Dave Richards AA7EE

March 29, 2013

Good Ops, Ben’s Best Bent Wire, and Some New Home-Made QSL Cards

Nearly every evening on 40M, I hear Bill Crane W9ZN for an hour or two coming in from Chicago. He’s a good op. I’m not sure what his top speed is, but I often hear him conversing easily with others at around 25wpm.  He always matches the speed of whoever he is talking to, which I think is one mark of a good op. I remember the first time I QSO’ed with KA7PUN a couple of years ago.  We were conversing easily at what was my comfortable speed back then (which was probably around 16-17 wpm).  I thought that was his regular comfortable speed until I heard him in QSO a few days later with another station sending much faster. I realized that he had matched my speed and felt very grateful to him for making me feel comfortable in that QSO.

Anyway, back to Bill. I first noticed him on the band for a style of sending that incorporates a variation on the “Ben’s Best Bent Wire” routine that commercial operators used to use in order to loosen up their wrists before a shift. At the time, I wasn’t familiar with this type of routine and only knew that Bill had a style that made him stand out on the band for me.  Here’s what I’m talking about.  This is Bill as recorded last night -

I imagine that a few decades ago, this kind of routine was more prevalent on the bands, but W9ZN is the only station I have heard doing it.  Some people would probably prefer to perform their warm-up routines off the air, but it sure is a good way for Bill to be instantly identifiable. A little online research seems to indicate that he was a Chicago radio personality in the 60’s and 70’s, going by the name of Bill “Butterball” Crane. I’d sure like to QSO with him, but he never hears my puny 5W sigs.  He’s running QRO, and a regular presence in the segment from 7031 – 7034 most evenings.

I’ve also been busying myself with making some new QSL cards, firstly for QSO’s I make with the CC1 beta.  I was inspired by NT7S’ CC1 beta card, and wanted one for myself. I’m lucky to have Photoshop (CS2) and to have finally figured out the importance of layers and how to use them.  The initial version of the CC1 beta card that I came up with looked good on the screen, but due to the fact that I didn’t have a profile for the printer at my local Fedex Kinko’s (they probably don’t have one), the card printed out a lot darker than it looked on my monitor, and some of the text ended up being buried in the background.  I did eventually come up with 2 versions, both of which look OK when printed. One, in my opinion, looks better in print than the other, but I’m waiting to hear back from NT7S as to whether he agrees before I print up a few of one of these two.  These are not scans of the printed cards, but jpeg renditions of the original Photoshop files. Bear in mind when you’re looking at these, that the printer in my local Fedex kinko’s prints files darker than they look on-screen, so if you’re thinking these images look a bit light, that is why -

I finally seem to be getting the hang of using Photoshop to do these kinds of layouts so, bolstered by the success of these cards, decided to make another one. It took me a while to scan the G-QRP Club logo and change it from black on a white background to white on a transparent background, but now I know how to do it, it’s a piece of cake -

Of all these cards, my favorite is my basic 2 color one.  The following image, unlike the previous ones, is not a jpeg generated from the original Photoshop file, but a scan of the final printed card.  I did this because the color of the card stock does a lot to make the card look good.  It’s called “Sawgrass” and unfortunately, my local Fedex Kinkos won’t be restocking it once their current stock is gone -

It’s simple, effective, and prints out well on a variety of printers – no complex graphics that need to be rendered in accurate tones. On top of that, if I need to make a lot and am feeling a bit skint, it doesn’t look too bad in monochrome either.

December 31, 2012

The ARRL 10-Meter Contest and Checking In To SSB Nets with QRPp

A few days ago, Bryan Herbert KE6ZGP, posted on Facebook that he’d come first place in his section for Single Op QRP phone in the 2011 ARRL 10-Meter contest and posted a picture of his certificate. I thought it was pretty neat-looking and gave him my congratulations, telling him that I was envious, but happy for him, and also noting that I’d never won anything like that, as 2 hour sprints were about the most I had any kind of stamina for.

Then a little over an hour later, the front doorbell rang.  It was the mailman with a few packages for my neighbors and a large brown envelope for me, containing this -

I had completely forgotten entering the ARRL 10-Meter contest.  It was almost a year ago!  I had participated (casually), submitted my log, and promptly forgotten about it.  Now I know that I am by no stretch of the imagination even a semi-serious contester, so figured that there probably hadn’t been many other QRP CW contenders in my AARL section.  On checking the ARRL site I found that there had been just one other. Nevertheless, I was very happy to have this piece of paper, which is already framed and hanging on the wall.

