Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Video: chasing Tuvalu on 20 metres CW. Will I be able to make it through the European QRM?

This is what I do most of the time on amateur radio - I chase rare DX. In this case, it's T2GC on Tuvalu island, which is an island in the southern Pacific Ocean. As you can see, it's hard work finding where he is listening, and in this case his RX QRG is moving all the time. So I have to spend a lot of time spinning the VFO looking for his split frequency. I lose the split though, and have to go searching for it. Having not found it, I decide to call above the pile-up (at 2:40 in the video), but hear a K2 beneath me going back to him, so I spin down to 14.013.5 and call him there. Soon I am back on target. At 3:56, you finally hear him asking for EI2. I call a couple of times, but he still comes back with EI2, the best indication possible that other stations are just calling over the top of me, ignoring the fact that he is looking for EI2. But with a bit of persistence I am soon in the log. This one took just over four minutes, but I have been known to spend an hour (and more) chasing the rare ones.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A very nice new addition to the shack!

I have acquired a very nice new addition to the shack equipment in the form of a German-made Scheunemann Morsetasten dual paddle. And it's a real work of art. It's also lovely to use on the fingertips. Here is my first QSO on the new paddle - with JR3IIR, Hiro in Japan. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

QRP portable on PSK31 - five watts and five QSOs!

The car at Red Mountain with the antenna on the roof.
This evening after work I finally got a chance to test my new portable set-up for real. Previously, I had only tested it in the main shack connected to my home antennas. But today I wanted to give it a REAL test. So I took the portable station in my car to a hill about two miles from where I live called Red Mountain, just overlooking Donore village in County Meath. I wanted to run five watts only on either digi modes or CW, running off a separate battery, not the car battery. I didn't know what to expect . . . or even if it would work properly, although having tested it at home I felt it would.

It took me a few minutes to get everything out of the box and connected up. Eventually I would like to make a proper "go box", but for now I have to connect all the leads and that's OK. It only took a few minutes. I was using the Watson Multi-Ranger antenna on the roof of the car. I decided to use PSK31 so I didn't bother connecting a mic to the radio, or indeed the K1EL keyer. All I had to do was connect the radio to the battery, the antenna to the ATU, and the Signalink to both the computer and the radio. Oh, and I used the new Icom CI-V interface so that HRD could read the frequency and mode from the rig.
Everything fit on the passenger seat. It was a little uncomfortable because
I had to turn sideways to operate, but it all worked very well.
With all that done, I tuned up and then started CQing on 14.070.85 using just five watts. I was chatting to a couple of the local guys on two metres also. After five minutes of Cqing there was nothing, so I was thinking I might change to CW, but all of a sudden a F5 station was calling me! So I successfully made a QSO with him. I finished, thinking how delighted I was to have successfully made a contact with five watts when a German station called me. I worked him too. Then an Italian called me and I logged him. In total, I worked five stations in half an hour. The last one was the best DX contact - into Ukraine. 
Working DL9KW Karl-Heinz on PSK31 with 5 watts.

It was great fun - and very rewarding. The location helped. The hill falls away steeply towards the east so there would be good take-off into Europe. I packed everything away into the EI2KC portable case with a smile on my face.

I'm hoping to do more portable work soon - perhaps with a couple of the local hams in tow. We could maybe bring a flask of tea and some sandwiches and biscuits and make a nice social event out of it too...

Just a couple of things I need to do for next time. I need to get better clamps or connectors to keep the power lead connected to the battery. I also need to get a shorter RJ45 cable to connect the Signalink to the rig - it's too long currently. 

EI2KC selfie . . . in the car doing QRP PSK.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Trying to work Brazil on 20 metres with 10 watts. Will I make it?

Above is a video I made last night of my attempt to work PV8ADI in Brazil on 20 metres using just 10 watts. Will I make it through with my almost-QRP power? Or will I be just too weak for him to hear? Watch the video to find out.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Video: Working Colombia (HK1MW) on 17 metres CW

Above is a quick video showing me working HK1MW in Colombia on 17 metres CW. I was running 350 watts at the time via the Acom 1000 linear amplifier into my two-element SP7IDX hexbeam.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Reminiscing . . . video from my second day as a ham

I'm doing a wee bit of reminiscing today. I came across this video on YouTube from October 30th 2009, which was the day after I received my ham licence. Here I am having a chat with Harald DJ8RP in the Black Forest on 20 metres SSB. It's nice to look back at a record of the early days of the hobby for me.

Friday, September 18, 2015

E6GG Niue Island dxpedition on 20 metres

This is E6GG Niue Island on 20 metres CW. I worked them a few minutes previously on a tight split. It was a nice bit of lunchtime DX, after working D67GIA Comoros Island on 15 metres CW this morning.

Monday, September 14, 2015

My portable HF station is almost complete!

I've been trying to put together a portable HF station, one that I can bring to another location and set up easily. As you have read recently, I was working on getting the Signalink USB connected to the Icom IC-706MkII for digital modes, which is working successfully. I also got the K1EL WKUSB winkeyer working with N1MM+ on the Acer netbook. I was shopping in Lidl the other day and came across a metal file box which I thought might fit everything. So I bought it. And I was right - everything fits in it!

