Weekend Radio

It was a good day to be outdoors. I did not mind sitting on the ground, although I was very stiff when I stood up.
The last few weekends I spent more time outside with The Girl. My weeks are mostly filled with work, either at the trading desk or at the engineering desk. We do get out everyday for some exercise, but there is always the pressure to return to the home office and get things done.

After working a slew of weekends the last quarter of 2021 and into January of 2022, I am at risk of burnout. So I am gave myself permission to take some time off on the weekends, work on some personal projects, and play. Weekend before last was a little Winter Field Day play. After passing the morning at the house waiting for the air to warm, we spent the afternoons in the hills out east of town. We had some great hikes out there, the old man huffing up the hills with The Girl looking over her shoulder or running back to encourage the old man to huff a little harder.

Then we returned to the rig where I put out an old furniture blanket for The Girl while I setup a radio and either chased SOTA and POTA activators or played search-and-pounce after the Winter Field Day runners.

Last weekend we had a friend accompany us on Saturday. She another ham who loves to hike and especially loves The Girl. The Girl begins wiggling before we even get close to our friend’s place. And then she will greet friend with more intense wiggles and lots of love. We drove out to my new favorite spot, parked the rig, and hiked out two more hills. The overlook from there is spectacular, with view of the Carson Range to the west, Carson Valley to the south, and Carson City to the northwest. We paused at the summit to look around, enjoy the view, and enjoy the sun on us.

We returned to the rig for water and a snack. Then I setup the Elecraft KX3 with a magnetic loop antenna. There were plenty of operators running for the three QSO parties in progress. But I did not want to work that hard, so I looked for POTA and SOTA activators. I saw their spots on my phone and listened for them on their spotted frequency. I logged four contacts Saturday. On completing each exchange, I offered our friend the key. But she declined, not feeling quite ready to take to the air.

We had a bit of an adventure on the way home, though. I violated the “first rule of the day” and went north, forgetting I was on the third peak and not the second. It was only about a hundred yards when I realized I was not on the trail I came up and that this one was steeper and more narrow than I preferred.

After a couple of failed attempts to back up the trail, I managed to get mostly turned around. But the ass-end of the rig was still too far off the trail to get squared away. So I stepped out to survey the situation, saw that I was still making progress, and returned to the cabin of the vehicle.

After a couple more tries, I got close enough that I was able to back down the trail about 20 feet. I made a run at the snowfield and made it about halfway. I backed up and made another run and got about three-quarters of the way. The third attempt I made it 90 percent, but had enough traction to continue crawling until the right front hit soil and drug us out of the snow.

It was then easy going back to the correct trail. I was not looking forward to calling another friend for help and having to eat crow.

The Girl and I returned Sunday about noon for more outside time. I parked the rig and we got out to walk to the site of our previous day’s experience so I could make a couple of photographs. Then we turned south and climbed the same route as Saturday. A group of off-road bikers passed us on the way up to the summit in two parts. I saw the first group peel off the trail to some single-track and then turn back south. The second group stopped near where the first dropped over the edge of the ridge, but did not see where their compatriots had gone. One rider returned to our location and to the summit. He then turned around and coasted a bit, calling “Sorry buddy for driving past so many times. I lost the rest of the group.”

“No worries!” I called back. The Girl and I finished our ascent and paused at the top, as I like to do. I heard dirt bikes approach as we headed back down. We walked up to them paused on the slope, chatting. One called to The Girl “here buddy!” and she immediately responded.

I chatted with them a couple of minutes and then we parted ways, The Girl and I returning to the rig. There I setup my table and the KX3, but this time chose a different antenna I wanted to test. The Girl relaxed on her mat while I played a little radio. Again I was chasing SOTA and POTA activators, not wanting to work so hard working the QSO parties.

About mid-afternoon I put everything away, tired, a little cool, and ready to be home for the rest of the day. We crawled back down off the hill and toward the house, listening to some chatter on the local repeaters as we moved.

In the end, it was another good day. I came away with some contacts, knowledge of the antenna under testing, and a couple of nice images. Below is an example of why I love the west and why I love being in the mountains.