In other news, I have been doing no home-brew – sorry about that. My INTJ mind is either very pre-occupied with something, or not noticing it at all. Currently, I am engrossed with the task of committing as many music CD’s as possible to hard drive in order to de-clutter my living space. It’s all part of a long-term plan for the future which may include living in an RV, or simply another apartment.  Either way, I want less stuff, and 10,000 music CD’s are awful heavy when it comes to moving time. While busying myself with the task of ripping and scanning during the day, I have had the K2, my main station rig, tuned to 40M and in particular, the Noontime Net on 7268.5 KHz. My mind works in strange ways, and for the 3 years I was into CW, that was all I was interested in.  I had spent plenty of time operating SSB (and FM on the 2-meter band) in the past and it no longer held any interest for me – it really didn’t.  Every now and again, I would tune up to the phone portion of whatever band I happened to be in and after just a few minutes of listening, wonder how anyone could remain interested in amateur radio if SSB was their main mode of operation. I like the mental challenge of decoding a CW signal in my head, and that is as much of an attraction to me as the radio part.  Decoding SSB in my head was a skill I learned when very young, so there’s not much challenge there!

Nevertheless, while busying myself with the task of ripping CD’s and scanning all the artwork, I had the K2 tuned to 7268.5 KHz from about 9:30am – 2pm every day to listen to the Noontime Net.  I have never done a lot of listening to nets before and at first, couldn’t quite understand the attraction of checking in to a net on a regular basis when the main purpose of doing so seemed to be to just check in and then not do much else. However, there is a little bit more to it than that, and after a few weeks of listening, I started to get a feel for it and checking into the net became a welcome part of my daily routine. EDIT: After a few months of checking in daily to the Noontime Net, it has become a very welcome part of my daily routine and to amend what I said a few sentences earlier, there is a lot more going on with a net like this than first meets the ear. It is a very well-run net that manages to check in a lot of people every day, while still having time for the occasional bit of friendly chat. It never wanders into the territory of “clique-ness”. The balance between the business of checking in a lot of people, while retaining a sense of camaraderie and connectivity is perfect. KV7L Lynn is the net manager, and along with every single one of the net controllers, is to be commended for pulling off this feat. It’s not an easy thing to do.

The Noontime Net is a traffic net, and traffic is indeed passed on occasion.   After a few weeks of listening almost daily (at first on the WBR regen receiver when I was still fresh out of building that) I began to recognize the regular characters,  including the very distinctive voice of Clyde AA7WC who took early check-ins daily until his recent illness. I checked in a few times, and then having the radio on and listening to the net in the background as I did other things around the shack, checking in on an almost daily basis started to become a welcome part of my daily routine. Many days, I will check in fairly early, and the re-check later.  It’s also interesting to listen to many of the same stations regularly to see how propagation affects how we all hear each other – and this brings me to the aspect of the net that has interested me the most in the last week or two.

I had been checking in to the Noontime Net with my K2’s full output power of 15W.  About 10 days ago, I decided to dial down the power to see whether I could still check in with one of the net control stations.  On CW, you can turn the power down to 100mW, and on SSB, 1W.  I dialed down to minimum SSB power and called Lynn KV7L in Princeton, Oregon. I thought I was running 100mW but forgot that on SSB, even though the K2 may indicate an output power of 0.1W, it is actually putting out 1W. To my surprise, Lynn gave me a 58 report. He is 412 miles from me. I also got a 59 report from a station in Bakersfield, about 245 miles to the south.  Thinking I was running 100mW, I was ecstatic but in retrospect,  a 58 report from a station 412 miles distant when you’re running 1W of SSB is still pretty good.  Since then, I have regularly checked into the net with just 1W and am heard well by KV7L in Princeton, OR, W6FHZ in Reno, Nevada and N7WH in Boise,  Idaho.

I often received unprompted reports of good audio too, for which much of the credit has to go the K2.

