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Divide and Conquer

For those of you who have followed my YouTube Channel may have seen that I had prepper stuff as well as comms stuff on the same channel. I felt that having two divergent topics was somewhat counter-productive. Some folks like comms stuff and not prep stuff, and vice versa. I felt that mixing the two may have had a negative impact on the blog as well as the channel. So I divided them up. I have KK4Z for comms and Canteen Spoon for preps. each with a separate blog and YouTube channel. Currently, I am not putting out that much content on either YouTube channel as my internet bandwidth continues to shrink where I live. A big thank you to everyone who has hung in there. For those that wish to take a peek at my other blog: https://canteenspoon.com/

Minding your P’s and Q’s

The expression, mind your p’s and q’s probably dates back to the 18th century.  There are several explanations of the meaning of the phrase.  I grew up with the meaning of either watching your language or minding your manners.  However, I am using it today as a segway into minding your Prosigns and Q signals.

In the world of CW, continuous wave transmission, we use the language of Morse Code.  Like a language, there are many nuances that must be learned in order to effectively communicate with others throughout the world.  In this post, we will take a brief look at some of the more common P’s and Q’s used in the Parks on the Air (POTA) program.

Prosigns are one or 2 letters used as a kind of telegraphy shorthand.  Often, 2 letters are mashed together to form one character.  For example, the prosign BK which stands for Back to You, would sound like this dah-di-di-di-dah-di-dah, and not dah-di-di-di, dah-di-dah.  When you see prosigns written with letters mashed together, they have an overbar to signify that they are sent together.  Here are some of the Prosigns you may hear during a POTA contact or conversation:

AS (with overbar)This prosign means to wait.  Typically an activator will request a wait to fix something with their station or take a short break.

BK (with overbar) as stated earlier, this prosign means back to you.  The sender is done sending and waiting for the other operator to respond.

DE This is from.  Probably the most widely known prosign

K – Stands for over and an invitation for any station to transmit.  CQ POTA DE KK4Z K

KN (with overbar) Invitation for the named station to transmit.  E.g.  W3AAX DE KK4Z

N – Negative or no

R – Roger, received, or yes.

SK (with overbar) End of contact same as 73.

Note: Neither MS Word nor WordPress has an easy way to insert and overbar. An overbar is a bar on top of the letters to signify that they are sent together.

Q signals are another form of telegraphy shorthand.  They are composed of 3 letters beginning with a Q.  Q codes or Q signals are different in that they can either be a statement or a question.  The Q code is turned into a question by adding a question mark to the end of the signal. Listed here are some of the more common Q codes and their uses.

QRL?  Is this frequency in use?
QRL This frequency is in use.

QRM? Are you bothered by noise? (typically, manmade)
QRM I am bothered by noise.

QRN? Are you bothered by natural noise (lightning)
QRN I am bothered by natural noise.

QRO?  Shall I increase my power?
QRO Increase your power.

QRP?  Shall I decrease my power?
QRP Decrease your power.

QRQ? Shall I send faster?
QRQ Send faster by…

QRS? Shall I send slower?
QRS Send more slowly.

QRT? Shall I stop sending?
QRT I close all transmissions.

QRV?  Are you ready?
QRV I am ready.

QRZ?  Who’s calling me?
QRZ You were called by…

QSB? Does my signal fade?
QSB Your signal fades.

QSL?  Can you receive?
QSL Confirmed, received

QSO? Can you communicate with…directly?
QSO I can communicate with…directly.

There are many more codes out there but these are probably the most common you will find outside of a CW traffic net. Hopefully, this will help those learning the new and fascinating language of CW/Morse Code. The beauty of this language is that it is used worldwide and it doesn’t matter what your first language is. Enjoy de KK4Z SK

Lightweight Choke Balun

I like to use random wire antennas. My favorite is a 29.5′ antenna with a 17′ counterpoise. I usually use a 5:1 (Chameleon) or a 9:1 (homemade UnUn with it. I have noticed with either combination, some stray RF finds its way back to the radio and me. To combat this, I have a Chameleon Choke balun which is nice but it is rather clunky and uses RG-8X coax. There are times when I am operating QRP, I use RG-316. So I decided to see if I could make a Choke balun using RG-316.

