Saturday, June 29, 2013

SOTA Sloth

It is always interesting to me what motivates people. Usually it's the simplest things. Challenge a man to task, for the sake of the task and you get few takers, but offer him a patch or plaque and you get stampeded. Such is life and I'm no exception to the rule.

So, I was very pleased to come home yesterday and my SOTA Sloth award was in the mail box. As I have written, I am having a lot of fun with the Summits on the Air (SOTA) program both chasing summits and activating them as well. The SOTA Sloth award is for getting 1,000 chaser points. Summits are assigned a point value from 1 to 10,so for each summit contact made, the chaser gets credit for the points assigned to the summit..

The awards are very nice and each is a little unique. They are made of glass are called Ice Blocks. The certificate if authenticity that comes with the award reads:

Your Ice Block was made entirely by hand in Dingwal,
an Ancient Capital of the beautiful Scottish Highlands.

Using a secret technique, the craftsman create a unique
"running scallop' along each edge of the raw glass.

All corners & edges are then ground to a
matt white finish.
No other Ice Block will ever be the same!

Epitomising the surroundings of their Birthplace,
Ice Blocks emulate the rugged mountains & wild,
rough terrain of the Highlands.

Combined with specialist engraving, your Ice Block
is a Presentation Piece to be proud of.

SOTA Sloth Award - AD5A

Very nice indeed. The next Ice Block Award is called the SOTA Goat Award, for earning 1,000 Activator points.

I am sufficiently motivated.

Monday, June 24, 2013

QRP Key?

There are things in our daily lives that we acknowledge as being true, even though technically they aren't. There are all sorts of phrases that just don't make sense, but we say them all the time. I've played a lot of baseball and I am a big fan. There are phrases in that sport that confound logic. For example, when your team needs a rally and the batter at the plate takes a big swing and misses, how many times have you heard the phrase, "Okay , we don't need a homerun, just get on base.......really, you don't need a homerun? When, in any baseball game, do you not need a homerun? Yet, its a common phrase and if you are a baseball fan, I'm sure you've said it. Or, you yell at the pitcher who is having control problems, "just throw strikes". Now do  you really think the pitcher is thinking anything different? Do you think he is intentionally walking the opposing batters just to irritate the crowd? Or if you are a basketball fan, "They need to quit shooting so many three pointers". What you really mean is that you wish they would quit missing three pointers. How can you make a three pointer, if you don't shoot it? For the non US readers, I'm sure there are similar phrases in other sports that confound logic when you literally interpret the phrase.

So, that brings me to the term "QRP Key". We've all seen it, an advertisment or solicitation for a small morse key or paddle. Phrases like, "a nice compact morse key suitable for QRP operation" or the key is "QRP" sized. Now this brings a few questions to my mind. QRP in the technical sense means low power, so can you only sent 5 watts with this key?  I suppose QRP operators are not suppose to use full sized keys or bugs as obviously you wouldn't be QRP any longer. Does using a full size key boost your signal? Does this mean that this small key cannot be used for QRO operation, will this "QRP key" degrade my high power signal? What are the specifications for a "QRP" key?

What about the QRPp operator? What are they to do for an appropriate key? Surely if you have QRP keys, QRPp keys must be even smaller and only those with very small hands can be successful, QRPp operators.

All of this is very confusing from a literal sense. If I am new to QRP must I get a new key? Dare I mix my QRO and QRP paddles or will I have problems if I do? I have this nice desk paddle that I love, but surely I couldn't use it with my KX3, or could I? Since the KX3 is larger than my KX1 maybe I could use my big paddle with it, but definitely not with the KX1. Surely you understand the dilemmas here. What to do?

Now, a few more descriptive terms for these small keys is the term "portable", "small "or the phrase "for field use". These terms, from a literal pespective, seem to make more sense. Certainly these "QRP keys" make sense for the QRO operator on an expediton who doesn't want to carry around a heavy key. Begali uses the term "adventure key", which seems to be self explanatory and doesn't invoke a QRP only use.

