Don’t Pound My Octothorpe

pound-sign-hashtag-numberIf you want to spark a conversation at your next social event, ask everyone the proper name for this symbol: #. Most North Americans will probably say pound sign or perhaps number sign. It helps to have an international audience, since a person from the UK will likely call it the hash symbol. Lately, the world of Twitter (and other social media) has made extensive use of # to tag keywords, referring to it as the hash mark used to create hashtags. A musician might claim that it is the sharp symbol from musical notation but closer examination reveals that the sharp symbol is quite different.

The AT&T engineers working on the original DTMF system adopted the name Octothorpe for this symbol. There are various explanations and anecdotes that have developed over the years concerning how this happened. Various forms of spelling show up in the literature (octatherp, octothorp, etc.). Doug Kerr’s story is particularly interesting and available on the internet (see below). There are US Patents that use the word “octothorp” to refer to the # symbol. Patent number 3920926 uses “octothorp” for # and “sextile or asterisk” for the * symbol. The term sextile never caught on at all.

For amateur radio usage (North America bias), I hear mostly pound for # and star for *. I suspect that will not change any time soon.

– Bob K0NR

Wikipedia entry for the number sign (#):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Number_sign

The Symbol on the “Pound” or “Number” Key (#) is Also Called an Octothorpe

The ASCII Character “Octatherp”, by Doug Kerr

Monarch Ridge South SOTA Activation (W0C/SP-058)

For the 2016 Colorado 14er Event, I chose really easy SOTA summits to activate because I had fractured my ankle earlier in the summer. At this point, I was able to hobble around with a protective boot but walking more than a few hundred feet was difficult. On Saturday, our radio crew (Bob K0NR, Joyce K0JJW, Denny KB9DPF and Kathy KB9GVC) drove up Pikes Peak and took a short stroll away from the vehicle to operate. On Sunday, we decided to activate Monarch Ridge South (W0C/SP-058), using the sight-seeing tram that goes to the top.

Trailhead signAccess is right off Monarch Pass (Hwy 50), where there is a large parking lot. There is a trail that goes to the top and we’ll be back to hike that some other time. (Actually, Joyce K0JJW and I already tried to snowshoe to the top in blizzard conditions but that is another story for another day.) The trail is a popular mountain bike route, part of the Continental Divide Trail (CTD). Monarch Pass is oriented north/south and the trail heads off to the east (behind the tram building). At some point, you need to turn left off the main trail to ascend the summit.

Tram lower buildingBut we opted for the tram, boarding it inside this building near the parking lot. We purchased tickets in the nearby gift shop, which is worth a look if you need a map, book, ice cream cone or trinkets. See their website for latest schedule and pricing.

 

 

 

Tram going up mountainHere’s a photo of the tram going up the side of the mountain. Of course, the views are great and the ride takes about 10 minutes. The tram car holds four people and a reasonable amount of SOTA gear.

 

 

 

KB9DPF operating 2m fmAt the top, Denny KB9DPF made contacts on 2m FM, aided by expert logger Kathy KB9GVC. The actual summit is about a tenth of a mile to the south but we operated from a concrete pad on the north side. The ridge is flat and we judged the activation area to be very large.

We made a total of 13 contacts on 2m and 70cm, including 5 other SOTA summits (S2S).

 

 

K0NR operating 70cmI used my Yaesu FT-817 to call on 432.100 MHz SSB, hoping to find someone in the UHF contest that was happening concurrently with the 14er event. I didn’t work anyone on 70cm SSB but I did work K3ILC in Colorado Springs on FM at a distance of ~90 miles. Not too bad. The Arrow antenna is attached to my hiking stick via the camera mount thread.

 

 

 

Radio SiteThere is a substantial radio site on Monarch Ridge that did provide some RF interference to us on 2 meters. The 70 cm band seemed to be unaffected but I can’t be sure. The “bad boy” transmitter is the KMYP automated weather station (AWOS) transmitting continuously on 124.175 MHz. Well, at least we could receive current weather information. We did relocate to put some distance between us and the transmitters but my lack of mobility kept us from going very far.

If you are looking for an easy access SOTA summit near Monarch Pass with excellent views, this is it. The hike up should not be very difficult but the tram makes it even easier. If you plan to operate 2 meters, expect some interference. Next time, I’ll try locating even further away from the transmitter site. I might even bring along some bandpass filters. Other SOTA enthusiasts have reported no problems on the HF bands.

At the time of this post, there are plans to put a 2m amateur repeater at this site on 145.325 MHz.

73, Bob K0NR

What’s In Your Rubber Duck?

rubber-duckyAnyone with a VHF or UHF handheld transceiver (HT) probably uses the standard “rubber duck” antenna for casual use. I often refer to the rubber duck as The World’s Most Convenient Crappy Antenna. To be fair, all antennas are a compromise…the rubber duck optimizes small size and convenience at the expense of performance. The Wikipedia entry describes the rubber duck antenna as “an electrically short monopole antenna…[that] consists of a springy wire in the shape of a narrow helix, sealed in a rubber or plastic jacket to protect the antenna.

Being curious about what really is hiding inside the typical rubber duck antenna, I decided to take a few of them apart. I did not try to assess the performance of the antennas but just examine their construction.

Baofeng UV-5R Stock Antenna

Baofeng UV-5R rubber duck
Baofeng UV-5R Antenna

I started by dissecting a Baofeng UV-5R antenna, which took some aggressive action with a diagonal wire cutters to split the rubberized jacket near the bottom. After that, the jacket slid off to reveal the classic spiral antenna element inside. You can see some white adhesive near the top of the spiral element (upper right in the photo).