Life is good. I am grateful.

The view of Carson City from the third peak south from Sedge Road is startling. This is why I love living in the west.

Steps

When out and about, I’m always looking for an image that might be interesting.

I posted this to my IG account a few days ago as part of my Project 365. Pursuing a Project 365 is a good way to motivate me to look for, and make, an image every day. The image does not have to be a great image. The objective is simply to look at the environment with a photographer’s eyes, to be aware of what is about me.

This is a good practice and leads me to be aware, to be present in the place and moment where I am. My proclivity is to be too far up in my head, thinking about whatever is on my mind at the time. Sometimes that is a consulting project, sometimes a personal project, sometimes just a reverie. The better practice is to present, enjoy the outdoors, enjoy my Girl.

Winter Field Day 2022

This was my OP for Winter Field Day 2022.

Work is keeping me busy these days. So, I was not able to make the usual excursion to a remote site in central Nevada. I also did not have time to make a plan for when, where, or how I was going to setup a portable station and operate, if even for a few hours.

Therefore, when Saturday morning arrived, I had only a notion that I would drive up to one of my usual operating points in the Pinion Hills/Pine Nut Mountains, setup one of my portable radios, choose an antenna, and see if I could hear any stations. I knew that The Girl and I both needed a walk/hike as well. So I thought that the higher location I often use would be a good place. There is not much traffic, I could setup just over the hilltop where I might have a little shelter from a northerly wind and get some sun exposure, and there is an old juniper stub that I can strap an antenna mast to.

So, I loaded a few things into the rig, got The Girl fed, added some water and a snack to the mix, and we headed out. As we turned up the road to the public lands, I noticed there was not a lot of activity in the area. That meant it would be quiet on the trail.

Just after arriving at the OP, The Girl and I took a hike along the perimeter and then up to the next hill off to the south. This was our view of Carson City and Slide Mountain.
The trip up to the OP was easy, as usual. The road has not changed much since the last time we were up here. I realized I should drive up here more often on the weekends because there are so many more people out at Silver Saddle Ranch, where we usually walk on the weekends. I prefer to encounter as few two- and four-legged others as I can. In part, that is because I am not very social and in part because there are so many with bad behaviors in the latter.

There are rarely others out in the area where I like to operate. It even occurred to me that if I had a hot-tent, I could camp at the next hill up. I am confident the 4Runner would make it up there with no problem. However, I am just as confident that I could not get the camper up there.

After parking the rig, The Girl and I got out for a hike to warm up and let her burn off some energy. I paused at the overlook to make an image of Carson City, with the Carson Range and Slide Mountain in the background. I love the view from this place. We turned south and climbed part of the hill while I chatted with Older Son. I saw tracks from what was probably a pickup truck on the trail. It was clear they were made when the soil was wet and the drive had slid off into the rut. I saw where the vehicle drug but did not high-center. It looks like it can get pretty sloppy on this trail if it is wet.

Fact noted…

Although the details of the station are not clear, this was my setup for Winter Field Day 2022.
On return to the rig, I started setting up the station. I decided to use a home-built doublet for the antenna. It is a non-resonant antenna that I feed with open wire (not coaxial cable). Older Son and I built this antenna a couple of years ago with some THHN wire I had in the garage and some electric fence standoffs I purchased.

I put a 4:1 BALUN at the end of the open feedline so I can reduce the impedance (by a factor of four) and run a short length of coax to the station. Deploying the antenna took me about 15 minutes.

I initially thought to use a new linear amplifier I bought for portable operations, but after fiddling with it for a few minutes, I realized I need more time with the equipment to become familiar with it. So I retrieved the other amplifier (the KXPA100 matched to my Elecraft KX3 transceiver) and used it for the deployment. I connected a Microsoft Surface Go 2 to the radio for logging. This little computer is nearly a perfect logging machine for these kinds of deployments. It is also easy to power from the station battery.

I briefly considered deploying a second antenna. But, I decided I would operate for only a couple of hours so elected to use just the doublet.

I sat down at the radio about a half-hour after starting the setup. I checked everything, entered the appropriate data into the logging software, confirmed the computer and radio were communicating, and then started listening for calling stations.

