industry enriches uranium for power plant use, and Waste Control Specialists where low level Nuclear Waste is stored are also within 30 minutes drive of Gnome. It's really becoming the region where the US goes to dabble in Nuclear Technology, and is a fascinating place.

After a fun time at Gnome, we headed east again. With no more stops on the road trip planned, we drove until we couldn't drive any more, found a nice oil derrick off the side of the road, and crashed for a few hours in the car. We were woken up by a strange noise a few hours later, rain! A rare thing in this part of the country indeed. We got back on the road, and winded our way thru west Texas, up to Wichita Falls for lunch, and back to OKC mid-afternoon. We posed for one final picture with our collected booty for the camera, and went our separate ways. The Atomic AMSAT Road Trip, was in the books.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Adventures in Six

I dabble in 6 meters, but it's never been a passion like Satellites have for me. Like in the AMSAT world, one of the ultimate goals of a 6 meter op, is getting the 488 grids in the continental US confirmed. In the 6 meter world, this is known as the Fred Fish Memorial Award (FFMA) and there is an entire sub-culture of Ham radio operators dedicated to just this thing. There are rovers that travel to some of those rare grids for 6 meter operations, just like there are on Sats. Therefore, I pay close attention to what's happening in the 6 meter world, cause you never know when you'll have a cross-mode rover somewhere.

Before this summer, all the 6 meter contacts I've ever made myself have just been for a laugh. I'll make them on the whip in my Jeep while driving thru the country, or I'll take a dipole to a SOTA peak during a big opening, things like that. This spring though I decided to up my game just a smidge, and built a Moxon. I had plenty of wire, and after seeing some 'stressed' leg designs, I figure I could do something out of some spare parts I had lying around the shop. I fired up a Moxon Calculator and went to work. A few hours later the project was finished, and I just needed to wait for the epoxy to dry. The next day I set it up on my push up fiberglass mast, and was pleased to see the calculator was almost spot on, giving me < 1.3:1 from 50mhz to about 51mhz. And then, as promptly as it went up, it came back down again.. waiting for the right time for it to be deployed..

A little while later, just at the start of the Sporadic E season, the mailing list dedicated to the FFMA came to life. There are a handful of chasers that only need 3-4 more grids to complete their 488 list. There are another big group that only need 20-30 more grids. One of the gentlemen that was in that 20-30 category reached out to me, to ask about grid EM43, which is about 90 miles southeast. It's a grid I rove to probably once a year for Satellites, and I'm familiar with the area. This particular request was about 6 meters though, specifically the propagation type known as Meteor Scatter, using a digital mode called MSK144. I've messed around a bit with PSK31, and I'm no stranger to using computers to control my radios, but this was a new thing for me. This new mode required me installed a piece of software known as WSJT-X, and it contained several very interesting weak signal modes.

I slowly worked thru getting everything setup, and we set our first schedule on a Saturday afternoon from the house. It took a while (about 45 minutes) to make the QSO, but it was a success! Now I just need to find a time to get to EM43. Soon™ - I promise :)

Of course since I had the WSJT-X software now installed, I began exploring the other modes too. I discovered JT65, and was instantly hooked. I could make QSOs, via my remote station, while at work multi-tasking on project? Fantastic! Several very good openings in June netted a good number of QSOs, and as of the date of this blog, I have actually completed 6m VUCC, with a pretty massive help from the WSJT-X software.

6 Meters has been a good time time this summer. I got a new award, and made a fair number of fun new contacts.  My heart in this hobby still belongs to the Satellites, but once in a while, it's fun to take an Adventure to a different band, and see what fun you can have.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Notes from Belize

I got back from Belize 2 weeks ago, I've just been swamped with work and school since I got back, so this blog will be short.

We spent a full week in Belize, primarily on Ambergris Caye, with a few trips to the mainland. The house we had was in grid EK67, and the majority of the passes were done from there. However EK68 and EK57 are accessible on the Caye as well, though via several miles of golf cart mobile gravel roads. I managed to activate EK57 on SO-50 one afternoon, and went to EK68 for 2 different FO-29 passes. I feel good about getting as many people worked as I possibly could.

I ended up making 98 QSOs, worked 9 countries, as as of last count, had 68 grids confirmed in LOTW as V31CI. I didn't think that was too bad at all for a vacation style satellite operation.

