Tuesday, February 26, 2013

IOTA and IOTA Bash

One of my other radio passions, as mentioned in the title of this Blog, is the IOTA Program. I do not normally chase IOTA with QRP, but it is challenging to me for other reasons. As we all know, DXCC expeditions to rare entities are usually well funded, may run for multiple weeks and employ the latest in HF Tranceiver technology, amplifiers and gain antennas. We also know that if we are patient we will get at least one QSO with these expeditions, if not 15. The bottom line, over the entire period of these mega expeditions, they aren't that hard to work.

IOTA Expeditions, the other hand, are a different story. First of all, the number of IOTA's is fixed at ~1,200. Accordingly, there are many more opportunties to activate an Island that is needed by a large percentage of the island chasing community. On average, while many of these operations run 100 watts, the antenna's and power supplies are portable and they will likely only be on the island for 2 to 3 days max. This makes the chase for islands much more of a challenge to me than DXCC. If you want to work an island you need in Indonesia that is portable with 100 watts, you must be much more keenly aware of propagation, long path, short path, greyline, etc.., if you want a QSO. There will be usually one station with a couple of operators, not 24-hour all-band operation. So the burden for working islands is much more on the chaser than the operator. I find this much more challenging than working stations that run 1KW, 24 hours a day.

I have activated 11 IOTA's in five DXCC countries including an all-time new one in Nicaragua, NA-209, H75A was the call. One thing I learned when activating these islands is that there were no sponsorship possibities if you put on a rare or new IOTA. In fact many organizations and clubs specfically prohibit contributions for IOTA only expeditions.  So after our trip to H75A, the team decided we could complain or be a part of the solution. So we formed the Island Radio Expedition Foundation, Inc., IREF , to make grants to IOTA expeditions to new or rare IOTA qualifying islands. Over the last 10+  years, through the contributions of many, we have made $50,000+ in contributions toward these island expeditions.

As a part of this initiative, every year I sponsor the IOTA Bash. We have presentations, food and fellowship over a weekend. The BASH starts this Friday. I'm looking forward to seeing old friends and learning about different parts of the world through these IOTA expedition presentations.

If you want to know more about IOTA you can check out their website at

Monday, February 25, 2013

QRP tactics and 9U4U

As a QRP DXer you have to pick your battles. As I have mentioned, I am #1 Honor Roll running QRO and so I still have some of those tendancies, that is, just jump into any pile-up. A case in point was the just ended 9U4U expedition to Burundi. I spent a lot of time in the pile-ups trying to get a QRP QSO and with the masses calling I didn't have any success. Now, in full disclosure, I am using a gain antenna on 20 - 10, an 8 - element Log Periodic at 50 feet, so my hope of making a QSO in the pile-up wasn't complete insanity. However, the zero QSO result of that strategy speaks for itself.

Then came the opportunity. 9U4U was calling CQ on 12m SSB on Saturday morning, local time and when I dialed the KX3 to their frequency, no-one was calling them on his listening frequency 5 KC up. Perfect. QRP'ers know that the best time to QSO a significant DX-pedition is toward the end when most have their QSO's already. So, I was on the favored battle ground for QRP'ers, an open frequency. I called twice, nothing, CQ CQ, I called again, nothing, CQ CQ, then, "the 5A again". After a couple of repeats, he had me in the log. There was a small celebration within the confines of my shack.

So pick your battles, it isn't luck. Luck is where preparation meets opportunity. So keep looking for the opportunities.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

QRP Log Update

Since creating a separate QRP log on my laptop that highlights needed countries I have been busy. Before creating the log I rarely checked to see if I had worked a country on QRP. But with my needed countries highlighted I had more focus. The week netted me the following new QRP countries (or entities to be technical).

A35WH      17m   CW
H44KW      17m   CW
PJ2/K9KM 17m   CW
J69DS         15m   SSB
YV5AAG    15m  SSB

I also had one of those frustrating experiences with 9M6JC on 15m SSB...."I hear the QRP station....Go ahead.....Sorry QRM I can't copy....QRZ" Oh well, if it was easy everyone would do it.

