End results

So my Florida QSOing ended at 53 contacts in just about 73 hours.  (Again, I wasn’t trying hard; it was true “holiday style” operating.  I’d operate for a while, then go do something else, then operate for a while, go do something with my wife, etc., wash rinse repeat.)  I had one 6M JT65 contact but that was nothing to write home about; it was a Florida ham who was only a few miles away.  I also had one complete 15M JT65 contact with a ham in Brazil, but I had to stop using 15M after that because the antenna was too close to the rig and even at 15W it was interfering with the USB link between the SignaLink and the computer.  (I was lucky that the other ham was patient.)  But I was ready to stop then anyway; it was my last QSO of the trip.

All QSOs were JT9 and on 20M except for those two, which were the last two; I stayed on 20M because it was easiest to leave the Buddipole configured for that band, and I was only playing around at the last.  According to the log, I worked hams in Brazil, Spain, Italy, Poland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Canada, Portugal, France, and European Russia — all entities I’ve worked before, but who cares about that.  The other 42 contacts were all US, at least one from each call district.  Sadly I didn’t work anyone from Alaska — or from Hawaii or West by God Virginia, either, the two of which I NEED for JT65 and JT9 both.  (Not that I can count any of these toward WAS — I was too far away from home.)

The Buddipole worked splendidly.  I really liked the ease of setup and it was pretty simple to work it with a tuner, but I think I wouldn’t have had any trouble getting the SWR down even without the tuner.  I’ll probably try that now that I’m home and can set it up outdoors.

All in all a fun trip; I hate going outdoors in Florida in the summer, so this worked out quite well for me.  We also ate well.  Too well.  And got to see some friends we hadn’t seen for a while.  One thing we did that we had never done was visit the Naples-Baker Museum of Art, which had some interesting exhibits on display.

I’m looking forward to our next Florida vacation 🙂

Another picture

Still working it holiday style for about another 24 hours.  Don’t know if I will be able to set up when we go to Sanibel on Tuesday or not.  Anyway, here is a shot of the Buddipole and my operating position together.  (I moved the Buddipole to get it out of traffic.)

KC9YTJ/W4 portable station in Naples, FL

KC9YTJ/W4 portable station in Naples, FL

Impressed.

So I’m down in Florida right now, Naples/Collier County to be exact, in grid EL96.  I’ve finally managed to bring an HF rig down with me for the first time.  The question was, what antenna was I going to use?

I finally bit the bullet and bought a Buddipole Deluxe.  Small enough to fit in the big suitcase we brought for my wife’s stuff (she is doing a presentation at a symposium next week and brought things for the group’s auction), and according to the specs, good down to 40 meters.  The rest of the gear went into a Nanuk case from DX Engineering and was FedEx’ed to a friend’s house down here, because I didn’t want to have to explain ham radio to TSA.

The rig is my Yaesu FT-857D.  It’s got an LDG Z-11ProII tuner with it and I’m using a SignaLink for digital work.  Which is mostly what I’m doing — sticking to JT modes just to make it easy, because I’m working holiday-style.  That means, whenever the XYL is at the beach, I can be on the radio.

I didn’t bring any batteries or solar equipment, so I’m stuck with wall socket juice and a Samlex SEC-1235M switching power supply that is running everything through a small RigRunner.  I’m also stuck in the condo for an operating position, which means…

…the Buddipole is set up in the condo’s living room.

Yep, that’s right.  I have the Buddipole set up in a second-floor living room at just about ceiling height, which puts it about 20′ AGL.  The Gulf of Mexico is across the street and the building backs up to a salt-water canal.  The antenna is pointing roughly ENE/WSW and is configured for 20 meters.

And I’m working hams on JT9 (using WSJT-X of course) in European Russia, France, and Portugal, as well as the US.  I’m receiving signals as far down in the mud as -26 and had one report back of -27.

I would never have thought this antenna would do that, given the constraints I’m working under.

Color me impressed, Buddipole.  Color me impressed.

ETA:  Bad cell phone pictures.

My shack away from shack.

My shack away from shack.

Buddipole antenna in condo living room!