For a toroid, I found a FT114-31 from KF7P Metalwerks. These are rather small.

The toroid I believe cost about 3 bucks plus shipping. I had a 3′ RG-316 jumper with BNC connectors on each end. With a little bit of fiddling, I got 6 turns through the toroid without having to cut a connector. The next step was to straighten out the turns and set them in hot glue. I also applied a ty-wrap at turns 1 and 6.

Hot glue is never an easy medium; this time I managed to keep it off of me. Even though it is messy looking the turns are secure. Toroids are generally brittle and can easily break. I am not always gentle with my gear so I decided to first wrap the toroid in coax seal or “elephant snot”. This will seal out the weather and provide a little bit of a cushion. After putting it on I molded it to the toroid.

Because this stuff is very sticky, I then wrapped it in Scotch 88 electrical tape.

The whole thing weighs in at 3 ounces and should handle somewhere up to 70 watts. It ain’t pretty, but I have less than 10 bucks rolled into it. I will be taking it out this weekend to a park to try it out. I to hear you out there. 73’s Scott

UPDATE 08/16/2022

Today I managed to get into town and buy some wire for my choke project. While there, I bought some heat shrink tubing for my first project. The heat shrink cost more than the little box I had for my second choke. Here is the revised choke with the new heat shrink along with the new choke.

The new choke is made with 16 ga wire, I could’ve and probably should’ve used 18 ga. The toroid is a FT114-31 and it is wrapped 6 turns. the toroid is secured to the bottom of the box with hot glue. Here is a picture before I put the lid on.

Here is the final product.

The box weighs about half an once more than the coax choke. Of the two, I prefer the box, mainly because the toroid is wrapped with primary wire and not coax. It’s a little easier to wrap and looks neater. More than likely, both will perform about the same. For my next outing, I will have an antenna totally made by me. 73 de Scott

POTA Activation Skidaway Island State Park K-2198

Skidaway Island State Park is a beautiful park. Located southeast of Savannah, GA, With Spanish Moss, along the typical summer heat and humidity, it is a prime example of coastal Georgia. This trip came about because my wife needed a package delivered to South Carolina; I volunteered as long as I could camp one night an play radio. It’s about a 5 hour drive from NW Georgia to SE Georgia. After delivering the package I arrived at the park somewhere around 1600 hrs Local. It took a couple of minutes to get the camper setup and a little longer for the radio. Because it might be a while before I can make it back here (gas is still over $4 a gallon). I tried to get 10 bands for my N1CC award. I mostly worked FT8.

Setup. Setup was my usual for this type of activation. The radio was my IC-7300 and LDG Z-11 Pro tuner. The computer was a Microsoft Surface Go2.

The antenna was my K4SWL antenna which is a 29.5′ random wire antenna with one 17′ counterpoise. I used my Chameleon EmComm II transformer to even things out. The antenna is hoisted into the air with a MFJ-1910 33′ pushup pole. No plants or animals were harmed during this activation.

Being a former Nightstaker, working in the dark is routine to me. I stayed outside well after sunset until I finally had enough of the heat.

Band conditions were so-so, and I earned my keep making contacts. Working about 20 hours total I ended up with 174 contacts on 10 different bands. I had quite a few FT8 pileups which was fun and let me know that my antenna is working as it should. Here is a QSO map of the activation.

What was new? I recently acquired a Begali Adventure Duo with their metal base. The base is a little on the light side but there are magnets on the bottom. I had a fairly heavy base made for a AME Potra-Paddle. I set the the the begali base on the Porta-Paddle base and Viola! It works like a champ.

I also have the 705 mount coming to use with my IC-705. I really like these paddles. I only used them a little while trying to make contact with K7K. Alas, I didn’t have enough horsepower to make the trip to Alaska. My new paddles will definitely be my choice when camping.

