Dave Richards AA7EE

January 31, 2012

QRP CW WAS, KA0XTT and W0O, WBR Receiver, and NT7S To Give Seminar at FDIM

Phew – quite a headline there.  I suppose if I were a more organized blogger, I’d break this into several different topics and get several blog-posts out of it.  However, I’d like to get it all out of the way, and get this info imparted to you in one fell swoop, so here goes.

After completing the Norcal 2N2/40, I got to thinking that it would be really neat to achieve WAS with it – that would be QRP CW WAS on just the one band – 40M. I didn’t get close unfortunately, though I didn’t make a concerted effort either.  On completing the K2, all the other QRP rigs with the exception of the CC-20 were packed up and put into a box; I wanted the operating desk cleared and simplified so I could spend time with my precious new fixation – the K2. With that, the prospects of QRP CW WAS with the Norcal 2N2/40 faded somewhat, but I realized that with the multiband capability of the K2, achieving QRP CW WAS should be pretty straightforward – and it was.

In my entire amateur radio career, I have never won any kind of award – and I’ve been licensed since 1978.  This has been due mainly to very occasional periods of activity interspersed with longer periods of inactivity; a pattern of operating that I know I share with quite a few other amateurs. I’m also not a very competitive person, but it seemed that it was about time I qualified for something, and QRP CW WAS seemed like the obvious first choice.

Not much to say really.  I operate almost daily, and many of those QSO’s from normal operating provided QSO’s for WAS. Add in the odd contest here and there (the ARRL 10M Contest was very helpful, as was NAQP).  Predictably, as my list of states still needed got down to a mere half-dozen, Delaware and Rhode Island were in that list. Luckily, NAQP allowed me to nail both those states through QSO’s with WW3DE and W1WBB.  At the end of my last blog-post, I asked if anyone could give me a QSO with WV, as that was the last state I needed. Frank KA8SYV very graciously responded and did indeed give me a QSO with West Virginia.  It was quite fitting that the QSO with Frank was the one to complete my WAS, as it was he who bought my FT-817 back in June of last year.  We did try to make the QSO with his FT-817, but I couldn’t quite copy his sigs, so he went up to 100W, and the difference was like night and day. Luckily he copied the 5W sigs from my K2. Thanks Frank – your 40M loop was doing a fine job.  Not only was the personal connection with Frank a good reason for him being the final QSO of my WAS attempt, he has an excellent QSL card too, which gave me another reason to want a QSL from him. Here it is:

Frank said that so many people commented positively on that image that he had it made into a QSL. I love it! A few days after receiving it, a card arrived in the mail from John N8ZYA, for a QSO we’d had a few months earlier.  John noticed from my blog that I needed a confirmation from WV and sent me his card.  How did I miss that WV QSO when looking back through my log? Even more perplexing is that John and I have exchanged e-mails and blog comments before, so are well familiar with each other.  Aah well – better to have too many confirmations than too few. Thank you John.  For dog lovers, my Alabama QSO provided me with this QSL:

I now have all the contacts I need. I am waiting for one confirmation from W1SJ in Vermont, but his QRZ page states that QSL’s are generally answered 6 weeks after a contest, so I have every reason to believe that a confirmation from him is forthcoming. When it arrives, I’ll be able to apply for a WAS certificate from ARRL, or if I want to stick to my original goal of having a paper QSL from each state (and not just a combination of paper and LoTW) then I think there are one or 2 more states I need paper QSL’s from. However, they are all states with which I have enough insurance QSO’s so it’s not a problem.  I’m not sure if I will even apply for the certificate. I’ve already achieved WAS. Once the confirmation arrives from W1SJ, I’ll have confirmation that I’m in the log in 50 states for QRP CW contacts and that’s enough for me. Mission accomplished!

Yesterday morning, a QSL I’ve been hoping would materialize actually did. It was for a contact I made with special event station W0O in Frankenstein, MO on Oct 31st. What a fine card. I can’t think of a more fitting QSO on Halloween than with a station in Frankenstein. Thank you very much to the Mid-MO Amateur Radio Club:

The postmark on the envelope was equally impressive. Can you see the word “Frankenstein” spelled out in the tree branches?