I made a mistake on my country count in the last post on the log.  My count now is:

Mix  117
CW    96
SSB   27

Back to the hunt.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Lightweight Coax LMR-100 vs. RG-58

Sometimes backpackers go a little over board to save weight. I once knew a backpacker who even cut the handle off of his toothbrush to save weight.  It is a good practice to be weight  conscious, but there are always tradeoffs.When deciding what coax to carry on your wilderness radio trip there are a couple of things to consider.

Until recently I was more focused on the loss factor of coax, not it's weight, but that is. because I operate my home station from a chair, I don't have to carry anything. However when climbing a mountain peak or hiking for an extended distance with everything you  have on your back, a little compromise might be in order. There are two things to consider when deciding how much coax to carry.

  • Will you carry an antenna that is fed at its peak (dipole) or one that is fed at ground level?
    • Ground level feedpoints allow you to get by with less coax.
      • End Fed Antenna
      • Verticals
      • Loops
    • Center fed antennas will require more coaxial cable
      • Dipole
      • OCF Dipole
  • What spec of coax will you carry?
I have several RG-58 jumpers, but I have recently discovered LMR-100. When looking at the loss factor per 100 feet, the numbers don't look that good at first glance. RG-58 has a loss factor of 1.4 DB per 100 feet and LMR-100 has a loss factor of 2.2 DB at 10 MHz. However I will only be using a 4 foot jumper from my antenna to the radio. That small jumper would have a loss factor of (2.2/100) *4 ft = .09 DB. That is less than 10% of 1 DB. Not much loss and its  easier to pack. The weight differences between RG-58 and LMR-100 aren't great at the 4 ft. jumper level, but the more coax you need to carry, the more thought should go into how much coax weigh you want to carry..

LMR-100 vs RG-58

Alexloop in Action

The link below is to a video of Steve, WG0AT on a SOTA Expedition using the Alexloop.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Alexloop antenna

As I have continued my research and experiementation on portable QRP operation I came across the loop antenna. In trying to understand the loop antenna I did some research on just how the antennas work and I came across the following explanation:

The fields from a small circular loop are given by:
radiated fields from small circular loop antenna
Now that I understand how they work, I thought I would look into available loop antennas .Loop antennas are nothing new and have been used for decades, primarily for receiving as they are very narrow from a transmitting perspective.
Historical references in portable magnetic loop antennas

Balkan’s War in 1942                                          Alder-shot England, November 1937
I started looking into commercial loop antennas and came across the Alexloop. The Alexloop is named after its designer, Alex, PY1AHD.
While researched the Alexloop, I watched some video of a Summit on the Air expedition using the antenna and heard him working into Europe with it, QRP. So I looked into the antenna.The antenna comes in a convenient carrying case, ideal for portable operation and includes a tuning mechanism that allows you to tune to maximum noise, indicating the best match between the antenna and the transceiver. It is designed to be handheld, but you can mount it on tripod if you want.
                                                  AlexLoop Walkham Small Magnetic Loop
I ordered the antenna and it recently came in the mail. So I put it together, which is fairly simple, hooked it up to my FT-817, running 2 watts, with a Te Ne Ke and sat out on my back patio to see if I could make a QSO. I answered the first CQ I heard, a station near Detroit (I'm near San Antonio, TX), and he came right back to me. The received signal was huge an he gave me a 559, but clearly had solid copy on me as we had an extended QSO, not just a signal report. He did ask about my power again because I don't think he could believe it the first time. 
My conclusion based on the experience of others and my experimentation is that the Alexloop is a viable portable antenna that will yield good results.
 QSO with Alexloop

