Sunday, April 28, 2013

World War II German Radio Collection

Click on the link below to check out this very impressive collection of World War II German military radios. I just wanted to pass the info on to you. Check out the SE 108/10 Agent/Spy Radio.

QRP To The Field (QRPTTF)

The QRPTTF event yesterday was way more fun than I had envisioned. The theme of the event was "Happy Trails" with the idea to operate QRP from or near a historic trail. Also included as a muliplier in the event were SOTA  qualifying summits. While I know there were several "Trail" stations out there, the summits seemed to dominate. I was able to work 21 summits during the event for over 100 chaser points. All of these QSO's within a couple of hours time. My rotor was getting a workout as the activity was coast to coast. I was even able to work 3 summits in Europe as well, all operating QRP. Lots of fun.

If you missed the event or just wondering what it's about, this is the link to this years event,

Happy Trails (and Summits) to  you.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Happy Morse Code Day

You probably didn't know that April 27th, Samuel Morse's birthday,  is Morse Code Day and even if you did, my guess is that you forgot. So I have been pondering on how to celebrate Morse Code Day. What is the appropriate protocol for gift giving, celebrations, etc...?

A quick scan of the Hallmark Card site yielded no Morse Code Day cards. I suppose if there were any celebratory Morse Code Day cards they would be written in Morse Code characters, which non-Morse Code knowing people think is clever. The problem is we hear morse code, we don't write it. so it is painful to sound out the characters in your head to interpret the clever message, ....  .-  .--.  .--.  -.--   -- --- .-.  ...  .   -.-.  ---  -..  .  -..  .-  -.--  .-.-.-. Irritating isn't it. So I dimissed the card idea.

Then I went to the party supply store to see what party favors might be available, you know, Morse Code Day plates, napkins, forks, center piece ideas, little plastic morse keys and other morse related party items.  I was very disappointed at the selection. Basically there was nothing. When I asked for assistance, the lady looked at me as if  I had gone mad. "Morse Code Day, is this a joke? I insisted that there must be some unboxed supply of Morse Code Day merchandise in the back of the store. After a frustrating debate with the lady on the relavance of Samuel Morse, I thought I should leave before she called security.

Not to be discouraged, I went by the local bakery so see what Morse Code Day cakes they might have prepared in advance to beat the rush. Either I was too late or the baker forgot. There were no Morse cakes prepared, so I inquired about a custom cake. After I heard the cost of the cake, I realized what a waste of money that would be since there were no Morse plates and no Morse forks with which to enjoy the Morse cake with. How inappropriate.

Then I thought about dropping hints to my wife about Morse Code Day so that she might surprise me with a thoughtful Morse Code Day gift. But how? She probably has no idea who Samuel Morse is  and I'm  sure she probably thinks is "morris code" anyway. So I thought about starting a Morse Code Day awareness campaign with a public demonstration at the park, with news coverage, a collection of old code keys and even a "Learn Your Name in Morse" workshop. But then I thought of all the work that might be and it's very possilble the turn out might not meet my expectations and I would become frustrated. So like the other ideas, I abandoned this one as well.

Then I thought of getting myself a gift in celebration of Samuel Morse's creation, so what would be the appropriate gift? Obviously a morse code key would be appropriate. However before I even knew of  Morse Code Day, I had to self impose a "morse key in , morse key out" rule because of the space my morse key museum were taking up. I couldn't decide which key I wanted to sacrifice, so I gave up on that idea as well.

So what to do, no cards, no cakes and no keys. As I pondered the situation, I concluded to just forget about Morse Code Day, which is what most people do anyway.

SOTA - Some Numbers

Among other things, one of the features of the Summits on the Air (SOTA) program that attracted me was that no QSL cards are required. All I needed was a brand new award program with literally tens of thousands of possible contacts that I needed QSL cards for to get the award. The founders of the program were right in finding a way around QSL's. I think the approach used by SOTAis very modern day and is a model that could duplicated by others.

The programs incents activators with awards just like the chasers are incented. In fact there are many who chase activator awards solely. To have an activation count towards awards, the total log must be uploaded to the SOTA database. From a chaser perspective to have your chaser points count for awards, you must also upload your logs. When the two databases are compared to each other, you have an automated confirmation system. Obviously not every activator will enter their logs, but not to worry if you are a chaser, the QSO's still count as long as you enter the contact into the database. There is this unique dynamic called "trust" at play here.

Given all of this user provided input, many numbers can be generated that show the trends in the program. As of  13:00 UTC on 25 April, 2013 here are some of the numbers.


Total Registered Participants                           5,872
Activators                                                       2,841
Chasers                                                          2,944
Chaser/Activators                                           1,759
Activators only                                               1,082
Total QSO's                                            1,779,791

Mode QSO's (most popular)

CW                                                          798,622
SSB                                                          535,197
FM                                                           443,323

Band QSO's (most popular)

40m                                                          786,953
2m                                                            438,640
20m                                                          197,660

As you can see, there is something for everyone. When the program first started, over 10 years ago, my impression was that this was primarily a Euro-centric activity on VHF. And while there is significant VHF activity, you can see that  it is also very much an HF program as well. I would say that most of the activity is also done with portable QRP radios, however, many inter-contenental QSO's are made. Being on top of a mountain has its advantages from gain perspective.