Another QSL to arrive yesterday was this one from the fictional TV character Mike Baxter KA0XTT, played by Tim Allen in the series Last Man Standing.  In return for my QSL, the production team sent Mike’s QSL, autographed by Tim:

A group of hams on Twitter decided to send our cards in as a bundle together in the hope that our cards will all be displayed on the wall at Tim’s operating position in a future episode.  I suggested that they send their cards to me so that I could send them on their way, my reasoning being that as I’m in California, the last leg of the trip will be a day or two quicker. Here are the cards from our Twitter group before being bundled up and sent to Studio City:

N9VN and KE7JTU’s cards didn’t arrive for some reason. Perhaps they will be the subject of a QST article in a few decades along the lines of “QSL cards long considered lost finally arrive 30 years later”!

In other news, I was excited to be able to contribute some text and photos to the next edition of the ARRL book “Low Power Communication” written by Rich Arland K7SZ. The subject will be my build of the WBR Receiver, which has generated quite a lot of interest. Poor Daniel N1BYT must be getting a bit fed-up with the renewed interest in his excellent regen receiver design, 10 years after it was initially published in QST.  I noticed that his e-mail address has disappeared from his QRZ page and did wonder if he did it so that we’ll all stop bothering him with questions about the WBR! It will be the project for the group build at this year’s OzarkCon, a number of people have commented to me that they have also built, or are building, their own copies of the WBR, and at least 2 individuals/groups have expressed interest in making a kit of parts available, though I don’t know whether a kit will materialize. To this day, the post on this blog about the WBR is by far the most popular, consistently receiving more views than any other post. Thanks Rich – I have never had anything I’ve written or taken pictures of published in a book before, so this will be thrilling!

Last but very definitely not least, the news has just come out that Jason NT7S will be heading up a seminar at FDIM this year. While I know that he would be well-equipped to talk about the logistics of providing day-care for a toddler and a boisterous (yet affectionate) golden lab, while still managing to find time to design circuits and occasionally even operate on the air, the tentative subject of the talk will be the use of free and open source tools in the development of his products, but he may tweak the subject and content of the talk as time progresses.  If you want to learn about etherkit and Jason’s planned product line, FDIM this year will be a good place to be. He will also have a vendor booth.

January 16, 2012

Meeting Interesting People, QRP WAS, and QRP DXCC

Filed under: Amateur Radio,Ham Radio,QRP — AA7EE @ 9:26 pm
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I’m very grateful for the blogs like Larry W2LJ’s in which he talks regularly about his operating activities and thoughts on ham radio in general. We get a real sense of the way that ham radio fits into Larry’s life from reading his regular posts. I do wish that this blog could be like that but mostly, if I don’t have a project that I’ve been working on about which I can post photographs and a description of the build, I don’t feel as if I have much to contribute. It’s odd really,  as I spent much of my working life being a communicator:

However,  I am an INTJ.  After a day spent DJ’ing and reaching out to people,  my social energy was all used up. I’d typically go home and veg after work.  No Hollywood night-life for me. As a semi-retiree, I have become quite reclusive; I think this is just my true nature. I only blog when I feel a particular urge or duty to do so. Sorry about that folks – please don’t look to this blog for regular updates. There are many other hams in the blogosphere who are much better at that – a few of them on my blogroll.

The next post with photos of a construction project will most likely be the next add-on I get for my K2.  The Part 15 AM broadcast band transmitter that I placed on eBay did sell, adding to the funds that I can use for future projects;  currently a KAT2 internal ATU for the K2 is looking like the most likely candidate.  However, I’m very good at practicing the art of delayed gratification (one reason I’m an early semi-retiree), so cannot say when I’ll be putting my order in with Elecraft.

In the meantime, I’ve been meeting some interesting hams, having fun with contests, and working to achieve QRP CW WAS.  As a rule, I’m not much of a rag-chewer.  Mike Rainey AA1TJ in an interview somewhere said that he looks at short QSO’s as the equivalent of hams giving each other high-fives.  I like that description.  While some may think of a brief exchange of names, signal reports, and basic station information as being somewhat perfunctory, I enjoy these kinds of QSO’s. They let me know that my station is getting out and although WSPR could do the same thing, a brief CW QSO requires some effort and input from me, and in putting in that effort I have, in a basic way, reached out and made contact with another operator; I’ve high-fived him.  Sometimes that’s all I need.