So, be careful and use your own judgement on when and where to use your QRP key, someone may be watching.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Miles Per Watt; Another QRP'er/DX'er Adventure

The DX'er came up the hill with a brochure in his hand. The QRP'ers gathered around to see what new toy the DX'er was about to describe. "I just got a new car" he said, "And, I probably get twice the mileage of my old car". The QRP'ers nodded their approval as he expounded, at length, on the features of his new vehicle and when he finished he concluded, "You QRP'ers should do your part to conserve, we can't be wasteful, it's important that we are efficient with our resources". The QRP'ers were taken aback by this comment as conservation hadn't been a concern of DX'er before.

 The QRP'ers looked at each other to silently elect the leader of this counter attack. One of them pulled out a Cerficate that they had been discussing prior the DX'er's arrival on the scene. "We do our part, in fact ,look at this". The DX'er looked at the piece of paper and dismissively said, " Oh, another one of those silly QRP awards, what is so special about 1,000 miles per watt?". The QRP'ers had sly smiles on the their faces as they knew he had taken the bait. "You guys should get real radios so you can be heard, I was talking to my buddy this morning, he said I was 20 over 9". "That's interesting" said the QRP'er, "how far does your friend live from here?" This a question that QRP'ers have to ask because it's in their DNA. "I don't know maybe 1,500 miles, why do you ask?" said the DX'er. "Did you work him barefoot?' asked the QRP'er putting a little honey on the bait. " Absoulutely not" said the DX'er, " I run the full legal limit". The trap had been set and the DX'er had yet to recognize it, although he sensed that danger was just ahead. "So let me calculate that..hmmm..1 mile per watt" said one of the QRP'ers acting like he really had to think hard on the calculation. The DX'er shuffled his feet, now understanding the danger was closer than he thought. There was moment of silence as the QRP'ers moved into position. "So  your new car gets twice the mileage of your old car?"  "Yes" said the DX'er delighted at the change of topic. "Well it looks like you don't do so well with your watts out from your station" The DXer now realized his doom,"as we QRP'ers easily get 1,000 times the mileage with our watts as you do. You should really do more to conserve with your radio as well". The DX'er pondered one of the Mysteries of the Ages, "Less is more and more is less" said the QRP'er, "the less power I use the more miles per watt I get the more power I get the less my miles per watt are".

The DX'er saw no way out," I suppose that's true" he said, but silently he thought, "isn't more, more?".  "I have to get back now, I think my wife has some things for me to do" he said,  The QRP'ers knew this to be false, but acknowledged his need to escape.

"Enjoy that new car" the QRP'ers shouted as he walked back down the hill in silence and they continued to admire the 1,000 Mile Per Watt certificate.

Monday, June 17, 2013

QRP Success: 7Z and JT5

This past weekend was the All Asia contest. I'm not familiar with the details of the contest, other than the exchange is a signal report and your age. I'm sure some intrepid statistician had a hey day analyzing the age of contest participants. I was mildly surprised to hear several contestants who were, at least claimed to be, in their 30's and 40's. I guess I expected more in their 50's and 60's. Anyway activity was relatively high on the bands and conditions were good and there was a lot of nice DX on the air.

As I have written before there are several strategies for the QRP DX'er to employ, not the least of which is to call needed DX entities during a contest. The reason being that demand for any given station is diluted by the fact that there are so many stations on the air. Accordingly the pileups are smaller, generally speaking. As I look at my QRP needed list, many Asian countries are on the list simply because there is reduced activity from these entitites and the paths are tough. Normally, when openings occur, the pile-ups are huge and the operators are on for a limited time. I've learned to ignore spots for  DX like HZ, JT, VU, etc.., at least from South Texas, as jumping into those pile-ups, with QRP power levels, on a normal day is not fruitful. Contests however are different.

Saturday afternoon I fired up my QRP log and logged into the cluster to look for needed countries. I switched my Log Periodic to be in-line with my KX3 and started looked for DX. The first to pop up was 7Z1HL. I had decent copy on him on 15 meteres with a little QSB. The pile-up was relatively small, but for 20 minutes or so, no joy. I had him in the open on several occasions and he wasn't hearing me well enough to answer. Then all of a sudden his signal went up a couple of S-units as the band improved very quickly. The second call after his signal built-up and I was in the log. Wow, I said to myself, 7Z on QRP.

