Monday, July 30, 2007

NA-148 LoTW uploaded

I have uploaded all QSOs for the Boston Harbor Island Group (NA-148) to the Logbook of the World system. I immediately got 49 QSLs in return. If you do not see a QSL on LoTW and think you should, please contact me. Thanks.

2007 RSGB IOTA wrap-up

I made it out to Lovells Island this weekend for the RSGB IOTA contest. Lovells is part of the Boston Harbor Island group (NA-148). I operated from Georges Island several times last year, including the 2006 IOTA contest, but had not yet operated from any other islands in the group until this weekend.
The reason for choosing Lovells Island for this contest was simple: they let you camp there. Most of the other islands, including the "main" island Georges, are day-trip-only destinations and the last ferry leaves about 6 PM. In order to put in a full 12-hours, I needed to stay long after the last ferry departed.
Those who know me are probably surprised that I would attempt such a trip. My idea of camping is a hotel room without room service. Still, I do own a small tent and some gear. Recent purchases bolstered my supplies. A quick inventory Friday evening showed I had all I needed except food. I own no camp stoves, have no freeze-dried meals, no portable cooking apparatus, and no wood or fuel to carry. So, I did what any 13 year-old would do under the circumstances: I made myself a big pile of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and declared victory.
Here is the cart with the camping gear and antennas stuffed and ready to go. (Click on the pictures for a better view.)

The weather was threatening Saturday. A strong cold front was to move through and bring with it a series of thunderstorms with the possibility of high winds and hail. Few people met me on the docks for the 9 AM ferry and most of those were rangers destined for work on the islands. We were told that fewer boats would be running that day because of the weather. I begin to doubt the sense of this excursion.

The ride between Boston and Georges Island takes about 30-40 minutes. From Georges, smaller boats shuttle between the other islands like Lovells. The shopping cart, which made it possible to move all this gear from the car to the ferry, was not practical down rough gangways and on-and-off these smaller boats. Luckily, the DCR staff was very helpful hoisting and hauling the large carts, bags, and bundles of the many campers heading for Lovells. It seemed the farther you get off the beaten path, the more friendly and helpful people become.
The weather continued to threaten and I watched the doppler radar on my iPhone. Eventually I had made it all the way to the camp site as thunderstorms crawled across Massachusetts. I sat at the picnic table and thought very hard about scrubbing the mission. I love the IOTA contest. I wanted to do well this year by putting in more time. But, stranding myself on an island with little food, no water (except that which I brought with me), and only the minimum of camping gear during severe weather was probably unwise. I looked at the radar again. It was coming. Even if I left now, I probably wouldn't get back to Boston before it hit. So, I decided to say. I pitched the tent.

It doesn't look like much but it did protect me from the onslaught that was to come. The picnic table provided my operating position. The Pelican case holds my K2. Batteries are charged by the solar panel in the background. The Buddipole as a 20m vertical stands on its tripod in the rear.

The view was magnificent. I set up the 40m/15m vertical on the rocks above the beach with the elevated radials tied off to trees along each side of the path. The Boston gas tanks and Logan airport are in the background.

Conditions were challenging. Some combination of no sunspots and the geography of the island (with a hill between me and Europe) made the first few hours of the contest frustrating. Then, I felt a sudden change of temperature. The cold front had arrived.
Quickly, I packed the radio back into its watertight Pelican case and gathered all the other parts (log, headphones, etc.) and headed for the tent. I made it inside and secured the rain fly just in time.
For the next hour or so it rained hard. The tent shook under the wind. Water came in. Lightning and thunder appeared but luckily no hail. I am feeling pretty stupid at this point.
Then it cleared. The sun came out. I eventually put the station back together and found 20m slightly better than when I left it. I was even able to sustain a couple of runs calling CQ.
I still did not meet even last years QSO count or score. I could hear Europe, but it was like eavesdropping on a conversation being held in another room. I ended the day with 91 QSOs, 9 multipliers, and a score roughly half of last years 6 hour effort from Georges Island. I'll be spending the next few weeks reviewing my performance and making notes for next year. I'm sure there is something to learn from all this.