Issues? I only had 2 and neither was catastrophic. The first was with the antenna. It seems when I increase power somewhere above 20 watts, I start getting some RF feedback through the coax on some bands. It was more of a nuisance than anything and I have since added a RF choke to the antenna bag. This antenna is one of my favorites if not my favorite antenna. It always performs well for me. The second issue has to do with the IC-7300. When I am working from inside of the camper, I set the radio down on the mattress. The tilt stand sinks nicely down in the 4″ of memory foam making the radio face plate difficult to see. I set my QRP radios on the lap desk with my computer and paddles. I banged around in my workshop and found a scrap piece of 3/4″ plywood. I cut it to 11″ x 12″ and now my radio floats on top of the mattress. The board also fits in the box I carry the big radio in.

Every time I go out, I learn something new. With gas prices the way they are, I may not be making these long trips for a while. However, there are plenty of great parks closer to home. Thanks to all of the hunters who took the time to work me. Sometimes making that contact can become a little tedious. I appreciate you all and 73’s until next time.

Cleaning out the Shack

It was time to clean out the shack. I have things that I have either replaced with something I thought was better or I don’t use them that much anymore. Here is a list of items I have up for sale.

I am the original owner for all of these. Starting on the left and traveling clockwise is the American Morse Equipment Paddle. It comes with a magnetic base and a leg strap (heavy metal base not included). $75 Next is a N3ZN ZN Lite with a plastic base. $200 All of these paddles are in good shape and work as advertised. I have more than I need. Anything not listed is sold.

I am the original owner. Works well. I bought a RigExpert Pro Stick because I needed UHF. $150

There you have it. All nice stuff. Make an offer, make a trade. I don’t have to sell any of this so I am in no hurry.

POTA Activation Cheaha State Park Support your Parks Weekend

Cheaha State Park (K-1037) is one of my favorite parks and it is also the closest. It will probably be my first Kilo Award. The summer POTA Support your Parks Weekend fell on July 16 and 17 (Zulu). I got to the Park Friday morning to work a guy on 2 meters who was about 60 miles away. I did this as a part of N1CC award. I needed 2 more bands for this park. I stayed all day Friday and packed it in mid-morning Saturday. The whole activation was done using FT8 with a new app for my iPad.

GEAR
I brought a lot of gear with me mainly to try to accommodate the 2 meter sked and to try to have an antenna or two for 6 meters. Six meters turned out to be a bust this weekend. The radio was the IC-705. Normally my radio gear goes in a box like this along with a few antenna bits and a tablet/iPad.

The antenna was my K4SWL antenna was is a 29.5′ random wire antenna with a 17′ counterpoise. The antenna was matched with the Icom AH-705 tuner which did an excellent job.

The antenna was held up with a MFJ-1910 33′ push-up pole. The pole was attached to the truck with a Flagpole holder and hitch extender so I could flip the tailgate down. The campsite was a group camp and while it had spectacular views it also had little shade. This was a primitive campsite, so I could not bring my camper with me. Since this was a one nighter, I decided to sleep in the truck bed. It would be a little cozy, but doable. In the end I stayed up all night anyhow. The shack looked like this.

I had plenty of batteries with me as this site does not have electricity. I discovered that my Bioenno Power BPP-160 power pack could run things for a long time. I also brought my Bioenno 40 watt foldable solar panel to help keep the power pack charged up. Next time I won’t bring near as many batteries. The fan you see is USB powered.

All in all, the station performed very well. I made 250 contacts all FT8 from all over the world. I even managed to get Alaska and Hawaii during the activation. Ten watts and a wire.

Glitches
One of the things about getting out with your radios, is you actually see how they work in the field and then you can improve your setup. Apart from bringing too much stuff, I only had a couple of glitches. I’ll do the easy on first.

This is the first time I left my push-up in the flag holder for any length of time. I had some mild wind there and it caused the pole to rattle around some. Rubbing against the flag holder, scored the bottom tube a little.