Buddipole antenna in condo living room!

Whiners.

Saw a post on one of my FB groups yesterday about NPOTA and whether folks would be participating.

Followed by six comments (before I gave up in disgust and hid the post) ragging on the LOTW requirement as being a secret ARRL plot to drive membership, and/or install crap software on one’s machine, and/or that LOTW would just lose your QSOs at some point down the line…

I can only say that if you can’t install the LOTW software on your machine, you shouldn’t be installing any software on your machine.  If you act like a “real ham” and don’t read the manual first, yeah, you’re probably going to have issues.  On the other hand, if you have a bit of intelligence and are moved to read the manual first, you probably won’t have any trouble at all.

One guy said he’d rather log his stuff to QRZ.  OK…did you know that QRZ has a really easy interface to LOTW?  All you have to do is feed it your certificate and login credentials.  In fact, I don’t even use ARRL’s TQSL software anymore…I upload to QRZ and from there to LOTW.

We used to say that there was nothing wrong with Freemasonry that a few Masonic funerals couldn’t cure.  I’m really thinking it’s the same way in amateur radio — a few more SKs in certain places wouldn’t hurt a thing.

VHF/UHF/Packet go-box part V

The SignaLink worked.  Yay.  Now I just have to put in the PS/2 pass-throughs so I can get rid of the rat’s nest of wires that come out of the box.  So it will now be a VHF/UHF Packet/NBEMS go-box.

I have to admit that I really like the SignaLink.  Well-built and simple to understand.

OK.  So here is the promised electrical schematic.  Pardon the crappy pencil drawing; I need to trace it out in pen so breathing on it doesn’t smudge it.  (Well, if not, it comes close.  The scanner certainly managed to smudge it, so I cleaned it up and took a picture of it with my iPad instead.)

2016-03-07 14.48.07I forgot to note that the TNC and radio connections are Anderson PowerPoles.  They didn’t have to be, but they are.  Just makes life easier if I want to pull one of them out of the box.

The USB charger port I used is here:  BANDC PJH-RS-0123 Power Outlet Dual USB Charger Socket 2.1A 1A for iPad iPhone Car Boat Marine Mobile  It’s similar (probably identical) to one I bought from PowerWerx some time back for another project, and cost about the same.

I think I mentioned earlier that the batteries are standard AGM 7.5Ah batteries wired in parallel.  When using the batteries that way, be sure you take the positive off of one battery and the negative off the other battery.  (If you use more than two in parallel, take the positive off the first battery and the negative off the last battery, like I did for my 30Ah battery box.  The picture doesn’t show that, because I wasn’t done wiring it, but that’s how I did it.)

I’m going to use the box on the voice nets this week and see how it works.  I think it’s going to need an external speaker; it sounds like it’s down at the bottom of a well 🙂  Definitely audible, just crappy sound quality.

ETA:  I just realized that I left the 4-way PowerPole block out of the schematic.  It would look pretty much the same as the USB port, except that it has a 15A fuse on the positive side.  The PowerPole block is kind of important, since I charge the batteries through it 🙂

VHF/UHF/Packet go-box part IV

OK, well…I guess I’ll be buying a SignalLink like everyone else, because I cannot get the Plug-And-Play to key up the FT-7900.  No matter what I do, nothing works.  Sure, the PTT lamp lights on the PNP when I engage TX in FLDIGI, but nothing happens to the radio.  And I know the PNP itself works because I’ve been using it for months with my FT-450D.

There’s no rig defined in FLDIGI because there’s apparently no rig-level FLDIGI support for the Yaesu FM rigs at all.  Which is fine, because so far as I can tell, the PNP ought to be triggering PTT just by taking RTS high.  Other than finding the FT-7900R in West Mountain Radio’s compatibility list for the PNP, I can find NOTHING indicating that anyone has actually tried the combination for NBEMS.

I imagine it would work with my FT-857D, but that rig is a little big and a lot overkill for what I want to do with that box.

