POTA-What’s easier Hunting vs Activating?

Now remember I did not ask “what’s more important”. I am asking what’s easier… Now I must admit I have only hunted POTA (so far) but over the last 20 years I have operated portable a good deal of the time. Activating Parks is not new. The level of organization that the current POTA team has is new and very well done.

We were operating from Parks because we could not get a decent antenna up at home, we operated from parks because the noise was usually less from the park and we also operated from parks because once you got set up it seemed to attract other amateurs which also turned into a social event.

And more importantly we did it because we could….

So here are my thoughts (my opinions) and feel free to agree or disagree just be nice about it…

Activators:

Has to find a place to operate (has to do their homework to find a site that is clear for antennas, no or low noise floor, and most importantly close to a bathroom, but sheltered from the elements would be good as well….

VA3QV/vy2 2017 RAC Canada Day Contest

Has to calculate how much battery power they need and bring twice what they think… Has to bring at least 2 hf antennas, and all the rope needed to get the antennas in the air, along with coax runs….

The SOTA Activation was catered

Has to take into account the band conditions as they don’t want to drive to a distant park to find the band is crap… But they can pick and choose who to contact as they control the pile up

Hunters:

Already set up… Stronger equipment… Higher Power…Better antenna…. normally higher noise floor… has to hear the usually QRP Signals coming from the activators through the loud pileups…. More distractions from family and noises coming into the shack…. Does not get much of a choice as they can only contact who they can hear and who can hear them.

So in my humble opinion:

Both are equally important in the process. Take away the hunters and you have a bunch of activators calling “CQ POTA” with no one answering. Take away the activators and you have a bunch of hunters listening to dead air….

But there are some days hunting is easier or at least warmer

Personally I think that its would be easier to Activate as everyone is looking for you and then control the pile up than be the one trying to break into the pile up.

And that my friends is the view from the cheap seats…

73bob

End of the year review

Well the end of 2021 is almost here. Last year (2020) we all were thinking that we were going to beat COVID…. And here we are again hoping that the New Year (2022) will be better…

Lets hope that finally is true….

For me not much happened (radio wise at least) for most of the year. I worked till the mid September when I retired for the last time. Mid October we sold the truck and the trailer as COVID was making Liz nervous and it was decided we were going to hunker down rather than travel full time. I did not know that she could see into the future but…. These decisions were made before Omnicron arrived and although we did not know it then…. We made the right choice.

In October I started to spend more time in the shack and since then have been increasing my totals as far as WAS (Worked all States) goes.

As of todays date I have 41 states confirmed in Phone, 18 confirmed in CW and 46 confirmed in Digital.

For 2022 I hope to complete my ARRL Triple Play (WAS in the 3 modes) 50-50-50 would be the desired totals

Right now I have 120 Phone, 72 CW and 55 Digital DXCC (Countries) confirmed. As we get closer to the Solar Maximum I am hoping to increase the totals significantly.

I do not see us travelling much this year so the back deck will be a major part of our summer activities but I do hope to engage in some POTA activations as I do have my portable HF station (FT450at, Wolf River 10-80m coil on a tripod) along with a soon to be purchased 20ah battery will help me pass the time on some of those summer days.

For those who think they have heard me describe this gear before you would be correct. Its the HF Station from the VA3QV/m (my old pickup truck).

I also have a complete station that came out of the trailer which I plan to sell at some time in the near future. This station consists of a Yaesu FT 450 (no AT), LDG auto Tuner and 25 amp power supply. Add coax and an antenna and you are on the air. It will be at a fair price so if you are interested drop me a comment with your email and I’ll get back to you.

Thats what I see happening… One more year of semi isolation till we beat this… We have had our two shots and the one booster. Betting that they figure out a way to give us a 2nd booster before this is all over.

We feel pretty safe but still nervous about everyone else out there. So for now it will be stay quiet, stay at home and stay safe. I don’t see much else changing (yet) but nothing is carved in stone…

So… Happy New Year and lets hope for a much better 2022

73bob

OK some things are “carved in stone”

An addition to the Shack

The NUE PSK Modem was gifted to me by a Ottawa area amateur (thanks Bob) who no longer had the need for it. I had blogged previously about using one many years ago and the unit I had (in the past ) was last used in July 2017 when I was operating as VA3QV/vy2 while on a camping holiday in PEI.

Powerful but tiny

That version would only work with PSK31 and RTTY but I did manage to make PSK contacts with relative ease using my FT817 while on the trip. Hindsight being 20/20 and the fact that it would not decode CW persuaded me to package the modem up with my old FT817 and so it was sold as a good deal.