The Baofeng antenna had a female SMA connector.

Note: You can access high resolution versions of the photos in this article by clicking on them, allowing you to see lots of detail.

 

 

Yaesu FT-1DR Stock Antenna

Yaesu FT-1DR antenna
Yaesu FT-1DR antenna

The Yaesu antenna was easy to disassemble. In fact, I chose this antenna because I noticed that the outside jacket had come loose and was starting to slide off the antenna. A steady pull on the cover exposed the antenna elements without any further antenna abuse. (I plan to reinstall the cover with a few dabs of glue and expect that it will continue to work fine.)

The construction of this antenna is quite different from the Baofeng. The main element is a very tightly-wound spring…so tight that I expect that it acts like a solid wire electrically. In other words, it doesn’t have the spiral configuration that makes the antenna act longer electrically. At the bottom of the antenna, there is a coil inserted in series with the radiating element (connects radiating element with the center pin of the SMA connector).

Yaesu FT-1DR coil closeup
Close up of antenna coil

 

The photo to the right shows a closeup view of the male SMA connector and the coil.

 

 

 

 

 

Laird VHF Antenna

Laird antenna peeling coating
Peeling back the outer coating of the Laird antenna

Next, I wondered if antennas for commercial radios used different design or construction techniques. Laird makes high-quality antennas for the mobile radio and other commercial markets, so I purchased one of their VHF rubber duck antennas to dissect. This model is intended for use with Motorola radios requiring a threaded antenna stud.

This antenna was a challenge to cut open. I used a sharp knife and diagonal pliers to cut the rubberized jacket and peeled it back using a needle-nose pliers. The rubberized coating was embedded into the spiral antenna element, so it did not come apart easily. It took over an hour fighting with the antenna and I gave up before getting the entire spiral element exposed.

 

Laird VHF antenna
Laird VHF antenna

The Laird antenna is clearly the sturdiest of the three antennas. The spiral element is much thicker than the Baofeng and the rubberized coating is tougher and molded tightly into the spiral element.

The Baofeng and Laird antennas use the same design concept…just take a spiral antenna element and apply a protective cover. However, the Laird construction was far superior, but not a surprise given that Baofeng is a low-cost provider in the ham radio (consumer) market.

My disappointment is with the Yaesu antenna. The antenna came apart after one year of not very heavy use. I expect I can put it back together with some adhesive, improving on the design in the process.

Anyway, I found this interesting and wanted to share it with you. What’s in your rubber duck?

73, Bob KØNR

All VHF Shack Sloth

w0sotaOn June 21st, I worked Steve K7PX on Mount Garfield (W0C/FR-040) using 2m fm to push me over 1000 points to quality for the SOTA Shack Sloth Award using only VHF. This is my first significant SOTA award, which I have been working towards for several years now. I decided to pursue Shack Sloth using only the VHF bands, which is much more difficult than using HF. Why did I choose that? Something about mountains, Height Above Average Terrain (HAAT) and VHF radio has always intrigued me.

Here’s the line up of my top chased summits, with Mt Herman and Pikes Peak taking the clear lead. Mt Herman is The Most Radio-Active Mountain in Colorado and it is in my backyard. Most of those contacts were with Steve WGØAT and Frank KØJQZ. Thanks, guys! Pikes Peak is also a clear VHF shot from my house and many SOTA activators and tourists like to activate that summit. No surprise, the rest of the summits are various peaks in Colorado, worked from my house or from our cabin near Trout Creek Pass. Quite a few of these are Summit-to-Summit contacts made when activating peaks, often during the Colorado 14er Event.

chased summitsMost of my thousand points were contacts made using plain old 2m fm, The Utility Mode. A few contacts were made on 2m ssb along with some 70 cm fm and ssb contacts. I have been encouraging folks to try 2m ssb for huge improvements in weak-signal performance but the universal nature of 2m fm seems to be winning out.

My next goal is Mountain Goat with VHF only. I’ll need to activate a lot of summits to get that done, so it will take me a while. It’s always good to have something to work towards.

73, Bob KØNR

How About an Updated FT-817?

The Elecraft KX2 made a big splash with QRP enthusiasts at the Dayton Hamvention this year. HamRadio360 had some good coverage of the product introduction. Basically, the KX2 is a shrunken version of the KX3, covering the HF bands 80m through 10m.

The Yaesu FT-817ND
The Yaesu FT-817ND

There were rumors circulating that Yaesu would introduce a replacement for the FT-817ND, but that turned out to not be true. It is a good rumor because the original FT-817 was introduced way back in 2001 (according to Wikipedia). Also, Chris Wilson NØCSW was actively soliciting inputs for an 817 replacement at the Central States VHF Conference last summer.

A while back, I did a comparison of the FT-817 and the KX3 (big brother to the KX2). I evaluated the two radios from a VHF/UHF point of view. The FT-817 is the only portable single-radio solution for 50 MHz, 144 MHz and 432 MHz. The KX3 includes 50 MHz standard and 144 MHz is an option. The KX2 leaves out the VHF bands completely to achieve a smaller size.

What’s Next for the FT-817?

Its always fun to speculate on what might be coming in new gear. I expect Yaesu will maintain its position as the QRP transceiver that covers HF/VHF/UHF. It has a long history of delivering cost-effective “do everything” radios. We can look to recent product introductions from Yaesu to get a hint of what might be coming.

The FT-2DR, FT-400DR and FT-991 have all adopted larger touch-screen displays so we can probably expect that for the 817 replacement. However, this will challenge the existing form factor…you can’t just drop a larger display into the existing 817 design. The three newer radios include the System Fusion C4FM digital mode…at this point, I don’t think Yaesu would introduce a VHF/UHF radio without it.