Friday, July 27, 2007

eQSL and LoTW for V4

In a little less than three months I'll be on St. Kitts. Time is short! I have begun working on the DXpedition web site and spent some time last night and this morning getting the eQSL and Logbook of the World set up. Both LoTW and eQSL are two phase processes. Here's the steps that make sense to me:
  1. Create a LoTW certificate request for the new QTH. I have documented the steps for doing this on my web site.
  2. Upload this to the LoTW web site.
  3. LoTW will need evidence that this is a valid request. The easiest thing to do is to scan (or take a digital photograph) of the license issued by the local authority. (I took a picture of the license from St. Kitts, for example.) You can either send this to the ARRL as an attachment to an eMail lotw-admin at arrl dot org, or put this on a web site someplace where LoTW administrators can fetch it.
  4. This LoTW request will take some time to process. Wait.
  5. In the mean time you can begin setting up your eQSL account. Add a new location to eQSL using their mechanisms.
  6. eQSL Authenticity Guaranteed is most easily obtained by getting it from the LoTW. So, wait until you have finished setting up the LoTW account before proceeding with the eQSL account.
  7. The LoTW folks will eventually send you a .tq6 file. Finish setting up the LoTW account. Create a single QSO record in ADIF. Sign it with the new certificate and upload it to LoTW. It doesn't matter who you claim to have talked with as it will never be confirmed. I claim to have talked to myself (NE1RD), for example. The point is this: the next steps require that there be at least one QSO in the new account.
  8. Now that you have LoTW set up and have at least one QSO in your "out box" there, you can use the LoTW credentials as a basis for Authenticity Guaranteed in eQSL. Return to eQSL and finish the Authenticity Guaranteed procedure using LoTW as the authenticator.

It sounds more confusing than it is. The idea is this: at each step you provide a little more evidence that you "are who you are", and you then use the previous steps to provide evidence for later steps. Think of it as climbing a ladder. Each rung brings you to another level which allows you to reach even higher rungs.
The upshot of all this is I should have both LoTW and eQSL accounts ready to accept my logs by the end of the day. With all of the other planning that needs to be made, this is a nice thing to get out of the way.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Weather and St. Kitts planning

Planning for the Lovells Island trip has taken another interesting turn. While it is a gorgeous day here just West of Boston, it doesn't look like the sunshine will be staying. Violent weather is moving in for the weekend.
Saturday: 50% chance of thunderstorms
Saturday night: 30% chance of thunderstorms
Sunday: 60% of heavy rain
This is starting to look like a bad idea. That said, the rolling shopping cart arrived yesterday, assembled in minutes, and looks like it would easily hold all I needed to haul out there. Though it is not obvious from the picture, there is ample room for more stuff in this beast including water, food, and last minute items.

In the mean time, while I watch the weather forecasts, I've been working on the planning for the St. Kitts trip. A first draft of the logo for the trip was created last night. You can see this on the new web site Again, this is just getting started so please excuse the skeletal form of all this. (Then again, you can watch the thing "fill in" as I go, I guess!)

I've already talked to the owner of the home we'll be renting down in St. Kitts so I know that 120v 60 cycle outlets with the expected USA fixtures are available throughout the villa. For those times when you aren't quite sure, though, here is a handy web site that has some interesting resources:
Steve Kropla's Help for World Travelers web site. The thing that caught my eye was the World Electric Guide: Electric Power Around the World resources page which identifies the power source (volts and frequency) along with the outlet shape for countries around the world. Very handy! This is no substitute for asking your hosts questions, but it provides a good starting place.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A thoughtful gift

Rich (AB1HD), a friend from the local club, had read my story of the KX1 on my website and of the marred knob. He thought it might be nice to get me a replacement potentiometer so the rig would no longer bear a scar from that moment of carelessness. He surprised me with the little envelope at lunch about a week ago. I was delighted!
I spent about an hour tonight removing the old pot and inserting the new one. The old part did not yield easily and one of the pads lifted from the circuit board when I did finally free it. But, the new potentiometer went in easily enough and it was a simple matter of wiring a short jumper to complete the assembly.
The new potentiometer looks great. The radio still works well. I am a happy guy!
This gesture by Rich was a very kind and thoughtful. Thanks, Rich!

