News from the shack

     I have had my Elecraft K3 for almost ten years. But I have been remiss at keeping my firmware updated. As part of my effort to square away the shack, I updated the K3 and KAT500 tuner. Elecraft supplies the utility application, which includes a nearly effortless linux version. The K3 update took place through my microHAM USB Interface III connection between my shack computer and the rig; although I had to shutdown fldigi first to allow the utility app to have full access to the USB connection.
     The KAT500 is connected through a 3.5mm stereo connection on the back panel. This took me by surprise, as I would have expected a RS-232 serial connection. The cable for this job is the KXUSB. 3.5mm plug at one end and USB into the computer at the other. The Elecraft utility for the KAT500 worked just as seamlessly.
     The KPA500 requires a serial connection to update the firmware. At first I looked around for a RS-232 serial cable. For years I had a tub full of serial and parallel cables, sitting and gathering dust. Apparently I got rid of the tub and didn’t even keep one. Then I realized I could just use one of the serial to USB connectors I have, which worked great. Updating the KPA500 went as smoothly as the tuner and rig.
     To exercise the rig and the newly organized shack, I have been trying to get on the air. The first way I have tried to do this is through checking into the OMISS Net. I joined OMISS a few years back, but hadn’t checked into a net in a long while. It has been fun making contacts on their 80m, 40m, and 20m nets. With the large number and geographically distributed net participants, it gives me a great idea on how my antenna is performing as well as how propagation is impacted by frequency and time of day… as well as the fickle whims of the HF gods.
     The other opportunity to get on the air has been the Kansas Weather Net. They meet twice a day on 80m: 0700 and 1700 local time. Its a directed net that runs off a set list, but they allow all comers at the end. It is good practice passing a message and allows me to check my equipment for 80m. I’ve made up a “cheat sheet” that gives me the blanks to fill in for my own weather report as well as tracking those participating in the net.
     Participation in the weather net also serves as a reminder that I need to repair/replace my Davis Vantage Pro2 weather station. My dream of using Xastir to run an APRS, including weather data, seems possible – although setup will include many hoops to jump through. At a minimum, I want to be able to pull all my weather report data from my station. Right now, that is not possible.
     Part of the shack cleanup has been offering up unused equipment for sale. So far I have been able to hand off a pair of Bencher paddles, an MFJ combo of a code oscillator, Morse pocket tutor, and set of Skilman Morse training CDs. I’ve also parted with some kits that I didn’t think I’d ever actually build. There is more to part with and I need to keep the pace. It may help fund a replacement Vantage Pro2.

What’s Happening In The Mobile?

     Both the XYL and my mobile has suffered from a bit of neglect. The XYL was running a TM-D710A fed by a AvMap Geosat 6 GPS. Band A ran APRS and Band B was for communicating with me. APRS always worked without issue but Band B began dropping power on transmit. I had experienced this was another TM-D710A I had which was repaired after a visit to one of Kenwood’s stateside repair facilities. The XYL was never happy about having the AvMap GPS up on the dash. I viewed this as an opportunity for a new radio! She now has the TM-D710G with an integrated GPS.
     When I head into the garage, I hop out and bring my antennas down. The XYL makes use of a solution that allows her to remain in the vehicle while entering the garage. The Diamond K9000LRM is a motorized mount that allows her to raise and lower her VHF/UHF antenna from inside the vehicle. We’ve been using this solution for about ten years and have gotten about three years of use out of the unit. The motor had quit and also needed to be replaced, which was an easy swap.
     In my mobile I am also running a TM-D710A, but fed by the older AvMap Geosat 5 GPS. The Geosat 5 began showing its age by having problems booting up. It started, but often took a few minutes to “warm up”. With the XYL’s Geosat 6 available, I swapped out the Geosat 5 and am good to go.
It was also time to pull and clean up the HF rig. The setup is straight forward: an ICOM IC-706MKIIG, Tarheel 100A-HP screwdriver antenna, controlled by a TurboTuner. I can’t say enough about the IC-706MKIIG. Its straight forward to use and works. I’ve added the fan mod to address some ham’s concerns of the IC-706IIG’s heat. The IC-706 and the TurboTuner are mounted in an iPortable case, all powered by a auxiliary battery. The aux battery is charged by the main battery and allows me to not worry about running down the main battery.
     I detached all the cables and pulled the case. Once on the bench, I pulled everything off and gave it a good cleaning. Next, I got to add my Christmas present to the mix: the N8XJK Super Booster. I had seen the N8XJK Super Booster advertised in the back of QST ever since I can remember, but sold by TG Electronics. Apparently Westmountain Radio is now selling them. What the device does is makes sure the IC-706 is supplied with a consistent 13.8 volts. Operating mobile, providing that consistent voltage can be crucial in maintaining a solid signal on transmit. The N8XJK Super Booster works as advertised, regardless of if the vehicle is running or not.
     This morning on a short trip I put the updated setup to the test. First I did a quick check in with the Texas Traffic Net and got a nice report from Ed, K5KBV in Amarillo. Next I was able to work a guest op at W1AW, breaking through a mild pileup. So far, so good with HF setup.