3 years down the road and I am (finally) showing a bit of an interest in CW but to be honest can’t copy or send worth a darn. I had made some contacts using a CW Reader APP (which worked great- see previous blog posts) along with the Contest Keyer in my FT950 which I had pre programed the 5 memories to be generic exchanges for a contest , DXPedition or POTA activation.

I had been looking at a Winkeyer USB unit (which I had previously owned- I seem to be seeing a pattern here) but had not seen one being sold locally.

So now enter the latest(and last) version of the NUE PSK Modem. Covers PSK 31, RTTY and *** CW***.

The unit that was gifted to me has the latest/last version so now I can send/receive CW. Now I admit that the CW Receive features are actually almost the same as using the APP. Still need computerised sending or a fantastic fist so no big changes there but…. Rather than using the Contest Keyer in the 950 to reply (limiting me to 4 replies) I can now actually have a CW conversation if needed. I type and it sends almost instantly… There is a bit of a lag and it has a 255 character buffer but as I don’t type THAT fast I don’t see me ever overloading the buffer.

For chasing (POTA or DXPeditions) there is not much of a difference but now instead of being limited to Search and Pounce in a contest I can now actually call CQ and wait for replies. For what little I use it for it will be fantastic for me. So far I bought a very used PS2 keyboard for it at the local goodwill store to see if everything was working as it should. Next step is to order a slightly smaller one from Amazon and that will just about complete things…

If you hear me in CW try calling to say hi.

73 bob

ps…..

Its getting closer….

Naughty or Nice?

Was it only 16 years ago?

Some days it seems just like yesterday and other days…. well you know


                   RAC Winter Contest

Call: CF3RCS
Operator(s): VA3QV, VA3UMP, VE3SBC, VA3CKD, VA3SIE, VA3RKM, VE3WEH, VE3VIG, 
VA3TR
Station: VA3UMP

Class: M/S LP
QTH: Bate Island, Ottawa
Operating Time (hrs): 19

Summary:
 Band  CW Qs  Ph Qs  CW Mults  Ph Mults
----------------------------------------
  160:   17      9       3         2
   80:   11     37       3         6
   40:   15     26       3         6
   20:   10     46       1         5
   15:    0      4       0         3
   10:    0      1       0         1
    6:    0      0       0         0
    2:    0      0       0         0
----------------------------------------
Total:   53    123      10        23  Total Score = 46,860

Club: Ottawa Valley Mobile Radio Club

Comments:

C F 3 R C S
(Canadians Freezing - 3 - Real Cold Spot)

And we were!  We operated 19 hours of the RAC Canada Winter Contest
from Bate Island in the Ottawa River.  We set up tarps to break the
wind and we used a propane heater to ward off the cold.  We ran two
radios, an FT-897 and an FT-857.  The FT857 was used on VHF and the
FT897 on HF.  We earned Bate Island a number in the Canadian Island
Award Program (CISA) - Number ON283.

We operated from battery power and the antennas in use were a 275ft
Carolina Windom up about 30/40ft in the trees for HF, a rotate-able
dipole for 6m and a halo loop for 2m.  We operated VHF only for the
C.I.S.A. activation during the first few hours of the expedition.

We all had a great time on the island.  Some of the highlights were
making contact with Garry Hammond (VE3XN), who manages the C.I.S.A.
program. Garry issued us a new island number right there on the air
to much jubilation on the island.  We also made contact with two of
the USA special event stations celebrating the 100th anniversary of
the first broadcast of voice and music over radio by Fessenden.  We
were using the CF prefix to mark the same event.  We also ran a 40m
phone net from the island, that was great fun and we had great QSOs
in the net.   And we had some visitors who enjoyed working some new
contest contacts.

We made contact with other islands as well.  We contacted VE2IDX on
CISA QC-027 Blizzard Island and GM3PPG/P on South Uist, IOTA EU-010
in Scotland.  For many of us, it was our first try at top band, and
we were amazed at how well top band performed.

73 and Thanks! from the Bate Island DXpedition team.

Back in our younger days a bunch of us (during coffee …no beer involved) got the crazy thought to make a group entry into the RAC Canada Winter Contest. From that thought it mutated into the idea that we should operate from somewhere portable (yes it was winter time but being hardy Canadian Hams it was still at the idea stage).

The idea was starting to morph into a plan….. How can we get more interest and so we though why not operate portable from an island that we could activate for the Canadian Islands Program…. The plan (not sure if it was a good plan) was now defined as much as we could and so we had the choice of two islands easily accessable to play from.

Taking parking and structures into account we decided on Bate Island (middle of the Ottawa River but accessable by the Island Park Bridge and there was a roofed (no sides) picnic table there.