Monday, July 23, 2007

I love when a plan comes together

I really do love when a plan comes together. Unfortunately, this is not one of those times. Sandy and I had planned on making our way to Lovells Island (NA-148) this weekend for the RSGB IOTA contest. With two of us pulling and carrying, it would have been no problem for us to get the tent, rig, antennas, water, food, sleeping bags, and all of the rest of the stuff to the ferries and on to the camp site. That was the plan before Sandy caught a very nasty summer cold. She's been down now since late last week and there is no way we could in good conscience drag her out to an ocean island this weekend.
This presents something of a problem for me logistically. Going solo, I now have nearly as much stuff as I did for the two of us, and one fewer person hauling it. Two items came off the list immediately: the Mosley beam and my picnic table shelter that I normally use while on these islands. This has changed my chances of success from clearly impossible to improbable. I still have my big Buddipole system (for 20m and 80m), a 33-foot mast (for 15m and 40m), feed line, batteries, and the Pelican case with the rig, plus my backpack full of accessories on top of the tent, sleeping bag, etc. I plan on spending time this week working though the problem until either (a) I have paired down the gear to a manageable size, or (b) I abandon the attempt.
I have a small wheeled cart though it does not look up to the task. I have ordered a cart though it has not arrived. A friend has offered me use of a similar cart as a backup. I have options.
It will certainly be less fun without her, but there will be other chances to do this together. For now, I need to make a plan to do this alone. I hope to make final decisions on this by Thursday evening.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

CQ WW VHF contest wrap-up

Below are the totals from the CQ WW VHF contest this weekend along with a snapshot of the operating position taken late in the day with the camera in my iPhone. (It was pretty badly backlit so I cranked up the brightness.) The top antenna is a 6m Buddipole beam with an eight foot boom and three elements. The bottom antenna is an Arrow handheld antenna with the optional mount clamped to the Buddipole mast. Both antennas performed very well.

The big help was the location. Mount Wachusett is approximately 2000 feet high with a great view of Boston, Western Massachusetts, the Connecticut valley to the South, and New Hampshire to the North. The top is relatively flat and a favorite for hikers, tourists, and, for some reason, wedding parties. Seriously, lots of people drag their wedding party up their for a group picture with the Boston skyline in the background. (When this happens, I'm no longer the weirdest guy on the top of the mountain, IMHO!)

The Army Corp of Engineers has a relay station on top of the mountain. Apparently, LoJack (the car recovery system) also has facilities there as a fellow from LoJack dropped by to talk to me. Actually, quite a few people came by and chatted just as they had done two years ago when I had last been there.

The most gratifying visit was near the end of the day. I was just about to begin packing (you need to be off the mountain before sunset) when a fellow, a ham, introduced himself. He had never contested so I told him to take a seat and I would walk him through it. This was about the time that a very nice opening to the South appeared and we (first he, then I) worked into North Carolina, Georgia, DC and Virginia. He called and made the contact, then handed the microphone to me and I snagged a QSO, too. We worked about five people that way and by the end I believe he was hooked! Contesting is great fun and it looks like I've brought another young fellow into the fold. It was a very good day indeed.

Band QSOs Mults
6: 51 15
2: 11 5
Total: 62 20 Total Score = 1,460

By the way, check out the nice rock at the base of the tripod. No guying necessary that day. I just bungied the rock to the base of the tripod and it was solid.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

CQ VHF Contest

I traveled to the top of Mount Wachusett just 30 minutes from my home to work the CQ Magazine VHF contest. I had to skip this last year, so I can only compare my effort to the 2005 contest. I made 62 QSOs in about 5 hours for about 1400 points (claimed). We'll see what the total is after adjudication. Anyway, this is about twice what I did in 2005 so I'm very pleased.
The Buddipole 6m beam worked very well. I set it up as described here and it worked like a charm. After assembly I put the AntennaSmith on it just to make sure I had not goofed anything up. I knew within 20 seconds that I had not. I bought this analyzer as a time saving device and boy does it save time! I set it to sweep the 6m band and plot the SWR. In an instant I could see the range of frequencies where the match was 2:1 or better, and could see the roll off from there. The match was fine but I'm sure I could have made whatever adjustments necessary in just minutes. Having a tool like this is a big confidence builder. I'm fearless with this thing! Show me a goofed-up antenna and I'll debug it!
We had attempted some 6m work while on Montserrat but with no luck. I will likely be active on 6m while on St. Kitts before and after the CQ WW SSB contest in October. So, this was good practice for that deployment. Perhaps I'll even be able to find a few moments to go out to Georges Island before the end of the Summer and play on the Magic Band.
My log is updated. I have generated my Cabrillo file for the contest with Cab-converter and have even emailed it into the contest robot. Now that my "chores" are done, it is time to get back to more important things. I'm on page 115 of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows". No. Don't tell me how it ends. {grin}