The cure was simple. When I got home, an application of some Gorilla Tape, should take care of things.

The second glitch was the app I used on my iPad. It’s called SDR Control for Icom. It’s a really sweet app with a lot to like about it. Here are a couple of screenshots.

The interface was easy to use. I did not use a keyboard or a mouse with this. I did put the app through he wringer. I used it straight for almost 24 hours. I like using my iPad because I can power it from the same batteries as my radios — no AC adapters. I also liked being able to hold it in my hand to use it. The app does have a few short comings; enough to put it aside and allow the developer to iron out a few bugs. I spoke at length about these on my YouTube channel, so for here, I’ll give a summary:
1) The app randomly disconnects from the radio or completely shuts down. Restart/reconnect often take multiple tries and all data in the FT8 window is lost.
2) During FT8, the app will pause while another station contacts the DX. The app waits until it hears a CQ before it will transmit. The DX will often work several other stations without calling CQ. This allow other stations to “jump the line”.
3) The app will auto-log after both stations give a “73”. However, if another station call you prior to the “73”, the app will jump to the new station and the old station will not get logged. need to set the auto log to maybe RR73.
4) The logbook needs at least one user defined field that can be sticky. In POTA we use the ADIF field my_sig_info, to log which park we are at. RumLog has this feature.

It was a fun activation and I enjoyed pulling an all nighter; something I haven’t done in a long time. I didn’t plan on it but the DX stations kept rolling in. Until next time 73 –Scott

Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome

The Marines got this right. When planning for a POTA/SOTA trip. It pays to plan for contingencies. I am not talking about going overboard with this. You should still try to carry only what you need. This past weekend I did a POTA camp-out at Ft. Mountain State Park in northwestern Georgia. I usually reserve campsites several months in advance, so everything may not be perfect by trip time. Part of my planning was considering band conditions. The week prior, propagation was unstable. In addition, I was not sure about the geography of the campsite. My planning was to bring two radios; my IC-7300 (QRO) and my IC-705 (QRP). I brought my Frankentenna with an extra EmComm II transformer to handle more power.

The planning paid off. My campsite was down in a hole and the bands were not good. The site was great for camping and only so-so for radio.

One of the POTA awards I am working on is the N1CC award which is operating on ten different bands at 10 different parks. I needed 2 more bands at this park to check this park off. I chose to use the IC-7300 for more power. Since I had shore power available, I wasn’t worried about running out of juice. Station setup looked like this.

Band conditions were less than optimal, so for this trip I decided to use FT8. There were times when the waterfall on the 7300 went completely black, even on the FT8 frequency. Normally I run about 25 watts, but this time I had to go as high as 50 watts. QRP would have been a tough row to hoe. The antenna was my Frankentenna and I ran the Chameleon EmComm II transformer instead of the Hybrid Micro so I could run a little more power.

I operated from Friday afternoon until somewhere around 0100 hrs Lcl, with a couple hour break due to a thunderstorm. The next day was beautiful, much cooler than the day before when we were under a heat advisory. I operated most of Saturday until early evening when I pulled the plug with another round of thunderstorms inbound.

I made 161 Q’s including DX from Alaska and South America.

I was trying for 200 Q’s, However, the propagation Gods were not with me, but I was satisfied with the results. I have a couple of YouTube videos.

I am former US Army, so a tip of my hat to all those who serve(d). God Bless, God Speed, and 73 de Scott KK4Z

IC-705 Cover

I’ve got a couple of activations coming up so I am trying to get a few things done to bring with me and evaluate. I bought the 705 because it is a small radio. I like that feature. When looking to protect the radio, many have darn near doubled its size so it is no longer a small radio. I tried a couple of padded cases and while they fit fairly well, they still felt too large. I don’t mind tossin a radio in a pack or bag as long as I can protect the important pieces. In the case of the 705 it would be the knobs and touch screen. I decided to make a cover for the front of the radio.

