Quibbles and Bits

I was hoping to get the FTDX10 out in the wild this weekend; however, that did not happen. I thought I was going to get an Echolink Conference Room going but that didn’t work out either. The software they use to create the room is archaic with little or no knowledge base on how to start it up. I guess this sacred knowledge is handed down from father to son. I spent a good part of the weekend trying to figure it out. It’s probably a simple setting or something right in front of my nose. I was frustrated enough to start reaching for the Holy Hand Granade of Antioch.

Today I thought I would get the FTDX10 going on WinLink and FLDIGI. This was a little easier. I already used the FTDX10 with FT8 using the instruction found in the manual. To get things going on the radio, I did the following:
Go to RADIO SETTINGS and then MODE PSK/DATA
Set DATA MOD SOURCE to REAR
Set REAR SELECT to USB
Set RPTT to RTS
Go to OPERATION SETTING and then to GENERAL
Set CAT RATE to 38400
Set CAT RTS to ON
In Winlink
Select FT-991/A for the radio
Select USB DIGITAL
Select the proper COM PORT
RTS is CHECKED
BAUD is 38400
PTT PORT (OPTIONAL) SET TO FT-991/A
For FLDIGI
Use FTDX10 for the radio in FLRIG
Use DATA-U in FLDIGI
BAUD is 38400

Today’s FTDX10 quibble is the QMB or Quick Memory Bank. It’s clunky to use. Here Icom is clearly the winner. With my Icom’s which includes the 705, 7300, 7610, and 9700, the QMB, or as Icom calls it Memory Pad is one push to add a frequency to the memory. In addition, the Memory Pad is viewable and can be edited. Neither of these is available for the Yaesu. I use the Memory Pad on the Icoms a lot. Here is an image of the Memory Pad on my 7610.

I use this feature a lot. Yaesu, if you are listening…

Another quibble I have is the main tuning dial sticks out too far from the radio. The extra length turns it into a bump magnet. I think they could lob a 1/4 inch or so off of the dial, and it would still be very usable. I have had my Yaesu on my hobby workbench to set it up the way I like it. It puts the radio to my left side which means I use my left hand to work the controls. I am ambidextrous, with the radio on my left side it is a little easier to use. YMMV. When I take it out to the field, I am going to try it on my left side to see how it works. Generally, I have been enjoying the Yaesu. The crystal roofing filters really make the radio a delight.

Should you be selling your other radios to buy this one? Maybe, maybe not. I am keeping my IC-7300. I think it is a better EmComm radio than the FTDX10. Like others have said, the bells and whistles of the FTDX10 really benefit the CW crowd and really, only those ops who DX/Contest where there is a high density of signals. The Yaesu may also benefit POTA activators who put out enough signal to create large pile-ups or hunters trying to work the weak ones.

Upgrades/Update FTDX10

I am continuing to spend time with the FTDX10. Like many things, it is a process. The ergonomics are not like my Icom’s and frankly, not as good. The touch screen can be sluggish at times when making changes. None of this is insurmountable and like the U.S. Marines, I can adapt, improvise and overcome. Some of the controls are a little tight for my size large hands and yes, it can be pretty easy to knock the frequency off while trying to manipulate a control by the main tuning knob. Here are a few things I do to help mitigate the ergonomics of the radio.

Usually, once I get the radio setup for a band or mode I do not make very many other changes. In the field, I change the power setting and CW speed the most. Before I start operating I set the Function knob to RF Power. Now changing the power is but a knob twist away. I set the MPVD to CW Speed. To reduce errors I turn the ring from the bottom where it is clear of any other buttons.

I also use the Main Dial Lock Button to prevent inadvertently changing the frequency. One thing Yaesu did well was put a big warning on the screen when the dial is locked. When you turn the dial, you see this.

I have made some upgrades to the radio in preparation for getting it ready for the field. One of the first things I did, ordered the CW 300 Hz Filter.