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Prepping for Lovells

Just a few things to report. My Mosley beam has arrived. Hooray! Unfortunately, I've not had time to even open the box yet. I will try to work with it this weekend. If I can, and if all goes well, it will go with me to Lovells Island for the IOTA contest. But, I really need to be comfortable with the antenna before I attempt to travel with it. The last thing I want to do is trying to work out problems with a new, strange piece of hardware on an island with few tools and no electricity.
Speaking of the island, I'm not much for camping so I needed to make a trip to REI today to pick up a couple of very lightweight sleeping bags, two self-inflating pads, two compact pillows, and a couple of flashlights, and a couple of other cool items. The bad news: this came to nearly $500. The good news (and it better be really good): all this stuff is amazingly small and compact. We had been worrying about how we were going to get all this stuff on-and-off the island. This new stuff has reduced the problem significantly.
Lovells Island is fairly isolated. There is no fresh water on the island. There is no electricity. There are no lights. There are trees. There are remnants of an abandoned fort. There are paved paths, slightly eroded by the elements. Whatever you may need you must bring with you: water, food, fuel, batteries, shelter, and first aid supplies. The island is long and narrow with nearly a half-mile hike from the dock to the camp site. Those coming just to camp probably manage the logistics easily. I'm bringing HF gear, antennas, feedline, batteries, tools, and other equipment. Something with wheels to help haul the mound of loose stuff would be a big help.
I settled on a folding grocery cart to do the job. I should be able to stick the batteries in the bottom along with the large bottles of water we'll need. The 33-foot mast and Buddipole system can go in there, too, along with all the other stuff I bought today. Hopefully, the tent will also fit there. That will leave only the Pelican case with the K2 and the separate shelter for the picnic table to be hand carried. (My backpack should be able to hold the food and miscellaneous smaller items.) That's the plan, anyway.
Unfortunately, my first attempt to order the shopping cart failed (out-of-stock). I've cancelled that order and tried again from another vendor. I did not plan the details of this trip early enough. We'll see if my goof-up costs me.

Finally, I received my copy of the National Contest Journal today. In it was the results of the January NAQP contest where I found I had only made 50 QSOs for some small number of points. Plus, I had entered as 100 watts (not QRP). That's unusual! What was I thinking?! Oh. Now I remember. I used the contest as a way of doing the final shakeout of the equipment going to Montserrat. Contests are a great way to give all of your equipment a good workout prior to your departure. They're also a ton of fun.
See you all on the air this weekend for the CQ VHF contest. I plan on going to the top of Mount Wachusett either Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning (depending on weather and a number of other factors). I'll try to post here when I leave for the mountain.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I have released two new programs today. QSLpro is now finally released as version 1.01. I have had good luck with it producing QSL card labels for my personal operations and for the VP2M group. A permanent home for the distribution of this software needs to be found, but for right now I have posted it to the Yahoo! group for Cab-converter.
Additionally, I have begun packaging up a program called QSOstats. The small skeleton of the program has been uploaded to the Cab-converter file area to support Macintosh users producing Field Day summaries. Here is the summary of our very casual effort for PART.

Band CW Qs Dig Qs Ph Qs
160m 0 0 0
80m 0 0 0
60m 0 0 0
40m 0 9 0
30m 0 0 0
20m 0 6 30
17m 0 0 0
15m 0 0 3
12m 0 0 0
10m 0 0 0
6m 0 0 11
2m 0 0 4
220 0 0 0
440 0 0 0
TOTAL 0 15 48

There is still a great deal to do around here. I'm planning on participating in the CQ VHF contest this weekend. Then, next weekend is the IOTA contest. I'll be staying overnight on Lovells Island so I can work a full 12 hours. That should be interesting! I've already got QSL cards for NA-148 but needed a red rubber stamp to officially put the name of the island on the cards. The Sign Man offers a very nice round stamp for this purpose. It is ordered and on its way. It should arrive right around the time of the contest so I'll be able to send out QSL cards from the operation immediately.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Phantom QSOs

Two nights ago I was able to work through the enormous pile of QSL cards that had accumulated over the last few months. As of Tuesday, I have no outstanding QSL requests. Additionally, cards for my fellow Montserrat DXpeditioners have also been forwarded to their respective final destinations in California, Maryland, Iowa, Indiana, and so on. Whew!
For all those contacts that are in the log, have matching times, dates, bands, and modes, the work is easy. My program QSLpro (which I've still not published...alas) works superbly printing 14 stickers per sheet with QSL information for up to five contacts per call sign. Just print, stick, stamp, and stuff. Easy!