This is me with the entire EI2KC portable HF
station in one box, at EI4DIB's QTH.
In order to test the portability of the station, I packed it into the box and brought it to Tony EI4DIB's shack to hook it up to his HF dipole antenna. There I am, pictured on right, with the case containing everything needed - the IC-706MkII, LDG tuner, Signalink USB, K1EL Winkeyer, morse paddle, Acer netbook and all associated cables.

A few things are still missing from the setup at this stage - an antenna, a PSU and an interface dongle. I spent a good bit of time yesterday trying to get a Prolific dongle to work with the IC-706MkII without any success. So I will order a proper CIV interface on the internet. In the meantime, this does not matter too much as I can work and log QSOs in phone, CW and digital. I just have to be careful when changing bands and modes to ensure that I manually change these items in the software.

All in all it took about five minutes to get the entire station set up on Tony's shack bench, and within a couple of minutes of putting out a CQ on 40m PSK31, I made a QSO. Happy days.

Below are a couple of photos taken during this nice Sunday afternoon visit of one ham to another ham.

The portable HF station sitting in front of Tony's lovely VHF radio array.
In the above photo, you can see (in front of all of Tony's radios!) the Icom IC706MkII on left with the LDG autotuner sitting on top. In the middle is the Acer netbook. It's not very powerful but it's small and can comfortably run FLdigi and N1MM+, which are both free programs and both are great. On the right of the computer is my EI2KC home brew Hacksaw Blade CW Paddle (Mark II) and right of that is the K1EL WKUSB winkeyer. A simple but effective setup, capable of being taken anywhere in a box.

Working a station from Tony's shack using the portable gear.
So I still have a few pieces to get. I've been told the West Mountain RigTalk dongle is very good for Icom CI-V interfacing, so I might get one of those. I need to get my own portable power supply. I would like to get one of the small switch mode PSU's that the like of Watson supplies. And then to finish it off I'd like to have a portable antenna. For now, the Watson Multi-Ranger whip antenna for the car will have to do. But down the line I'd like to get a Sota pole and something like a multi-band dipole for easy portable setup. Something like the "Iona dipole" demonstrated in this video from the EJ7NET activation of Inis Mór in 2013 might do the trick:

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Got the Signalink USB and IC706MkII working together

Inspired by my recent trip to Gola with the EJ7NET team, where we mostly used small rigs, I am aiming to set up an entire portable station - something that I could bring on such a trip. I have the IC-706MkII. I have the LDG auto tuner. I have the K9EL keyer. I don't have a small switchmode PSU - I had to borrow one for the trip. But I dearly wanted to get digi modes up and running. I never knew, however, that it would be so easy!

The "portable" station set up in the shack. Icom IC-706MkII, LDG auto tuner,
Signalink USB and Winkeyer USB.

I looked up the Tigertronics website and opened the Signalink USB up and re-wired the jumpers. They had been wired for my old Yaesu FT-1000MP, which I sold a couple of years ago. What I didn't realise was that I could use an ordinary RJ45 ethernet cable to connect the Signalink box to the rig. The beautiful thing (one of many) about the IC-706MkII is that it has TWO microphone sockets - one underneath the front of the rig, and one at the rear. The upshot is that I can keep the microphone connected at the front and the digital cable connected at the back - there's no need to unplug one to use the other.

So I connected everything up and downloaded fldigi. I didn't want to use HRD because it's already interfaced with my Icom 756PRO. Within minutes I had fldigi installed and running - and decoding signals from the IC706MkII via the Signalink. Wow. But it got better . . .

A screen shot of fldigi. I haven't used it much yet, but I already like it. 
I decided to try to CQ - on low power, which I think was either 5 or 10 watts - using PSK31. Immediately an EA2 came back to my call! I hadn't even set up the macros, so I had to manually type out my QSO. But I didn't mind. I was so delighted to get the digital modes running so easily.

I haven't been using fldigi for long - but I already like it. The installer was less than 5MB. It's a free program. It was easy to install and easy to get going. The macros are very easy to set up. I like the fact that it has a sort-of "super browser" (like HRD) built in, on the left-hand pane, showing live decoding of the various signals on the waterfall.

So a couple of things remain outstanding before I can say I have a fully portable station. I need a small PSU. I also need something like a Sota pole and an antenna - preferably a multi-band dipole such as the "Iona Dipole" that Gordon GM7WCO used on Gola. Then I will be completely set up. Oh - I also need a case or box in which to put all the equipment. But I will figure that one out in time.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Enjoying some QSOs on my old Icom Ic-706MkII

This is a video of one of the QSOs I made on my old Icom IC-706MkII, which, despite its visual blemishes, is still a fantastic little radio. It has a very good receive and I also have a CW filter in it. Here I am making a QSO with Vasil UR5VHN in Ukraine on 20 metres CW, running 100 watts into my hexbeam antenna.