Occasionally during a QSO though, there is extra information exchanged that adds human interest and elevates it above the level of the quick high-five. Such a contact was the one I had with Gary N2ESE a few days ago. Gary and I first met on 20M a few weeks earlier in early December. I wrote in the log that he was running 5W to a 4 element something. I must have missed the copy on exactly what it was, but I’m forever grateful to guys with beams as they are the reason for quite a few of my QSO’s when band conditions are marginal. I was needing a QSL from NJ for my QRP CW WAS, so sent Gary my QSL, and received this fine-looking card back:

I’m wondering if I made an error copying him, because on the back of the card it says that he runs 75W, so perhaps I missed the 7.  Also from the card, I learned that his 4 ele beam is a Telrex.

Gary’s call rang a bell somewhere in the back of my head, but I couldn’t recall where I’d come across it. Then a little later, while reading John Shannon K3WWP’s online diary, I came across an entry in which he mentions his friend N2ESE. Bingo! I knew that Gary’s call had rung a bell somewhere. I’m a big fan of K3WWP and his ongoing streak of having at least 1 QRP CW QSO a day, which has lasted over 17 years now. He has other streaks, such as a milliwatt streak, but the main one is the oldest – quite impressive.

I haven’t yet had the pleasure of QSO’ing with K3WWP but I hope to one day. In the meantime, a QSO with someone who has had over 100 QSO’s with John, as Gary told me, helped make the QRP world feel a little smaller, would be the best way to describe it, I guess – something to do with that six degrees of separation thing. During our QSO, Gary told me that he has his own QRP streak going, in which he has had at least 2 QRP CW QSO’s a day for over 5 years now.  2 QSO’s a day for 5 years is 1825 QSO’s – not a hard figure to rack up, but the striking thing about Gary’s achievement is the fact that he is on the air every single day without missing a beat. Nice work Gary – thanks for the QSO, and I hope we meet on the bands again soon.

AA0RQ is someone I’ve  QSO’ed with on 14060 in the mornings a few times now.  When it’s not too cloudy, he runs his 3 watt signal from 100% solar power, which leads me to think that he must be running direct from the panel without a battery.  I like the idea that when I talk to him and he says that he is solar, his transmitter is directly powered from the sun – not from a battery that has been charged by the sun. It’s just one little detail that adds interest to our QSO’s.  Bill also runs an experimental QRPp beacon on 10133.57 kHz which is solar powered in the day. More details on his QRZ page.

I’ve also been dabbling in contesting – not for seriously competitive purposes, but more for the fun of making a number of casual contacts with little no conversational commitment – kind of the radio equivalent of sleeping around, I suppose 🙂 The ARRL 10M contest gave me quite a few states for my QRP CW WAS, and the NAQP this last Saturday got me to within one state of achieving my goal. All I need now is WV, which shouldn’t take too long. The thing I liked most about NAQP was that I got the 2 states I thought would be the hardest – DE and RI.

I’m not a very competitive person and have never previously been interested in awards. However, with my new-found zeal for ham radio and the current preoccupation with CW, I thought that reaching both QRP CW WAS and QRP CW DXCC would at least give me some kind of baseline of achievement. I want to be able to say that I have worked all states and 100 DXCC entities with 5W of CW.  For the QRP version of DXCC, ARRL don’t require that you submit proof – merely to list your QSO’s, so after some thought,  I don’t think I’ll apply for that.  Instead, I’ll apply for the regular DXCC award. I’ll know that it was achieved with just 5W and that’s what matters to me.

I’ve set my own confirmation criteria for WAS, and that is that I won’t claim a QRP QSO for WAS until I have the physical QSL in my hand.  I will most likely collect the physical QSL’s for DXCC too – at least for the first 100, and then possibly for notable entities after that. Mind you, by then, I might be living my dream of living full-time in an RV in which case, I won’t be looking to collect extra stuff. More on that at some point in the future if it ever materializes.

My current QRP CW WAS standing is 42 states confirmed with QSL-in-hand. QSl’s from 7 states are (hopefully) in the mail or will be soon. I just need a QSO with someone in WV. Can anyone help me out? Of the 7 states I am awaiting confirmation, if the QSL’s don’t materialize, I have a few insurance QSO’s to lean on, though I’ll  be looking for insurance QSO’s with a few states, just in case

I’m getting close 🙂

January 9, 2012

Living With The K2

Filed under: Amateur Radio,Ham Radio,QRP — AA7EE @ 8:29 pm
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I didn’t know what else to call this post.  Unlike many of the other blogs that I eagerly follow, I usually only blog when I’m building something. I’m a big fan of the blogs that report on day to day operating, with information on upcoming events and contests as well as news on new kits and products , like those by Larry W2LJ and John AE5X. That’s not my modus operandi here though, so you’ll have to excuse me if I go for long periods with no updates.

