Sunday, May 26, 2013

QRP in the WMA

That title sounds a lot like WKRP in Cincinnati...

But this is Florida, and I'm not Doctor Johnny Fever!  In fact, I would say that I most closely resemble Arthur Carlson, and act more like Les Nessman.  But I digress.

Now then, my son Richard (we call him Tank) and I went to the Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area today for a bit of QRP fun.  This all started out with him coming to me last night and saying those words that destroy every Father, and that probably every father has heard at one point or another in life.  "Dad, we don't spend enough time together!  Can we go fishing or something....".   I used to love fishing and hunting, but since getting married 16 years ago to someone that isn't a big fan of either, I am kind of out of practice.  So my response was: "Well, son, I don't have a fishing license, but I do have an Amateur Radio License!  How about we go out and play radio in the woods?"  He was skeptical, but willing...

Now then, I don't do this often outside of Field Day, so I didn't have a lot of options with regards to hardware and antennas.  Thankfully you don't need a lot to have fun!  My equipment list consisted of:

  • Radio Gear:
    • Yaesu FT-840 (given to me by the son of an SK)
    • MFJ-969 Tuner (given to me by the son of an SK)
  • Antenna and Misc:
    • Two 75' spools of nylon rope
    • One 1000' spool of #24awg twisted pair "cross-connect wire"
    • Two dog-bone insulators
    • Two tent stakes (left overs from a failed attempted at a portable tower project)
    • Five 3' lengths of 3/8 aluminum rod (leftovers from antenna projects)
    • About 10' of #10awg wire
The day started late, around 10:30am with us heading to Rat Shack to get some alligator clamps for the radio power cable.  Didn't take too long, and after being robbed of $3.47 we were on our way!  Below is a snip from showing our little trek to and from.  The WMA is about 20mi from our home, so we got there around 11:30am and started looking for a place to set up shop!  

That part took a while.  The WMA is pretty big and the trails are a bit rough, especially when you are in your daily driver 2011 Ford F-150, not a dedicated off-road machine, which means that speed is second to keeping the alignment correct.  So getting from place to place inside took a while.  Although I have to say, at least this time of year, you could get around in a two-wheel-drive car in there for the most part.  Below is a snip from showing us bouncing around out in the WMA.

If you click on the APRS link at the top of the page you will be able to see the actual map from with details about our speed and direction each time my Kenwood TM-D710 beaconed out to APRS-RF.

We found what we thought was a great spot and started to get everything set up.  Tank and I paced off distances to various trees and planned on how to rig the antenna up into them.  We got the radio out and connected to the tuner and powered off of the truck battery and tuned up into a dummy load.  Then, just as we were getting ready to start rigging the antenna, VVRRROOOOOOOOOMMMMM!!  It turns out that we were just over some palmettos from Lake Jackson, and there were a ton of folks with airboats out to see if they could single-handedly break the world's record for the most decibels of noise created at one time!  We did get one picture before the world erupted with the rumble of V8s driving airplane props.  As you can see, it is like this spot was made to order for stringing dipoles and random wires!

Back the gear went into the truck and off we went for another little while.  It didn't take too long before we found another spot, and this new spot had something that we realized we have neglected for bring with us.  A table!  We were planning on operating from the hood of the truck before, so this was a godsend!  Of course, my son's reaction was "Cool!  There's a creek!", so off we went, chasing frogs and scaring waterstriders.

We managed to get the truck right next to the table after some maneuvering to get around the trees, so we now had power in addition to a place to sit:

This is my son making sure the radio is working (I made sure it was pointing to the dummy load before leaving the table).  You can see the thin blue wire coming from the tuner leading up into the trees.  This was the radio end of about 300' of wire strung up in the trees.  I had thought that I had taken pictures of the insulators and grounds, but I guess I forgot to.  But here is a pic showing how we held the support rope for the random wire down:

As you can see, we used a tent stake to hold the support rope up in the tree.  The rope was attached to a dog-bone insulator that was in-turn connected to the far end of the random wire.  I used about five aluminum rods driving into the ground a few feet apart as a grounding system near the radio, which was connected to the tuner and the radio itself.  Next time, I think that I might also add a wire running the length of the antenna on the ground under it and also tied into the ground system to help out the RF grounding in dry sandy soil.  Of course, in the wet season, I might not.  Time and experience will tell.

