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28 April 2013

My blog has moved to Wordpress

As of April 28, 2013 my blog is hosted at Wordpress:

09 March 2013

Mysterious bright object in the sky over Moscow, Idaho

On March 10th at about 0500Z I looked up into the night sky and saw a large, bright red object moving very slowly from roughly the southeast toward the tail of the Big Dipper. It was easily the brightest object in the night sky at the time. I watched for about 5 minutes move very slowly. Then, suddenly it appeared to partially burst, dropping small red fireballs from its bottom side which fell and disappeared quickly below it. Then the object itself disappeared from the sky just as it reached the end of the Dipper's handle. I have no idea what it was, but it was fantastic to watch. Later in the evening I filed a report with the American Meteor Society.

23 February 2013

Update: Custom front panel

A few weeks ago I created a front panel for a kit I built in December 2012. The kit is a QRP Transmit/ Receive box designed by the 4-state QRP club.

Below are before and after photos of the front panel. The first photo is my attempt to drill out holes in an enclosure i purchased from Ten-Tec based on the template provided with the kit. I really lacked the proper milling tools to do the job and, needless to say, it shows.

The second photo is the front panel I designed, again based on the template provided in the kit. The software I used to design the panel layout was provided by Front Panel Express online. (the software I downloaded from Front Panel Express for my Mac work flawlessly) Using the software I positioned and specified sizes for each panel opening. In addition I specified labels for each opening.

I learned that I should have allowed a bit more room for panel openings as the position of components on the board was slightly different than my front panel specifications. I had to enlarge two of the openings using a Dremel bit to adjust for two jacks whose position was slightly off from my specifications.

In addition I learned that I should have positioned my labels a farther from the openings as the connector fasteners tended to overlap my labels somewhat.

All in all I think this was a very successful first attempt.

First attempt.

Second attempt, using Front Panel Express milled front panel.

19 February 2013

2013 ARRL DX CW contest

This was my first ARRL DX CW contest. Propagation conditions here in North Idaho were excellent for QRP.

My 5W station and simple dipole attached to my roofline at about 20 feet and open wire twin feedline worked almost all parts of the world: from Central & South America to Europe, Africa, Asia (Russia and Japan) and New Zealand.

15 and 10 meters were really hot during daylight hours and are where I made most of contacts. 20 meters, at least for me, was dead, netting me just 1 contact. 40 meters was just OK.

I set a goal for myself to work 100 stations with the time I had available. I ended the contest just before time ran out with a contact to Guam, which was contact number 101.

My KX3 performed like a champ on a set of 8 rechargeable batteries. The rig's ability to dig weak signals out of pile-ups and sometimes marginal propagation conditions was very impressive.

My best contacts were Montserrat and Senegal which I never expected to work. Conditions were so good I worked Montserrat on multiple bands.

Looking forward to next year's contest!

03 February 2013

Mobile operation: Pullman, WA

I returned again to a hilltop at the Palouse Ridge Golf Course for mobile afternoon operating session with the KX3 and a simple, speaker wire dipole strung between trees, its twin-lead center about 4 feet off the ground. Weather was cool and sunny with temperatures in the high 30's or so. I got the antenna in place, hooked it up to the KX3 along with my portable key and phones and fired up on 15M CW.

Within the first few minutes I responded to V73NS calling CQ, having no idea about his QTH. Turns out it was Neil Schwanitz in the Marshall Islands! What good fortune for me. As soon as I signed off there were lots of stations calling him. I must have hit it just right since I doubt my 3W would have punched through the pile-up.

From there I QSO'd with Ted in Sioux City, Nebraska, then N1WPU in Maine. I also worked Valery, UA0ZC in Russia.

For me, this is some of Ham radio at its best!

Here is a photo of my gear and antenna just prior to set-up.

This photo is my view of the hillside overlooking the Washington State Palouse. If you look carefully at the photo you can see my dipole crossing the top portion of the picture.