So I’m going to order a SignalLink and associated cable for the FT-7900, and I’m going to install a PS/2 passthrough connector in the lid of the box so I can easily change from the packet TNC to the SignalLink as required.  I hate doing it by using patch cords but I haven’t found an appropriate switch for a PS/2 line.  Lots of KVMs have them, but again, that’s overkill for what I want to do.

Arghh.

VHF/UHF/Packet go-box part III

Well, as soon as I made up my mind, I changed it.  I said:

The fuse block is going to go on the sidewall of the box instead of glued into the handle depression in the lid.

Well, no, the fuse block is NOT going to go on the sidewall of the box.  I wanted to put it on one of the short sides for better stability, but the block was just long enough that it wouldn’t lie flat on that side.  So yes, damn it, I RTV’d it into the handle depression in the lid.  But my fuse block isn’t laying on its side, so I think I have a reasonable chance of getting a fuse out if I have to change it.

I also discovered at the training that, while I have a great packet TNC installed, it doesn’t do me a bit of good for NBEMS via FLDIGI.  (Remember, I’m fairly new at this.)  But I was able to receive and send using “acoustic” coupling (e.g., set my handheld next to the mike for receive, and hold the microphone about an inch and a half from the speaker for send).  The next step is to install a sound card interface in the box, and I’ll probably use a RIGBlaster Plug-and-Play for that purpose, since it’s set up out of the box to work with the Yaesu 6-pin data port.  I have one currently installed on my FT-450D for my digital work, so I’ll probably pull that and use the RIGBlaster Advantage that I bought a while back and stopped using because I couldn’t get the COM port splitter driver to work properly.

I’m dithering, then, on whether I should pull the TNC out of the box and install it in my regular go box (which also has an FT-7900 installed) or try to homebrew a 6-pin A/B data switch so I can have both in the same box.  I can’t find anything like that short of computer KVM switches, which are typically too big for my purpose and switch too many things I don’t need anyway.  But I might find an old one and take it apart to see if I can use the parts.

Or maybe I’ll buy a used FT-1900 and hook that up to the TNC as a dedicated VHF packet rig.  I’m still interested in packet, but I think the need for a portable NBEMS-capable box is more acute.

I’ll have more pictures and a schematic after I do some cleanup (need to velcro-tie some wires and do a couple of other things before I’m done, but as proof of concept it worked quite well yesterday — and got some interest from some of the ARES folks, too).

_______________________

* I found a newer version of that driver last night and I have the Advantage working with the 450D now, but NOT with port-splitting; there’s no need for it since I already have CAT access via the RT Systems programming cable for that machine, and don’t need to run it through the Advantage.  The one thing I dislike about the Advantage (and all of the old-fashioned RIGBlasters, for that matter) is that I have to run the output through the microphone port rather than the data port.  But that’s a topic for another day.

 

VHF/UHF/Packet go-box part II

I’m working on the packet box from a couple of posts below.  One of the hardest parts was trying to decide how to bus-bar the power to the fuse block, until I remembered that I had a bunch of “piggyback disconnect” crimp connectors left over from my battery box project last year.

2016-02-26 11.35.14Et voila.  The two fuses on the left are for the negative lines to the radio and the TNC.  Probably overkill, but Yaesu ships their power cables with both lines fused, so what the hell.

The fuse block is going to go on the sidewall of the box instead of glued into the handle depression in the lid.  The more I looked at that in the K4NHA go-box, the more I wondered how he planned to pull the fuses if one blew — it just looks awkward to me.  And I don’t care if the box is 100% waterproof or not, although I’ll use some RTV around the bolt holes just because I have it.  I’m also going to install a third bolt for a common negative post, and I’ll RTV that, too.  All the positive lines feed directly from the fuse block so there’s no need for a common positive post at this point.

While I don’t have everything wired up yet, I’ve at least got the battery power to the main switch and wired through to the voltmeter.

2016-02-26 11.49.28I decided against installing a dedicated RJ45 port and DB9 jack for the radio control head and the computer link to the TNC, and simply installed one of those plastic grommets furniture makers use to run cables through desktops.  Cheap at Home Depot, and took the same 1-1/2″ hole that the fans did.  I’ll just coil the cables up and store them inside the box between uses.

