Dave Richards AA7EE

January 16, 2012

Meeting Interesting People, QRP WAS, and QRP DXCC

Filed under: Amateur Radio,Ham Radio,QRP — AA7EE @ 9:26 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

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 🙂


March 19, 2011

Saved By Powerpoles

My mind is an odd mixture of curiousity and completely disinterest. For a long time now I’ve been aware of Anderson Powerpoles. I knew that they were DC power connectors and that they were part of a system that many hams who use them just love. More than that I didn’t know. Sometimes, just the fact that large numbers of people love something arouses the contrarian spirit in me and encourages me to look the other way.  It’s not a good quality.

When I visited HRO in Oakland a few days ago and bought my first ever pack of Powerpole connectors I wasn’t planning on blogging about it, but conversations with other hams in HRO and on Twitter proved to me that a) hams who use Powerpoles love them and like to talk about them and b) there are hams who still don’t use them and are keen to know about them. I thought I was the last ham on the planet to buy into the Powerpole system but it seems that I’m not, hence this post.

For years I’ve been operating my QRP rigs from battery power with a charger attached. I quite like the fact that if the power goes out, the radio just keeps on running and I can continue to operate.  At first, it was a big old lead-acid battery with a motorcycle battery charger permanently attached.  It put 1A into the 100AH battery,  keeping it topped up. Then came the sealed lead acid batteries – a couple of 12V 5AH ones from Radio Shack, and also a couple of 12V 12AH ones that came out of a portable photographic strobe system made by German company Hensel.  When I sold the strobe (to an Aussie photographer who was on vacation in the US and looking to pick up a decent portable flash system) I installed new batteries and snagged the old ones for the shack.

I have a charger made by ELK – the ELK-P624. It’s primarily intended for use in alarm and CCTV systems – that kind of thing. Connecting it up to one battery and one radio (my FT-817) wasn’t hard.  When I started wanting to connect extra batteries and radios, things started to get a bit confusing.  I was using a combination of RCA phono and Radio Shack crimp-on snap connectors.  It wasn’t exactly a mess, but every time I wanted to add one more component to the system I had to stop and think carefully how I was going to configure the connectors. When thinking about the male/female thing, I had to also keep in mind the ease with which a loose male connector could touch another contact, possibly shorting out the battery – these concerns dictated which end of a particular joint was male and which one female. It doesn’t take too many extra components added to such a system before the tangle of wiring turns into a mess.

One of the useful things about Powerpoles is that they have no gender – any Powerpole connector will mate with any other Powerpole connector. This may not strike you as a particularly useful quality unless you’ve had previously tricky wiring problems (like I did) and then experience how much easier Powerpoles make things.  You can ensure protection against reverse polarity by sliding the 2 connector housings together. 2 connectors once mated together, will not be able to make a reverse polarity connection with a similarly attached pair of connectors.  Also, the metal terminals (silver plated for good conductivity) are recessed in their housings, so the chances of accidental shorts are greatly lessened. This page should make things a bit clearer.

It’s not much to look at, but here’s the setup that powers AA7EE. I took this picture out on my balcony, as the batteries are normally located in a dark corner of the shack (not good for photos):

The batteries are 12V 12AH sealed lead-acids. The charger is on top of the right-hand battery.  It’s fixed to the top by a couple of pairs of velcro pads.  See that distribution block between the two batteries? It’s one of the many different types of distribution blocks utilizing Powerpole connectors that are available from different manufacturers. This particular one is a PS-8 distributed by Powerwerx. It’s great – I can plug in extra batteries which will be placed in parallel with all the others,  so I can add to the capacity of the system as I wish.  I can also unplug the charger and plug in a solar panel and controller when I’m ready.  Powerpole connectors make it very easy for me to remove and add components to the system as I wish. Before anyone mentions it – yes I know I should really fuse the battery leads.  I should have taken care of that already.

The fused lead exiting the picture at the bottom is the power cord for my FT-817.  As the FT-817 doesn’t have it’s own reverse voltage protection, I added a diode, which is under the black shrink-wrap just before the cable leaves the frame. For anyone who wants to add reverse voltage protection to a rig, this is how you do it:

If reverse voltage is applied, the diode conducts and the fuse blows. Simple yet effective.

Here’s a close-up of those batteries and that distribution block.  I’m so jazzed that I can plug and unplug parts of this system at will:

The clear and slightly twisted leads leaving the charger go to the wall-transformer that supplies 16.5V AC to the charger. I wonder if I could remove the wall-transformer and connect a solar panel to that pair of leads to use the charger as a solar charge controller? I don’t see why not.