It is the ones that don't match that are the problem. I had made a small pile of these miscreants in hopes, I guess, that they would be easier to handle if I just "looked at them later". Well, later came. When I was down to just those malformed QSL requests I had no choice but to figure out each in turn.
Some were easy. For example, one QSLed to NE1RD for the 2006 ARRL DX contest. Fine, except I was on St. John as KP2/NE1RD so there is no way that could have been me. Perhaps it was NE1R? Not my problem.
Another was much more puzzling. I will not give the call or country of this QSL request, but it cited two QSOs with me as VP2MRD, neither of which was in my log. My computer logging is pretty accurate (not perfect, but pretty good). It is possible I missed one. The chances of me missing two are astronomical. Something else is going on.

I purposely did not research this. If true, I don't want to know. But, I have a conjecture: a fellow watched the packet spotting network, saw my call, saw the frequency, never worked me, but filled out the card anyway to see if I would just send one back without checking my log. I'm sure this works some of the time. Obviously, it isn't going to work with me.
I don't know if this is what happened, but it is possible, I guess. It is also a bit sad, really, if true. I guess that's why I didn't research it. Like I said, I don't want to confirm this is what happened.

Let this be a lesson to all of you who perform QSL management duties: not every card will have a QSO that is in the log. And, perhaps, not every request will be a simple misunderstanding or honest mistake. Be on your guard. Protect your integrity as a QSL manager and, by doing so, protect the integrity of the DXCC and IOTA awards.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Thank you

Thank you. I have received several email messages in addition to the comments posted here on the blog with many kind words. I do appreciate it.

As I said, I've been rethinking things of late. I am still very much committed to the concept of the 100 Pound DXpedition. Truth be told, I am more enthusiastic than ever! Just thinking about the return of sunspots gives me goose-bumps! {grin}
There are only so many hours in the day, though, and I have been concerned that efforts put into the blog, especially at the daily entry pace, detract from other long-term goals that I'd been setting... and not making. It was the realization that I had been tending to things day-to-day without spending much time at all on those long-term goals that brought me to the decision to rethink this blog in the first place.
And, not to stress the point, traffic to the blog has not been high enough to justify this level of effort. If would like to reach more people I need to be more creative than just dumping a few paragraphs in this lonely place each day. I am open to ideas on this. If you believe this concept is interesting, if you believe that traveling with lightweight gear to far-away places and working the world is cool, how can we better sell this to our fellow hams? That's one of the things I'll be thinking about when I'm not blogging here.

I look for this blog to be reduced to an entry or two a week for the Summer and lead-up to St. Kitts planned for late October. I hope that will still be enough to make this an interesting place for all of you to visit. I'll end as I began: thank you. Seriously. I am deeply grateful for the messages I've received and the posts to the comment section of the blog. I only hope I can live up to the high-praise you've given me. Thank you.

73 de NE1RD

Saturday, July 07, 2007


Sandy and I were able to make it out to Lovells Island today. We took the ferry from Boston to Georges Island, then took a boat from Georges to Lovells arriving in the early afternoon. Lovells island is covered in much denser vegetation that I had expected. There are some tall trees near the camp sites, tall enough to hang a dipole should I be ambitious enough.
The IOTA contest is still three weeks away so I have some time to do additional planning. The current thinking is to bring the 33-foot mast to hang a vertical for 40/15m, bring the "big" Buddipole system for 20m, and then use either the 40-foot mast as the basis for an 80m inverted-L antenna, or use the Buddipole with the big coils for 80m. That is still a lot of stuff to get on (and off) the islands. Since I am staying overnight, I'll need a tent, sleeping bag, food, water (there is no fresh water on Lovells Island), and other supplies in addition to the radio equipment. Even with Sandy's help, I'll still need to plan this carefully.