Which raises another question: will the new radio also include a GPS receiver? This capability is a good complement to the C4FM mode in a portable radio. The FT-991 requires you to enter your location manually, which the FT-2DR and FT-400DR use a built-in GPS. But it adds circuitry and complexity so I am going to guess they will leave that out.

I am expecting (hoping?) Yaesu will improve the battery life of the transceiver. (Receive standby current is spec’d at 450 mA.)  Even if they don’t improve the current drain, newer battery technology could be used to improve operating time. Also, depending on the form factor changes, it may be wise to dedicate more space for a physically larger battery.

Yaesu will probably improve the overall receiver performance, including advanced DSP features. Many 817 users have complained about the lack of coverage of 162 MHz weather radio in the US. On the transmit side, a little more output power would be nice…maybe match the KX3’s 10 watts on HF. Yaesu could really make the VHF crowd happy (in the US) if they included the 222 MHz band.

Take One Tablet

The radio will surely have a computer I/O port with USB being the most flexible choice. There is an opportunity to innovate a bit here by coupling the radio with Android and iOS tablets. I could see a really nice app that handles logging, CW, PSK31, RTTY, bandscope, and other advanced features. This could take the pressure off having a larger display and loading tons of features into the radio. The most convenient I/O would be wireless, most likely Bluetooth or maybe WiFi.  Many of the SOTA and QRP operators already take along a smartphone or tablet for logging and other tasks, so it would be a good fit to that market. The key to this idea is careful human factors design and tight integration with the radio. Do I expect this from Yaesu? Not really. So surprise me and knock my socks off.

Those are my thoughts. Your turn.

73, Bob KØNR

This Spewed Out of the Internet #32

0511-0701-3118-0930It has been a while since I’ve done one of these Internet Spewing posts, so I’ve got some catching up to do.

Twitter is heating up with rumors and reports of new ham gear to be introduced at the Dayton Hamvention. Elecraft is introducing the KX2 QRP HF transceiver. I know this one is real because Steve WGØAT got a chance to try out a unit, shown here in this video. Also, see the short review by Frank KØJQZ.

VA3XPR broke the news about a VHF/UHF radio that does DMR, D-STAR and C4FM digital modes. This was followed by the announcement of another radio, the DV4mobile, that will handle DMR, D-STAR, C4FM, P25 and some other modes. This is exciting stuff but we’ve been here before and nothing materialized. It is definitely achievable…the technology exists. Someone just has to do the work of creating a product. I hope they do it.

K3NG comments on the most recent innovation from Heathkit, the Pipetenna. Leixen recently introduced a 25 W UHF handheld radio. Now who thinks THAT is a good idea?

The FCC is thinking about making amateur radio licenses last for a lifetime. See the KB6NU blog and comments on the topic.

The ARRL announced that the August UHF Contest is cancelled, thereby ticking off the hams that like to work that contest. It seems they also ticked off the many hams that have been contemplating participating in the contest for the last decade but just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

Not cancelled but expanded is the Colorado 14er Event, which will go the whole weekend (August 6-7). Check out the ham14er web site for the latest info. Its our 25th year and its going to be fun!

The Atlantic published a decent article on ham radio, focusing on the emergency communication aspect of the radio service. Yay!

Don’t forget to participate in the National Pizza Ovens On The Air (NPOOTA) event. Unfortunately, there’s been some partisan bickering about Obama’s recent activation. In related news, here’s a proposal to abolish the use of Q codes. To which I say, QSL!

After one of our Tech Licensees asked “just how many antennas do I need to cover all these bands?”, I wrote this article at HamRadioSchool.com: Antennas… How Many Do I Need?

Another important question is How Many Digits of Pi Do I Need? It turns out that JPL has figured this out using actual math and the answer is 16 digits. You don’t need anymore than that. Ever.

OK, that’s it for now. No, I am not going to be at Dayton. All of the Cool Kids went to Hamcon Colorado instead.

73, Bob KØNR

Summits On The Air – Colorado Style

14erLOGOsmallSummits On The Air – Colorado Style is the title of my presentation at Hamcon Colorado, 2 pm Friday May 13th. I will be discussing the Summits On The Air program and the Colorado 14er Event.

The slides are available here:
Summits On The Air -Colorado Style

The conference will be excellent. I hope to see you there!

73, Bob KØNR

Announcing: 25th Annual Colorado 14er Event

14erLOGOsmallAmateur Radio operators from around Colorado will be climbing many of Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains and Summits On The Air (SOTA) peaks to set up amateur radio stations in an effort to communicate with other radio amateurs across the state and around the world. Join in on the fun during the 25th annual event and see how many of the mountaintop stations you can contact. This year the event is expanded to include the entire weekend, August 6 & 7. However, many mountaintop activators will hit the trail early with the goal of being off the summits by noon due to lightning safety concerns.

See the very cool 25 Year Anniversary t-shirts available at http://www.cafepress.com/wg0at

The 14er event includes Summits On the Air (SOTA) peaks, which add over 1700 potential summits! If you aren’t up to climbing a 14er, there are many other summits to choose from (with a wide range of difficulty). See the W0C SOTA web page at w0c-sota.org

Radio operators who plan to activate a summit should post their intent on the ham14er Yahoo Group. To subscribe to the “ham14er” email list, visit the Yahoo groups site at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ham14er/ . Also, be sure to check out the event information at http://www.ham14er.org  It is also a great idea to post an ALERT on the SOTAwatch.org website.