Icom has an STL file for the 705 https://www.icomjapan.com/support/IC-705_STL/ so pulling that into a CAD program, I was able to make a cover. I am not a CAD pro or even a 3D printer pro; however, I was able to scratch something together that is good enough. I roughed out the design and my son printed the cover out for me. It’s not beautiful. it’s not perfect, but it gets the job done. Here is the current prototype.

The inside is mostly hollowed out but the case is supported on the corners of the radio and the speaker area.

For POTA activations the radio resides in a plastic box with a latching lid. Should eb plenty of protection. Because I reduced the bulk and weight, it make the radio eligible for SOTA. I may make another one to adjust some of the dimensions but in reality, it works just fine. I can tweak this and burn a lot of time or I can get out and play radio. Remember “Perfect is the enemy of good”.

I made one other piece, BNC caps, which the STL files are available with a simple Google Search.

I like orange as I can readily see them if I accidentally drop them. Enjoy and hope to work you. Scott

Traveling Light

I like to travel light. Less is better. When I do POTA or SOTA activations I really don’t like to have a lot of stuff. Just what I need with maybe a few essential extras. Over the past couple of activations, I have been doing battle with my Surface Go2. It’s pretty noisy in the RF spectrum range when recharging the battery. It works great as long as I do not have to recharge the battery. When I do have to recharge it, I need more gear because I cannot charge it from the same batteries I use for my radios. That usually means shore power, or an inverter — more stuff. Yes I know I can paper log or I can log on my iPhone using apps like Hamrs or RumLog but with today’s band conditions, it is nice to have FT8 in the toolbox. I decided to try SDR-Control for Icom. This app allows me to control my IC-705 from my iPad and it includes FT8/FT4! The stuff I had to bring with my surface looks like this.

This does not include whatever power source I need to recharge this. My iPad looks like this.

Whatever I use to run my radios, I can also recharge the iPad’s battery. Two of my solar panels have usb ports so I can charge the iPad directly from them while also charging a battery. This is something else I cannot do with the Surface. My truck has usb ports so I can charge from it. I set the app up with my IC-705 and it works as advertised. I have an activation planned this weekend so I will try to give the new setup a good work out.

There is a caveat, and that is the app works with the IC-705 (also the IC-7610 and IC-9700). This is not a problem as the 705 is my goto POTA radio. On the occasion I bring a different radio, I will either forgo FT8 or bring the Surface and work with its limitations. If I am doing something like a SOTA activation, I would either log on paper or my phone in which case I would not bring either the iPad or the Surface.

I may or may not add a keyboard to the iPad. It’s screen keyboard is pretty good. Another thing is I am using a 2018 iPad (6th Gen) so it’s not the most zippy out there but does fine. Most radio apps don’t require a lot of horsepower to run them.

I have another activation planned that does not include shore power at any of the sites. I will be relying on battery/solar to make it through the activation. I’ll dig a little deeper as I put a few activations under my belt with this new set up. 73 Scott

POTA Activation Cheaha Stat Park K-1037

I was finally able to set aside some time to do an activation. Cheaha State Park is the closest to me and it is still over an hour away. It is my home park and I enjoy going there. Today’s mission was to try to pick up a few more bands for my N1CC award. N1CC is an award for working 10 different bands in 10 different parks. Propagation was not that good today so I stuck with FT8. I also reconfigured the back of my truck a little and it seemed to work better. I did a write up on my other blog here: https://canteenspoon.com/2022/06/26/hello-and-some-truck-organization/

From the outside back of the truck facing forward looks like this.

The boxes help me keep the back of the truck more organized. As a bonus, the boxes are at a good height for a desk. The current desk is just a piece of plywood I had. In the future, I will get something smoother. With the desk as positioned I can get in and out without knocking the radios around. I haven’t tried it yet, but I may see how my lounge chair fits in there. I may be able to sleep in there for a quickie activation. From the working position it looks like this.