We were running between 5W and 10W on the FT-840 to avoid draining the truck battery too much and stranding us.  If we keep this up I'm going to go pick up a deep-cycle gel battery and spare the truck battery.  At any rate, the result was that we managed about one contact an hour.  Between my son calling CQ for me, and talking third party to a few folks, we had a great time!  Here is a final shot of my son and I in front of the radios:

As a side note, one of the stations that we contacted on 15m was the radio room of the RMS Queen Mary! What a joy getting to talk to someone on an ocean liner docked on the Pacific Ocean, from the woods on Central Florida, about 30mi from the Atlantic Ocean!  The OM on the other side was kind enough to give us a QSO code that will enable me to get a special QSL card from the ship!  What a great cap to the day and neat way to remember this little jaunt.

I'm starting to get into this whole QRP from the woods thing, so I guess I should start looking for a good QRP rig and tuner so that I don't have to lug the 840 and 969 around.  It would be nice to get something smaller that could run off of a 7Ah gel battery.  Then we could really get portable and hike in instead of driving in!

Thanks for stopping by the blog and I hope you enjoyed the personal story.  It wasn't a project, per se, but it was a lot of fun and I hope to do it again soon!  


Richard, KK4JDO (and son!)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Praying for those in Oklahoma

Our thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by the terrible tornado in Oklahoma.  I'm sure that ham radio operators and Skywarn members are doing their best to help out in the terrible situation there.  If you would like to donate to help out, I found the following news article that lists several charities and support organizations:

I hate having to mention it, but beware of scams when donating.  It seems that the scum of humanity comes out to prey on the good intentions of others during times like this, so carefully vet the charity that you are planning on donating to.

Not that anything could ever help if you are in the direct line of fire from an EF5 tornado, but being prepared for a disaster may give you that razor thin edge needed to survive.

If you are in a disaster prone area (I live in Central Florida, where we got four hurricanes in one year's time back in 2004), stock up on food, water, medical supplies, and anything else that you need on a daily basis.  Consider joining Skywarn, ARES, or RACES as they supply training in how to prepare and how to cope and even be helpful to others in the event of an actual disaster.   You can also go to FEMA's website and take free online training to learn how to integrate into SAR teams and work effectively with local firefighters and police if you are inclined to help others during an emergency.

This goes beyond the technical assistance that most hams think of in terms of assisting with emergency communications.  While that is definitely needed, you also need to know how to dig through debris with other teams to find survivors in a coordinated manner so that you can be as quick and efficient as possible.  Time is Life in this type of situation!

Again, my family and I will be praying hard for those impacted by this horrific storm.  We are not directly involved in any way, but we are still devastated by the loss of life, particularly that of children.  We cried our eyes out last night when we heard.  Our sympathies go out to everyone involved!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

EZNEC Antenna modeling software

Hi All,

I have come to really appreciate that antenna modeling software called EZNEC.  It is a great front-end for NEC and is fairly simple to learn and understand.  However, this post isn't about reviewing the software, I think that it speaks for itself.  The one downside to EZNEC is that the Pro version is really expensive for an individual to purchase, but that is the version that has handy features like a tool for creating grids, which are necessary if you want to model a flat surface.

Being essentially a fairly cheap person, I decided to write a PERL script to do this instead of ponying up for the Pro version (I did purchase the Plus version at $139 though).  Since the ham radio community is a great group of folks (excepting a small few, I may post about that in the future), I wanted to give a little something back.  So, if you need to create a grid and don't want to do it manually, here you go!

This software is still a little bit of a work in progress, so expect some updates to this, but it is pretty well ready to go at this point.  Future additions will include the ability to model a hemisphere and a parabola for modeling dish antennas.

So without further adieu, here is the form.  Just click "Submit" after filling it in and you will get back a block of text that can be copied and pasted into a text document for import into EZNEC.  Detailed instructions on the import procedure are beyond the scope of this post, but they are easily accessible in the software itself which has an awesome help file system.