I also brought equipment to work some HF and 6M, but after one particularly bad squall blew through, the Inverted-v I had hung from a palm tree no longer would tune. I wasn't able to figure what happened until I got back to Arkansas, and still am slightly unsure what went down.. I just know after re-soldering all my links on the dipole it's working again now. It was disappointing going that far, and not making a single QSO on HF/6M during decent atmospheric conditions, but it is what it is. Travel is hell on equipment.

On the topic of squalls, the weather in the Caribbean, while many consider it paradise, is hell on radio work. On the beach, the wind only dropped blow 20kts a couple times during the trip, and mostly was between 20 and 30, which occasional gusts one day close to 45kts, or tropical storm strength winds. There were 15 ft waves that day off shore, and the fishing and ferry boats weren't operating. It rained every day, though mostly for just 20-30 minute periods.. and with all the rain, getting away from the coast, the mosquitoes would carry you away. For chilling and relaxing, it was just fine.. for operating radios, conditions sucked. 

The good things about Belize though definitely outweighed the weather difficulties. The food was amazing, the scenery was gorgeous, the people were nice, and the rum was cheap. The XYL and me took one day and went inland and hiked to the Lamanai Archaeological Site, where we got to climb some old Mayan temples. That was probably the highlight of the trip for me. Seeing 4000 some odd year old temples was awesome. I will definitely go back again to see this sort of thing. 

So, Remember your noise cancelling can style headphones, otherwise you won't be able to hear in the wind. Make sure to not leave ANYTHING outside in the elements (even well build wire dipoles). And most importantly, enjoy your time in this beautiful country. There's nothing else quite like Belize. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Logging / Signing / Portable / Stroke / Stroke / Policy

Logging Policy:

My Logging Policy is simple. I need to copy your callsign, and give you a piece of information. I also need you to say my callsign and give me a piece of information. That piece of information can be a signal report, it can also be a grid. It can be your favorite kind of steak, the county you're in, or a barometer report. Don't care. Just need a callsign and something. If I'm portable somewhere rare and we're rapid firing, I'll read back your callsign, and I expect some acknowledgement that you heard me. "Thanks Dave, 73" is good enough.If any of these above things happen, you're in my log. It's that simple. 

As far as where I put my logs - I keep everything of interest in a highly complex encrypted system of old notebooks, audio files, SDR recordings, excel spreadsheets, and .txt files. That is to say, who the hell knows where something will end up.. it depends on what kind of operation I was conducting. I *do* after a week or so of being home, get everything uploaded into LOTW, and I also put things in the QRZ logbook. Even though I've got my issues with QRZ, their XML interface for log and user data is second to none, and I abuse the heck out of that for my automatic tools. 

QSL Policy:

As mentioned, my logs go into LOTW. All of them. I have written on this blog extensively how I script my uploads for all types of contacts, and the system works quite well. I normally try to have all logs into LOTW within a week of making the contact. While the scripting system is phenomenal, I am only human and make a few errors during translation of my data from writing to code. If you think you should have a LOTW QSL from me, but don't see one, by all means let me know. 9 times out of 10 I screwed something up. 

I will direct QSL as well, and don't mind sending out cards. I am however very lazy when it comes to writing, and usually only fill them out when things are slow at work... which isn't often. If you need my grid/county/mountain/attitude for some form of award, let me know and I'll respond with haste. I'll respond even hastier if you send me a SASE with your own card, so I can show my wife cool postcards from interesting places :)

I do NOT do any QSLing via the BURO and I do NOT use eQSL. Sorry. 

Callsigns / *ixes

I do occasionally use club calls, special 1x1 calls, and I have (at the time of this writing) one foreign call. If I'm using one of those on the air, log it EXACTLY how I say it. For example, I use the W3ZM (AMSAT club) call often when roving. I will always using W3ZM/5, W3ZM/8 ect ect depending on what part of the country I'm in. Log these EXACTLY like I say them on the air.

As of yet, I've never used my KG5CCI from a foreign entity with reciprocity, but in the event I do, legally I have to log these as they were said on the air. If you work me as TG9/KG5CCI or KG5CCI/VE3 (for example) Log me as exactly the call I identified myself with. 

Domestically - I will use a few suffixes with standard KG5CCI. These are informational though and are NOT meant to be logged. If I'm in a grid other than EM34, and I'm on Satellites, You'll hear me sign as KG5CCI/P. Pro-Tip: You probably want to work me, cause I'm likely somewhere rare. If I'm on HF and in a county different than Pulaski, You'll hear me sign as KG5CCI/P. I might be somewhere rare here too, but unlikely, unless you're a county chaser. If I'm truly operating mobile in my Jeep, I will sign as KG5CCI/M, this will be universal across all bands and modes.  Once again though if you work KG5CCI/anything log it as KG5CCI in LOTW. 