I have been thinking a great deal about the future of this blog of late. Though there are a few of you who appear to be frequent readers, the truth is there are only a few. Web traffic numbers identifying visitors, return visits, search strings, and other measurements have not been sufficient to justify the amount of effort I am investing in this outlet. Don't get me wrong! I love to write. I love to write about what I've learned and even mistakes I've made. But, it is no longer clear to me if this is the best forum for expressing these ideas. Perhaps the topic is too narrow to attract a significant web audience, and a blog format is too unfocused to provide a meaningful organization for a single topic.
I am considering writing magazine articles or even a book. In many ways, it would be far less pressure than keeping a daily blog, especially since many of my blog entries are the length of a short magazine article! (Imagine writing a magazine article each day. I become exhausted just thinking about it!) While the output in those other forms may not have the personal and intimate feel my blog entries (hopefully) have, there may actually be more information conveyed within a more sensible organization.
No final decision has been made. And, even if I decide to refocus most of my energy elsewhere, I will still use this outlet when it makes sense to do so.

For the other bloggers out there, I would like to thank you for your work and inspiration. My list of blogs checked each day keeps getting longer but here is my list: K9JY, K9ZW, KE9V, The DX World of Amateur Radio, KA3DRR, 99 Hobbies, K3OQ, ADXO, K2DBK, KB6NU, K0NR, N9PUZ, SolderSmoke, NE1OB, VK4VCC, W2IJ, W4TMN, WA1LOU, WA5ZNU, and I probably forgot a couple. As my post rate decreases, I hope all who visit my blog will check out these others. There is some good stuff out there.

-- Scott

Friday, July 06, 2007

QSLing and a trip to NA-148 for a look-see

I spent some time this evening QSLing. Quite a pile had built up since just before Dayton. So, if you are waiting on a card from me, fear not: it will likely be in the mail come morning.

I'm hoping to head out to Lovells Island in the morning with Sandy to look over the camp site and locate possible operating positions for the RSGB IOTA contest held at month's end. Last year I spent six hours on Georges Island (also NA-148) and put about 100 QSOs in the log QRP. I'd like to more than double that this year. The new 48-watt solar panel, bigger batteries, and an overnight stay on Lovells should give me the full 12 hours of operation. I'll report back tomorrow on my findings.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Just a couple of kits

LobsterCon 2007 begins this weekend. I will miss it yet again this year, though it has been fun watching the email traffic between those who are attending. If you love QRP, kit building, or great people, this is a fun event from all reports. So, instead of driving up to Maine to buy more kits, I thought it might be interesting to inventory the kits I already own but have not built. Here goes:

  • RockMite 40 - from Small Wonder Labs (Dave Benson, K1SWL). I have the 40m radio kit, the connectors kit, and even the nice anodized Mity Box case from American Morse Equipment/San Luis Machine Company. I completed the 20m version (with case) not long after being licensed.
  • Frequency counter/Digital Dial - This is an offering from Steve "Melt Solder" Weber (KD1JV) purchased in October 2005. Steve always has great stuff on his web site. As with most kits in the QRP community, if you see something you want, order it immediately as kits sell out quickly. While this particular kit is no longer available, it looks like some of it is now rolled into his QRP Base Station Accessory kit.
  • Crystializer - This was the give-away at Atlanticon in 2005. I didn't have time to assemble it, or participate in the interesting contest they had that year, unfortunately.
  • Signal Quality Monitor - This was the give-away at Atlanticon in 2006. Same story.
  • FT-817 VocalMaster - This is an offering from KG4JJH in 2006 accompanying his QST article. I like the idea. I've just not had time to get the kit together. (Actually, I only see the board. Hmmm. I wonder if I got the parts around here someplace...)
  • Tenna Dipper - Another Steve Webber offering. Read about it here.
  • Signal Quality Meter - Honestly, I had to do a little research to figure out what this bag of parts was! Oh boy. Where's the circuit board for it?
  • SoftRock-40 - Software defined radios are a very interesting advance in the hobby. This one (details here) is about as minimal as you can get. But it works! (Or, would work if I were to actually assemble it.)
  • ALT Tuner - from QRP Kits.
  • Marker Generator - Another NorCal kit. This one is a version of the VE3DNL Marker Generator. Why I need one, I cannot say. But, it was on the table at FDIM and I had to have it, apparently. ($7.50)
  • NorCal Keyer - This looks suspiciously like the keyer kit I just bought. Of course, I didn't realize I had this kit when I ordered the other one. Oops.
  • NEQRP SCAF - This is the SCAF filter from the New England QRP Club. I actually have two of these. I intend to build one as a stand-alone unit, and have the other available for integration into a radio I plan to design.
  • FCC-1 - Frequency counter kit from NorCal QRP Club. Looks great even in the bag. {grin}

Deserving of its own special place is my Elecraft K1 kit bought by Sandy last year as a Valentine's Day present. I am waiting until I have a nice block of time so I can really enjoy building this, perhaps after my St. Kitts trip.