I chased a couple of others after that, 9V and HS, but I couldn't get through the pile-up on 9V and I don't think the HS0 could hear me.

On Sunday morning, I fired up the KX3 again. There was a spot for JT5DX on 15m, honestly before I tuned to his frequency, I wasn't hopeful. When I tuned him in, wow, a solid 59. Maybe the best signal I 've ever heard from JT. First call, in the log. Wow!!

Again, I chased a few others, but suffice to say, I was happy with the weekend. Two relatively tough DXCC entities now safely in the QRP log. QRP IS!!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Minimalist Radio: A Lesson in Efficiency

One of the early posts on this blog was an article on "What Kind of QRP'er Are You", one of the categories identified in the article was the minimalist, i.e., the smaller, the lighter, the better. At some point being a real "Minimalist" becomes an art form that requires not only ingenuity, but also imagination. You can't always buy true minimalist equipment. Sure you can buy smaller rather than bigger gear, but at some point, without imagaination, you reach a wall that only  creativity can breach.

Recently I took a trip to Santa Fe, NM. I had never been to Santa Fe and had heard what a great place it was so my wife and I wanted to experience the city for ourselves. Also there are some nice SOTA summits in the area that I wanted to tackle  having become a SOTA addict. In my brief planning for the trip I contacted Fred, KT5X, who lives there to ask his advice on what summits might be doable for a relatively fit flatlander. Fred offered not only his advice but also his willingness to serve as a guide on the first summit. Eventually he recruited John, K1JD, a recently transplanted Santa Fe resident to come along. It was this trip that I learned what minimalism is all about.

I had a normal size day pack filled to brim with redundant equipment, two radios (ATS-4B, MTR), two antennas (vertical, EFHW), you get the picture, redundant but not a huge load. I will defend some of the redundancy in that I have limited time and don't want to miss an opportunity to activate a summit because of some equipment failure. Fred shows up with basically a camal back water pack that has a front pocket on it. A small carbon fiber pole that collapses down to 21" and extends to 21 feet, a resonant antenna and a home brew enclosure for his MTR that contains a key, power supply, logging pen and serves as an operating desk to log QSO's with. Fred's total set up is around 1.5 lbs. The MTR Board is designed fit in an Altoids tin to give a perspective on the size of the enclosure.

The KT5X verson of the MTR 20/30m radio

The key, a micro key,  is in the upper left hand corner and is retractable for transport and extended during operation. It is labeled WS0TA, a SOTA club call. The battery is a LiPo 500 mAH battery that will handle multiple activations due to the low power drain of the MTR. The logging pen is a Space Pen and has a string attached to keep it within reach and it sits in a straw holder, the red tube in the middle of the enclosure, when not in use.

To log, simply close the enclosure and log on a 3" x 5" card using the Space Pen. Brilliant.

Needless to say, when seeing what Fred was carrying to the top of the mountain I felt a little over dressed. However it was a great lesson in what minimalism is all about. In the mountains the fewer pounds you can carry, the more enjoyable the day. I have begun the downsizing of my equipment list and have been motivating to try a little creativity rather than just use it out of the box.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Four SOTA Summit Activation's in W1

On my vacation I took the opportunity to activate several SOTA (Summits on the Air) summits. This post deals with four that I activated in the W1 call area this past week. The references below are the SOTA references and the points are what each summit is rated. The points are on a scale of 10

W1/HA-009 Mount Monadnock (4 pts) June 6, 2013, New Hampshire

This is a tough 4 pointer. With over 2,000 feet of prominence I under estimated the mountain and made a few mistakes as well. First I counted on my grandson to carry the Buddi-stick, he forgot it and I didn't double check. Thankfully I had an EFHW with me, but only a 13 foot pole to run it from. There are no trees on the summit. Accordingly I think my signal suffered a little. It was very windy and cool on the summit and relatively crowded, which ultimately shortened our stay. I used an FT-817 on this activation because the original plan was for my two grandsons, KF5GYD and KF5GYE to operate some SSB, however conditions were marginal for CW, so we weren't able to execute that part of the plan.