One of the reasons I purchased the FTDX10 was its crystal filters. They do make a difference and may be the reason why the 2kHz dynamic range is so good. Installation was simple, remove 9 screws and then insert the filter.

Just make sure the pins on the radio match the holes on the filter. Yaesu provides a good set of instructions on page 112 of the manual.

The next addition was a set of side rails from portable zero. The rails protect the knobs on the front of the radio and the connections on the rear. I don’t use a special padded case. My radio goes in with all the other radio gear in a Dewalt toolbox. I often find myself setting the radio on end during setup and teardown. It just makes things easier. In addition, the rails protect the knobs and buttons while being transported in the toolbox.

The last addition today was a Mat-30 tuner. Yaesu is more fiddly than the Icoms, when it comes to tuners. With this tuner, it is pretty much plug-and-play. Even the tune button works like it is supposed to. The big rubber band is a Grafitti Band Joe silicone band found on Amazon.

Wrapping up, the radio is pretty much ready for its first outing. I have been making contacts from the home shack and I am pleased with its performance. The crystal filters are a godsend. I worked a couple of CW stations that were mired by QRM and fairly easily got a clean signal. My final thoughts for today are I wish the ergonomics were better. They are a little clunky and awkward, but not so much that the radio becomes unusable. I think Icom has the correct balance and layout of buttons, knobs, and screen interface. One thing I do like better about the Yaesu’s is the separate shift and width filter knobs and having the programmable MPVD ring. Setting the MPVD ring to CW speed and the Function Knob to RF power saves me a few steps over the Icom which both are buried one layer down the menu system.

The receiver in the Yaesu has better filtering and the roofing filters do make a difference. However, looking at Sherwood’s specs, the Icom has a lower noise floor which means it hears better by a factor of 4 over the Yaesu. Initial thoughts are that the FTDX10 has a better receiver than the IC-7300 and is on par with the IC-7610. One thing I can do on my 7610 is tune both receivers to the same signal and then set up different filtering on each. I have it set up where each receiver goes to a different channel giving me a unique stereo view in my headsets.

Are the IC-7300’s days numbered? I don’t think so. There are things I like about both radios. Each will get their time in the field. After a good amount of time, I will see which one gets more. Over the past year, the IC-7300 has seen a lot of use. I am sure I will be wearing the new off of the FTDX10 for the next couple of months. de Scott

FTDX10 Setup for the field

The majority of my activations are successful. In fact so far (knock on wood), I have had only one failed attempt and that was because I started too late and didn’t get my 10 contacts before the new UTC day. The time I spent in the Army was mostly with ready reaction forces or rapid reaction forces. This often entailed us getting up at 0300 hrs loading up all our gear and heading for the hills. I was in aviation and that meant a lot of gear that had to be loaded quickly. While the helicopter crews hopped in their aircraft and took off, there were still trucks and semis that had to be ready to go. This same equipment was also used in day-to-day operations so it wasn’t just sitting there waiting for something to happen. It took organization. “A place for everything and everything in its place.”

I keep my field gear packed but accessible. My big radios go in this box.

Permanent residents of the box are loosely stored with the caveat that if I take something out, I put it back when I’m done. You will notice in the bottom picture there is a bag marked IC-7300. That is all of the peripheral stuff that goes with the IC-7300/LDG Z-11 Pro to the left. When I get the FTDX10 ready, it will have its own clearly marked bag. Whichever radio I take, I can quickly see if I have the proper bag to go with it. The radio that is not in use will go in a smaller storage box to help keep things together. The antennas I use stay with my truck, always ready.

One of my first projects for the FTDX10 is the power cord.

It’s not zip cord like the Icoms, so it can get jumbled up pretty quick. Also, when operating in the field my battery or power supply is close to the radio so I do not need a long run.

The first thing I did was add heat shrink tubing to keep the wires together. Loose, they seem to tangle no matter how hard you try to keep them straight. Make sure you put the heat shrink on before you make any connections.