Over the next couple of hours, I worked stations from California to Pennsylvania and Florida. I did not make a lot of contacts, probably about 15 of them. Most of the activity was on the 20m band, but I also worked a station on 15m and heard another who could not hear me. About 1530h local, the 40m band came alive, suddenly. That gave me the opportunity to work a few more stations.

Then I got cold as the sun faded toward the mountains. I knew it was time to tear down the station and head back to the house. I let The Girl out of the rig so she could sniff around a bit as I put away the equipment. We then did a short walk around the top of the hill before climbing back in the the rig (which was warmed up) and heading down the hill.

I learned a few things from this deployment, as I usually do.

  • It is possible to do a hasty deployment for a field activity without a lot of planning.
  • Such a deployment requires a decent go kit, preferably stored in the vehicle.
  • Never take unproven equipment to the field without a backup.
  • The backup plan has to be proven equipment or there is a risk of complete failure of the mission.
  • A hasty setup can yield a fair number of contacts. I would have had a lot more contacts if I had run a frequency instead of playing search and pounce. I just did not want to work that hard. I wanted a little radio fun for the weekend.
  • Part of the Winter Field Day experience is to get out of the house and operate portable in more difficult weather. It was not cold, but it was cool and I got cold by the end of the day.
  • A longer deployment would require additional personal equipment than I carried in the 4Runner. But I was fine for the afternoon.

In all, I had some fun, made some contacts, and practiced my Morse Code. All of my contacts were Morse Code. I had a microphone with me, but did not use it.

That was my Winter Field Day 2022 experience. It was good. And then, I was treated to a beautiful view of Carson City and the Carson Range on the way back home.

As we left the OP, the sun was setting over the Carson Range. This was our view of Carson City and Slide Mountain.

Sunday Operations

While hiking and operating a radio in the Pinion Hills east from Carson City, I came across a Gadsden Flag posted above Carson City.

After working Winter Field Day 2022 on Saturday (post to come), I decided to get out again Sunday for some outdoor time and maybe to run the radio a little.

Much of Sunday morning was spent working on a variety of chores. Besides, it was cold in the morning (maybe 18°F) and I did not want to get myself out in that, much less The Girl. Therefore, about noon we loaded up a couple of things and headed out east from Carson City.

As I expected, the Silver Saddle Ranch parking areas had many vehicles. I was right in my assessment that the open space areas would be busy. So we continued on east then turned east onto Brunswick Canyon Road and then south to where I like to operate portable in the Pinion Hills/Pine Nut Mountains.

I bypassed the first to locations I use to operate and continued south and up to a new location I scouted several times over the last couple of years. I was sure the 4Runner would have little trouble traversing the trail, now that the mud has dried. And, I was correct.

I parked the rig, got my sling pack out, and got The Girl out, who was quite excited. We hiked the trail south through a saddle, a hill, and another saddle to climb the next hill. I think that the 4Runner will traverse this trail, too. There were quad tracks and the trail was wide enough, mostly. There were a couple of icy patches that might be a challenge and a couple of steep sections that might also be a challenge.

I will walk it again another time. It also occurred to me that a quad might be in my future for such outings. I could even add a trailer to the quad to carry camping gear and supplies, should I elect to do some tent camping at these more remote areas.

It was a good hum up the trail to the top of the hill. I paused to drink a little water. The Girl ate snow. Then I made a few images and we headed back north to the rig.

What a gorgeous day it was! The air was cool, in the mid-40°F range. But there was plenty of sun to keep me warm.

Back at the rig I put out some water for The Girl and then setup my portable station. For this outing I used the Elecraft K1 and a random wire antenna strung from a 10m SOTAbeams Travel Mast. Deployment took only a few minutes. I also connected the PowerFilm 30w foldable solar panel to the battery to continue recharging it after using it for WFD.

I made two contacts, one SOTA activator and one POTA activator. I heard a Japan station calling, but decided I did not want a ragchew. So I just listened on the bands for a bit, soaking up some sun while The Girl also sunned herself on the mat I laid out for her.