Long story short…. about 2 bbq tanks to run the propane heater… 2 deep cycle batteries for the radio(s) and one very large tarp to cover most of the sides of the picnic table area and we did it.

We were POTA before POTA was cool… but we were more than cool…. we were freezing.

My station at its best

The 2021 version of the RAC Winter Contest starts at 0000 UTC December 18th and finishes 24 hours later.

Listen for the Popgun (VA3QV)giving out the rare “5/9 ON” multi on SSB and CW

For more info go WWW.RAC.CA

73bob

Off the air due to Wind Damage

Although its nothing compared to what happened to our neighbors in the States, Ontario had a “fairly robust” wind storm pass thru the province from west to east. Last (Saturday) night we were making comments about how we were pleased the roof stayed on and hoping the power would stay on. Just north of us (1km north) suffered a power failure and our power blipped a few times but stayed on.

Well when I got up this morning I found out that my backyard (actually the condo’s )fence that seperates my backyard from my neighbors had been blown over. 2 sections (16 feet in total) were no longer where it should of been and 1 section (8 feet) was laying flat on the ground.

We are fine and even my antenna is working great although I did have to move the end of the random wire to another location.

However as its “STEALTHY” antenna I have taken everything down until the repairs have been made as not to have the condo types wonder about the wire.

You might hear me as I can string something out for the nights and weekends as a temporary fix. Just don’t want anything showing when the inspectors and repair crew are here. If they can’t see it … they can’t tell me to take it down.

73bob

CW Decoder- a week later

If you refer to my previous blog post you will find the background info on what I am now posting on.

The HotPaws Morse Code decoder app has been with me for a week now and heres my honest unsolicited opinion of this Apple IPad/IPhone app

I strongly recommend that before you use this app you take a few minutes to remind yourself how to fine tune CW signals on the receiver you plan to be using. “RTFM” comes to mind here as it will make it so much easier.

I tested this out by:

Copying the ARRL Bulletins and Code Practice that is available over the air.

Copying some CW Contests that I found on the air

Copying DXPeditions and POTA/SOTA activations that were operating CW

Copying CW NTS Traffic Nets

Copying CW Ragchews

Before I touch on the results. You need a stable connection between the speaker on your receiver and the IPad or IPhone. This can be done easily using one of the following ways.

Quickest way is just keep your IPad close to the recievers speaker and use the built in mic on the IPad.

The next way is the put the boom mic of your headphones across the speaker of the reciever and then plug the head set into the IPad. This is an audio link (almost same as above) but you get more sound into your IPad.

Third way is to use a double male stereo cable and plug directly from the output on the receiver to the input on the IPad. This elimates the external noise but you might have troubles hearing the pitch of the CW during the tuning process

I chose the first option for me and so far no issues.

Every night I was able to copy the ARRL Bulletins and Code Practice (all sent in CW) with no problems. A short tuning and all was good to go. If you are using the audio connection (1st or 2nd option) you might have a slight issue copying in a noisy envirioment.

I was able to listen along to a few CWT sprints (mini contests) and as most of their operators have a good fist (send real good CW by hand) I very little problems copying and even participating using the built in contest keyer in my Yaesu FT 950/

The Activations and the DXPeditions I listened to were a bit harder to copy. The activations were done in a portable situation, often at lower power levels and also more than often CW sent by hand. I was able to copy enough to know what was happening and hear the exchange but it took a while longer to get the tuning to cooperate with the app.

The DXPedition I was able to hear was sending Computer generated code at a rather fast speed for short transmissions (VA3QV 5nn TU) which took longer to tune in, Once tuned in was no problems.

The same went for the NTS Traffic Nets on CW. I was able to copy the traffic being passed, then had to re tune to hear the NCS and then retune to hear a different station passing traffic. Doable but it does test your tuning ability. If the participants were using a keyer it would be easier and if they are using a key then… hopefully you will get enough out to figure things out.

The same would apply to the CW Ragchews.

At this point I should mention that in most cases although you should be able to hear both parts of the QSO you might not be able to decode both parts. Don’t get upset if this happens. Fine tune for the one you want to hear the most and go with it.

Remember that the APP copies “well sent “CW. This would mean either a really good fist sending the code or a computer Keyer.

I previously used the term “Garbage in = Garbage out” A good CW operator can copy code by ear and can compensate for slight errors. The app can’t compensate.

Anything else could be hard to copy. Its not the apps fault….you can compensate (a bit) by fine fine tuning, but as you listen more (and also watch the screen as you do) you will find yourself recognizing certain phrases and words. That will help when you have to fill in a few gaps caused by a bad fist or a burst of static.