Living with the K2 is exactly what I’ve been doing for the last month,  and it’s been grand.  It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty close.  Although it’s not the do-it-all-in-one-small-box that my FT-817 was, it does the things I want it to do, which includes a few things the 817 didn’t do.   No need for details here;  the internet is already full of information about both these rigs.

With the help of the K2,  I’ve taken part in the ARRL 10M contest  – 147 QSO’s including the pleasure of working John AE5X and TJ W0EA, as well as various smaller sprints. I came first in the 6 area division in the last NAQCC sprint although to be fair, it only took 5 QSO’s – we really need more participation from California stations. The guys back east have a lot more competition so I’m not exactly sure why there is less participation here. Perhaps we’re all busy BBQ’ing on the beach or something……..(insert your own partial myth about California life here).

I’ve been on the air quite a lot which is a good thing, as building the K2 satiated my desire for building, at least for a little while; I haven’t felt the urge to build anything else since finishing it. However, there will be a few additions to the K2, so in order to help fund them, I placed my Part 15 AM transmitter on eBay.  As of this morning, the bidding is up to $103.50, which will help to fund the growth of the QRP station at AA7EE 🙂

After a QSO the other day with Rick AA4W, we had an e-mail exchange in which he asked me what I thought of my K2.  I’ve said much of this here before, but it does sum up what I think of it so far.  Here’s what I told Rick:

“There are only 2 things that are less than perfect in my estimation, and neither of them are anywhere close to being deal-breakers. They are:

1)    Due to the number of bits in the D/A conversion, as you step through the bandwidth settings of the crystal filter when listening to a signal, the sidetone of the received signal varies very slightly. No matter how carefully you adjust the filter settings, you’d have to be very lucky to be able to eliminate this variation completely. With care and luck, my variation seems to be no more than 10-15Hz between settings. It has to do with the way the DC voltage applied to the BFO varactor is generated by the D/A convertor.  Apparently, they could have used more bits, but this would have increased the cost.

2)    On comparing the sound of the receiver to that in my Norcal 2N2, there is not as much of a peak in the center of the audio passband.  I’m assuming this has to do with the fact that the 2N2 is an exclusively CW rig, while the K2 audio stages had to be designed to pass the wider bandwidth of an SSB signal. (EDIT – I have since realized that the relative flatness in the passband of the K2 on CW, compared to the Norcal 2N2, is an advantage. Indeed, I’m even a little embarrassed that I initially thought it wasn’t so!)  From what I’ve read, the KAF2 audio filter, which is a lowpass filter add-on for the K2, is fairly gentle in it’s effect. The DSP option is supposed to work quite well, but nevertheless, there are still some digital artifacts when listening to CW. I am going to try a SCAF – probably the NESCAF, which seems to work well – and has the advantage that it helps a lot in cutting down electrical noise too – and all for just $31.  The only problem is that it is external to the K2, and I really wanted a filter option that was internal.  Incidentally, John K3WWP told me that he loves the DSP in his K2. He said that it is very effective at cutting down the electrical interference that he suffers from at his QTH. (EDIT: I never did try the SCAF. I now have no idea why I would even have thought I needed one – and to this day, 2 years after posting this, I have not felt the need for any additional filtering beyond what the basic K2 offers)

      By the way, if you have the most recent edition of “The Complete DX’er” by W9KNI, he has some very good things to say about his K2.  He likes the relatively unprocessed sound of it, as compared to the more processed sound of the signals as heard on commercial rigs that use multiple conversion in their receivers. You’ll appreciate this too. Someone who comes from a background of only ever having listened on commercially-produced receivers with multiple conversion and much more complex circuitry than the K2 might mistake it’s cleaner sound for lesser performance which of course, it is not.”

The art of delayed self-gratification that I seem to be quite good at has kicked in and I’m waiting a bit longer to see what the first additions to the K2 will be. A KAT2 internal ATU will definitely be one of them.  I would like some audio filtering and I’m trying to decide between an external NEScaf, or the internal KAF2 or KDSP2 modules.

In the meantime, I’m just 4 states away from QRP CW WAS, and quite a lot of countries short of QRP CW DXCC, so there’s plenty to be working on – as long as the A index comes down soon 🙂

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