Frequencies used during the event
Activity can occur on any amateur band including HF and VHF. The 2m fm band plan uses a “primary frequency and move up” approach. The 2m fm primary frequency is 147.42 MHz.  At the beginning of the event, operators should try calling on 147.42 MHz. As activity increases on that frequency, move on up the band using the 30 kHz steps. Don’t just hang out on 147.42 MHz…move up! The next standard simplex frequency up from 147.42 MHz is 147.45 MHz, followed by 147.48 and 147.51 MHz.

Frequency (MHz) Comments Frequency (MHz) Comments
147.42 Primary 2m FM Frequency, then up in 30 kHz steps  7.032 40m CW Frequency
147.45 Alternate 2m FM frequency  7.185 40m SSB Frequency
147.48 Alternate 2m FM frequency 10.110 30m CW Frequency
147.51 Alternate 2m FM frequency 14.060 20m CW Frequency
446.000 Primary 70 cm FM frequency 14.345 20m SSB Frequency
446.025 Alternate 70 cm FM frequency 18.092 17m CW Frequency
144.200 2m SSB calling frequency 18.158 17m SSB Frequency
50.125 6m SSB calling frequency 21.060 15m CW Frequency
21.330 15m SSB Frequency
Other Bands/Modes Standard calling frequencies and/or band plans apply. 28.060 10m CW Frequency
28.350 10m SSB Frequency

Warning: Climbing mountains is inherently a dangerous activity.
Do not attempt this without proper training, equipment and preparation.

Sponsored by The Colorado 14er Event Task Force

Here’s the event flyer in pdf format: Colorado 14er Event Flyer 2016

DX, Artificial Scarcity and The List

dxEconomists see scarcity, supply and demand as fundamental forces in a market. Items that are scarce demand a higher price while items that are easy to obtain tend to have a lower price.  A diamond is an example of something that is relatively scarce (and in demand) so it commands a high price. In contrast, wood is generally available and is much less expensive than diamonds.

Then there’s the concept of artificial scarcity. If some items can be made scarce (or even just appear scarce), the price will tend to increase. For example, if I own all of the banana trees on an isolated island, I could reduce the available supply of bananas and command a higher price from all of the banana eaters there. Or maybe I start screening bananas for quality and I put a special sticker on them to brand them as special.

bananaWe have a case of artificial scarcity in ham radio, called the DXCC list. This list defines what is considered a separate country when chasing DX. (Actually, the correct term is entity, not country.) For example, Hawaii (KH6) and Alaska (KL7) are considered separate entities even though they are part of the United States. (See Is Alaska a Country?) For someone chasing DXCC entities, because Alaska is on The List, a radio contact with Alaska becomes more desirable. It’s kind of like putting a “premium sticker” on a banana to indicate that it is special.

In my imagination, the DXCC list resulted from a bunch of hams sitting around drinking beer and bragging about how many countries they had worked. One guy, Larry says he just worked Hawaii, bringing his total to 125 countries. His buddy Leroy says, “You can’t count Hawaii because it’s part of the US of A.”  To which Larry says, “You bet I can count Hawaii…and Texas too. It’s a whole ‘nuther country.” Clearly, we are going to need an official list to keep track of what counts as a country.  A more credible version of how the list got established is captured in this article from the October 1935 QST.

Of course, the two main factors that drive scarcity of DXCC entities is the ham radio population and ease of access. Radio contacts are easy to make with entities that have an active ham population. If an entity doesn’t have many active hams but is easy to get to, someone will probably put that location on the air once in a while.  On the other hand, some locations are unpopulated and really difficult to get to. These are not only on The List, they are on The Most Wanted List.

Kingman Reef (KH5) was just deleted from The List, instantly changing it from one of the most desired contacts in amateur radio to a big giant Why Bother. You see, there used to be 340 countries on the list but now there’s only 339. Kingman Reef will now be considered part of Palmyra/Jarvis, so it still has value for DXCC, just a lot less.

As I write this article, there is a major DXpedition (VKØEK) operating from Heard Island, an unpopulated island near Antartica. The only reason those guys are there is that Heard Island is on The List. Take a look at their web site and you’ll see how much time and energy has gone into activating this lonely island. Drop it from the list and suddenly a radio contact with this location is a lot less in demand.

So try to keep this all in perspective. There are lots of radio contacts out there to be made, some more interesting and desirable than others. It is appropriate and necessary that we have the DXCC list, to provide consistency in how we count countries, I mean entities. But really, it all traces back to Larry and Leroy arguing about who worked the most countries.

Thanks to the dedicated DXpeditioners that put these rare locations on the air.

73, Bob K0NR

Yaesu FT-1DR: A Trail Friendly SOTA HT

A common topic in the QRP community is the Trail Friendly Radio (TFR) concept for backpack-style operating on the high-frequency bands. I’ve adapted the concept for the VHF/UHF bands, calling it the VHF Trail Friendly Radio (VTFR).

IMG_0728edit

Strong candidates for the best VTFR include the Elecraft KX3 (with 2m option) and the Yaesu FT-817. Heck, both of these radios deliver all of the HF bands, 6m and 2m in one portable package. (The FT-817 also has 70cm.) See my blog post that compares the two rigs.

But the other set of strong contenders for the best VTFR is one of the many dualband HTs available on the market. It is hard to beat the compact, portable attributes of these great little radios for casual use on the trail. I’m not going to review them all but instead talk about my current favorite: the Yaesu FT-1DR. (Yaesu has recently replaced the FT-1DR with the newer model FT1XDR, which is the same design but with an improved GPS receiver and larger battery pack.)