So, in Summary: 

1. Club Calls = Log exactly as read on the air.
2. Special Event = Log exactly as read on the air. 
3. Foreign Recip License = Log exactly as read on the air. 
4. In the USA as KG5CCI = Log as KG5CCI
4. In the USA as KG5CCI/*.* = Log as KG5CCI

That's it for now. This space reserved for if i change my mind in the future. 

Edit 1: 7/17/2017: As many folks pointed out, KG5CCI/TG9 is NOT proper signing for Guatemala, it is TG9/KG5CCI. This was just a typo on my part, I wasn't trying to pull a fast one... as it turns out, I didn't get to Guatemala on my last adventure, so no harm done. My syntax has been corrected :)

Monday, June 5, 2017

Victor Thirty One Charlie India

I didn't get a long blog completed for this week, however since my papers just arrived this morning, I suppose I'll make it official:


I'll be QRV as V31CI in Belize, operating from Ambergris Caye in EK67 (with side trips to EK57 and EK68) from June 20th thru June 27th.  This is a family vacation style activation so expect no more than a few hours (tops) of operating per day. Since NJ7H was just down there a few months ago, I won't be hitting it as hard as I figured I would, so focus will be on the easier birds that have good footprints to the entire country, and any Non-US hams that are interested. Primarily listen for me on FO29, SO50 and AO-85. I'm also happy to take sked requests if there's a pass in particular you're after.

I'll be taking along the 857, and some wire dipoles as well. I plan to try and do a little HF and some 6 Meter if the bands open up as well. I'll have my laptop and digital modes are an option too. Also, as many may note, June 24th is Field Day. I'll try my best to be on the popular passes handing out a DX station station credit via Satellite, and on HF as well.

That's all for now, I'll try and finish up my tech blog for next week, I've got exciting things I've been cookin' up in the workshop.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Home Station Build - Rotor / Software

If you will remember the blog post from last fall call Missing DX - Cause YOU'RE the DX I wrote about how I was in the process of building a home station. This is a drastic change for how I normally operate, portable holding an arrow - but there are certain advantages that you get from having a fixed station at the QTH, including resiliency to weather, remote operation, ability to run more power (buhahaha) and the ability to work "yourself" when you go out roving with a special event or club callsign. I've got a ton of upgrades going on, and I have no idea how many parts this may end up being, but I need to get what I'm doing documented for my own reference years from now, and for your benefit in case you have the same issues I have.  Anyway, here's where I'm at with a few things:

Rotor / Tracker

I managed to score a used Yaesu G-5500 from a fellow ham after trading him some stuff. I also picked up a LVB tracker at the same time, so instantly that gave me the ability to point my 'arrow on a tripod' actually AT the bird instead of fixing it one direction and waiting for the Satellite to go by. This was a pretty major upgrade for me.

Integration into SatPC32 was easy with the LVB, and now I've got computer control rig command and rotor adjustment all automatic. This is pretty sweet. Not having to have a flash card with all the frequencies, or numerous memories programmed in - the computer doses it all.

Signalink / 8 Pin Din

If you'll recall I had made my own audio cable out of a scrap piece of Cat5e I had laying around. Well I finally upgraded and got the actual RJ45 to 8 Pin Din rollover cable, so I can hook the Signallink into the Accessory port on the 821h. I had to tweak with the sounds levels (again, and always) on the Signalink to get it right, but I got it working without a whole lot of problems. Using the Accessory port is nice because I can still take manual control using the microphone and over ride any computer generated audio if I'm sitting there at the station.


I was using Skype for my VoIP software in my old model... however it just doesn't work so well with full duplex audio (that is talking and listening at the same time) which is kind of important for Satellite work. I also didn't like a lot of the bloatware that goes along with it being a Microsoft product, so I went hunting for an open source product that had better full duplex support. Clayton, W5PFG, suggested I take a look at LinPhone. After trying it for a week, I was hooked. It runs on the open source SIP protocol, and can work via direct connection, or via a registered proxy. Plus it has an Android App and works on multiple PC platforms, I've been very happy with it since I switched everything over, and don't have any plans on changing. 

