The Zombie Shuffle

I participated in a CW QRP event! Why not? It was actually a pretty good time.

The event: The Zombie Shuffle

The whole purpose is just to have fun. They are not looking for speed racer code operators and everyone is welcome.

The exchange is the best:
(1) RST
(2) your states
(3) a Zombie number, which is east to get. Or you can just use your area code.
(4) your Zombie name. This is the best part. You can just pick your own Zombie name being as creative as you want.

I had a total of 13 contacts (that’s pretty spooky in and of itself). Some of the fun names I worked were: Grim, Creepy, Gorigor, The Thing, Itt (as in Cousin Itt), Elvis, and Booger.

Fun stuff.

Trail Radio

Ham radio and trail hiking have been a natural pair. There are a few hams (that I know of) who have stood out over the last few years in hitting the trails with their amateur radio gear.

The first is Ed, WA3WSJ. He has been out on the Appalachian Trail (or AT) numerous times and has brought along a minimalist setup to get on HF and make some contacts. Chances are that you have heard of the Appalachian Trail – it streches from Georgia to Maine and allows an individual to hike from start to finish.

Ed’s an advocate of pedestrian mobile (WA3WSJ/pm) and has published a few books that tells of his experiences and offers advice for those interested in following his footsteps. He also has established the Great Outdoor Radio Club, which offers resources to avid and aspiring radio trail men.

Another amateur radio hiker is Dennis, K1YPP. He actually completed the Apalachain Trail and also wrote a book on his expierences. Hiking from one end to the other involves reducing the backpack weight as much as possible. Dennis successfully used QRP rigs during his time on the trail.

Here is a podcast of two hams who discuss hiking the Appalacian Trail, including the use of amateur radio (ham radio) and QRP (low power, less than 5 watts) along the way. From the series at Atlanticon 2006 in Timonium, MD.

The APRS folks also are involved in activities on the Appalachian Trail (check out here and here).

Heading west, the next major trail is the Continential Divide Trail. The trail goes from Mexico to Canada and spends a good portion of its time following the Rocky Mountains. Although not a dedicated Continential Divide Trail hiker – Steve, WG0AT, has spent plenty of time in the Rocky Mountains making amateur radio contacts. Steve’s take on hiking is a bit different as he brings two goats with him that help carry the equipment. If you have not seen his Youtube videos, then you are missing out.

Bob, K0NR, is also active in the Rockies… having most recently participated in a unique ham radio event – The 14er. Paul, W0RW, is an pedestrian mobile ham who has taken to the mountains to log contacts. However, I do not think either Steve, Bob, or Paul have actively hiked the Continental Divide Trail along with their rigs.

Further west is the Pacific Crest Trail. I was curious to find that not many hams head to the Pacific Crest Trail for hiking and QRP work either. There is a repeater guide by Bill, AA6J – but I am not sure how much of the trail he has hiked or if he brought any HF gear. The only ham I can find that has attempted the hike was Bruce, N7RR. It also looks like he did not make it all the way. Being a Californian, I am surprised that more west coast hams have not hit the trail along with their HF radio gear.

Have you had a QSO with a ham on the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail, or Pacific Crest Trail?

How do you feel about the idea of packing up a rig and heading for the mountains?

Spy Radio: AN/PRC-64

Richard Fisher, KI6SN, had a post back in August 2009 that talked about an interesting transceiver that was in use by the military in the 1960s and 1970s: the AN/PRC-64. The radio is crystal controlled, limited to four channels between 2.2 to 6.0 MHz, has a max output of 5W for CW and 1W for AM PHONE. Its distinguishing factor is the rigs small form factor: 9.8 x 5.1 x 4.7 in.

What really makes this a spy rig is its ability to be paired with another device: the AN/GRA-71. The AN/GRA-71 is a burst encoder. The encoder allows the transmission of CW messages of speeds up to 300 wpm… some serious QRQ.

A government evaluation report on the radio concluded, based on tests conducted in Vietnam supporting Special Forces teams, that the radio had an effective range while operating in CW mode of between 40 and 300 miles. I imagine with both the power output and frequency range (and assuming the use of a field expedient wire antenna) the radios were not normally used for long haul communications… probably more like a range of not more than 75 miles.

Enjoying the Sunshine

My intent this morning was to shake-out my portable operations gear. I am travelling out to California next week, enroute to Seattle and then Korea. For the flight to Korea I am allowed to take two duffel bags (<70 lbs each) and a carry-on. I get to ship a small amount of gear (aka "household goods") from here in Kansas to Korea, but I likely will not see that stuff again for a few weeks. So along with all the stuff I will need to function for a few weeks, I also want to bring some radio gear. The current plan is to use the Elecraft KX1. The rig has a tiny footprint and includes its own tuner and tiny set of paddles. For an antenna, I'm going to use my Buddistick. All the components fit into a small case. I decided to take the KX1 and Buddistick out for a test drive and see how everything worked together. I set up in a small park in Leavenworth on a bluff overlooking the the Missouri River. My dad had given me a heavy duty tripod from High Sierra that served as a great base for the Buddistick. The tripod is too big pack with my luggage, but I am definitely going to ship it with the rest of my household goods. I also brought along MFJ-259B to help tune the Buddistick. The Buddistick comes with a 31' radial. I found the challenge with the Buddistick is keeping the radial off the ground (as recommended). Instead of the 5.5' whip that comes with the Buddistick, I have the MFJ-1956, a 12' telescoping whip. 40M tuned up quick. I had the radial extended out all the way to 31'. Due to where I was at, there was no nearby tree that allowed me to get the radial up off the ground. The tripod let me raise up the Buddistick about 6'. It was interesting to see the SWR change as I adjusted the height. After connecting up the KX1, I found W5VYH, Bru, calling CQ around the old 40M Novice band. Bru was down in Arkansas and gave me a 559. Next up was 30M. After playing with the coil clip, I got the SWR down. Not much heard there. 20M was a bit harder to tune up. After playing with the coil clip and rolling in the radial, I was able to get the SWR down to 1:1.7. 20M was very busy with a bunch of station around 14.150 MHz. I responded to one or two stations calling CQ, but I imagine my small sized signal was hard to pull out of the mix. I'm going to try a few more trial runs. Also need to try out the adjustable clamp that comes with the Buddistick as a mount.