The butt splices are covered with heat shrink tubing so that after they are mechanically crimped, they are sealed to the wire insulation.

The finished cable is about 18″-24″ long. I guesstimated. I use Anderson Powerpole on all of my radio gear. I have been using them since the mid-2,000s. My power supply and batteries all have Powerpole connections. It’s a very safe way to keep the electrons flowing in the right direction.

With the leftover cable, I applied heat shrink tubing and Powerpoles to both ends. This gives me an extension should I ever need one.

There’s the completed project. Ready to rock.

In a couple of days, my side rails will be here and then I will see how the radio fits in the box. The FTDX10 is a little wider than the IC-7300 so it may be a tight fit. If it’s too tight, I will have to figure something else out.

So far, I am enjoying the radio and I am looking forward to getting it out in the wild. 73’s de Scott

Look What Followed Me Home

Yesterday, I drove to HRO in Atlanta and picked up a Yaesu FTDX10. No, this does not replace my Icom IC-7300 which I still consider to be the best all around HF field radio out there. I bought the FTDX10 for a couple of reasons. It has been a while since I owned a Yaesu radio and I thought I would try this one out. I do tend to gravitate towards Icoms and will probably get to a couple of those reasons in this post.

Its purpose as a part of my stable of radios is going to be a field radio. Just like I have 2 QRP field radios, I now have 2 QRO field radios. This radio brings a few things to the table that the IC-7300 doesn’t and also has a few niggles absent in the Icom. In the field, I primarily operate CW and FT8. This radio has several features that enhance CW operation over the IC-7300 that are found on the IC-7610. I feel that I have an IC-7610 radio in an IC-7300 size (not totally true, but you get the idea).

Size wise, the FTDX10 and the IC-7300 are fairly close in size with the FTDX10 being about an inch wider.

The FTDX10 also weighs about 4 pounds more. Weight and size differences this small are insignificant when considering how I plan to use the radios. Mostly, it will be portable operations either operating out of my truck or my camper. I might have to lug the radios maybe 15 feet. I carry the IC-7300 in a Dewalt Tough System 2.0 medium box and plan to do the same with the Yaesu.

Setup – Display/Power. There are lots of options on the Yaesu. I would say that this is not a beginners radio. While the manual is pretty good, you still have to have some idea of what you are doing. One of the niggles I have is receive current. When I first turned on the radio, it was drawing over 2 amps in receive. The Icom only draws a little over 0.8 amps, less that half of the Yaesu. I changed the following settings to bring it down to 1.78 amps:
LED Dimmer 7
Dimmer 10
Color 5
Max HF RF Power 50 watts.
The last 2 didin’t help with the amp draw but they were set at the same time as the others. I normally don’t operate past 50 watts in the field.

Setup – SSB. I don’t plan on operating SSB in the field, but then again, you never know. I tried to setup SSB according to the manual and found I didn’t get the expected results. I had to fiddle with the settings in order to stay within the prescribed parameters. Here are the setting I used:
Mic Gain – 65
Processor Level – 71
AMC – 41
Of course MMMV. This was using the hand mic. I really like the hand mic with its controls. It has a mute button to mute the receiver as well as up/down buttons and 4 “P” buttons which perform the following:
P1 – Main Dial Lock
P2 – QMB Quick Memory Bnak
P3 – VFO A/VFO B
P4 – VFO/Memory
I may keep the microphone connected just for the convenience of the buttons. I did not set all of the parametric settings. That will be another endeavour.

Setup – CW. This is where the FTDX10 really shines. It has APF, Audio Peak Filter Zin/Spot (same as the 7610). A really nice feature is the high cut and low cut filters, which help to isolate the incoming desired signal. My initial CW settings are based upon 700 Hz sidetone:
Low Cut – 600
High Cut – 800
CW Out – 50
CW BK-IN – Full
Keyer Type – B
Ratio – 3.3
Like the Icoms, you can set the the keyer BK-IN to off, you can use the radio as a practice oscillator. One thing the FTDX10 has over the IC-7300 is it can decode CW. Often your ears are better filters, but I can see the decoder maybe helping with difficult callsigns or your brain is not firing on all cylinders that day.