Other features of the program  promote activity, a chaser can get points for any qualifying summit once per day, so no need to keep a needed list. If it's a new day and you hear it, work it. That dynamic also provides a poplation for the activators to work. If the summit was activated  yesterday, no worries, everyone still needs it today. although an activator can only get activation credit a summit once per year. So activators are encouraged to do different summits.

Looking at the numbers above, I can't think of a program that would have a ratio of activators to chasers as small as this, almost one to one. Of course there are many who both chase and activate, but this is a very interactive program. It is also a ham radio activity that allows some exercise, something we could all use a little of.

The awards are too numerous to go into here. You have awards based on points, numbers of unique summits worked, number of different assoications worked and many others. There is something for everyone.
There is also fast growing support of SOTA with phone apps and other software to make logging and activating easier. I predict this program may be about to explode, even more than it has already.

Monday, April 22, 2013

For a Morse Enthuisiast: Something for the Shack

As previously discussed here, there are certain temptations that are irresistible  when it comes to getting your shack just like you want it. For those who have everything, below is a link to bid on an original picture of Samuel Morse signed by him not once, but twice.

At the bottom of the photograph he has spelled out in Morse the famous message, "What hath God wrought". Noticed the slight differences in the "o" and the "r" morse characters.

Happy bidding.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The RockMite And Then Again It Might Not

So I just finished writing a post about frustration being ultimate reason that many hams can't stick with QRP. Many have high expectations, some  are unreasonable expectations that can't be met. When I last wrote of this I was declaring my optimism. Well, I have crossed over into the state of frustration.

Years ago I built a Rockmite. It is a fun project. When I finished it, I didn't take the time to put the antenna connector on it or the dc plug, I simply use alligator clips to get everything working. I remember calling CQ for a few minutes made a QSO, which the station on the other end actually recorded to let me know how my 400 mw sounded. Pretty cool and this milliwatt stuff isn't all that bad.

While cleaning my shack a few years later, since I had never used the RockMite since that first QSO, I threw it away. The day after the garbage man took it I'll admit I was a little remorseful. Ever since I have been watching the auction sites for a Rockmite to replace it. I didn't want to go to all the trouble to build another one, I just wanted one to have and play around with occasionally. The other day that replacement arrived at the house. I hooked it up and called CQ for an hour, some of you may have seen my spots on A few guys tried to hear me but couldn't. Today I came home from work and hoped to make a QSO with a local during the afternoon and called CQ for another hour. Lastly I tried again tonight. No joy. Probably 2.5 hours of CQing with the Rockmite and no QSO. So it is a little frustrating. What else could I have done with my life during those 2.5 hours. After calling so fruitlessly with a QRPp, rock bound rig, the KX3 now looks like a QRO rig.

Oh well, I'll try it again. QRPp is a little like fishing, they might not bite today, but they might be tomorrow, at least that is the optimistic way to look at it.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Classic Straight Key CW

For your enjoyment, follow the link below. I saw this on the 4 States QRP club reflector, it's a U.S. Navy training film from 1944 on the proper way to send morse code with a straight key. It only lasts 10 mins, there are a couple of minutes of a black screen at the end, so when the films says The End, it's over. Also you can skip the commercial after about 10 seconds on the bottom right of the screen.

Test Questions;

What is a glass arm?

How long should you be able to send using proper form?

How far apart should the contacts be?

What are the working parts of the body when sending CW?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

QRP Philosophy 101 - Expectation/Frustration Syndrome

QRP isn't for everyone, obviously or my blog would have a much higher readership:-) There are a variety of attributes that a QRP'er must possess to stick with this genre of the hobby. In my post, What Kind of QRP'er Are You, I mention the various main groups of QRP'ers I have observed, i.e, the technician, the minimalist, etc.., but even among those subsets, there are traits that we share.

I have been casually reading , The Joy of QRP by Adrian Weiss, W0RSP. This book is a comprehensive book on everything QRP to the minute details. There aren't enough pictures in the book to suit my taste, but then again, I'm not a highly technical QRP'er, but there are some nuggets in the book for everyone. In the very first chapter on page 2 of the book the author talks about the enemy of QRP operation and that is "Frustration". On the surface I think most of us would agree that you to have a certain measure of patience to enjoy QRP.

To paraphrase Weiss he describes the "expectation-frustration syndrome" as a manifestation of this frustrated condition. Says Weiss, "Quite simply, their expectations exceed the limits imposed by Nature's laws upon the phenomena which they are attempting to manipulate. In other words, they are expecting to achieve objectives that are either impossible, or at best, highly improbable"  So what discourages a lot of wanna be QRP'ers is the fact that they can't work the same DX they can with their high power stations, get frustrated and give up on QRP.

Well I have to take exception to Weiss's observations. I approach a big pile-up with my QRP rig with the expectation of failure, but with the hopefulness that I might get lucky. So I am always surprised by what I can work on QRP. Last Friday night QSO's are listed below. These exceeded my expectation.