At the end of the day I find it to be good value for the money ($15.00 after taxes to be money well spent)

There are some free software out there that might do what you want. I also use the software package CW Get on my computer There are also some commercial decoders out there that might do what you want. MFJ makes several decoders that vary in features and budget.

Do I regret buying it? NO

Am I pleased with the product? YES

So in closing:

What you have read is my honest and unsolicited opinion . I was not asked to do this posting and was not compensated in any way for it. I even paid for the app myself…but I did want to share it with you the amateur radio community.

What you have read is my opinion on the product and how it worked for me and I’m no expert!!! I have used decoding software and decoders in the past so I was used to the fine tuning and so everything worked as it should and quickly for me.

It may not go as smoothly for you as operator experience, local noise levels, method of getting audio to the app from the receiver and quality of the radio receiver along with the antenna all play a part in the ability of the app to do what you want it to do or what its supposed to do.

At the end of the day…. It worked for me…. Your experiences could vary from mine…. It may not work for you…. It may not be suitable for your needs…

Please do your research before making purchases of anything amateur radio related.

73bob

First impression of the Morse Decoder by Hot Paw productions

This was written 1 day (16 hours) after we bought the app from the Apple App store. It seems to be very basic but good. If anything changes I’ll do a follow up post.

This is a app for Apple IPhone and Apple IPad. When you go to the app store it will tell you if the app will work with the device you are currently using to connect with the app store.

Searching the app store for Hot Paw Productions should bring you to the app if its still available.

So here we go…

I downloaded the app from the Apple App store and away we went. It worked right out of the box (or right after installing) on my I Pad. The cost was about $15.00 Cdn after taxes…

Just to remind you this is a CW Decoding app ONLY (no FT8/PSK or any other sound card modes) and you will need some sort of device for transmitting CW. Straight Key or Keyer the choices are yours.

Right off the bat lets say that if you are looking for a decoder to see what the group on the weekly slow speed CW roundtable net are talking about you will most likely disapointed.

Remember the old “Garbage in = Garbage out” saying? Well if the person sending the code has a bad fist then…. The app can’t fix bad sending…

However if you want to use it to pick up the occasional rare DX station or a few extra multipliers in contesting or copy the ARRL Bulletins then this is about the best $15.00 you can spend (in my opinion)… It reads good code, normally that means contest quality computer keyer generated code and its good as what it does.

As an example last night there was the ARRL 160m cw contest. I started reading the screen and even though things were crowded I was able to make out complete contest exchanges. Just for $h!ts and Giggles I opened up the book of words for my Yaesu FT950 and figured out how to use the built in contest keyer and also how to program the keyers memories .

Memory 1 was: VA3QV (my callsign)

Memory 2 was : 5nn ONE (the contest exchange I had to send)

Memory 3 was : 73 TU (thanks)

Memorys 4 and 5 were not used

And heres how it worked:

I found a station calling CQ Test with his callsign and tuned the dial on to him…

I replied with Memory 1.

He replied by giving my call and then his exchange 5nn CT

I replied with Memory 2 then Memory 3

He acknowledged and then went to calling again.

I made 5 more contacts just to prove the 1st one was not a fluke and as a result contesting stations in the following RAC/ARRL sections got the rare “Ontario East (ONE) multi. They were GTA, MDC, CT, MN, WPA and OH.

Some comments and suggestions:

I suggest that if you buy the app, get used to it by copying the ARRL code practice on HF. Check the ARRL website for times and freqs. They send computer generated code and so its about as perfect CW as you can get. Read the manual that comes with your radio for the fine tuning on receiving CW signals or just tune by ear for the proper pitch. It worked for me fairly easily as I was used to the tuning aspect from using other decoding software

Don’t get discouraged it you don’t get it right the first time. Unfortunately its not the software…. Its either the poor cw being sent (remember the local roundtable comment) or you just have to make a very tiny adjustment to the VFO to change the pitch ever so slightly.

It has been suggested that you connect from your receivers audio output to the audio input on your apple device. I chose not to as just putting the IPad on top of my radio (see Pic) worked well enough for me. It may not for you though especially if your shack tends to be noisy.

IPad is right beside the radio speaker

As an added bonus I can use it on my other Apple Device so in the shack I have it on my IPad and its already been installed on my IPhone so its ready for portable ops (POTA) with my FT 450 and the Wolf River coil on a Tripod when the weather warms up

This is not the only app out there but its one of the few I have tried that really worked well for me. I have and still use CW Get which is software that runs on my laptop. The DM780 part of Ham Radio Deluxe also works good but HRD is more expensive than this app and its all I need. Not all the other stuff that HRD offers.