Setup – FT8. Here I was surprised. My last Yaesu radio was a FTDX3000 and the computer interface was tedious at best. You had to make the radio use digital modes. It was one of the reasons I shied away from Yaesu. Icom has been doing this better since the IC-7100. However, Yaesu has learned. Now setting up for digital modes and computer logging is a breeze. Once you setup the software for FT8, on the radio you do the following:
Set Mode to USB and PRESET (both must be on or blue color)
Set Roofing Filter to 3K
That’s it. I made about 5 quick contacts on FT8 to include europe. I also set up ACLog to work with the Yaesu. Easy Peezy.

External Antenna Tuner. This has been another sore spot with me. Using an LDG tuner with an Icom is plug and play. One cable and I can tune using the radios tune button and the tuner is powered by the radio. The Yaesu on the other hand, has never been an easy fix. It seems that to use an external tuner, you had to do something extra or something different. When I bought the FTDX10, I bought an adapter cable for my LDG Z-11 Pro. It was still more fiddly than I liked.

What’s next? I am seting this up for field work. I ordered a Mat-30 antenna tuner for the radio which is supposed to work like the LDG tuner does for the Icom. Push the tuner button on the radio and it matches the antenna. I also ordred the 300 Hz filter and a pair of Portable Zero side rails. I don’t put my radios in Pelican type cases. Those cases take up too much space and in reality, the radios do not need that much protection. The side rails prevent the knobs and buttons from hitting the wall of Dewalt box while in transit and allow me to set the radio up on end which I seem to do alot while setting up and breaking down.

Where does the FTDX10 fit? I think this radio will get its most use when I am either camping with shore power or in a cabin. In general I try to go camping at least once a month where there is power available. The IC-7300 will get used in areas where I am operating under battery power. I have been an Emergency Communications Specialist for my church for 25 years and if I were to deploy to a disaster again, I would take the IC-7300. The FTDX10 is not a radio you can learn about over an hour or two. I will take a while to learn all the goodness it contains. On my POTA activations, you will still see both radios along with my QRP radios. Tnx for stopping by de Scott

Begali Signature Paddles

Today is a dreary day in northwest Georgia. It looks like rain and thunderstorms most of today so little or no Ham Radio. Yesterday I received a package from Italy. After waiting almost 3 weeks, my Begali Signature paddles arrived. This is no fault of Bruna at Begali, she shipped them out early so that I would have them for Christmas. However, Fedex had different ideas and the paddles sat in a Fedex facility for 10+ days before they moved. So here they are.

Even the packaging is a work of art with a note from the master himself.

His daughter Bruna added a little holiday cheer.

To be honest, this is my third set of paddles from Begali.

So why did I choose the Signature this time? My first set of paddles were Benchers. That set up is what I call right angle arms. The contacts are to the side of the paddles and not to the rear. In my opinion they have a slightly different feel. The paddles came with the longer plastic finger pieces and the contacts screwed closed to prevent damage. I swapped the finger pieces out with the included short aluminum ones.

Adjustment was easy. I loosened the contact screws, plugged the paddles into my radio, screwed the contacts in till I heard dits or dahs, and them back it out until they stopped. No other adjustment was necessary.

The fit and finish of the paddles are typical from Begali which is excellent. I have an engineering/quality background and have an appreciation for fine fitment and finish. Begali never lets me down. Even the work on the underside is perfection. The paddles make me think of Ferrari or Lamborghini.

For the finish, I wanted something a little different. I’m from the “chrome don’t get you home” crowd. The base of the paddle is military green and the top is their titanium finish. Both are more of a satin finish rather than shiny. I like the green as I am a former soldier. The finish creates an understated elegance that is a quiet statement of quality.