Friday, February 15, 2013

Separate QRP Log

Just like my discussion in the post, What Kind of QRP'er Are You, some of us are record keepers and others could care less. I am a record keeper. I want to know all the statistics around my QSO's, it is an affliction I know, but I must know who, what, where and when.. I run reports on my log all the time. So as I chased DXCC on QRP I kept track of the countries I worked with 5 watts or less by checking the QRP box on my DX4WIN QSO entry screen. Pretty simple so far.  However, when I link up to the packet cluster, through my logging program, it highlights my needed band/mode countries versus my entire log, not just for my QRP contacts. I'm sure there is a way to do this forQRP contacts with the DX4WIN functionality, but that would require reading the manual which I am averse to doing. Another affliction I suppose. So, based on my working knowledge of the logging program, it is a cumbersome process to determine if I need a particular country on QRP, aside from keeping a manual list. So to ease that burden, I loaded my logging program on a laptop, extracted a file from my main log of all my QRP contacts and loaded that file into the laptop copy of the logging program.. The laptop sits next to my KX3. Now, the packet identifies the new QRP countries that I need to work. Logistically in the shack, the separate computer log works better anyway.

So, now I know what I need and I am in a lot more pileups than when I was uninformed. I am at 139 and counting.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What Kind of QRP'er Are You

As with anything, there are as many reasons and motivations for being drawn to QRP as there are people involved in this segment of the hobby. Just take a look at the blogs, reflectors and publications to get a sense of the variety of interests. In the QRO world there are DX'ers, ragchewers, contesters, award chasers just to name a few of the reasons hams turn on their radios. Of course some of the same motivations exist in QRP, but I don't think to the same degree.

From my observations, there are two main categories in the QRP world. There are the Builders and the Minimalist. What do I mean by these descriptions?

The Builders are those guys who actually understand how to build a circuit, tweak it, connect it to other circuits and produce a functioning radio. They speak in technical terms. They know the color codes on resistors by heart and talk about pin outs, tracings and soldering technique. These guys build radios for the sake of building it and not necessarily to operate it. They may even build the same kit multiple times. They can deal in elegant or ugly design and both styles work. These guys are the backbone of the QRP genre. Without them we wouldn't have small, efficient radio with which to enjoy our hobby.

The Minimalists are the guys who like the challenge of operating with minimal radios, they like to get everything in a single case, bag or backpack to set up a fully functional station, they like QRP for the challenge. This group will walk out of a warm, well equipped shack into the snow so they can shoot a slingshot at a tree in order to erect a wire antenna and then brave the elements to operate their radio on a battery. They might even do this after climbing a mountain. Don't be too hard on this group they probably have built a RockMite that might have even worked or they managed to get a Ramsey kit to transmit, but they will never be confused with the Builders. Three sentences into a discussion on building technique would blow their cover. These guys are radio advernturers the operators who test the designs of the Builders.

We need both of these groups to keep the hobby vibrant, it is a symbiotic relationship within the QRP world that nets out to technological advances and adventures in radio that make QRP interesting.

I suppose there are probably a few Super Radiomen out there who are comfortable in both worlds, but I would guess that, broadly speaking, most of us are one or the other.

So, what kind of QRP'er are you?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Transport Your Radio

I have been planning a spring/summer trip to the mountains and have been contemplating my operating plan. That would include not only the radios, antennas, power sources, etc..., but also how will I get the equipment there efficiently and in one piece. My research has led to a couple of solutions.

First of all, how do I carry my KX3? I will need to put the radio in a backpack, so a hardsided suitacase or Pelican case is not a good solution. As looked around there doesn't appear to be any ready made carriers for the radio. Of course there are many soft sided solutions, but I don't like those very much because that don't really protect the radio, they only help you carry it. I was cruising Ebay the other day and came across the Sigg Aluminum Box Maxi.

The box is strong enough to protect the radio, but it has no cushion on the inside to keep the radio from moving side to side. I have the built in paddles on my KX3 and you do want them getting jammed agains the wall of the box. So I went to get some left over padding that I have from a pelican case that I have and viola.

The padding keeps the radio firmly in place, the box can be latched firmly shut and is easily backpackable. I think I have exactly what I need.