As the sun fell towards the Carson Range, the breeze come up a little — enough to make me chilly. So, I decided to pack the station and walk a little more. The Girl jumped up to go hunt critters as we walked.

I found a Gadsden Flag on a short poles with a solar-powered lamp a dozens steps from the OP. I stopped to make a few more images and give The Girl a chance to play. Then we headed back down the hill toward home, a big drink of water, kibbles for The Girl and hot chow for me.

What a beautiful day and what a great day. I am grateful.

A Jumble

I found this mess on daily walkies and decided to make the capture.

One day this week, while The Girl and I were walking out at Silver Saddle Ranch, I noticed this jumble along the fence. I decided it would make a good entry for my Project 365.

Monday Radio Play

I needed a little radio play on Monday, so I took the Elecraft K1 for a spin.

Not having enough radio play on Sunday, I took along my Elecraft K1 radio on our outing Monday. The weather was nicer than Sunday, plenty warm (warm enough for shirtsleeves).

Again, after our walk, I setup a random wire antenna affixed to the 10m mast. The K1 was easy to setup and I found a place to sit on the ground as my table and chair were not in the rig.

The radio matched the antenna readily and I started hunting for SOTA and POTA activators. I worked five stations over an hour and a half, one of them in Florida, all with seven watts of output.

The mental exercise of copying and sending Morse Code is good for me. It provides an excellent change of pace from my normal work, which is highly analytical.

In addition, I get out of the house with The Girl, we have a good time working (I work her when we walk), and I often talk to Older Son or a friend while I walk.

I still have a lot to learn about the K1. It is a capable radio. It is still possible to find one, but that factory stand is nearly unobtanium. I managed to snag a couple of them.

Sunday Radio Play

I took the Elecraft KX1 out to play a little radio. What a great little radio it is.

It has been weeks since I operated one of my radios. Either the weather was not very good, I was too busy with other duties, or I just did not have the energy to take the radio out for a spin.

Almost all of my operations are portable. I have written many times about the noise level at home. Even if I could hear other operators, the constant hash is fatiguing and I cannot deal with it for very long before I have to leave the radio.

Sunday was a pretty day, a little cool, but with plenty of sunshine. So The Girl and I walked our usual route out at Silver Saddle Ranch, then returned to my parking spot at the upper staging area. I decided to get the Elecraft KX1 out of its case and see if I could make any contacts.

I setup a random wire with one end affixed to a 10m telescoping mast and the other to a 9:1 unun. I used a short jumper to the radio. What I learned is that the wire length I am using does not need the unun; the matching network in the radio is sufficient to make the impedance match between the radio and the antenna.

I learned something.

So I set aside the unun and tuned the KX1 to 7.2835MHz for the 40m Noon Net. It is an easy check on whether my radio is working and the net control operators will take check-ins from CW operators. (CW is the official term for Morse Code operations.)

One of my favorite features of the KX1 is that it has an adjustable filter and at the wide setting it is about 2KHz, which is plenty for listening to phone operators. It will also tune the entire 20m, 30m, 40m, and 80m bands, which means I can listen to both code and phone operators on those bands. In addition, it will receive CW, lower sideband, and upper sideband modes (switchable). That is a huge feature for such a small radio.

I was able to check-in to the net with about four watts of output, so the radio was working. I then turned my attention to SOTA (Summits on the Air) and POTA (Parks on the Air) activators to determine if I could hear any of them.

I worked four stations, three POTA activators and one SOTA activator. The setup and teardown of this station takes only about ten minutes each. So, for 20 minutes of work, I played for an hour or so and made a few contacts, all QRP (low power). It was a good day.

Happy 69th Birthday, Old Girl

I took a few minutes Sunday afternoon to set up a radio and play a little. It was a gorgeous day.

I will say a bit more about the image a bit farther down the page. My main thought for the day is that it is Wife’s 69th birthday. Had she lived, I would be teasing her about being a cradle-robber or a cougar now that she is older than me again.

It was a fun exchange we shared over many years, even before we were married.