How do they play? First, they are different. The action feels a little different because of the different geometry of the arms. That being said, I do not think I have ever used a smoother set of paddles. Smooth as silk or purrs like a kitten come to mind. I am no speed demon with CW. I typically run in the neighborhood of 16-22 wpm. These paddles are smooth enough to go much higher. The arms are magnetically tensioned keeping the amount of force consistent through the swing. In short, they are a joy to use and to admire. The little time I have had them and used them, they have endeared themselves to me. The now reside on my desk top and are my go to home key.

Final thoughts. The whole Begali experience is something other companies should aspire to. From their customer service, packaging, and the product itself, is all top shelf. Their commitment to customer service leaves me feeling like they made this key especially for me. Is there another Begali set of paddles in my future? Probably, but not tomorrow.

Begali CW Machine

A little while ago I purchased a Begali CW Machine. I was fascinated by it. I thought it would be good for POTA/SOTA activations.However, there is not a lot of information available on it. First, let me be clear, this machine DOES NOT decode CW. Let me repeat, this machine DOES NOT decode CW. And that’s a good thing. I have not found a piece of software that can decode as well as the CPU between the ears period. Weak signals, QSB, QRM, QRN, and bug/straight key operators with their own style or fist, often throw the software into fits, throwing out a bunch of T’s and E’s. Learning to hear CW takes practice, it is not impossible.

So what does this thing do? Actually, quite a few things. first it acts like a memory keyer. It will handle paddles, straight keys and bugs and has several different keying modes built in. It is a memory keyer, that can play back recorded messages. But it goes one step further, you can insert text in the middle of a message. Here is an example. I have a message I use in POTA (hunter) That goes like this BK TU UR (pause) GA GA BK. I can do one of two things. I can wait for the pause, insert the RST, hit the decimal (dot) key to have the message continue, or I can type in the RST while the beginning of the message is playing, it will insert the RST, and continue to the end of the message without further action from me. I can also insert silent commands that are not transmitted. In the above example, the CW Machine goes on the air to play the message, however, at the end of the message I have a silent command that takes the machine back off of the air. Your paddles are always ready to send a message with the push of a button.

Why would I do that? Because I want to enter additional information that I do not wish to transmit. I tune in a station and I copy his call sign, KK4Z and hit enter. The call sign is now in a QSO buffer. The machine can now use that call sign as a part of a message; something like their call de my call. Once I have the call sign I can add some additional information. While waiting for the pileup to die down I hear he is from GA. I type GA and I press the + key, for POTA, I hear his park, I type in K-1234 and hit the + key again. I hear a lull and I send my call which is stored in a message memory. He comes back with a RST of 559, I hit the asterisk * and type 559, it is now stored. I send him his RST using a message like in the above paragraph, and it stores it. He sends me a 73 and I send him one, but now, the machine inserts the current time/date, the band (not the frequency), saves it to the logbook which is part of the machine, and clears the buffer for the next QSO. The logbook is stored in non-volatile memory which means it would require physical damage to lose it.

The CW machine is hooked up to your radio via one cable that plugs into your key jack. For it to work correctly, you must set your radio keyer to straight key. To use it with your computer, you need a serial to usb port adapter. Power can come from either the computer or a separate power source. Whatever, you are running your radio with (12v) will work just fine. The CW machine only draws about 20 mAh so it’s perfect for field operations. It could also run off of a 9 volt battery.

Mistakes are fairly easy to correct. lets say I typed in the other stations call sign wrong. I retype it correctly, hit the enter key and the call is updated. You can do this to other fields using different key strokes, but it all works like that until you save it. You can edit after it is saved, but it take a little more effort (slightly more) to get it right.