I also plan to take an FT-817 as a backup. The solution is much easier for the 817. Power Port makes a nice, padded pouch for the 817 that gives it plenty of cushion to ride comfortably in a backpack.

Here you see the FT817 fits snugly in the pouch which zips up to make the radio packable.

There is a pocket on the front of the pouch to stow cords or cables.

So I think I can move on to the next issue.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

QRP and Magic

When talking with almost any radio amateur, or at least those who enjoy HF, their response to the question: Why do you still talk on a ham radio when there are so many other technologies that enhance communication? The answers may vary slightly, but they all usually have the work "magic" in them. Yes there is something magic about engineering a station and sitting down to a chat with someone across the globe, wirelessly. I am still amazed by it.

My QRO station is an FT dx-5000 with a VL-1000 amping it up. With that rig and my antennas and I can work, generally speaking, whoever I want to.  I am #1 Honor Roll, 9 Band DXCC (70 on 6M), and I 've worked over 1,000 IOTA's. However much more of my radio time these days is taking a step back in technology, I suppose. This afternoon I took my Elecraft KX1, a battery, a Te Ne Ke, some wire and a telescoping pole. I proceeded over the next hour and half to test and tune some wire antennas that I plan to use on some SOTA trips in the upcoming months. It was a great time. The configuration was elegant in its simplicity and making contacts in my backyard with a wire and a battery powered radio was pure magic. Oh the joy of QRP.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Gerber Go Bag

As a backpacker, camper and expeditioner I am always looking for practical gear that could be useful on a trip to anywhere remote. I came across such a piece of gear the other day. It's made by Gerber, not the baby food company, and it's called the Go Bag. The pack is made by Maxpedition and it is complimented with Gerber tactical gear, including a multi-tool, knife, flashlight, waterbottle and a pocket reference that could be handy for just about any situation with a Table of Contents that incudes, Chemistry and Physics, First Aid, Geology, and  Rope, Cable, Chain and Knots, just to name of few.

The Go Bag woud be perfect to pack a small HF Transciever and all the accessories needed to mount a backwoods expedition. It is a little pricey ($274), but given the quality of the bag and the accessories that come with it, it isn't a bad deal. Give it a look.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Summits on the Air

Summits on the Air, is a program that I have heard about over the years, but until now, thought was a Euro centric, VHF based program. Perhaps it started out that way, however, nothing could be further from the truth today. What I have discovered is a very vibrant community of adventurous hams engaging in a program that is not only fun, but easy to participate in. Much of the US has now been charted, so to speak, and the peaks that qualify are well documented. Check out the above link and follow the "Associations" tab. There you will likely find either your country, US Call area or your state. Texas for example is listed under W5T, Arizona is W7A, I think you see the logic. All qualifying peaks will be listed.
Some interesting aspects to the program,
- You can work a summit once each day for points. Summits are assigned points ranging from 1 to 10. The first award is achieved at the 1,000 point level. A lot you may think, but in a single weekend I worked 11 summits for a total of 60 points.
- You will need to create an account on the website to get registered for the award. By clicking on the "Database" tab you will discover that you can enter your QSO's and your score is maintained on line. There is no requirement for QSL cards!
- The website has a "SOTAwatch" tab which lists current spots and upcoming activations. This portion of the site if very helpful and there is a lot of activity
- In addition to the chaser awards, called the SOTA Sloth, there are awards for activators called the SOTA Goat. These are very nice glass trophies.
- Expeditions are well documented on YouTube if you want to check out how these operators activate the Summits. For the activator who enjoys camping, backpacking and ham radio, a SOTA activation is the perfect activity. Do a search on WG0AT on YouTube and you will find some very entertaining videos of SOTA activations.
I am in the process of putting my backpack together to do my first activation. Stay tuned.

Welcome to My Blog

Thanks for checking out my page. I am new to blogging, so hopefully as I go along, the look, feel and message will get better. I think it is therapuetic to put your thoughts in writing and that is part of the reason for this blog. I also would hope that this place will be become a place for discussion and exchange of ideas. So more to come as I figure this out.