My main usage of the radio is when hiking and doing Summits On The Air (SOTA) activations. This radio has a lot to offer in terms of capability and features, but the main things that stand out are 2m/70cm band coverage, two independent receivers and built-in GPS/APRS capability. Most SOTA VHF operating is on 2m fm so that band is critical, but I also make contacts on 70cm. More important is that together 2m and 70cm covers that vast majority of fm repeaters in my state, providing the best backcountry repeater coverage. The built-in APRS features allow the HT to be an effective tracking device as I move down the trail. SOTA chasers can see my position in real-time and anticipate when I’ll be on the summit. The radio has two separate receivers which turns out to be very useful when on the trail. With two receivers, I can monitor 146.52 MHz (2m fm calling frequency, often used for SOTA) while also keeping an ear on a local 2m or 70cm repeater. Another configuration is using one side of the radio to ping my location via APRS while the other side monitors 146.52 MHz.

The extended receive capability of the radio opens up lots of listening options: AM broadcast, FM broadcast, airband, shortwave and NOAA weather radio. I don’t use these very often but there are times that I want to tune to weather or news.

I am not a huge fan of Yaesu’s C4FM digital mode but do use it on occasion. The DN (digital narrow) mode supports voice and position information simultaneously, so Joyce KØJJW and have been using it to keep track of each other on the trail. The radio provides a basic indication of distance and direction to another C4FM radio.

A few other tips: if you buy an FT-1DR, I recommend upgrading the belt clip to the BC-102 clip from Batteries America. It is way better than the standard one from Yaesu. Michael KX6A created a very handy quick reference card for operating the FT-1D, so consider putting one in your pack.

73, Bob KØNR

Winter SOTA Activation of Kaufman Ridge North

Today, Joyce KØJJW and I activated Kaufman Ridge North (W0C/SP-085) for Summits On The Air (SOTA). We’ve been on the summit before, including the first ever SOTA activation back in September of 2012. This summit is close to our cabin, so it made for a convenient hike. The mountain is not that difficult of a climb but we encountered quite a bit of snow in March, up to three feet in places, which we tromped across with snowshoes.

IMG_0720edit
Joyce K0JJW on snowshoes in typical trail conditions

My blog posting about the next mountain to the south, Kaufman Ridge HP (W0C/SP-081), outlines a good way to access both summits during the summer. However, a seasonal gate closure (December to April) means we needed to find a different route. We approached the mountain from the north, parking our vehicle on Castle Court (a short side road off of Kaufman Road). We quickly crossed what appears to be private property (empty lot, no signs) to get to the US Forest Service boundary. Once we hopped the fence we were on public lands. We intentionally routed to the east to avoid some houses.

Snowshoe route shown to summit of Kaufman Ridge North
Snowshoe route shown to summit of Kaufman Ridge North. We parked at Castle Court, the unlabeled road that connects with Kaufman Road.

I don’t claim that this route is optimal. We had to break a lot of trail, pushing through the snow. We found a section of trail that had recent snowshoe traffic on it but it wasn’t of much use to us heading to the summit. We followed numerous game trails which appeared and disappeared on the side of the mountain. Mostly, we busted through the snow on our own. Surprisingly, the last quarter mile to the summit had little snow, so we removed our snowshoes at that point and just hiked in boots.

IMG_0728editMy Yaesu FT-1DR has become my favorite rig for SOTA activations. It covers both 2m and 70cm with dual-receiver capability. it has a built-in GPS receiver and APRS capability that facilitates easy APRS tracking. Joyce and I have a pair of these which we’ve been using to track each other’s positions on the few occasions we get separated on the trail.

 

 

Bob K0NR knocks out a few 2m fm contacts from the summit
Bob K0NR knocks out a few 2m fm contacts from the summit

After we made the summit, I made a few contacts on 146.52 MHz. Thanks to Jim KDØMRC, Dave KØHTX, Carl K5UK and Candy KEØDMT for giving me my four required SOTA contacts.

The weather turned out to be better than predicted…partly cloudy and temps around 50 degrees F. On the way back down, we retraced our ascent path so we had more of a snowshoe trail to follow. I have to admit that this trip was a good lesson in how off-trail snowshoeing can really be a challenge. This was many times more difficult than a summer trail hike of equal length and elevation gain. Trip stats: 2.6 total miles, 1300 vertical feet.

At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

73, Bob K0NR

V29RW: Slacker DXpedition to Antigua

Recently, I had another opportunity to take ham radio along on vacation to a Caribbean island, this time to Antigua. This was not a super-gonzo turbo-charged DXpedition. I just worked in some radio action in between snorkeling and beach walking. This is referred to as a “holiday style” DXpedition, or maybe it’s just the slacker approach.

qsl card beach
V29RW QSL Card

Radio Equipment

The radio gear needed to fit easily into my luggage. After all, we’ve got snorkel gear to take along. I wanted to put out a healthy signal from the island, so I rejected the idea of running QRP, opting instead for a 100W transmitter. Ultimately, I chose to take a Yaesu FT-991 which is full-power and full-featured but still relatively compact. It easily fit into my carry-on bag along with some other items. Having a built-in antenna tuner was a real plus and it was also good to have the 2m and 70 cm bands.

operating position
Patio operating position with FT-991 and logging computer

Choosing an antenna was a critical item. My first thought was to take my Buddistick antenna which covers the HF bands I was interested in working: 20m, 17m, 15m and 10m. I used that antenna from the Virgin Islands and it was really handy for taking to the beach. This time I wanted something bigger under the theory that size does matter. On the other hand, I wasn’t going to take full size yagis for each of the bands. I finally settled in on using End-Fed Half Wave (EFHW) antennas for the 4 bands (from LNR Precision). This gave me a simple half-wave antenna on each band with no coils, no traps, nothing funny going on. These antennas radiate well and have decent bandwidth…any SWR degradation can be tweaked up quickly using the FT-991 antenna tuner.