All of this has gotten me quite excited about seeing how low I can take the power and still successfully check in to the Noontime Net. I cannot dial the power on my K2 below 1W on SSB,  so the next step is an attenuator.  Even though I have not been doing any home-brew and am concentrating most of my efforts on non-ham radio pursuits, I think an attenuator is in my immediate future.  I would love to be able to tell net control that I am running just 50mW – or even 10mW! Stay tuned to this space.  Maybe I can get something together in the next few weeks. (EDIT – I ordered an attenuator online before this post was even finished – keep reading.)

The upshot of all of this is that although when people think of QRP, they usually think of CW, and the 13dB disadvantage of SSB compared to CW is well-known, you can still achieve things with QRP SSB. Bryan Herbert KE6ZGP has made many great DX contacts with just 5W of SSB (and even FM during 10M openings) and he told me recently how he thinks the potential of QRP SSB is underestimated.

On another tack, I was in Cost Plus the other day and saw a mint tin that was just crying out to have something built in it.  Some people think of electronic gadgets as boxes of “black magic” and indeed, even us hams think of radio as quite magical.  I like to put as many of my mint tin projects in different looking tins as possible, to make them easier to tell apart from each other. I think this tin fits the bill perfectly. What piece of black magic could I build into this enclosure?

My recent experiences successfully checking into the Noontime Net with just 1W PEP of SSB made me keen to see if I could check in with even less power.  The minimum amount you can dial the power down to on the K2 on SSB is 1W, so to get it down further I would need an attenuator.   I was looking for a cheap way to do this without having to build anything, and settled on this 20dB inline attenuator that I got from eBay for $6.99 including shipping -

I like it because unlike the step attenuators in regular enclosures, I don’t have to come up with an extra BNC to BNC cable.  It’s quick n’ dirty n’ cheap. Without setting up a separate receive antenna, the attenuator also attenuates the signal on receive, but as I plan on initially using it to check in with net control stations that are very strong here, that won’t matter.

In theory, when I set the K2 to 1W and connect the output of it to the attenuator, which is terminated in a 50 ohm load, the 1 watt should be attenuated by 20dB, giving me a final output signal of 10mW into 50 ohm, but when I connected the output of the K2 (set at 1W in CW mode) to my OHR WM-2 QRP Wattmeter, the output of which was terminated  in a 50 ohm load, I measured 40mW and not 10mW.  I do believe the meter to be calibrated accurately  so I am not sure what is going on here.

The next step should be to construct my own attenuation pad to verify these results but for the meantime, the Noontime Net was in progress and I wanted to see if net control could hear me. KD7RTE was taking check-ins and couldn’t hear me, but Lynn KV7L in Princeton, OR gave me an S3. He is 412 miles distant – not bad for 40mW of SSB.

I have gotten into the habit of checking into this net with 1W PEP and I think I will continue to do so, but the quick n’ dirty experiment with QRPp was pleasantly fruitful. I kind of wish it was possible to use the front panel control on the K2 to dial the power all the way down to 100mW on SSB, the way you can on CW – or even lower. QRPp is fun! 40mW is flea power, and it’s especially gratifying for a signal of such low power to be copied 412 miles away on SSB.

In other news, it has become harder to operate the radio, because Sprat The QRP Cat has decided that she likes biting the fingerpieces of my Bencher paddle.  I try to put the K2 in test mode so she doesn’t transmit. When she’s not practicing the code, she just likes to get in the way when I’m trying to operate the radio, and steal the spotlight -

November 11, 2012

S9 +10 QRM Problem Solved and a Cat Adoption From HRO

Shortly after making the last blog-post, my radio operating activities were severely curtailed by QRM that registered well over S9 across all the HF bands. It wasn’t continuous but would come and go seemingly at will throughout the day and night – there was never a time when I could be sure it wasn’t going to obliterate whatever I was listening to.  Several times it would appear while I was in the middle of a QSO, and cause me to QRT prematurely. I hoped that the QRM would disappear as mysteriously as it arrived, but after a few weeks, this “hoping” approach didn’t seem to offer as much, well, hope as it had before.

I live in a 100 year-old house that was converted several decades ago to individual studio apartments.  The first step was to verify that the QRM was coming from my building, so I walked around, both inside and outside, with a small battery-operated portable Grundig shortwave receiver. Inside the house, the QRM had a fairly even signal strength, becoming a little stronger as I got closer to the walls. When walking outside the house, the QRM faded rapidly, only becoming stronger as the radio got closer to the outside walls of the house.  I concluded that the QRM was being carried on the AC wiring of my apartment building and was being generated by something plugged into the AC.