Dell Mini 9 + Ubuntu 9.10 Netbook Remix = Netbook Nirvana

My Dell Mini 9 netbook had been limping along on the Ubuntu distribution that came with it – 8.04. This specific version put out by Dell had some flaws. Follow on distributions were rumored to be glitchy with the Dell Mini 9; problems with WiFi, the integrated webcam, and other nits. With 9.04, Ubuntu introduced the Netbook Remix. Ubuntu’s website says that, “a remix is a ‘respun’ version of Ubuntu built for a specific purpose. Although Canonical has encouraged community projects to use this terminology for some time, this is the first time that Canonical has used it. We are using it to differentiate from an ‘Edition’ which we consider a complete version with daily builds suitable for the average user with no additional work beyond installing the CD.”

I loaded the remix from a USB flash drive (the Dell Mini does not have a CD drive). Everything worked flawlessly. The initall WiFi connection is quicker, Skype works with the embedded webcam, and the menu driven layout of the remix is intuitive. The initial OS took up only a mere 2GBs worth of space on the Dell Mini’s solid state hard drive.

While I do not enjoy the small keyboard and screen, the Dell Mini is a great little netbook to take notes on in a classroom and makes for a light load when traveling. Perhaps a good companion for a QRP field operation?

I look forward to playing around with my revitalized Dell Mini.

Achieved the vision…

It has been a long time goal to be able to sit in a comfy deck chair out in the backyard and have CW QSOs using my Elecraft KX1. Tonight it happen!
Last weekend I routed a feedline from an antenna switch down in the ham shack up to the deck in the backyard. I played around with it a bit, using the internal tuner to get a nice SWR on 80M, 40M, 30M and 20M. I listened around and tossed out my callsign a few times but didn’t have any takers.
I found myself back out in the backyard after dinner tonight, enjoying a wonderful evening. I broke out the KX1 (when I should of been doing my homework) and was listening around on the former 40M novice CW band…. I heard WA0TYS ably using a straight key and a Heathkit rig, calling CQ at a speed I could comfortably handle. I answered and Craig picked me up after a few tries. It was a short QSO, but I was elated. I hope to repeat this performance on a regular basis – it goes along way in maintaining my sanity.

Freeze Your Keys

Feb 14, 1400Z-2200Z, Leavenworth, KS. Kickapoo QRP Amateur Radio Club, W0EBB. 5th Annual ‘Freeze Your Keys’ Winter Operating Event. 14.280 14.060 7.280 7.030. QSL. Gary Auchard, 34058 167th St, Leavenworth, KS 66048.

Riding the shortwaves

I’ve enjoyed a little of my down time by tuning around with my Grundig YP300E. While not a feature rich radio, I’m surprised at how well it does. Two nights ago I enjoyed listening to a news program on Iranian radio. Reception was pretty solid and the propaganda reminded me of when I used to listen to Radio Moscow as a kid. Last night I tuned in to Radio Sweden for their half hour English language broadcast. I also briefly heard the Voice of Turkey, but was unable to get strong reception. It seems like I can always find the BBC.

The radio I’m looking at to give me the ability to receive LSB/USB as well as CW is the Elecraft KX1. What intrigues me most is it’s compact size. The radio has received excellent reviews on The radio’s small size will also allow me to take it on the road when I travel to Europe early next year.

An interesting website I stumbled across: It’s one stop shopping for a variety of information on amateur radio. I’m now reading the section
on the history of amateur radio called The Way Back Machine by Bill Continelli, W2XOY. Well written – great stuff.

Fun with the FT-817

I’ve been playing with my FT-817 and having some fun. It is amazing how many features they pack in such a tiny little box. I’ve slowly been learning some of them. The first (important) feature I discovered was the power setting. When you operate off batteries, the radio defaults to 2.5 watts output. You have to manually switch the radio to 5 watts to get max output. I knew this but failed to do it until I reread the manual. 5 watts compared to 2.5 watts makes a difference. PSK-31 works quite well with the FT-817. No issues there. CW is a little bit of a challenge without any filters… but still very doable. I’ve been playing with the IF Shift feature to get better copy on the other station for a CW QSO. I’ve read a lot about QRP and now it is time to put what I’ve read into action. First – a good antenna makes all the difference. Second – you’ll have more QSOs by answering a CQ than by calling CQ (i.e. listen, listen, listen). So far 40M has been where I’ve had the most luck, but I’d like to try more on 30M as it seems to be a less noisy band. But I’m having fun and improving my CW.

Getting back up on that CW horse

After being away from my CW paddle for quite some time, I’ve been trying to get back into CW. Over the past few days I’ve been having success with a few QSOs. Tonight I went down to 80M and had a QSO with Ed, AB8DF, from Michigan. Ed was operating QRP with an Elecraft K2 – a very cool rig. I’m going to keep working on my CW… eventually I’ll work my speed up to something I can be proud of.