antenna pole
End-fed half-wave antenna supported by SOTABeams pole

Steve WGØAT suggested I use the SOTABEAMS 30-foot mast to support the EFHW antennas. It is an incredible mast that collapses to 26.5 inches, small enough to fit into my bag. This antenna set up is common with the SOTA activators: EFHW supported by some kind of lightweight pole. I also tossed in a 19-inch magmount antenna for 2m and 70cm. (I did find a good repeater on on 147.0 MHz but did not spend much time on it.)

end fed half wave
Close up of the EFHW antenna matching network

Rounding out the kit was an Astron switching power supply, a 25-foot length of RG-8X coaxial cable, a Heil Traveler headset and a few patch cords. I found it tempting to keep throwing more stuff in the bag so I adopted the backpacker mentality of taking just what I needed and not much more. For computer logging, I chose N1MM Plus software, with the log type set to “DX”.

I have to confess that I did manage to break the 30-foot mast early in the trip. The house was on a hill and we always had a strong breeze coming through. One day it flexed the mast enough to break it. This was quickly repaired with duct tape. After that, I did not use the 3 top sections of the mast which reduced the amount of sway in the wind (and stress on the mast).

On The Air

Bob K0NR
Bob KØNR operating as V29RW in Antigua

My operating time was a bit sporadic and my operating strategy was simple: work the highest band (of 20m, 17m, 15m and 10m) that had some decent propagation to somewhere. Antigua is not extremely rare but it seemed to attract attention. Typically, I called CQ, worked a few stations and then a big pileup would develop. I made lots of QSOs with stations in North America, South America and Europe. I also made a few contacts into Africa but none with Asia. Signal reports were generally good (S9 +), so the antennas were doing the job.

All in all, I was pleased with the contacts I made, given the slacker effort. I especially enjoyed working 17m, a band I have not spent that much time on. The propagation is similar to 20m but noticeably less jammed with signals.

  Band  QSOs DXCC
    14   309   36
    18   162   13
    21    21   10
    28    91    6
 Total   583   65

QSLs for V29RW should be sent to my home callsign: KØNR (direct or via the bureau). Logbook of the World contacts have already been confirmed. Instant gratification, baby!

73, Bob KØNR, V29RW

Licensing info: It was relatively easy to get a ham radio license in Antigua, based on my US license (fees were $30 US). See this web page.

16 Mar 2016: V29RW QSLs have been sent out via US mail based on cards received

January VHF Contest Plus SOTA

A view of Pikes Peak from Mt Herman.
A view of Pikes Peak from Mt Herman.

It’s been a while since I’ve done a January VHF contest from a mountaintop so I decided to give it a try from Mount Herman this year. The ARRL recently changed the contest rules to allow the use of the national 2m fm calling frequency for contests. See Coming Soon: 146.52 MHz in ARRL VHF Contests. I wanted to see how this change would play out in practice when doing a combination VHF Contest plus SOTA activation. In previous attempts, I had to vector the SOTA activity to another 2m fm frequency for it to be a legal contact for the contest. The SOTA + Contest operation is attractive because it has all the elements of a fun SOTA hike coupled with the increased activity of a VHF contest. The contest brings out the weak-signal folks with very capable stations, increasing the probability of making some good DX contacts.

Bob K0NR using an HT to make contacts on 446.0 MHz FM.
Bob K0NR using an HT to make contacts on 446.0 MHz FM.

 

Joyce KØJJW and I hit the trail at 10:30 AM local with the goal of being at the summit around noon (1900 UTC) for the start of the ARRL contest. The trail was icy, but manageable with the gripping devices on our boots. The weather was chilly but not bad for January. At the summit, I configured my FT-60 handheld radio for 146.52 MHz using a 2m half-wave vertical. My first call netted a QSO with Tim, KAØMWA in Castle Rock. I worked a few other stations on 2m fm and then set up the 2m ssb station (FT-817 plus Arrow II antenna). On 144.200 MHz SSB, I contacted two Wyoming stations in grid DN71, about 140 miles away. I also gave a call on 446.0 MHz fm and worked W3DHJ and KE0HBW mobile.

Freq    Mode    UTC     Call     Grid
146.52    FM    1900    KA0MWA   DM79
146.52    FM    1902    N0AXK    DM79
146.52    FM    1905    N0LP     DM79
146.52    FM    1905    K0GPA    DM79
146.52    FM    1905    WG0AT    DM79
146.52    FM    1920    N0ISB    DM78
146.52    FM    1923    N0LEA    DN70
144.2    SSB    1932    WY7KY    DN71
144.2    SSB    1935    K0ALE    DM79
144.2    SSB    1938    AB0YM/R  DM79
144.2    SSB    1939    KG0RP    DN70
144.2    SSB    1940    WA7KYM   DN71
144.2    SSB    1942    KC4YLV   DM79
446.0    FM     1948    W3DHJ    DM78
144.2    SSB    1949    WE7L     DM79
144.2    SSB    1951    N0SP     DM79
446.0    FM     2000    KE0HBW   DM79

The wind was strong at the summit and kept blowing everything around, making it difficult to operate the radio and manage the antennas. After an hour of operating, I decided to QRT and head on down. I know I missed a bunch of potential contacts, especially having not gotten on 70 cm and 6m ssb.

Except for the short operating time, the operation played out as expected. I was able to work the SOTA folks and 2m fm enthusiasts on 146.52 MHz. I made it a point to not hog the calling frequency, as there are quite a few folks that monitor there. Switching over to 2m ssb, I worked the contest crowd, typically with more capable vhf stations. My score is a whopping 114 points, in the single-op portable category.