My plan was also to install a dual USB power port underneath the Powerpole connectors.  I’m still going to do that, but I couldn’t get my hands on one in time to finish this up by the weekend.  We have an ARES training session tomorrow featuring NBEMS over packet radio, and they said “bring your rig and we’ll help you set it up for NBEMS.”  Since I have FLDIGI installed on the laptop that’s going with this go-box but haven’t quite figured out how to make it talk to the Kantronics TNC, I thought I’d take them up on the offer.

The main power switch is a 20A DPST toggle, to the left of the voltmeter.  The two toggles to the right are 20A SPST and they are for switching the TNC and the fans separately from main power — for instance, I might want to run voice rather than packet, so there’s no reason in that case to have the TNC drawing power, or I might be outdoors in the cold with the box and not need the fans running.  All the toggle switches came from Home Depot, for significantly less than I could have gotten them from the auto store or a ham supplier.

NHA also used a soldered bulkhead connector for his antenna.  I prefer something more modular*, so I used a DX Engineering “Silver Plated Female SecureMount Bulkhead Connector Kit” and a DXE-532 right-angle connector on the inside of the box.  I use the same combination on my main “home and go box” and it works pretty well there.  I’ll use a short RG-8X jumper cable to get from the radio to the right-angle connector.

Here’s a shot of the inside of the lid so far.  Remember I haven’t wired much of anything yet.

2016-02-26 12.14.02When I’m done, I’ll provide a wiring schematic.  I notice that most hams don’t do that when they post projects, which is fine if you just want to brag about your mad 1337 skillz, but hell on those of us who might want to try building something similar.  And mea culpa on me; I meant to do that for my battery box and I’ll probably do that one of these days, but I actually drew a schematic for this one before I started.  It just needs a couple of revisions and cleanup before I can post it.

More later.

_____________________

* I can solder fine, thanks (those Y-connectors for the Powerpole unit are soldered and shrink-tubed).  I just don’t like messing with soldered coax connections when I don’t have to.

This looks interesting

20 meter shield for the Raspberry Pi 2 that is set up for digital modes like WSPR.

Would be more interesting to me if it were built for 30 meters.  Seems like nobody wants to build SSB gear for 30 because…well…because SSB voice is verboten on 30, I guess.  SSB digital modes are perfectly legal on 30, but there’s nothing small and inexpensive for 30 meter SSB like there is for many of the other modes.  And now we’re in a circular argument….

VHF/UHF/Packet go-box

I finally got around to buying a Kantronics TNC (KPC-3 Plus) so I could fiddle with FM packet, and was considering how to build a go-box with internal battery power for a spare FT-7900 that I’ve had sitting around (it used to be in the car before I replaced it with the TYT TH-9800) and the new TNC.

So looking around the web for some examples, I found this:  VHF/UHF Go-Box Complete

It’s a nice build, but it has features I don’t need, and lacks other features that I do need.  For instance, I don’t see the point of having the internal line-voltage power supply when you can feed the box from the PowerPoles.  NHA also doesn’t really explain how he gets the line voltage power into the dry box.  One assumes that if he’s added a connector for that on the outside of the box, the box is no longer waterproof (or he’s RTV’d the heck out of it).  Of course, with all the holes cut into the lid, even under the hinged cover, it isn’t really 100% waterproof anyway.  I’d just prefer not to violate the integrity of the box itself.

Since I can charge the batteries through the PowerPoles with my little float charger, or hook the whole thing up to a car battery, dedicated battery box, or external power supply ditto, I’m not going to bother with the line voltage supply.  That removes a couple of switches and makes room for a DB9 connector for the TNC, which will be inside the box with the radio.  Otherwise my build will look a lot like his.  I admit that I’m not sure why he used a TH-9800 for this, unless he’s planning to tote 6 and 10 meter antennae around with him.  My plan is to use a Slim Jim J-pole with the radio and TNC.  I’ve already been using that setup in the shack with the Slim Jim tacked up to the wall, so I know it works.

I’ll have more on that as the build progresses.  I’m still gathering parts at the moment 🙂

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