The trail up is one granite rock after another. I had envisioned a wide, sodden trail to the summit, but that is not the case, lots of scrambling up granite slopes on a trail that goes straight up. For those familiar with the mountain, we took the White Dot Trail up, the more direct, and the White Cross Trail down. Coming down is tough because its like descending on a path of uneven steps and no real opportunity to enjoy the downhill slope and some relatively steep pitches down granite slabs. Two hours up and 1.5hrs down. I was able to make 7 QSO's from here (it only takes 4 QSO's to qualify for the points). I did work G4ELZ and S58AL to spice up the day.

Operating from Mt. Monadnock with
KF5GYD (Boogie) assisting

W1/AM-381 Mount Agamenticus (1 pt) June 7, 2013, Maine

The morning dawned with steady rain and the forecast called for more. Not a good day for a hike. We decided to travel to the southern coast of Maine. A quick check of the SOTA database revealed a drive-up one pointer, Mt. Agamenticus. Easy, right. Wrong. My grandsons and I set up, after the ceremonial climb up the last few feet, on a picnic table in the blowing rain and zero visibility. Let's get four quick QSO's and get out of here. What I didn't know was that the A-index was 34 and the K was 4. Over an hour later I made the fourth QSO, way too much work for one point. This day was our 38th anniversary and Boogies 11th birthday.

The station on Mt. Agamenticus with
KF5GYD and KF5GYE (Reid)

W1/GM-003 Equinox Mountain (8 pts) June 8, 2013 Vermont

Equinox Mountain is near the town of Manchester, VT. It is an 8 Pointer, with a road to the top. I decided to make the most of my remaining time in the region and a drive up would save some time and give me a shot at getting another summit in. There is a toll road to the top and there is actually a functioning monastery on the mountain. Again visibility was near zero on the summit and misting rain. I first set- up with the vertical and had some success but it was noisy as conditions still weren't very good, so I was able to get some height on the EFHW, lashing my telescopic pole to the balcony of the visitor center on the summit, and made a few more QSO's finishing with 10. I started with the FT-817, but finished with my MTR which I discovered has a better receiver in noisy conditions.  No real DX from here, NS7P from Oregon was my most distant contact.

Operating on Equinox Mountain with an
EFHW and the MTR

W1/GM-032 Mount Snow (6 pts) June 8, 2013 Vermont

Mount Snow is a ski mountain with a lift most of the way up the mountain leaving a relative short but steep hike to the summit. The question was whether I could get the QSO's I needed in the time I had. We arrived at the mountain at 3:00 and the lift closed at 4:00. We summited at 3:25, set up the vertical with one grandson holding the trekking pole mounted vertical, the other holding my battery and me with the MTR, micro key and log and we were on the air by 3:30. DJ5AV was the first in the log and CT1BQH followed a couple of minutes later. By 3:40 I had 6 QSO's in the log. A quick tear down and back to the lift by 3:55. Made it. This one was the most satisfying, six points I didn't think I would get.

The Crew on Mt. Snow
Me calling CQ with my Micro Key and MTR

My wife of course accompanied us on this trip and was a real trooper. She came along on every activation and was there to lend a helping hand when she could. Her name is Cris and her call sign is KC5HZQ, but she only has a couple of contacts in her ham career. Below is a picture of her on Mount Monadnock.

Cris KC5HZQ 
The day before our 38th Anniversary

This was a fun trip and I learned a lot. I will be making some changes to my operating strategy that I will be writing about in the near future.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

On Vacation

I have so much write about and so little time. I am currently on a vacation that includes several radio activities. I was in Santa Fe, NM over the last weekend and activated two 8 point SOTA summits. I was accompanied on the first one by Fred KT5X and John K1JD and learned a lot about portable operation and I mean portable. Fred's total weight for his rig, antenna, power supply, etc... comes in at 1.5 pounds.  Needless to say, I felt a little over-dressed.  I will tell you more later.

I am currently in the NE and am scheduled to try to activate a few summits in Thursday - Saturday in New Hampshire and Vermont, however the weather forecast doesn't look favorable. I will probably give it a try anyway. I am accompanied by my two grandsons, KF5GYD and KF5GYE, who have their general tickets. They are 11 and 13 respectively, so I will have factor them into the weather equation.

When I return, I will try to document these exploits more completely.