Thanks to everyone that got on the air to play radio that day!

73, Bob KØNR

2016 SOTA Activity Days

Bob summitSummits On The Air (SOTA) operating events are a great way to promote activity and create opportunities for summit-to-summit radio contacts. Here’s the 2016 calendar, an update of the 2015 list suggested by Guy N7UN. Many of these dates are aligned with VHF events but there will be HF activity as well.

IMG_1836Of course, any day is a good day for SOTA activity.  The August 6-7 weekend looks to be the alignment of the planets with four events happening around that weekend. Early August usually offers excellent conditions for hiking the highest peaks in Colorado, so come on out and play.

For more info on VHF SOTA, see How To Do a VHF SOTA Activation.

Get off the couch, put on your hiking boots, grab your backpack, grab your radio but most important: get on the air!

73, Bob K0NR

ISO-TIP 7700 Soldering Iron Review

Model 7700
Model 7700 soldering iron

I recently had the opportunity to try out a new ISO-TIP 7700 soldering iron. This is a rechargeable soldering iron without a lot of extra features but it is plenty capable for small soldering tasks. Here’s a few specs from the ISO-TIP web site:

MODEL #7700
– Fully recharges in 3.5 to 4.0 hours
– Partially charged battery to full capacity in one to two hours
– Up to 125 soldering joints per charge during continuous use
– Withstands high-rate charging without damage
I’ve been on the lookout for a simple construction project for our local radio club and had acquired a Blinkey Kit from rainbowkits.com. This is a simple two-LED flasher circuit using the venerable 555 timer. I decided it was also a great little project to try out the 7700 soldering iron. Assembly was very simple, requiring 24 solder joints. The iron did a find job of heating up those joints. It takes about 2 to 3 seconds for the tip to heat up, plenty fast for my needs.
IMG_0414soldering
Soldering iron in action

Here’s a short video of the circuit blinking away, proving that I can solder together a simple circuit: Video of circuit blinking Yes, the circuit did work the first time.

The soldering iron performed well, no complaints at all. With only 24 joints to solder, I did not stress the capacity of the iron (which is rated at 125 joints). This is a relatively light duty iron, so I wondered how well it would do against a physically large soldering task. Soldering a PL-259 coaxial connector is a common task for amateur radio work, one that takes a lot of heat. I was surprised to find that the 7700 was able to heat up the center pin of the connector quite nicely. I was not surprised that it struggled with heating the body of the connector. I think that is asking too much of this size soldering iron. The only nit I would pick is I’d really like a LED power/charging indicator. I am always nervous about whether a device is plugged in, getting power, really charging and a simple indicator would solve that. But that is a very minor issue and probably speaks more about my personal paranoia than the soldering iron.
This iron has quickly become my “Go To” tool for quick soldering jobs. I don’t do major kit assembly and other big soldering tasks. I just need a little soldering here and there and this baby is always in the charging stand ready to go. To order the soldering iron (and see other products), visit http://www.iso-tip.com/products-page/
Use discount code YT1510 to get 10% off store wide.
73, Bob K0NR
Disclosure: this soldering iron was provided to me by ISO-TIP at no charge.

The Most Radio-Active Mountain in Colorado

K0NR Operating VHF on Mt Herman
K0NR Operating VHF on Mt Herman (Photo: Ken Wyatt WA6TTY)

I’ve often said that Mount Herman (W0C/FR-063) is the most (ham) radio active mountain in Colorado. Many of us have operated from that summit for VHF contests, QRP events and Summits On The Air (SOTA). Of course, I didn’t have any data to back that claim…until now. A review of the cumulative SOTA activations in Colorado through Jan 1, 2016 shows these four summits as the most-activated SOTA peaks.

Summit SOTA Designator Number of Activations
Mount Herman W0C/FR-063 95
Pikes Peak W0C/FR-004 53
Mount Evans W0C/FR-003 33
Squaw Mountain W0C/PR-082 31

All of these summits are relatively close to the large population centers in the state. Also, they not that difficult to get to and some of them have roads that go to the top. Pikes and Evans are both 14ers but can be accessed via 2WD vehicles.

But what makes Mount Herman so special? It does not have a road to the summit — you definitely have to hike it, a little bit more than a mile one way with elevation gain of ~1000 feet. What makes the difference for Herman is that it is in the backyard of the well-known radio ham, goat hiker and SOTA enthusiast, Steve WGØAT. Steve has personally activated the summit more than 30 times AND he drags along mentors encourages other radio hams to join him. Frank KØJQZ did 22 activations, some with Steve and many on his own. (Frank just achieved SOTA Mountain Goat status, activating enough summits to earn 1000 SOTA points.) Fortunately for me, Mt Herman is about 4 miles as the GPS flies from my house, so I have worked that summit 31 times (usually Steve or Frank and always on 2 meters). I’ve also activated Mt Herman for SOTA three times, as described here: A Soggy Mount Herman SOTA Activation, Mt Herman: SOTA plus VHF Contest and Winter Assault on Mt Herman.

Here’s one of Steve’s fun videos that captures the first SOTA activation of Mt Herman, with his goat crew Peanut and Rooster (SK).

Frank and Steve, thanks for all of the Q’s from Mt Herman over the past years! See you on the air and on the trail.

