Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Portable 2m Antenna

I had some free time this week (like every other week this summer - thank you unemployment), and finally put my roll-up J pole antenna together. I cut and made the actual antenna last year (plans for 300 ohm TV line J-pole), but lacking any kind of system to keep it organized and a way to get it up (a common problem for hams), I never took it out for portable ops.

There isn't much more to it than what you see. Cardboard with two slits to keep the string orderly. Pack of washers to heave over the tree. Biggest binder clip I could find to keep the coax together.

I originally tried using fishing line and a hdd magnet instead of string, with the though that I'd attach it to gutters or hand rails, but fun fact: hdd magnets are stronger than fishing line... I attached the string by poking a hole just big enough to get it through, and tying a stopper knot much like a barrel knot (my knot reference is in Davis. Living in two places is the pits).

Sun Jars

I know. These have been a little over-done as of late online, but I couldn't resist. Sun jars are little more than the innards of solar lawn lamps hacked into frosted jars to sit on your patio. Lifehacker posted a step by step guide, and for $8 a piece, it was hard to disagree that they'd look pretty sweet on my window sill or patio. The lamps are $5 at Lowes, and I got the jars for $3 at Cost Plus. The jars were the only size Cost Plus had, and according to the sheet the smallest size, marked "1/2L." I'd say smaller is definitely better for the jars; they're totally cute.

The one thing I did change from their guide was in the method of frosting the glass. They have you buy a can of glass frosting (like for Christmas), and spray it on, but I just so happen to have a mother-loving sandblaster, so I unleashed a pneumatic can of awesome instead. Getting an even coat was a little tedious, but it's a very stable frosting, so the effort was worth it. Other options would be to acid etch it, or fill the jar with marbles, broken glass, etc.

I also happen to have access to theater gels, so I've been debating whether to change the colors, but I've been *very* happy with white. My family loves them, and we're almost temped to just put larger rechargeable batteries in them, because we enjoy them inside in the dinning room.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

North American QSO Party - RTTY

Phil W6TQG invited me to come to his shack this weekend to operate the NAQP RTTY contest as a 2 radio, multi-op team. The two of us had a great time working the full 12 hours from 11am to 11pm side by side.

From the kick-off until about dinner, we used the HF yagi and the 10-15-20 triplexer. Phil had me operate 20m, since he knew that'd be where the action was, and he was right. He spent the afternoon moving around watching for openings on 10, 15, and 40m. I was working stations hot and heazy, both CQing (calling for contacts) and hunt and pecking (searching around for others calling), until 20m shut down around 4:30-5pm. For times, I was able to maintain a rate of at least a contact a minute.

Around dinner time, 40 and 80m opened up, so Phil took 40m and I 80m for the rest of the night. Unfortunately, Phil's 80m antenna isn't great, so I was only working CA stations until quite late in the evening, and only managed to collect 7 multipliers total for the band. Luckily, I was able to get quite a few local contacts, so it wasn't a total bust.

In case you don't know, each multipler means we worked a station in a different state or provence. You get additional mults for each band, so working the same station on each band is to your advantage. We worked quite a few different multipliers from Canada, and I worked one Mexico station. I also managed to work a station from Slovenia (East of Italy) on 20m, which was REALLY cool. I tried to work him again with my call sign (W6KWF), instead of Phil's, but he slipped into the noise again (about the fourth time since I started tailing him), and never came back. I also got very close to working a Spain station, but he slipped away as well.

Band - QSO count - Multiplier count
80m - 46 - 7
40m - 114 - 35
20m - 155 - 45
15m - 23 - 10
10m - 3 - 1
Total - 341 - 98

Phil's score from February ~ 25,047
Total score = 341 x 98 = 33,418

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Field Day 2009

I know I'm about a week and a half late on this, but better late than never. Every year, the last weekend of June is the Amateur Radio Field Day. This is a nation wide event where clubs and individuals go out and try to inform the public about field day, as well as make as many contacts with other participating stations, for points. Last year's Field Day happened to be just two weeks after I got my license, so it was a very informational event for me personally. I spent most of last year hanging out with the West Valley Amateur Radio Association, since they're very serious about this event and had 8 radios running all weekend on battery power (point bonus). Being a year deeper into the hobby this year, I was involved with the WVARA station from setup Friday until tear-down Sunday afternoon, and had a really good time doing it as well.

