In the beginning of working digital modes, when I still was using a smaller, much more compromised antenna than my current 20m hamstick, getting contacts was pretty difficult. I treasured every last one like it was a prize… because it was.
Then I updated my antenna to the “fishing pole” mount hamstick, and once I got that tuned up correctly, I started having an easier time making contacts. It seemed as if the first 35 states practically jumped onto my radio like hungry fish biting. The next ten were only a little harder.
But when I got down to just 6 states left to confirm it got really really hard.
Not only did I have to make the contact successfully, then I’d have to wonder if the ham on the other end of the line was “a confirmer” (My own word meaning they actually upload their logs! I guess it gets boring after you’ve won most of your awards, but it seems a lot of the very long time hams have sort of quit doing that.
I had to scratch and claw, and stalk like a bloodhound for Wyoming, New York, South Carolina, Michigan, and South Dakota.
I’ve contacted Alaska once, and Montana three times without a confirmation. Just two more for Worked all States. I guess I get to roll the dice again tonight!
Funny song references to Texas aside, Texas is a really big place.
I know that’s obvious, but it becomes even more obvious when you start working for HF radio awards involving US counties and you discover that Texas has TWO HUNDRED and FIFTY FOUR counties!
That’s enough to get both of the first two endorsements (100 counties and 250 counties) on the QRZ Us Counties award without ever working another state.
I have no idea how many people ever actually work every county in the whole state of Texas, but I bet it takes a long time. Propagation is such a weird thing, and you can never be sure where, and for how long your signals will touch down, and then whether the target will be able to get one back the other way.
But I’ll be hailing Texans a lot in the future just for the fun of seeing how many counties I can get.
At a recent anniversary party for the ham club I belong to one long time ham remarked to me that he’d seen my antenna pictures for my apartment and that it looked “pretty compromised”.
He is probably 100 percent correct– but instead of embarrassing me, it made me smile widely. And the reason is that I love being able to solve problems in ways that work without someone in a lab coat or with a degree giving me permission to innovate and test things for myself.
On this “compromised” antenna with just 20watts I have reached Japan, Brazil, Australia, Cuba, France, The Virgin Islands, The Dominican Republic, Panama, Ecuador, Canada, Mexico and all 50 states of the US.
America also had an anniversary recently, and this quality, the hitch up the britches, roll up the sleeves and just get it done spirit is what this country was founded on– and part of why I love her and her people.
When I started a business many years ago, I came to understand though my experiences most keenly why there was a war of independence early in our history.
Many of the people who were moved to come to the new world were poor, but hard working people, who lived within a caste system that limited their social standing, education, and rights no matter how hard they worked.
Learning was limited to the rich or influential in many cases. In the guild system, in order to learn the most basic trade you would have to sell yourself as practically a slave to a master who would demand you serve him hand and foot for years, doing the worst jobs before he would teach you the smallest skill. You could spend 10, 20, 30 years as his student before you could attain any respect at all or measure of learning and permission to act on your own.
And if you were a woman, it was even worse. You wouldn’t ever learn to read, and would be horse traded off still practically a child, for your family’s benefit, to live a life of hard labor in the fields and in the home.
From out of this oppressive life, fled many. To get passage to America they sacrificed what few possessions they had, even selling themselves into indentured servitude (7 to 10 years) for the money to board the ships to endure months on a rolling, heaving vessel, in cramped quarters with terrible food, and illness, not knowing what they would face when they saw those distant shores.
Many died on the passage, and in the hard winters that followed with not a little suffering. That tells you how much they wanted out of what they left, to endure these things.
Some of my ancestors were on those boats at different times.
When they got to America, they gradually discovered that in this far off place, the chains were lighter, their ability to decide for, and succeed for themselves increased.
They changed in their hearts as they saw what they could do and achieve. They started to believe in themselves as they succeeded. They understood then that they were masters of their own futures through those experiences. And when an alarmed King started to think they were getting a little too uppity, it was already too late.
Those brave men and women had already learned they were competent, and worthy to govern themselves. They couldn’t go back to being the constrained, dependent serfs, property of the King, they were before.
As Princes Leia once remarked in another galaxy, the tighter the grasp, the more people would slip through their fingers.
Freedom is a powerful thing once you’ve experienced it fully.
And I think that’s part of what appeals to me about ham radio, and all my other creative hobbies through the years. The spirit of radio is about problem solving. Testing, fiddling with things till you get it right.
It’s the spirit of persistence and discovery. The spirit that brought the world the light bulb, the car, electricity, and countless other inventions that have made life easier, happier, better for millions.
