Dec 152015

I picked up a Fujitsu LifeBook T900 to use as my sole Windows computer when I need. In particular, I sold my MFJ-259B in favor of using the Fox Delta analyzer, which suits my antenna tinkering needs better. Aside from that, I may use GRLevel3 on occasion, but in reality I will spend most of my time in Xubuntu, using it as my ham station. One of my great annoyances is the ‘click’ on a touchpad. Most of my laptops of the past have had a touchpoint (Libretto, Thinkpad, etc) but this new one does not. After some digging, I did find a solution to disabling the click on the touchpad which seems to interfere when I’m trying to use it. My environment was a fresh install of Xubuntu 15.10, so some steps may or may not be needed. I’m going to assume you’re already root or prepending ‘sudo’ to your commands:

1. Make the xorg.conf.d directory:

mkdir /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d

2. You can use whatever editor you want, I like vim:

apt-get install -y vim

3a. Copy the block below:

Section "InputClass"
	Identifier "touchpad"
	Driver "synaptics"
	MatchIsTouchpad "on"
	Option "MaxTapTime" "0"

3b. Now, we need to open the file for editing:

vim /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/10-synaptics.conf

3c. Put it into ‘insert’ mode by hitting the ‘i’ key. (Do not hit enter, the key press puts it into insert mode)
3d. Now paste, either middle mouse click, or right click and then left click on paste.
3e. Hit the escape key. (Hitting escape puts vim back into command mode)
3f. Type the following string and hit enter,


(this says write our file and quit)
4. Reboot.

And that’s it. Now touching the touchpad will not initiate a click but everything else will work as expected.

Jun 222013

Having recently sold my Yaesu FT-817ND and moved to a new QTH that did not have any backyard trees, burning the ether seemed like something I’d have to wait for. However, my father graciously let me borrow his Kenwood TS-140S and the matching auto-tuner.

With no trees I used some pipe my father also let me borrow to get something up 20 feet or so. My father also gave me an antenna that work work up to 40 meters but was quite heavy. I was also forbidden from modifying this antenna so I was left to hack one of my own together.

All day today, despite the horrid heat and humidity, later dogged by thunderstorms rumbling to the South, I tried out several antenna designs. Being that the pole was steel, I learned a valuable lesson in inductance and how it affects an antenna. I finally settled on a type of end-fed Zepp that uses coax to the top of the pipe and an 80 meter trapped end from an antenna I used at my former QTH.

So far I’ve been able to tune to 80 and 40 meters, though I’m going to have to rely heavily on the tuner to get 20 meters tomorrow. When day breaks, I may hook up a different end and try to get the 20 and 10 meter bands.

While I am using commercial power, giving me a ‘D’ class, I feel this Field Day is best going to be happy making QSOs with a quick, and fairly impromptu, setup that got me on the air.

I’m going to be operating SSB 40 and 80 meters, perhaps more depending on the auto-tuner, with a ‘1D’ class. I hope to get a few contacts and confirm the setup that I’ve worked on today.

Nov 182012

This week after slaving for more than two hours to haul what seemed like a metric ton of leaves to the street, I had enough in me to put up a trapped 80 meter dipole. I had been waiting to acquire the right kind of wire from my father but instead decided to dive into my garage for anything that would radiate and happened across 100 feet of enameled wire. While my yard would not support a full half-wave dipole, I picked up a couple of traps at the Findlay swap earlier this year, along with a new dipole mount made of molded plastic and brass screws. This cut the size down 25 feet and made it possible to link up the two dipoles to the same coax, both in an inverted-V fashion. It was certainly a step up from the simple binding post and BNC connector I was using with my Luxembourg and while I was sad to see the true ‘Luxembourg’ come down, I was happy to add another band to my setup.

After an hour of measure, scraping, twisting, and screwing, I was able to get both my 20 meter dipole wires and the new 80 meter wires tied to the same center and up in the tree. I can’t say enough how important it’s been to have a newly acquired MFJ-259B antenna analyzer to know just how much my setup was affecting my signal. First, a little back story…

My grandfather earlier this year gave me his first generation Outbacker with which I was hoping to get on everything from 10 to 80 meters. It was a great addition to my little antenna farm, however the pain of swapping out the antennas into my Z817 auto-tuner was unbearable. To fix that, I tried using an antenna switcher from the collection I obtained from a silent key and was quite successful at making my PSK31 20 meter contacts. I had always used my analyzer by connecting the antenna directly to it, never thinking that I should checking what’s going on inside the switch. It seems not thinking of the entire circuit was my downfall.