Plenty of room to work and log. My other mode is CW and there is space for a set of paddles. The tablet is a Surface Go2 and while it works really well, the one caveat I have is when you try to charge the battery, it wipes out the receiver with noise. The waterfall almost turns white. But, I got almost 4 hours of playtime so while it is something I have to figure out, it can be later. The radio is an Icom IC-705 with the AH-705 tuner. This really is my favorite QRP radio.

The antenna was a Chameleon Hybrid-Micro with a 65′ antenna in the form of an inverted “L”. I used my hitch mount with a 33′ MFJ pushup pole. The other end was held up with my B&M 20′ crappie pole. I ran a 65′ counterpoise.

The antenna was okay. Next time I will probably run a vertical. Either my Frankentenna or my random wire. I didn’t feel like the extra effort to put up an inverted “L” was worth it. I like a small footprint so as not to attract attention to myself. I was running 10 watts with the help of a Bioenno battery. Band conditions were not that good today. I usually work a few more DX but I am satisfied with what I got. Here is an activity map.

I ended up with 38 contacts and I have 8 bands total. I will have to come
back in the evening and pick up the last two bands 60-160m. Thanks to everyone
who worked me today, some of the contacts were difficult due to unstable band
conditions. 73 Scott

 

A Little More UnUn fun

This past week I wound a few more toroids using a 77 mix. The toroids are 0.5″ in diameter and wound with 22 awg insulated magnet wire. I wound one with a single core and one with a dual core. My goal was to try to get a little better low band performance. I get a kick out making a few contacts on 60-80-160 meters. The finished UnUns are 9:1.

We’ve been going through a heat wave this week with a heat advisory every day. I got up early and tried a couple different antennas. Using antenna wire from my Frankentenna, I built an end fed with a 65′ antenna and a 65′ counterpoise. I also tried the 65″ antenna with a 17′ counterpoise. The set up looked like this.

For this antenna, the best combination was a 65′ antenna wire, a 17′ counterpoise and the single core 77 mix 9:1 UnUn. I got the following readings from my Rig Expert Prostick with 6′ of RG316. As a control I also tested my Sparkplug transformer.
Band SWR (17′)—–SWR (65′)——Sparkplug 65′
160 – 2.4 ———— 4.2 ————– 5.6
80 – 5.4 ———— 1.1 ————–8.3
60 – 1.7 ———— 2.3 ————– 12
40 – 2.9 ———— 3.5 ————– 1.7
30 – 6.9 ———– 4.5 ————– 16
20 – 3.8 ———– 4.0 ————— 1.5
17 – 5.2 ———– 5.7 ————— 9.7
15 – 4.1 ———– 4.3 ————— 1.1
12 – 6.2 ———– 6.9 ————— 10
10 – 4.5 ———– 4.6 ————— 2.6
6 – 5.9 ———– 5.8 —————-14
Fiddling with the counterpoise length could make things a little better, but overall the SWR’s are low enough to match with a good tuner. I realize that running a short feed line would affect the Sparkplug so in another test I added a counterpoise and it did bring down the SWR on some bands. However, to me the winner is still the single core 77 mix 9:1 UnUn.

Another antenna that I like is a random wire antenna I call the K4SWL antenna https://kk4z.com/2022/06/05/k4swl-antenna-plus/. I call it that because it was Tom K4SWL who I got the basic design form. It’s a 29.5′ antenna with a 17′ counterpoise. I built an UnUn based upon a QRP Guys design but wanted to try to get a little better performance on the lower bands. In this case I used a two core 77 mix 9:1 UnUn and got the following results.
Band – SWR
160 —- 2.0
80 —- 1.7
60 —- 1.5
40 —- 1.5
30 — 1.5
20 — 1.4
17 — 1.3
15 —- 1.3
12 —– 1.2
10 —– 1.2
6 —— 1.2
Realize that this is a small antenna and will not be as efficient as a full half wave dipole (on 160 meters, that is 270′). However, it would be fun to see if you can make a contact on 160 or 80 meters in a park with a small antenna. So get out there and play radio! 73 Scott