You can run the CW machine in several different configurations. At the minimum. it needs a paddle/key and a PS2 compatible keypad. Yep, it uses a PS2 port. Basically you enter data with the paddle and commands with the keypad. You can also replace the keypad with a keyboard. This requires a PS2 compatible keyboard (Logitech still makes one the K100). This works well as you can now run the machine like a mill. You type and it sends CW. If you get a keyboard, make sure you get one with a keypad. the machine recognizes individual key strokes, the 1 on the keyboard is not the same as the 1 on the keypad for example. For those whose fingers get stiff in the winter time, this will reduce your errors. Another way to run this is with a computer using the computers keyboard and key pad. And finally you can run it from a Surface Go2 using its keybaord and attach a keypad to the machine.

One feature I really like is the ability to change CW speeds. With a twist of the knob I can go from 10 to 35 wpm (my setting). I sometimes have issues going from one speed to another when using a paddle. I’m just not that good. With the machine you can match the other station, without making a lot of errors. This really works well when you have someone activating at 13 wpm. I often bust a pileup because I am sending at a speed they can comprehend. It’s also fun on the other side. I typically run in the 16-20 wpm realm. Depending on the operator, I can copy up to about 25 wpm. When I hear one of these stations, I can crank it up and we have a quick staccato QSO.

LCD Display. The CW Machine has a one line LCD display should be readable in direct sunlight. It is adjustable. The screen is rather small and basically has one line that can scroll sideways to see what is going on and also to adjust the settings. There are annunciators that surround the one line of text to show you the status of the machine. It’s not a full sized computer screen, but there is sufficient information to run the machine without a computer.

So far I’ve been working it from home as a hunter for POTA. It works quite well in this capacity. I have used all of the configurations I mentioned and the easiest is using the machine with a computer. I have logged about 100 contacts so far and spent a lot of time reading the manuals. I would not call this plug and play, there is a learning curve. I am getting comfortable enough to try and activation with it.

Log files. The machine itself can hold about 12,000 QSO’s. It is easy to export to ADIF and it takes me about two minutes in ADIF Master to get it ready of POTA. basically I delete two columns, rename two columns and its ready.

Things I like to see changed. One is to go from a serial com port (DB9) to a straight usb port. Doing this would not only get rid of the serial/usb adapter, it could also get rid of the external power port. There are so many ways today to power something via usb. The display could be bigger and have more information available on it. There is plenty of real estate on the top of the machine to put a bigger more up to date display. A good example is the one Xeigu uses on its G90. Lastly, this is more of a niggle than anything else, put a better speaker and audio driver in there. Really, all this needs is an update, there are better components available today which could easily take this to a new level.

Caveats. It’s pricey. Right now it’s selling for about 295 Euro. Not for everybody. It takes time to learn. This machine does a lot, but to unlock the magic, there is reading and testing to be done. This is probably not for the techno-challenged. It does not decode so if you do not know CW, you have to jump that hurdle first. Who is it for? Someone doing POTA/SOTA activations who wants to travel light, have something to share the workload, easily maintain a log (especially if you have poor handwriting like me), works well in cold weather (when my fingers do not), and sips battery power. Right now it has become my POTA/SOTA go to logger/keyer. I am only using ACLog now as my master log. It is easy to import the ADIF from CW Machine (after tweaking it) into ACLog. There you have it. I will probably update once I get it out on an activation.

Begali Simplex Basic and More

The Begali Simplex Basic is probably one of the best values when it comes to CW paddles. I have had mine for several years and it easily preforms above my skill level. At the current exchange rate it sells for about $135.00. This is the paddle that currently resides on my desk.

As you can see, I like to mix work and play. I often have the radio on and make CW contacts while I am working in the office. The Simplex Basic is a very pleasant set of paddles to use. They weigh in at 2.75 pounds and with the sticky mat underneath, they do not move. You can find the mat here: https://tinyurl.com/mvr4mvm8. I like a light touch and the Simplex is very capable of doing that. To set the paddles, I screw the contact in until I hear a dit or a dah, and them back it off about a 1/4 of a turn. The action of the paddles are very smooth. I can detect no rough spots and the feel remains very consistent.