Well, an epiphany hit me and I analyzed the entire circuit, including the switch. Low and behold, the analyzer showed the switch did indeed do fine on 20 meters but on 80 was completely unusable. Removing the switch from my setup, and some subsequent testing, the Z817 will tune the new 80 meter dipole to 40, and that means between the 20 meter and trapped 80 meter dipole, I could talk on everything from 10 to 80. Success!

I was anxious to give the new double dipole setup a go but quickly discovered that the ARRL Sweepstakes was happening this weekend. Rather than clog the aether with my non-contest traffic, I held off today and will try again later in the week after the contest finishes tomorrow. Until then I’l take down the Outbacker and store it away for the next foray into mobile or portable operation, I’m sure my neighbor will be mildly pleased to see one less antenna in the sky.

Oct 152012

This weekend I decided to get back on digital modes and see what kind of QSOs I could nab on my spare time. Once I got the kinks worked out of the interface I fired up fldigi and putzed. I putzed and putzed, for two hours I putzed on 14.070 while other stations destroyed my waterfall and I perilously sent my signal into the cacophony of radio waves.

The noise level wasn’t too bad, but the 817 is not very good for this sort of thing right out of the box so I was working within some constraints. I’m not sure if it was Ubuntu and the pulse audio driver or what, but despite selecting between two inputs I was not able to get clean enough audio out of the back of the radio. Some quick handy work and I was using the audio out of the speaker jack to drive into the computer (though I was without the musical din of PSK31 signals).

Another challenge is the passband for the 817. It’s not the prettiest and really starts at 1kHz to about 2kHz. Every time I would see someone outside of that range I’d have to tune the radio and update fldigi, slowing down a quick jump to a new CQ. Eventually I want to have a full CAT interface, but that’s a project for a wintery day.

After all of this and ready to give things another go, I was able to have a QSO with Tony, CT4RC, out of Faro, Portugal. Almost 3,900 miles on just 5 watts, not too bad and a fine confirmation my antenna was still doing well. I was also now pumping my line through an antenna switch and hadn’t yet checked it out on the analyzer for any additional loss but that didn’t seem to affect a thing.

A couple more hours of intermittent checking and I made another DX contact, a new entity for me, Panama! It was a short QSO but I was happy to get another such great contact for the afternoon. I kept at it here and there trying to get other DX stations but the band fell out and I had other things to do and so ended day one of my return to digital modes.

Now that the set up was quick to fire up and ready to go, just prior to leaving for a birthday party the next day, I checked the band to see what was up.

Within a minute I saw an AA1 station call CQ and I quickly answered. Mike, AA1XQ, out of Jamestown, Rhode Island, gave me a 599 report along with an IOTA QSO for the log book. We chatted for a few minutes, which is always nice on a traditionally ‘hit and run’ mode, exchanged weather reports, talked sports, and then signed off so I could go on my way.

My father repaired an interface I had built up a couple of years ago (had a wrong resistor) and I’m anxious to put that to use. It will stand in while I build out my own interface into the mint tin. Perhaps tomorrow evening I’ll give that a go.

As is always the case, it never ceases to amaze me how far a small signal can go with a minimal setup.

73 de W8FI

Sep 092012

Today marked the first time my harmonic went to a hamfest, and boy did he love it! Not only was he an angel as always, but he was so interested in everything, got some good deals of his own, and even learned a little about capacitors. Not bad for a 4-year-old! I’m quite anxious to take him to the Toledo Hamfest coming up next month.

For some time I’ve had a Kenwood SP-820 speaker but haven’t had it hooked up to the Yaesu FT-817ND. Yesterday I got it up and running with the parts I had in the garage, but needed some simple mono 1/8″ female to RCA male adapters to simplify the connection between the two. I picked up a couple of those along with the reverse (RCA female to 1/8″ male) for just a buck a piece! I also managed to pick up three double-ganged open air capacitors that I will use in building a couple of magnetic loop antennas during the winter months. I’m primarily looking to build my own multi-band (10-40) as well as an 80-meter loop and now that I have all the needed parts, shouldn’t be much work at all.

Aside from that I also picked up a pair of Spi-Ro 80-meter traps for a shortened dipole that I’ll get up in the air in the coming weeks, oriented in a ENE to WSW fashion. With that in place, I’ll have 3 antennas that provide coverage for 10, 20, 40, and 80 meters without much issue.