DISCLAIMER: It worked for me, It might work for you, BUT IT MIGHT NOT work for you, so you Buy at your own risk. You pays your money and takes your chances.

73bob

PS…. Thanks to Rich VE3MHY who had left a review for the app at the app store and answered a couple of questions I had quickly and honestly. His opinions confirmed what I had been thinking

Compromise HF antennas

I think I have to change the terminology that I normally use to describe my normal Home HF antenna….

They have to be stealthy but I can no longer think of them as “compromise”. Its working great for the operating conditions here….

If you are putting up the best darn antenna you can that keeps you on the air and fits in with your local operating conditions, its a great antenna and not really a compromise antenna.

Remember using a 10-160 OCF dipole in an inverted V (rather than in a flat top) is not a compromise…. Its just getting the antenna to fit in your yard or operating location. Running a 43 foot vertical with lots of radials (instead of a 10-40 OCF due to yard size or lack of trees) is not a compromise. A 48 foot tower is not a compromise (because the local municipal restricts the height of towers so you can’t put up that 100 foot self supporting one in your city lot)

Now there are little things like municipal bylaws, HOA restrictions, Condo restrictions, Rental restrictions, cranky neighbors and of course family opinions (to name a few) might come into play when trying to install your antenna.

Its not a restriction…. it becomes a challenge….. it challenges you to put up the most effective antenna you can while trying to make everyone else happy. If you are successful in completing your challenge it should make you happy as well.

The antenna of choice here is an end fed random (about 50 feet or so) length wire being fed by my SGC237 auto tuner. It is in an “inverted Vee” configuration with the wire leaving the tuner and thrown over a tree branch then it terminates at my back fence. I also have some random length radials (counterpoises) running north/south and east/west along the fence perimeter. Using the magic in the SGC 237 I am able to make contacts on all Amateur Bands between 6m and 160m. This antenna is not fancy…. its actually cheap…. (How much does 100 feet of automotive wire cost at Princess Auto???). Its fairly (75%) stealthy. So far no one is complaining about it and the “Condo Cops” has not been knocking at my door (yet).

So…..

Is it the best antenna? NO…

Does it work? YES…

Is it stealthy? YES..

Am I making contacts? YES (Including a VK on 40SSB)

Could I do better? NO… (Not here at least)

There you have it… although I could do better, its the best I can do while living where we do. So I no longer feel I have a “compromise antenna”…. Its actually a “pretty good antenna”.

73bob

PS…. This is just a reminder to those of us who operate in an “antenna challenged” environment that HF contacts are actually possiable.

So far 46 states confirmed from here in Digital and 31 states confirmed in SSB and nothing yet in CW….Sooner or perhaps later I will finally work on my CW log again.

73bob

#hamradio Contest Weekend (again)

Last weekend we had the ARRL SSB Sweepstakes and it seemed to go well. I had no complaints… and as with all contests… I plan to( expect to) :

a Have fun (I did)

bGive out the “Rare ONE (Ontario East) ” Multi so those who are actually taking contesting seriously have a chance to get bragging rights for their accomplishments (I managed to give out “ONE” out to 50 stations)

Clean Sweep if you contact all 84 sections

c– Either increase my State totals or my DXCC totals depending on what the actual contest of the day leans towards. (I did- increased my confirmed SSB WAS totals up to 30 from 20 and if everyone left that I contacted confirms on LoTW I should be up to 37 confirmed)

Now this weekend is the CQ WW CW contest ( https://www.cqww.com/) and its a popular one…

I’ve only participated in this contest once (2015) and managed to successfully obtain my regular goals and so I was pleased. My best (and only) showing was with a Flex 1500 (QRP) and between the decoding program CW Get and the built in computer keyer in the software needed to run the Flex (remember its a SDR) I also managed some wallpaper.

I have to admit for this one my computer did 99% of the heavy lifting

But following the line of selling then regreting it I did (in September 2019) at the OARC Hamfest in Carp sell my Winkeyer USB Computer Keyer.

Another case of I don’t need it so why not sell it… I can always find another one later. Well no luck finding one so now I won’t be operating any CW (or very little) until I can replace that now badly needed piece of kit… As always hindsight is always 20/20.

Once I find one it will take the place of the Keyer Programming in the Flex (which I also sold) and then I can try and regain what little CW skills I had (or thought I had) in the past.

If you have the skills to participate then enjoy the contest….

Other than that enjoy your weekend

73bob

ps ….. and don’t forget the RAC Canada Winter Contest is coming up in 3 weeks. Listen for me there