News from the shack

I replaced my HF antenna. It was a G5RV that I put up back in the fall of 2011. The antenna had suffered from neglect, living in the trees at 40 feet. Much has happen since that time, including the closing of Radio Works. I first encountered Radio Works in 2006 when I was stationed at Fort Monroe, Virginia and was living nearby in Hampton (the Fox Hill area). The Hampton Roads had (and probably still has) a vibrant ham community. Newport News had an interesting candy store (aka an amateur radio equipment retailer) that was half gun store and half ham stuff. This is were I first ran into Radio Works; this ham shop was one of many places where Radio Works sold their antennas. It made since, as they were located across the Chesapeake Bay in Portsmouth. While in Virginia I hung up one of Radio Work’s Carolina Windom 80s. I loved it. The house we were renting had several tall pine trees in the front and backyard and I was able to hang the antenna high up over the house. I became a believer in Radio Works. Solid craftsmanship, built to last. Radio Works had a website (actually has a website; the site is still up despite no longer being in business) that despite representing the peak of HTML circa 1995, included an education in wire antennas. Not only would they sell you a quality antenna, but you’d also learn something too.
Back to the G5RV. I think this specific G5RV that I had up had been purchased from another local ham who no longer needed it. In my habit of purchasing ham radio items I don’t need immediately need (… but may someday), I squirreled away the G5RV… waiting for a need. That need arose in the fall of 2011, the antenna was hung, and that’s where it stayed.
I tried pulling it down. I’d found that the east leg of the G5RV was no longer attached to the support line. To be honest, I couldn’t really see the east leg anymore. I found the end of the center support line in the woods. When I tried to let the line out to drop the center point, but it wasn’t moving. I was hoping that I could reuse the center line, but it looked like there was some problems.
This problem was how to get the antenna down. I was in a somewhat short weather window, being early January in Kansas and all. The temp was in the 40s but soon would be much lower.
I pulled on the 450ohm ladder line feeding the G5RV. Could I pull the center point down? When I pulled, the center point didn’t change its position in relation to the branch it was on… both just pulled lower. Seeing that I wasn’t getting any immediate results with bringing the antenna down, I brought out my station wagon I use to pull my travel trailer. Securing the 450ohm ladder line to the hitch, I slowly pulled forward. Behind the vehicle a few branches came down. On closer inspection, in a notch where the support line lead to the center point of the antenna, the tree had grown around the support line. Eight years had taken its toll. But now the antenna was down.
Its replacement was a simple 110 foot dipole fed with 300 ohm ladder line into a 1:1 balun. Both daughters pitched in to help raise the new antenna. By the end of the day, we had all the support lines run up through the trees (thanks to my trusty antenna launcher). The following day was the last day of vacation for my daughters. My oldest helped in the final raising, which required a tricky maneuver of the east leg up and around a mid-height limb sticking out.
The new antenna seems to be working well. Checking in to a 20m OMISS net, I had an easy time making contacts up and down both coasts as well as Hawaii. On 80m, the morning Kansas Weather Net gave me an opportunity to confirm that I could hear all the stations across Kansas, where that had not been the case before.
We had our first big snow today since the new antenna was raised. A bit of ice formed on the west leg, making it droop a bit. But, so far, I think it remains in one piece.
The big news this week: the ham community has a new member, my oldest daughter Sarah is now officially KE0YXG. She passed the Tech exam last Saturday at a testing session at the Lawrence Public Library. I kept the news quiet until her callsign appeared in the FCC database this past Friday. Then I got her grandfather (my dad, KD6EUG) onto my EchoIRLP node where he was surprised when KE0YXG joined the QSO with the news.