So, there you have it. Lots of kits. Lots of fun still in bags. I wish the folks going to LobsterCon all the best, but it looks like I've got plenty of fun stacked up here!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The To Do list

I finished Kon-Tiki late last night. Wonderful!
Today was spent catching up on some unfinished projects. To catch up completely I would need about 40 such days, so progress was modest to say the least! Prioritizing the list was too daunting to consider so I just picked a few and tried to get them off the list.
My niece graduated from High School in May and, being the extremely proud uncle, I video taped the ceremony. I was able to edit that footage down to something of reasonable length, create a nice DVD with menus and previews, and make ten copies for parents, grandparents, siblings, etc. Final Cut Express HD made the work easy and the final rendering was done with iDVD. It was the first movie made with the new Sony HDR-HC7, a purchase I made upon my return from Montserrat. The combination of camera, computer, and software worked well for me and I hope to take some great video while on St. Kitts this Fall. (There may even be a little taken on Lovell's Island at the end of the month. We'll see...)

I've still got Field Day logs to go through so we can post our club's entry. I have promised the Cab-converter community that I would make an update to that software to support Field Day. I'll try to get to that by the end of this coming weekend.
My To Do list is still too long but a couple of important things came off today. Like Aesop's fable of The Tortoise and the Hare, slow and steady wins the race!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

What I'm reading: Kon-Tiki

I am totally engrossed in this book right now so don't expect any substantive posts here until I'm finished. Luckily, it is so good I can't put it down. Looks like it will be a late night. Highly Recommended.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Toolbox Talk: Dipoles

I gave a number of Toolbox Talks over Field Day weekend. One was done with Ron (WQ1Z) on dipole basics. I did a little write-up to go with the talk that discussed the "magic" formulas cited by all the radio books. The point of the talk was: use the formulas, but understand they are guidelines and not absolute recipies. Enjoy.

There are standard formulas for computing the length of a dipole or dipole arm. A typical one is length (in feet) = 234 / frequency (in megahertz). Why 234? Let’s see where they got that number:

Light speed (c) is 3 x 108 meters per second. Let’s convert that into feet per second. Multiplying by 3 x 108 meters per second by 3.28 (feet per meter) to get 9.8 x 108 feet per second. Since we know we are interested in frequencies as megahertz, it would be convenient to get rid of all these zeros and talk about feet per microsecond (and we’ll toss the MHz part of our frequency later to make up for it). So, light travels about 980 feet per microsecond. A wavelength is related to the speed of light and frequency with the following familiar formula:

nu = c / lambda meaning frequency = speed of light / wavelength
also wavelength = speed of light / frequency

Let’s test what we have so far with a 20m signal. We know the frequency (14 MHz). We know the speed of light in feet per microsecond (980). We can compute the wavelength (in feet) by dividing 980 by 14 to get 70 feet. A full wave of a 14 MHz signal is about 70 feet long. That seems about right!

We don’t want to cut a full wavelength of wire, though. We want to cut only 1/4 of that. So, we divide 980 by 4 to get how far light goes in a quarter microsecond, 980/4 = 245 feet. So, 245/frequency gives us the size of a quarter wave of light at that frequency in feet. That is pretty close to the “magic” 234/f. Why the difference?

All of the above was for light traveling in a vacuum. But, our signal is going in a wire, where the shockwave of the electrons travels a little slower than light. We call this reduction in speed the velocity factor of the wire. This value can vary widely. Ladder line has a velocity factor of 95% of c. RG-58 has a velocity factor of only 66% of c!

Let’s assume that the speed needs to be reduced to only 95% of c to account for the velocity factor of the wire we are using. That would change our formula to be (245*0.95)/frequency which is 233/frequency = length of wire for a quarter wave. That is suspiciously close to our 234/frequency cited by all the books you’ve read!

Of course, we had a horse-sized assumption in here: the velocity factor of the wire. This is why this formula 234/f is just a guideline. If the velocity factor is lower, you’ll need to make the wire shorter (as the signal doesn’t travel so far). The formula 234/f actually provides a worst-case length and a dipole arm will often be shorter than the size you compute. Then again, it is easier to make a wire shorter than longer! The 234/f is no “magic formula” and “234” is no “magic number”. They are guidelines. Use them as such.