Kep Updater Script

I like to automate stuff (duh) so of course I built a script that automatically updates the published TLE's for all the Satellites. I've actually been doing this manually for a while, but with perl and tasks schedulers I took it to a new level. What the script does is grab the 'amateur.txt' file from Celestrak, and the 'nasa.all' file from, then parses out the TLEs for the birds I want to track, and puts them into a new file aptly called 'daves-picks-tle.txt' on my Google Drive Cloud Account. I can then point all of my PC's to this location (including my shack PC running SatPC32) for it's master set of TLE's for *just* the birds I care about. Add in a Windows Task Scheduler to run said script every morning at 3AM, and voila, I'm always using keps less than 24 hours old. 

Wanna see the source code? Click Me to Download from Google Drive

Karen's TimeSync

I was also having some issues with Doppler Drift in SatPC32, that I couldn't really explain. In the Manual for SatPC32, Erich mentions needing clock accuracy of 1 second or less, as well as very recent keps to keep your accuracy spot on. Windows is notoriously bad for clock drifting, even with NTP enabled, so I went looking for a 3rd party program, and found Karen's TimeSync for Windows that seems to do the trick. I've got my PC pointed at the NTP source, and I ask for an NTP update once an hour. 

That seems to have solved and clock drift issues, and has helped (There are still issues I'm fighting, more on that in an upcoming entry) keep the Doppler correction on track. The program has a few flakes in it, like I have restart it after running for a weeks straight, but it seems to get the job done. I may write a super lightweight script in perl to do this at some point down the line, but for now it works. 


I've still got lots more to talk about. I've got new antennae on the way, I'm working on polarity switching, and I haven't even mentioned my remote automation relays I've got setup, or my problems with automatic doppler correction, voltage issues, and all sorts of other fun...

 But that's it for this entry, more next time!

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Atomic AMSAT Roadtrip - Part II

Covering everything that we did on Saturday will make this the longest blog entry ever. So I'm just going to focus on the visit to Trinity, since that was the Apex of the entire trip, and I want to do the visit justice, Part III will cover everything after we left the Missile range.

We woke up early at 6AM the next day, at our Valley of Fires Campground Base. After the long drive and crazy operating the day before, we probably should have gotten more sleep, but the gates at Stallion Army Air Field opened at 8AM promptly, we had roughly an hour drive to get there, and you DON'T show up late, or else you end up in a line miles and miles long to get thru security. We also had a long day planned ahead of us, so getting to the site early was in certainly going to be required.

We broke camp, grabbed quick showers, and headed west deep into DM63 and along the northern side of WSMR. After some driving we made it to the Stallion Gate, and found while we were still early, there were a lot of people in front of us. Will definitely get up another 30 minutes earlier if we do it again next time. Once we got in line, we waited for security to start moving people thru. With nothing else better to do, we obviously had to go live on Periscope:
It wasn't too horribly long and the line started moving. We got thru security about 8:20AM MDT and snapped a nice cheery picture at the entrance to the range itself, because once we entered the secure area, no more pictures were allowed until we reached the trinity site itself.

After about 30 minutes of driving out across the range, we finally started seeing the brown National Historic Site markers that designated the Trinity Site. We parked in the well maintained and defined parking lot, and started our walk. There were large chain link fences around the entire area, with plenty of large 'RADIOACTIVE MATERIAL' signs on them.

Right outside the main gate to the fence was the remaining part of JUMBO - the container they almost used to try and contain the explosion if it was a dud, so we of course stopped for a picture.

After hanging out with Jumbo, we headed to Ground Zero. It was clearly marked for us. 

Took some video as we walked:

And of course once we got there:

I did the required Picture next to the Ground Zero Obelisk:

And took a bunch more pictures...

We then jumped on the bus and headed to the nearby McDonald Ranch House, which is where the final assembly of the bomb was conducted just before the test. And of course, took a bunch more pictures there:

After several hours exploring, we headed back to the parking lot. Said goodbye to some friends, and then headed out. We had a lot more driving to do that day, and we needed to get a good move on. 

I was asked by a lot of people what I felt about visiting the site. Normally I do things and go places because it's some sort of awesome crazy adventure. I'm not so sure those words are apt about Trinity. The technology that was developed at Trinity killed hundreds of thousands of people in Japan 3 weeks later. Nuclear testing killed dozens of government technicians, poisoned hundreds of Marshallese Islanders, and isotope development and Nuclear Power led to the disasters in Chernobyl and Fukashima. It has also led to power sources that keep the lights on for 20% of Americans, and saved the lives of countless tumor and cancer victims thru Nuclear Medicine. I've often heard of Atomic Technology being referred to as a Genie, and there's no putting it back in the bottle once it's out. Visiting Trinity was like going to the place where we first rubbed that lamp, and I'm glad I got to see it first hand.