The base is cast and the top has a rough, but not too rough finish to it. the bottom and a band around the bottom of the base is smooth to allow Pietro to sign his name and apply a serial number.

Fit and finish is what you would expect from Begali. Even though it is their Basic and least expensive set of paddles, it is still a beauty to behold. I am not a speed whiz nor am I a perfect CW op. I like to cruise around 16 to 20 wpm and I have had the paddles up to 25 wpm. the paddles didn’t flinch. I like to do Parks on the Air (POTA). I mainly do CW, so if I have hunted you, it was probably on this key. I have a set of aluminum finger pieces ordered for the Simplex. I really don’t need them; I thought it would dress the paddles up a little.

If you are looking for a good set of paddles, the Simplex Basic can not be beat. Yes, you could get a cheaper set of paddles, but not at this quality level. At this price point, I am not sure you could find a better paddle.

With all that being said, I do have another set of paddles on the way. This time is it the Begali Signature. My first set of paddles were made by Bencher. They had what I call right angle levers where the contacts are to the side instead of to the rear like the Simplex. I wanted to try a right angle lever set up again. Hopefully they will be here by Christmas. that will make my third set of paddles from Begali. No, I am not selling any of the others 🙂

Another long term project I have is I ordered a Begali CW Machine. It is a complex keyer/logger. It comes with a 75+ page manual. I plan to use it during activations. It will replace my keyer and computer. The nice part about it is it only draws about 20 milliamps of power (according to Begali). Once I get my hands on it, I’m sure it will take some time to get it set the way I want it. I will keep you posted.

K1EL Keyers

K1EL keyers are well known and are pretty much universally accepted interfaces for most amateur radio software programs. If you are keyboading CW or running CW scripts from your computer, you need to use this interface. The reason is how the computer allocates processing time. From the K1EL website Windows is a multi-tasking operating system which means that the CPU is shared between many different tasks. This makes it very difficult to accurately time CW due to constant task switching. This results in unevenly timed dits and dahs. For example, in the middle of a word you might have an R with a really long dah in the middle or an A that sounds more like an M. By off loading CW generation to a separate dedicated microcontroller, all the timing problems disappear. Logging programs running on the PC send ASCII letters to Winkeyer for conversion to Morse, this allows the PC to focus on more important things.

I have both the WK Mini and the WinKeyer USB. The biggest difference is the Mini has to have a computer connected to it and the WinKeyer USB can operate stand-alone because it has buttons. Both are USB powered. The WinKeyer USB can run on batteries. I have a USB power port that I hook-up to the radio battery. It can also charge my phone.

How does it play? When hooked up to your computer, both can be controlled by software. ACLog by N3FJP has an excellent interface. Here is a screenshot of my setup on my Surface Go2.

As you can see, you can create CW scripts right in ACLog that will play through the WinKeyer. The scripts correspond with the F-buttons at the top of your keyboard. Or you can have a mini F button window within ACLog which you can click with a mouse or if you have a touch screen a touch of your finger. The latter is my preferred method. One of the benefits of controlling your WinKeyer with ACLog is you can pull data out of ACLog to use in the script. Notice in the F2 script, there is a $ and an *. The $ sign pulls the call sign in the Call window of ACLog and the * pulls the RST from the Sent window. Theoretically, you can make exchanges without even touching a paddle as long as everyone is using the same format.

The WinKeyer USB also works well in stand a lone mode (not hooked up to a computer). It can store up to 12 messages in two banks. There are plenty of ways to customize the messages. I will give a few hints but the instructions that come with the keyer are extensive. With the WinKeyer USB you can use the messages in ACLog and Winkeyer USB interchangeably. However, you must use the F buttons to trigger an ACLog message and the WinKeyer USB buttons to trigger a Winkeyer message

The first thing you do is plug the keyer into your radio and set the radio keyer to STRAIGHT key. The keyer will handle the rest. You plug your paddle into the keyer. Besides sending CW with your paddles, you can edit and change the messages and parameters of the keyer. There is also an app for your computer to interface with the keyer. It looks like this.