In other news, I finally solved another connection problem – that of easily switching from external speaker (when I am wandering around the shack and monitoring) to headphones (when I am working someone). A simple box with 3 x 3.5mm jack sockets and a DPDT toggle switch and now I don’t have to fumble around for the headphone lead, unplug the speaker and plug in the headphones every time I answer a CQ.  For the sake of overkill, here are 3 pictures of the project (I’m getting in practice for the CC-40):

Here’s the business end of things. Complex control panel. Perhaps we should go to a menu system?

And the wiring inside. I used RG174U but it’s not important. Shields were grounded at one end only. I always used to scrape the surface of Altoids tins before soldering them, having no idea that it was unnecessary. At least I finally found out.  I have a habit of scraping component ends before soldering them. In the 1970’s when I started building circuits, it was often important to do this, as component leads were often untinned and covered in dirt and oxidation. I just started scraping away at almost everything before soldering it.  It’s a hard habit to break:

Such a simple little project, but it makes operating easier and more enjoyable. 4 small adhesive rubber feet stuck on the bottom of the tin complete the headphone switch.  I’m considering making another one exactly the same for switching between straight key and paddle, but since I began using a paddle, haven’t used the key.

That’s all that’s going on here radio-wise, as well as a few QRP QSO’s a day.  I’ve never been one for awards, but it just occurred to me that it wouldn’t be that hard to get QRP WAS, especially with band conditions on the mend.  For most of the time I’ve owned this FT-817 (about 10 years) I’ve worked almost exclusively SSB on HF.  The number of stations who come back to me with 5W of CW as opposed to the 5W of SSB that I used to use is remarkable. The difference is like night and day.  I mention this in case there is anyone reading this who is a new ham or who hasn’t tried CW much before. If you’re new to ham radio and considering a QRP radio, definitely do it if you’re planning on using CW or other digital modes. If the main mode you want to use is SSB, then get yourself a 100W or higher rig. Running 5 or 10W of SSB on the HF bands can prove very discouraging to a newcomer, unless the sunspots are high and you’re on one of the higher bands.

My advice – try CW over SSB. You’ll get a real  feeling of accomplishment from learning and using code on the air. You’ll be able to make a lot of contacts with low power, and if you think 500W of SSB can pack a punch, just think of what a powerhouse of a signal you’ll be if you run 500W of CW!

QRP CW works. John Shannon K3WWP knows this. He has had a minimum of one QRP CW QSO a day for more than 16 years now.

PS – Interesting Powerpole fact – they were developed in the 1960’s for use on the San Francisco Bay Area’s BART train (Bay Area Rapid Transit) system, where they are still in use today.

August 10, 2009

K3WWP Has A QRP CW QSO Every Single Day For 15 Years

Filed under: Amateur Radio,Ham Radio — AA7EE @ 6:45 am
Tags: , , , , ,

John Shannon K3WWP has been running a web site to promote the use of morse code on the amateur bands since about 1996.  I discovered his site for the first time in around 2002 and was impressed that he was so singular minded in his devotion to the use of QRP CW on the HF bands.  The only mode he ever uses is CW with a power of 5 watts or less into simple wire antennas.  From his QTH, which is on a small lot in a valley in the town of Kittaning, PA he has had at least one CW contact a day – not pre-arranged, by the way.  He just goes on the air and looks for QSO’s. Think about this – he has done this every single day for 15 whole years, without missing a day.  Quite amazing.

John’s web site is well worth a visit. There is a lot of information and reading there,  so you might want to bookmark it and visit regularly. He just passed the 15 year mark of his daily QSO streak and to mark the occasion has been publishing an interview with himself divided into 6 parts.  I’ve been eagerly looking forward to this.  John has been such a figurehead to me for QRP CW that I was keen to know a little more about him and about his 15 year streak. His diary is here (opens in a new browser window), and the interview starts with the entry marked Wednesday August 5th 2009.  I submitted 5 questions for John and was thrilled to find that he answered 4 of them in his interview – the other one had already been asked by someone else and answered by John earlier in the interview series. I wasn’t expecting John to answer even one of my questions, but for him to answer 4 was very exciting.

John is also an officer,  co-founder and member of the North American QRP Club (NAQCC). The club is free to join,  and one of the benefits of membership is your own unique membership number that is good for life and will never expire.  You can exchange the number with other club members in club contests and activity days. The club is not big on web-based activities – the web site exists mainly for informational purposes, and to encourage members to get on the air with CW.  They really want to encourage and promote the use of CW on the bands, as does John; a read of John’s site makes this very apparent.

One of the things I love about John’s site and his approach is that it doesn’t concentrate very much on equipment or fancy antennas.  The focus is very much on operating using low power and simple wire antennas. I really hope that CW is around on the bands for a long time to come.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.