I hope that you can make use of this! I enjoyed scripting it and hope to be able to continue to update it. Please leave a comment if you like it our would like to suggest improvements or request features.

Once imported, the grid will look something like this, depending on the options that you chose.

One side note, I am a network engineer by trade, not a programmer or web designer.  I use PERL for my job, but an not elegant.  I tend to be a brute force developer.  The code is ugly, but it works, which is usually what happens to PERL scripts over time, I just start out that way and save all the intervening effort.  ;-)

Thanks and 73,

Richard, KK4JDO

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Revised audio testing of the Kenwood TS-590S (now with less overdrive!)

Thanks to everyone that offered their insights into helping me get this audio test going with something close to optimal results!  In this post I will cover multiple settings side-by-side:

  • EQ Off , Speech Processor Off
  • EQ Off , Speech Processor On - Soft Effect
  • EQ Off , Speech Processor On - Hard Effect
  • EQ On , Speech Processor Off
  • EQ On , Speech Processor On - Soft Effect
  • EQ On , Speech Processor On - Hard Effect
In all of the tests the following settings were used:
  • Mic gain on the radio is set to 30
  • In the tests with the Proc enabled
    • Proc Input is 35
    • Proc Output is 30
  • On the PC side, the recording device input level is 27
I will also include four files that just showcase the effects of the hard and soft settings of the speech processor.  Two with the proc enabled, and two without (to show that it has no effect without the proc being turned on).

So, again, without further adieu, here are the samples:

EQ Off , Speech Processor Off EQ Off, Speech Processor On - Soft Effect EQ Off, Speech Processor On - Hard Effect EQ On , Speech Processor Off EQ On , Speech Processor On - Soft Effect EQ On , Speech Processor On - Hard Effect

And here are the files that are just about the Hard and Soft effect settings of the Speech Processor:

EQ Off , Speech Processor On - Soft Effect EQ Off , Speech Processor On - Hard Effect EQ Off , Speech Processor Off - Soft Effect EQ Off , Speech Processor Off - Hard Effect

Whew!  That was a fair amount of effort for a lazy fat man!  Feel free to let me know what you think, and hopefully this will help you determine what your own settings should be.  I'm starting to like conventional with the proc off for ragchews and with it on for weaker band conditions, with proc on and high boost 2 for bad conditions or DX (or maybe for the 590 net...hihi).

Hope you enjoy it and 73,

Richard, KK4JDO

Sunday, May 5, 2013

More TS-590S Audio Testing

So it looks like I was over-driving my PC sound card on that last go-round. I used the same settings that I normally use for PSK31, but I guess I needed to drop it a bit. Let me know what you think of these and I will re-re-record with all of the different DSP TX EQ settings!


Richard, KK4JDO

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Kenwood TS-590S Audio Testing

EDIT:  The audio on this post is extremely overdriven due to incorrect recording levels on the PC.  I have updated this with the correct setting in a new post at:

There has been a lot of discussion lately on one of the mailing lists that I subscribe to pertaining to the audio tweaking that is possible on the Kenwood TS-590S.  I am far from an audiophile, so I thought that I'd do some playing around this evening and record some test files to hear what the different default options sound like.

Thus far, I have to say that I like the sound of the rig without the EQ on for ragchews, but I think that the High Boost options are great for DX.  Take a listen and let me know which ones you think sound the best!  I tried to record each file with the same configuration as far as what I say, where the mic is, ambient noise in the room, etc.  I am currently using the stock mic, but am hoping to upgrade to the Shure SM-7b in the near future at the suggestion of a friend in the A/V world.

So, without further adieu, here are the files:

So, if you listened to all of those files, you are quite the patient person!  Hopefully the sound of my voice wasn't too unpleasant, at least I hope it was better than sticking a rat-tail file in your ear.

On a different note, look for an upcoming post regarding the EZNEC antenna modeling program and some PERL scripts that I wrote to make it easier to do certain things in it.

With that I'll say 73 for this evening and wish you the best for you and your family and GUD DX!


Richard, KK4JDO