I know all of my neighbors, and relationships with all of them are cordial, except for one. She decided a while back that she just didn’t like me, and I tired of trying to make peace. It seems that wherever I go, there’s always one, but that’s a different story :-)  Even though I get along with nearly all of my neighbors, I wasn’t sure how successful I’d be approaching each one individually and requesting permission to go on an RF snooping exercise inside their apartments. It wasn’t really something I fancied doing.

So what to do? I had no idea, and for the next week or so, had partially resigned myself to the idea that I was just going to have to deal with the fact that I was now living in an environment that made my ham radio and shortwave listening activities much, much more challenging. How very frustrating!  Many times in the last few weeks, I had asked myself if anything in my apartment had changed recently and every time  the answer I came up with was that it hadn’t. Then I remembered something.  Recently, I started fostering a sweet and very shy 10 year-old cat called Chala.  You can see her at the end of this last blog-post.  The foster agency with whom I was working gave me an electric pet heating pad for her – and that was at about the same time the QRM began!  It was like a light-bulb going on in my head and of course, it was too good to be true.  But it wasn’t – I unplugged the heating pad and the QRM disappeared instantly.

The level of QRM was so high and so well distributed throughout the whole house, it was hard to believe that a little 9″ square heating pad could cause so much interference, but it sure did.  Luckily,  I don’t think she really needs it anyway. It’s just as well, because it’s not going to be used at this QTH any more.  Any locals want a pet heating pad for free?

Be warned – this pet heating pad will radiate S9+ QRM from the wiring in your house/apartment on all HF bands!

I have been doing very little radio recently other than checking into the occasional SSB net while doing other things, so there is no news of any new home-brew projects I’m afraid   There is nothing planned either, so I may be posintg even less frequently in the future than I have been doing in the past.  My interests are shifting back towards trying to get as much of my music collection as possible transferred onto hard drive in case I purchase an RV and take to the road in a few years. The other thing that has been on my mind is cats.  I’ve begun the steady inexorable march towards becoming a certifiably crazy old cat guy. My new companion, Chala, is a sweet kitty, but she’s very shy. My last cat, Rug, was a lot more outgoing and I miss that. Chala’s great and I derive a lot of of satisfaction from giving her a safe, comfortable home after her ordeal on the streets, but I have been wanting a little more kitty interactivity.

It was with this general mindset that I made a trip to the Oakland Ham Radio Outlet about a month ago in order to buy an 8-pin mic connector. It was also an excuse to browse the magazines and books. While standing at the counter, the employee who was helping me walked out from the back room and was being followed by a little kitten, who was happily prancing around and generally being very friendly to anyone in the vicinity. HRO wasn’t a place I’d normally expect to see a cat, so I was curious to know why she was there.  It turned out that Nick, one of the employees, had discovered her trying to keep warm that morning by pressing herself up against the engine of his truck in the parking lot. He pulled her out, and she spent the rest of the day in the store happily attaching herself to the employees. When she jumped up on the counter, stood on her back legs, put her two front paws on my shoulders and gazed at me, I was hooked. Then when she curled up on the counter in front of me, pressed her little body up against me and started purring, I was a goner.  I asked Mark WI7YN, the manager, what he was going to do with her. He said that he didn’t want a store cat, so had been thinking of asking the customers if they wanted a kitty. Without giving it a second thought I said that I’d take her, bundled her into my backpack and cycled home with her.  So began a love affair with this fabulous little kitty companion -

What to call her?  I wanted a name that reflected where she was found, but anything too ham radio oriented wouldn’t make sense to my non-ham friends (who are most of the people I know.) In the same way that hams have both a regular “civilian” name and a call-sign, this little kitty has her regular name, which is Sprout – as she’s a cute little Sprout!  Her ham radio name is “Sprat The QRP Cat”. I hope the GQRP Club approves -

Sprat The QRP Cat

I still haven’t used the 8-pin mic connector I bought that day but I’m looking at it this way – I paid an $8 fee to adopt a kitty and had a free mic connector thrown in. Thank you Mark WI7YN and the team at Oakland HRO.

PS – Sprat The QRP Cat was not micro-chipped and not spayed.  The vet estimated her age at 5 months. She has since been micro-chipped, spayed and has had her shots. She’s in fine shape!

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