And we are approaching the holiday season. There are many things I love about the holidays and shared that love with Wife. I never cared for the outward appurtenances, but for the deeper meaning of gratefulness for God’s provision to our forbears and to us. The former is in terms of the Thanksgiving Day celebration and the latter the time we celebrate the birth of the Christ-child.

I still feel deeply about these celebrations and their true significance. But I also remember that Wife loved these holidays and the time spent together, with family, and with friends. I also remember that it was during this season that she suffered so much before she died.

So there is the knife-edge balance of joy and melancholy in this season. It requires some mental discipline to avoid too much of the latter and focus on the joy and thankfulness of the season. I work on this every year and so I will again this year.

What about the image? Well, on Sunday afternoon after The Girl and I finished a very nice walk, I decided to play a little radio. I stopped at the north end of the Prison Hill Complex, a network of trails and parks here in Carson City and pulled into the staging area. I setup a telescoping mast, a wire antenna, and the Elecraft KX2. I was able to check in to the 40m Noontime Net (7.2835MHz) and also heard a SOTA (Summits On The Air) activator calling, so I worked him too.

It was a good day, spending part of it with The Girl and our usual outing, loving the sun and warmth of a fall afternoon, and then returning home for food and rest. The radio part was an bit of lagniappe and an opportunity to practice a little code.

AAR: 2021 NJQRP Skeeter Hunt

My station for the NJQRP Skeeter Hunt.

The NJQRP Club hosts an annual event for low-power (QRP) radio amateurs. The event lasts four hours and the objective is to make as many contacts with other low-power operators as possible.

QRP generally means five watts or less for CW Mode (Morse Code) operators and 10w or less for voice (phone) operators. Operations can be home or portable.

With only a few watts to work with, signals can be very weak and operating in a low noise environment with a good antenna becomes important to making contacts. Because of the noise at my home, I usually operate portable. I have some favorite places to set up my portable station and play radio.

This morning I woke about my normal time, rose, made a cup of coffee, and working through my morning routine. I decided to get out and walk Sera, then go up in the Pinion Hills and set up a station and play a little.

It was smoky this morning, but not as bad as it has been. The day promised to be smoky and hot, with afternoon temperatures near 100F. We got in a good walk and then headed for the operating point just after 0930h local.

On the way, I decided to deploy my kit-built EFHW in an inverted “L” configuration using a 10m telescopic mast. I found a anchor point for the mast (an old juniper tree that was cut off at about 4ft. I ran the wire from the wire winder along the mast, tied it off near the top of the mast, and then lashed the mast (and vertical portion of the wire) to the juniper. I tied a bit of cordage to the end of the wire and used that to tie off on another juniper, forming the leg of the inverted “L.”

This is a good antenna and is reasonably tuned to resonate on 10m, 15m, 20m, and 40m. The 30m band was not in the band plan for the event, so there was no loss not having access to the 30m band.

I deployed my Elecraft KX2 with power from a 4.5Ah Bioenno LFP battery and a PowerFilm foldable solar panel. (I was not sure of the state of charge of the battery.) Given I was going to run only 5w, I knew that power usage would be minimal. My station was set up in the shade of the open hatch of my 4Runner.

Doggo was tired and hot, so she laid in the dust out of the sun. I moved an old furniture blanket to give her some relief from the dust. I also retrieved water and her bowl from the rig and both of us got a drink.

I was about an hour late getting started. I am not a serious contester anyway. I just like to play some radio. I started by searching for a few SOTA (Summits on the Air) activators, but quickly noticed two things: First, some kind of contest was ongoing and there were a lot of stations on the air. Second, I heard a couple of stations calling “CQ BZZ” and that meant I could hear Skeeters!

So I abandoned the SOTA chase and focused on the skeeters! I had not prepared a digital log, so paper would have to do. I worked the runners steadily, looking for the loudest first since they were easier to copy. The operators were patient with me as my code skills are still developing. I noticed that a few operators were running slowly, so I added some space between characters to give them a chance to copy my callsign and information. Good operators accommodate slower operators. It is the right thing to do.

Over the course of the next three hours, I logged a dozen contacts. The farthest was in Florida, which is not bad for five watts. I spent most of my time on the 20m band as that is where I heard them. I checked 40m and 15m, but heard no skeeters calling.