What is nice about Winkeyer USB is you can type in the message and not have to send CW via the paddle to create the message. It gives you more control over how the message is set up. Looking at message 1, it is a standard CQ message. However, I want it to repeat until I stop it (send a dit or dah with the paddles to stop it). Winkeyer was a beacon mode however it beacons at a set period of time. For example at 20 wpm I set my CQ to repeat every 13 seconds giving about a 3 second space between call. During my activation I slowed my wpm down to 16 and now I had no gap between CQ’s. The solution was to use the wait command and then the go to message 1 command. The wait command is the /W03 it means wait 3 seconds before continuing. the /1 means play message one. So now no matter what speed I set the keyer, I will always have a 3 second gap.

Next is the /R command. What this does is it treats the next 2 letters as a prosign like SK, KN, or BT. For POTA, I like to send BK as a prosign so the command is /R BK.

The last command you see is /Z3. What this does is slow the rest of the message down 3 wpm (you can change the amount). When doing a Park to Park (P2P) sometimes the park number catches you off guard. Your brain is thinking something else. So by slowing down the park number is gives an operator a chance to catch up and get the number.

When using radios like the Xeigu G90 which does not have CW memories or the Lab599 TX-500 which only has two. The Winkeyer gives you options to help make operating more comfortable. Let the keyer call CQ while you take a sip of coffee or let it say thank you while you are finishing up logging the contact. With the WinKeyer USB, you can keep the message buttons close at hand. The WK mini weighs in at 1.5 oz and the WinKeyer USB weighs 7 oz. Both are small and easy to toss into a pack. For more information: https://hamcrafters2.com/index.html

SOTA PADDLE

Larry Naumann N0SA builds keys and paddles as a hobby. He recently released a new design in a small quantity and I was lucky enough to get one. Larry is a CW guy and also likes to build paddles and keys. His new one is called the SOTA paddle and is designed for POTA/SOTA.

As you can see, it is a rather small paddle weighing 2 oz. including the cable. This is an amazing paddle with exceptional fit and finish. All corners are rounded and all edges deburred. The metal appears to be passivated which should provide a long lasting, corrosion resistant finish. Paddle tension is magnetic and Larry uses good sized magnets. You can tell they are there. The action is on par with other more expensive paddles. The action can be adjusted with the included hex key which is held in place by one of the tension magnets. I recently did an activation with this paddle along with my Lab599 TX-500. It was a cold dreary, drizzly day and both the radio and paddle did just fine. When I got home, all I did was blow dry the paddles with some canned air. You can see the YouTube video here:

The paddles can be attached to something using 4, 4-40 tapped holes (two on the top and two on the bottom) or it can be held in the hand. Because of my somewhat large, meaty hands, when I use the paddles as held in my left hand, I sent the occasional stray dah.

After my last activation, I removed the paddle from the flight deck and then had to do something with the knurled 4-40 screw I used to secure the paddle to the flight deck. I moved the screw from the bottom of the paddle to one of the holes in the top and put the paddles back in the bag.

A couple of days later, I pulled the paddles out to play with them. Yeah , I know, they do kind of grow on you. I made a few contacts from home, and I noticed that there were not any stay dahs! I looked at the paddle in my hands; the screw changed the geometry of how I held the paddle. The screw was pushing my fat index finger away from the dah paddle. Problem solved.

These are great paddles and fun to use. I enjoy using them both at home and in the field. Will they replace my Begali Simplex on the desk? Probably not, but if Larry decides to make a desk set of paddles… I don’t know when or if Larry is going to make another batch, but if he does, don’t hesitate, because they go fast.