State of The Shack

I have put in some serious time trying to get the ham shack back in usable order. A lot of progress has been made.

(1) The shack computer has been replaced with a new Shuttle DS77U. Not a fancy, powerful computer but what I really enjoy is that it is small (slightly smaller than a cigar box (remember as a kid when you had a cigar box to keep your treasures)) size and that it is fanless (which equals quiet). It took a few iterations to settle on a linux distribution and to get fldigi and wsjtx working properly. During one of my test iterations I had xastir up and working (kinda of). I was able to pair it with the TM-D710A and it worked for transmitting, receiving, and plotting APRS signals. My failure was in getting the maps to work. Ends up it was an installation issue on my part. My end goal is to get xastir working on a separate linux box, possibly working with my Davis Vantage Pro2. I have seen very few clean, direct implementations of pairing xastir with a Davis Vantage Pro2… so, we’ll see. The other problem was tqsl or the software that runs LOTW. During one of my trial iterations, I had fldigi configured to log every completed contact directly to LOTW – it was great! It was challenging trying to install the latest version of tqsl and get it working properly. The version that is available in the repositories is outdated. The version available for ARRL is difficult to work with (using some distributions) due to dependencies. I had a great deal of success using the latest version of Linux Mint (19.3) which already had all the needed dependencies for tqsl. Now when I log a contact into fldigi’s logbook, it gets immediately uploaded to LOTW. It would be nice if wsjtx did the same, but it is no big deal to sign and upload that log later. All that being said, the shack computer is working nicely for what I need to have the basic functions to get on air.

(2) Selling off gear I don’t need. One of the factors that made the shack uninhabitable was all the excess stuff. I started selling gear off using QRZ.com’s forum. The gear is doing me no good, so it makes sense to lighten the load here. Up to this point I have listed and sold a Bencher BY-1 black-based paddle and two QRP kits I had sitting on the shelf. Next up will be the IC-92AD with all the bells and whistles (drop in charger, DV access point dongle, four batteries, the Nifty manual, the GPS speaker mic, plus the original box. What I like about the IC-92AD is its construction. The chassis is diecast aluminum, so the feel is solid… not something you get with the vast majority of HTs. I enjoyed using this HT from the indoors, using the dual band capability to monitor both my EchoIRLP node and D-STARS. I don’t do that anymore, so I think it is time the IC-92AD goes. I also found an old unbuilt NorCal 40a kit that includes a theory book on electronics. And it is also time to get rid of the FT-817ND that is tricked out with about every modification and additional gadget you could think of. There is a Bencher BY-2 that needs a new home. I also have maybe a half dozen unbuilt kits. Some I am unsure exactly what they are, although still in their original packaging. Many are from the now shuttered Small Wonders Lab. I am going to have to take some pictures of the ones I don’t recognize to see if I can figure out exactly what they are.

(3) Now the biggest issue that faces me is antenna improvement. Currently deployed in the trees off to the side of the house is a Radio Works G5RV. How sad I was to learn that Radio Works has also closed its doors. I was introduced to Radio Works when I lived in Hampton Roads, them being based in Portsmouth. Man they made great antennas. I still have one of their Carolina Windoms that I would like to put up. The G5RV needs to be replaced. It has made it through many Kansas winters and is ready to be retired. In cleaning the shack, I have pulled together all the odds and ends for hanging and installing antennas and I have everything I need on hand. Time to make it happen.

In non-shack news, I was going to replace the XYL’s TM-D710A with a D710GA, as well as a new motor to raise/lower the antenna. The antenna motor install was accomplished without issue. I attempted to install the D710GA without first testing it in the shack = mistake. Ends up the a-side control pot for volume/squelch was bad. As I purchased the rig as a Christmas present, I didn’t test it within the 14 day period required by Gigaparts in order to get the rig directly replaced. Instead, I have to send it in for warranty repair. Hopefully that goes smooth.

I am also hoping to have exciting news tomorrow. Keep your fingers crossed.