Radio wise, Friday wasn't anything too exciting. As per the rules, starting at 11am local time, we started setting up the camp on Mora hill, which is a great East sloping hill overlooking the whole South Bay. This involved pitching tents for each station, as well as stringing up most of the antennas.

We had two HF Yagis doing most of the heavy lifting for our station. The experiment this year was that one of the club members had built a triplexer that allowed three stations on 10m, 15m, and 20m to all share one antenna without interfering with eachother. This meant that we had 6 stations transmitting and receiving on only two antennas, which made the antenna layout for the camp much easier.

11am Saturday morning rolls around, and it's out of the starting gates for Field Day 2009. Jeff Glass, KG6SGX, and I were signed up for working graveyard on the digital station, so I didn't officially have anything to do until after dinner, but couldn't resist showing up on time anyways. After lunch, one of the SSB (Single Side Band, aka Voice) ops wanted to take a break, so I got to spend an hour and a half on 15m.

Working 15m in the afternoon was really interesting, because I had dnever experienced band openings before. HF propogation will increase and decrease, in somewhat unpredicatable ways throughout the day. When I first started, the only other stations I was hearing were all from the Santa Clara Valley, so the band was closed, and we weren't getting very far. 45 minutes later, the noise on the band seemed to change in tone, and after a few minutes, the band opened right up. Where before I was only hearing a dozen stations scattered through the band, I was now hearing people three stations deep all the way across the band. I started hunting for one that stood a chance of hearing me on low power (5 Watts), but three minutes later, before I had gotten a chance to work anyone, the band closed up again and was as dead as when I started. I kept grinding, and managed to work a few more SCV stations, before the noise floor started changing again. I could tell the band was about to open up again; I was starting to hear farther California stations again, and they were getting stronger, but would you believe that another member of the club showed up just then with his kids and wanted to get them on the air? Rats. Good for those kids; they seemed to have a good time logging contacts an order of magnitude faster than I did.

After that, I chilled around camp until around dinner, when Jeff showed up, and the two of us gave the 20m voice op a break for a few hours. We had a pretty good national spread, and had pretty good success in the pile-ups for the bigger stations. For a while we were keeping a good rate of a contact every 5 minutes. Once the sun when down, we were able to lauch our balloon-lifted loops for 40m and 80m, so Jeff and I switched over to voice on 40m. Unfortunately, it seemed that our loop antenna was almost *too* good. We were hearing tons of stations that just couldn't hear our 5W back. Time after time we could hear stations calling for contacts, but they'd not hear us, and just keep on calling.

Around midnight, Phil, who was in charge of the digital station, briefed me on everything I needed to know while working graveyard, then he went home to get some sleep. Working Digital is an interesting experience. You plug your radio into the sound card on your laptop, and then software on your computer encodes and decodes text into sound that can be transmitted over the air. It's kind of a very slow version of the dialup modem.

Jeff crashed almost right away, so I sat in almost complete silence, just me, a laptop, and a radio. I was doing fairly well making contacts until about 2am. At one point, when I had already worked most of the stations I was hearing, I happened upon a guy a few hundred km north of Tokyo, Japan calling CQ, so I had a nice keyboard to keyboard chat with him until 20m shutdown on me, and that was that. I kept calling and searching until 4:30am, but never got more than a few more contacts for the rest of the night. At that point, I crashed, and Jeff woke up not much later to take over for the rest of the night. All in all, we managed to keep the digital up with only about half an hour of dead time for the whole 24 hours, which is pretty good.

Around breakfast time, other digital ops started showing up, and we all chewed the fat until 11am, when the contest officially closed. I happened to be in the seat as 11am rolled around, and to my luck, a guy answered my call with about 15 seconds left on the clock, so I got to go into overtime finishing the exchange with him.

Tear-down took another few hours, then I dragged myself down the hill to where I parked to drive home and take a well earned nap in a soft bed with no bugs flying around me. Over all, it was a great weekend experience, and I'm looking forward to working a few more multi-op contests this summer with some of the guys from the club.

Update: The final QSO count was: 889 CW, 149 Digital and 415 Phone, for a total of 1453 QSOs and 12,455 points. In addition, we had 1950 bonus points, bringing the total score to 14,405, beating the 9,190 score we set in 2006. Last years score was 11,650 in 8A.