7T9A                  5,886 miles            1,177 miles/watt
VK9/OH1VR     7,338 miles            1,467 miles/watt
TZ6BB               6,000 miles            1,200 miles/watt

After such a successful QRP session I didn't have "expection/frustation syndrome", I had  "exceed expectation/celebration syndrome"

Oh the True Joy of QRP, "exceeding expections".

Begali Key for KX3

I noticed an ad in QST for the new Begali key for the KX3, KX1 and FT-817. It mounts to the radio, but doesn't plug in like the Elecraft built in keys do, you have to use the normal CW key input. It is fine piece of equipment.

The link to the Begali website is

I have no commercial interest in the Begali, but I thought it worthy of mention. It is a little pricey, but such is life.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Back to the Radio/ A Little QRP DX

As documented earlier I have been distracted recently with other, non-radio pursuits. So tonight I sat down in the shack and flipped on the KX3. I loaded my QRP log into my DX4WIN logging program and went shopping for DX. Needed DX is highlighted in yellow on the packet cluster as each spot is compared against my QRP log. After the log loaded the screen lit up with yellow. So many choices, who do I chase?

 There are some battles you want to pick and others that are best left alone while operating QRP. VK9CZ was spotted on a couple of bands, but that pileup was hopeless. There was a spot for JT1CS on 15 meters. I called several times before I had him in the clear, "de AD5A"....."?"....."de AD5A", "QRZ de JT1CS....".  So, he can't hear me. I give up on that fight and I moved up the band a couple of KC's and call another JT, but like the first, no joy. So maybe tonight I will be shut out. Not the first time on QRP.

Next I see a spot for 5W0M on 15m CW, probably a higher probablity of a QSO so I move up the band and call. After about 10 or 15 calls I get in the log. Okay I'm feeling powerful now. Next a spot for D2AA on 20m CW. I wasn't optimistic as the signal had a lot of QSB, but I thought I wiould give him a try. After a few calls, I had him in the clear and he came back to my call. Two new QRP  DXCC countries, not a bad evening after all. Then, as I was  documenting my acheivements with this post, a spot for 5T0JL came up on 17m. I stopped typing to try for a QSO. If you have ever worked Jean,  you know he sends CW at 40+ wpm , which is the top of my range. In fact at that speed I can only copy by ear, I can't write that fast. He also tends to have longer than normal QSO's, not just 599. So after 4 or 5 QSO's and through a decent pile-up, he pulled out my call. He gave me a 579 report. Not bad.

While I use  a gain antenna, a log periodic at 55 feet, I'm a long way from big gun status. I am continually surprised at what can be worked with QRP.

These QSO's move my QRP country count to 136. Nice progress in recent weeks and a very satifying DX session on the KX3.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Golf and Rock n Roll

I'll have to admit that I didn't spend much time on the radio these past few days. I have too many hobbies, so there, I have confessed. This past week, I was fortunate enough to get to play in the Texas Open Pro-Am tournament on the Wednesday of tournament week. I played with Martin Laird during that tournament, who was the eventual winner of the PGA Tour event, so it was a busy week filled with golf. I also have my own rock/blues band called, The No Refund Band, . We are the real deal, we released a CD last September that is getting worldwide play. You can find it on iTunes or Amazon. I play rhythm/lead guitar. We had a show last Friday, that further reduced my radio time, but it was fun and a great time was had by all.

So things have calmed down a little and I will get back to the radio thing as soon as I recover from last week.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Travelling Lighter

As written here before, as a backpacker and ham operator, the Summits on the Air program had become a passion of mine. And, as written here before, I have a passion for traveling light. Every extra ounce in a backpack is important and seems to be multiplied by some unknown factor derived from  the vertical gain of your trek. Backpacking for backpacking's sake is bad enough, but throw radios into the pack and the challenge is amplified. One of my standard practices is to take a small backpack and make decisions on what not to take as opposed to taking a big pack with room for more gear, because you will fill it up.

So with this thought in mind I saw where LNR has come out with a more "trail friendly" 40/20/10 EFHW antenna, lighter than their current version, total weight, 3.5 oz. So I bought one. As I pondered my efforts to save weight in my pack, I had a thought and it went something like this, "Mike, the thing that you carry on the trail that weighs the most isn't your antenna or even your pack, it's you".  I am obsessing on ozs. in my pack and I am more than a few pounds over weight. On average your pack, plus or minus, should be around 16% of our body weight, so by far the largest impact I can have on my total weight is to drop a few pounds myself. Now I will admit, losing weight is not as much fun as buying lighter and more efficient gear, but it will probably have a much more significant impact on the weight I take up the hill..

One thing you will never confuse a hamfest with is a Triathlete convention. We have a hobby that is usually performed sitting down. So having a niche in the hobby that requires us to exercise a little is a good thing. I ran five marathons in the '80's, including the New York Marathon in 1982, so I know what it feels like to be in shape. I don't feel that way now, so I am making a commitment to drop a few pounds.

However, I will still obsess about lighter gear.