73, Bob KØNR

Winter Assault on Mt Herman (W0C/FR-063)

On the last day of the year, it seemed like a good idea to get in one more SOTA activation. It turns out that I had not been up Mt Herman (W0C/FR-063) all year, even though it’s close by. See this page for the trail description. Joyce KØJJW and I decided to hike up in the morning, reaching the summit around 11 AM local time.  This was my third SOTA activation of Mt Herman, but I’ve operated from there many more times in various VHF contests (back before SOTA was a thing in Colorado).

Trail conditions
Winter conditions on Mount Herman trail.

The road to the trailhead (Mt Herman Road, FS 320) was in very good condition but snowpacked and icy. This road is not plowed during the winter but it is often passable with a decent 4WD vehicle. Today, you could make it to the trailhead with 2WD and some careful driving. The trail conditions were typical for winter time: almost completely covered in snow with a few bare spots showing here and there. The trail was packed powder and not particularly icy. Still, we appreciated having traction devices on our boots. This trail can be downright treacherous when it ices up, so traction devices (Yaktrax, Microspikes, etc.) are highly recommended. Trekking poles can be helpful, too.

K0JJW K0NR
Joyce K0JJW and Bob K0NR on the trail.

Once at the summit, I used my Yaesu FT-60 handheld radio and a half-wave vertical antenna to work people on 146.52 MHz. Having notified a number of people that I would be on the air, I actually had a bit of a pile up on 2m fm. In short order, I worked KE5QNG, WA6MM, KH7AL, WG0AT, W7AWH, K9MAP, K0JQZ, K9DBX, W0STU, KD0MFO, WB0ROK, KD0VHD and KL7IZW. Best DX was about 50 miles with W7AWH in Pueblo West. Thanks to everyone that got on the air to work me.

The weather was cold, about 15 deg F, so we didn’t stay too long on the summit and headed back down the trail. OK, maybe “winter assault” is a bit of an exaggeration. Let’s call it a fun hike in cold weather.

73, Bob K0NR

Other postings on SOTA activation of Mt Herman:
Soggy Mount Herman SOTA Activation (W0C/FR-063)
Mt Herman: SOTA plus VHF Contest

Top Five K0NR Blog Posts from 2015

blog graphicAs we approach the end of the year, it is fun to look back to see which blog posts were read the most. WordPress has some great tools that make this easy to do.

The most read post on k0nr.com concerns the use of amateur gear outside the ham bands: Can I Use My Ham Radio on Public Safety Frequencies? Actually, I have two blog postings that cover the same topic but one of them is a bit out of date. They both get lots of hits, but I’ve linked to the one that is updated. This is a hot topic as many people still believe strongly that no ham gear is legal on Part 90 frequencies (read through the comments on that post). This is why I took the time to write about it, attempting to explain it and educate the ham community.

The second hottest post was quite controversial: Are Kids the Future of Ham Radio? I got a ton of feedback on this one. People either resonated with its message or just thought it was crazy. I wanted to start a discussion on the topic so I guess it met that objective. Although it is hard to have a discussion when someone says your post is ridiculous. (Disclosure: the original title of the posting was Kids Are Not the Future of Ham Radio, which I later toned down.)

It’s a bit sad that this next post is still so popular: Solving the Baofeng Cable Problem. There is a really frustrating problem with how the Windows driver works with certain USB interface chips. Many folks who went out and bought low cost Baofeng (and other) radios got totally hosed up by this. Hence, the need for and the popularity of this blog posting.

Mobile radio installations are always a bit of an exploration, so I try to share what I learn when doing one. People seem to appreciate this kind of article and often ask followup questions via email. For whatever reason, my 2012 Jeep Wrangler Radio Install post continues to be a popular post on my blog.

One of my classic articles is the FM/VHF Operating Guide, just some basic information to help people get started with FM and repeater operating. I update it from time to time and it gets quite a few hits.

Hey, thanks for stopping by k0nr.com. Best of luck to you in the New Year.

73, Bob K0NR

Ten Year Trends in US Ham Licenses

fcc-1In November 2005, I took a look at some statistics on FCC amateur radio licenses. At that time, I compared the number of ham licenses to such things as the US population, number of cell phones in use and the number of birdwatchers in the US. Interesting stuff.

Ten years later, we can take a look at the how the composition of FCC licenses has changed. The total number of licenses has grown to over 733k, increasing 11% over 10 years. This is a small growth rate, only 1% Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR).

Extra Advanced General Technician Novice Total
Nov 2005 107,177 74,351 135,023 317,839 26,882 661,272
16% 11% 20% 48% 4% 100%
Nov 2015 139,515 48,272 172,239 362,580 10,988 733,594
19% 7% 23% 49% 1% 100%
% Change 30% -35% 28% 14% -59% 11%

Source: www.ah0a.org

No surprise that the number of Advanced and Novice licenses has decreased because the FCC stopped issuing those licenses. Technicians represent about half of the licenses, a proportion that has remained steady over the decade, increasing 1 point.  The percent of Generals increased by 3 points, to 23%. Similarly, Extra Class licenses increased by 3 points to 19%.

I reported the ARRL membership as approximately 152k in 2005. The 2014 ARRL Annual Report shows 165,663 members resulting in a growth rate of about 9% over 9 years (not ten). I’ll go ahead and “spot them” another point of growth in the tenth year and call it 10% over ten years. So it seems that ARRL membership is roughly keeping pace with the growth in amateur radio licenses, put probably not gaining on it.

Another question is how are amateur radio licenses keeping pace with US population growth? During the period of 2005 to 2015, the US population grew about 9%, which means that the number of FCC licenses is actually growing slightly faster than the overall population. Source: http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/us-population/

At this point, many of us will ask how many of those FCC license holders are actually active in ham radio. Hard to say…perhaps a topic for another post.

73, Bob K0NR