The final two purchases were a dipole center that I plan on using with the shortened 80-meter antenna and one of those cheapy lock wrench with a 3/8″X24 stud antenna mount welded to it. I have a base-loaded 20 meter antenna and a recently purchased 40-meter hamstick that I was looking to affix to something metal. After watching my father buy one in Dayton this year, and wishing I had, I bit the bullet and bought one too.

Having sold a majority of our brought boat anchors and not seeing anyone new, we packed up and headed home.

In other news…

After pulling up all the wires and mowing the lawn, I used the newly acquired lock wrench mount to affix my 40-meter hamstick to the metal plant hanger that is acting as the other support for my 20-meter Luxembourg dipole. After adding three random length ground plan wires, it matched extremely well to the phone portion of the band. This pleases me greatly as I’m looking to get on the lower bands this Winter to start working on my QRP WAS and perhaps my DXCC. I’d prefer to do each with SSB/Phone AND with digital, but I’ll take what I can get and qualify for first. In the coming weeks I’ll work to get the shortened 80-meter dipole up in the air and give that a whirl.

I hope to update more frequently and perhaps I’ll even start a Winter-months podcast since we’ll all be cooped up inside soon enough (except for those fortunate to live in the South).

Sep 012011

Several months ago I bought a used (though in fantastic condition) Yaesu FT-817ND. My previous experience with HF was only with a borrowed Kenwood TS-50 that at its lowest setting, put out 10 watts. Restrictions at the QTH meant that I could only use an indoor antenna and rarely have the peace to use anything but BPSK-31.

The antenna of was the simplest design and construction: a 17 foot piece of 18 AWG stranded copper (pilfered from an SWL antenna) twisted to the center of some RG-58, configured as an inverted-L and with a short counter-poise. Combined with an old Ten-Tec tuner, I was able to reach The Azores on only 20 watts. The setup served me well enough to build up the log book, all without a drop of soldier. (I’m not sure if it’s coincidence or not, but even the PSK interface was on a breadboard next to the rig.)

Fast forward to present time; I’ve decided to go all QRP and my new QTH offers a big tree and a good sized yard.

For some time now I’ve wanted to build a simple 20-meter dipole and string it up into the tree. The only thing between me and an inverted-V was some low hanging branches in the tree out back, and initiative. Several weeks ago the branches were cut down so it was just a matter of getting off my butt and making the antenna.

Having toyed with the idea of using some more of the 18 AWG wire (though this was insulated), I finally decided to chop up some 14 AWG solid copper wire. Now in the perfect world, I’d have ‘done it right’, but I was impatient and wanted to get on the air before Europe went to bed.

My materials were: One center insulator, 2 banana connectors, 2 16-foot lengths of wire, and a length of RG-8. It was a simple matter to connect up and the banana connectors to the wire and put a string over a tall branch. I wound up with an inverted-V dipole with the center about 20 feet up and each leg ending about 8 feet up. This setup also allowed me to get the radiators above the cable and telephone lines going directly through the middle of my yard.

The 817 had finished charging earlier in the day (I have the stock battery with it) and was ready to help electrify the ether. I sat down in a chair directly beneath the feed point (the RG-8 length I had was just long enough to get near the ground) and set up the station.

This was the first time I was going to use the 817 on only its battery using sideband phone. I tuned the radio to 14.243, listened (always listen first!), then pushed the button on my LDG Z-817 tuner. It clicked away until it found its match and the static came alive with tons of European stations coming through loud and clear. I heard Estonia, Slovenia, Italy, and Luxembourg.

The Luxembourg station, LX/PA9JO, was just finished a QSO and I dropped my call as soon as they cleared. A feeling of suspense, terror, and anxiousness filled my blood. Since getting into QRP, this feeling has become much more present in my operating and it’s kind of a rush. All of a sudden I heard my prefix come back! After another sending of my callsign a couple of times, Jo was able to copy me and my QTH before the band started to drift out. We both 73’d and cleared.

I was already excited having just proved the antenna with a mere 3 watts, but then I finally did the calculation for miles per watt… 4062 miles from SE Michigan to Luxembourg! Not only had I broken the 1000 miles/watt, I exceeded it by 25%! Talk about a true testament to the power of low power!