Tired, hot, and hungry, I shut down about 1350h local. There was only another ten minutes and I was ready to be out of the heat. So was The Girl.

I took my time packing the station, gave The Girl some more water and drank some myself. The smoke had worsened as the day wore on.

I put the transfer case in 4L and we eased back down the trail to the pavement. Then I switched back to AWD and we drove over to DQ for a bite and a treat. Of course, I ate dessert first (love me some Blizzard) and shared with The Girl. (I always share with her.) Then I nibbled at some chicken strips and shared those with her as well.

It was a good day, despite the heat and smoke. Some of the contacts were difficult, requiring multiple repeats. The signal would fade into the noise and I could only copy part of the exchange. But we worked the radio waves and made the exchange.

One operator called me over the runner’s frequency just as I finished working the station. I thought “how rude!” (oh my, that sounded like Jar Jar Binks!) and did not answer the call. I am not quite sure how I should have handled that call. Perhaps I should have sent “up one” and changed the frequency. I do not know but will ask one of my more experienced operator friends.

In all, I made 12 contacts in 10 different states/provinces. The KX2 performed. I practiced my code. I had fun, even if some of the exchanges were a challenge. I think that is part of the fun or radio and QRP (low power).

Random Wire Antenna Build

This is a random wire antenna I built for my Elecraft KX1 kit.

After walkies on Friday morning I met Tom for a radio demonstration. He wanted to see my RaDAR (Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio) setup and see my Elecraft KX3 in action.

Tom is interested in portable operations and that is about all I do. Lately I setup my little radio, the Elecraft KX1 (a four-band CW-only transceiver), with a random wire antenna to a 6m mast. I use the counterpoise wires from the Elecraft AX1/AXE portable antenna as the radiator (40m counterpoise) and counterpoise (20m counterpoise) to form the random wire antenna.

So I used this approach with the KX3 setup. When I checked into the 40m Noon Net (7.2835MHz), I noticed the KX3 threw a “High Current” warning and rolled the power back to 5w. That sent me on a hunting expedition later in the day.

I think the 40m counterpoise from the AXE is too close to 10m long, which is one-quarter wavelength at 40m and a half-wavelength at 20m. That’s not going to work because a half wavelength will be resonant and the impedance will be too high at the end of the wire.

I remembered seeing some work on random wire antennas (which really are not so random in length) so I retraced my path through the Internet. Mike, AB3AP (https://udel.edu/~mm/ham/randomWire/), wrote a small C program and a Matlab/Octave script to calculate the wire lengths NOT near a half wavelength.

I tried to get the Octave code working once before, but failed. This morning was too smoky to be outdoors, so I worked on it some more. I was able to get the code working and calculated the wire lengths that will work for my application. I decided on a 17ft counterpoise and a 42ft radiating element. That should work for 10m–40m on the ham bands.

With the target length of wire, I gathered up my materials (wire, open terminals, shrink tube, mast ring, and link) and tools (diagonal cutters, pliers, wire stripper, crimper, soldering gun and solder) and laid my 100ft tape measure on the floor of the garage. The counterpoise (17ft long) was easy and readily completed.

The radiating element required a little more engineering. I wanted to affix a tab that will fit on the top section of my telescoping masts. I also wanted to affix a link and leave a leader so I can add another 42ft of wire if I want an 80m antenna.

I decided to use a larkshead knot with shrink tube to make the antenna-to-mast connection and also a larkshead knot and shrink tube to fasten the tag to the link. If I add another section of wire for 80m, then I can use the link for strain relieve and an Anderson Powerpole connector or a pair of alligator clips to connect the two segments. I think the 80m add-on radiator will be something I deploy occasionally so I want the ability to attach and detach it when needed.

After a couple of hours of work, I had the antenna assembled and ready to test. It was too hot and smoky this afternoon, so I will probably test it in the morning after we walk.

It was a fun little project to build. I have a couple more of these planned, including a lightweight end-fed halfwave antenna. I have the matching transformer for that antenna. I just have to work out how I want to engineer the remaining parts.