73 N7RCS

Keeping it clean

I've been searching for a way to keep dust off my KX3 and Bencher key. For a while I was just placing a piece of scratch paper over each unit after shutting down. Not the most elegant solution.

Then I asked my XYL, who has considerable sewing skills, whether she could make equipment covers for me.

After a brief consultation as to color, fabric and size and a trip to the local fabric store she had what she needed. One week later I had two very sharp-looking dust covers. See before and after photos below.

02 February 2013

Operating mobile for FYBO QRP 2013 with the KX3

It was such a beautiful day today I decided to take the KX3 out and participate in Freeze Your Butt Off Winter QRP Sprint. Wx was in the mid-30s with a breeze. I decided to drive over to the Palouse Ridge Golf Golf Club at WSU and set up on a bluff overlooking the Palouse.

I loaded the KX3, my speaker wire dipole, portable key, and AA batteries in my backback, jumped in the car and headed over.

The clump of trees seen in the aerial view on this page shows where I set up for FYBO.

The sun was shining, not a cloud in the sky, the wind was blowing. Perfect day! I had forgotten to bring a chair and my headphones, but luckily for me, there was a bench waiting for me. It was quiet enough that I did not need my headphones. So, I tossed my dipole into the trees, leaving the center about 6 feet above the ground. Hooked up the KX3 to the antenna, plugged in the key and battery pack and started scanning for FYBO CQs.

As a started scanning on 20 meters I heard KH6MB (Hawaii) calling CQ on 14.004. I responded, only half expecting him to hear my 3W CW signal. He came right back! Wow! My first mobile contact on the KX3 was Hawaii. Nice.

I went on to notch 3 FYBO contacts in the next hour: K7TQ in Idaho, WD7Y in Nevada, and W0DTJ in California. All on 20M. Not too bad for 3W to a dipole 6 feet off the ground.

I also worked Barry, N2BJ in New Lenox, IL on 15M RTTY. Tried PSK31 but had no luck, although the KX3 did an excellent job translating PSK to text for me. A waterfall display is nice, but this rig makes it pretty easy to run PSK without it.

All in all a very productive first outing with the KX3. My plan is to set up my 32 ft. vertical next time to see how it performs at that same location.

Till next time - 73!

29 January 2013

Custom front panels for kits

I always look forward to my monthly issue of the K9YA Telepgraph e-zine. There are always interesting articles about ham radio, from radio kits and adventure stories to fascinating stories about amateur radio's storied past. I don't know how they always put out such a fine publication, but I'm sure a lot of hard work goes into it. Thanks guys!

The lead story of the February 2013 issue is about an audio filter kit called the Hi-Per-Mite, designed by David Cripe - NM0S - and the 4SQRP Club. While the project was pretty cool itself, what caught my attention was the way the designers created the kit's front panel. They used a slick piece of freeware called Front Design provided by an online service called Front Panel Express.

What I've learned about kit building, especially when the kit provides no enclosure, is that creating the enclosure is no mean feat, especially without proper machine shop tools, like drill presses, brakes, etc. What to do? Front Panel Express offers an excellent option. Simply download their free, and quite sophisticated yet easy to use, software which enables you to design a front panel for your kit (they offer enclosures too).

But, wait, there's more. Once you're done designing the panel (actually at any point along the way) you can check pricing, which makes it a cinch to keep costs in line. Once you're set, you can place your order from right within the application. Very nice!

The front panel I designed for my kit will be made of aluminum. You specify all dimensions (metric or English) and color. You can also specify engraved labels, in choice of fonts and colors! My total cost with shipping: $38.

I placed the order this evening (January 29) and can't wait to see the finished product.

Back in December, I actually obtained enclosures in an attempt to machine my own front panel. But my results were, let's just say, disappointing.

Once I receive the custom-designed panel, I'll post photos so you can see my original work vs. the Front Panel Express product.

In the meantime, check out the K9YA Telegraph and Front Panel Express. I'm glad I did on both counts!