I also discovered that PA9JO was one member of a team of hams who were on an LXpedition, a special trip to get Luxembourg on the air. You can find out more information about it here: 2011 Luxembourg DXpedition.

My QSO with The Azores was cool in its own right, but this QSO, by far, takes the cake. I’m really looking forward to getting the QSL card in the mail and putting it up on the wall. And, given the outcome from my first attempt at using my ‘lazy-man dipole’, I hereby dub my design, the Luxembourg Dipole. I’ll have pictures of its construction by this weekend.

I’m hoping to spend more time on the air this weekend with my new antenna, so perhaps I’ll catch you on the air!

73, 72, and good DX!
Andrew, W8FI

May 262011

Just opened. Loading coil casing is spray painted and smells like it. Whip is dirty, non-polished. Appears to be cut from rough stock. The whip base is brass but was sunk too deep and plastic from the coil casing was cleared away to allow for the set screw (which was missing) and a screwdriver shaft. Overall not quite sure the material used to build this thing was worth the $30. Going to try it out on the air and see how it works. If it fails, I’ll crack it open. Hell, I might just do that anyway.

The gentleman (I apologize for forgetting his name and call) I gave my money to at the table, in the first Southern row (by XWARN), said it would tune just fine but had no display or printout of an SWR graph or analysis. I knew way ahead of time that this thing would not be very efficient but I’m anxious to take it to my father’s and put it through his arsenal of test equipment. I have a nice SWR meter to put inline and I’ll probably throw out some calls with my 817 to see just how far I can get. Of course, without the set screw the whip just keeps going into the coil so I’ll have to wait for that to get it on the air.

I want to make sure everyone understands that so far the review is just on the packaging, construction, and materials. I’ll update this review further when I get it on the air. In the mean time, if you too have one of these and have comments, please leave them below! While we’d all love to think a two foot antenna can get us on HF, always remember…

Antennas have three attributes: size, efficiency, and bandwidth. Pick two.

Apr 272011

This week I was excited to open up my new, slightly-used, Yaesu FT-817ND fully bringing me into the QRP community. I’ve been jonesing after this radio for a long time due to its portability and ease of use. Despite the threat of excommunication from my family (my father is a Kenwood man), I picked up the radio with all the accessories for an excellent price.

The first order of business was to go all the way and sign up for a QRP ARCI membership and join the FT-817 mailing list. The second order is to build up a cable to interface the radio to my computer for what is ultimately my main goal with the radio, PSK-31 work. I’d like to pick up a completed set of the cables as well, just to have for backup and guaranteed operation. My PSK interfaces are generally cobbled together and I enjoy tinkering with them on breadboard.

I’ve yet to make my first QSO with the radio, hopefully I’ll get to that tonight or this weekend, weather pending. I’m really excited to use the radio and take it places I only dreamed about a week ago!

See you on the air and 72!

Apr 012011

I never expect much when operating just 10 watts (sometimes 15) out of my indoor antenna but I’m always surprised, and boy was tonight was no exception.

With my XYL, son, and mother-in-law, out of the house for just one more night, I figured I’d fire up the rig and have a go. Not living in my own house imposes its own restrictions and I’m sure the MIL would not accept PRB-1 as an excuse for a real outdoor antenna. My hopes were not high as the Sun had already been set for about an hour and 20 meters has been dying off quick after the grayline pass.

However, always hearing of the surprise and delight so known in our hobby, and as the clock neared 8:30 local time (EDT), I saw CU3CP pop up on my waterfall. Without even looking up where the operator might be, I threw my call out, faintly hopeful but ready for my signal to be eaten by the aether. After a short pause Manuel came back with a quick QSO, giving his name and details. I’m not sure if he was just headed to bed after one last QSO (I would be at 4:00AM), but it was enough to lift me from my seat and grin ear to ear. It was most wonderful to get a response this late in my day, let alone from a foreign entity!

It wasn’t until after I logged the QSO that I looked him up on QRZ, and saw my small, 10 watt signal, had traveled over 2900 miles to the Azores. WOW! I had made contact in the past with Mexico with my set up, but this was my first trans-continental contact, and my third DX QSO.

It never ceases to amaze me just how far such a small signal can go, and how exciting this hobby can be in an world of ever increasing connectedness. I will no doubt talk about this QSO for the rest of my days, even in the future when we can simply blink and travel over 10,000 miles. If of course has lit a fire under me bum to order my QSL cards. However, that’s a post for another day.

Amateur Radio: Social before it was media.