It’s the idea that you don’t need to have a degree before you think for yourself, teach yourself, and experiment. You don’t need permission or a by your leave. And you can give to the world those gifts from inside yourself.
There is still so much to discover. The frontier is still there. You’re the child of divine beings, with the ability to excel, and you can do it.
You hear a lot in passing as a new ham about RFI noise, or common mode current interfering with your signals, both outgoing and incoming, but it’s seldom explained how that can affect the power going out of the antenna in a real way.
I come to this subject after chasing around an issue I’ve mentioned in other posts with my SignaLink “fluttering” on and off during transmit sometimes (but not all the time) and my signals dropping off PSK Reporter like a rock when that starts happening.
So in the process of trying to figure out how to fix that issue I’ve come back to the concept of RFI in the shack. I’ve never been actually “bitten” by touching my radio, or mic, as I’m working digital from a laptop like some hams have, and so not handling things that might “bite” me, so I didn’t think it was a serious problem for me– maybe more of a nuisance. 20watts is all I have on the G90, so how bad can it be, right?
Then one morning my trackpad mouse on the laptop quit working every time the radio started to transmit. And that was my aha to take it seriously.
Studying articles and discussions around the web, and on YouTube about chokes, and controlling RFI, I have learned a few things interesting enough to put together in one place.
Electricity is a very interesting beast. It seems attracted to itself, and one current going out, prefers to return as close to it’s original path as possible. It’s almost like there’s “suction” drawing the two together, even if they can never meet because of the insulating barrier.
People who design printed circuit boards will often run traces and grounds on both sides of the board in roughly the same path because that’s where electricity WANTS to go. Close to its original self.
You also see this concept in some of the MOSFET transistors where the gate is opened on the switch by electrical “pressure” on the other side of a wall, even though the electrons remain separated from each other and never touch.
This means that a coax cable, which has a center conductor, and an outer braid wrapped around the center concentrically, will conduct the signal one way along the center conductor, and the other way back down the braid along the INSIDE of the braid, because it’s closest to the original path– the center conductor.
This leaves the OUTSIDE of the braid free to pick up other noise and frequencies from nearby electronics, the atmosphere, etc. (Electricity likes to travel on the “skin” of things, and not at the center, so there being two paths on the braid, the outside skin and inside skin makes perfect sense. )
Now here’s where it gets interesting.
This noise on the OUTSIDE of the braided shield can actually SUCK THE POWER AWAY from the power running on the inside!
So instead of feeding your outgoing power on transmit, the current can be drained up to 60+ percent away from going out the antenna, into just radiating inside your room.
And in the process interfere with your other electronics.
I saw this problem with my SignaLink fluttering and the laptop trackpad completely disappear when I went on a mission to install ferrites everywhere.
I now have ferrites on the power cable to the laptop, the USB cable from SignaLink to Laptop, the cable coming in to the shack, at the transciever, and a few other places.
No more fluttering. No more dropping signals in the morning. Lots more watts going out the antenna. Isn’t that amazing?
There is probably still more to do– I have the feeling I need a proper choke at the feedpoint.
From what I read, the so called Ugly Balun, or air wound 1:1 UnUn choke can sometimes make the issue worse, depending on the other characteristics of the feedline, such as length.
Extremely long runs of coax may need a line isolator every 1/4 wave or so to keep them quiet.
But for now at least, I’ve made enough of a difference correcting it that I’m getting the signal out with a lot better signal strength. Before, I was often only showing up with -17 to -24dB on digital modes. Now the reception reports are more likely to be in the -10dB range.
Apartments and HOAs can be really difficult for hams interested in working the HF bands.
For one thing, it’s usually necessary to conceal your antennas in such small, restricted spaces. Add that indoor antennas can be inefficient, suffer from high SWR from capacitance and reflection with surrounding walls and ceilings, and you have a really hard time making contacts!
I had some luck with that setup, which I ran through Field Day 2021, and was able to make a number of field day (17) contacts with it.
However my DX range was very spotty, and signal strength was often at the edge of reception. And in the morning, the sun on the side of the building seemed to be causing SWR to rise and squander my forward power to the point that I disappeared from PSK Reporter.
(I did a lot of debugging and I kind of suspect my main coax feed cable, but I never was able to prove it exactly.)
So begins Antenna Adventure Number Two
With some difficulty (that’s another story) I got my hands on a 20m hamstick to try out.
I replaced the Comet in my window mount with the MFJ hamstick, but found it was too close to the building and being taller, touched the roofline, forcing it to bend over about a foot down.
Discussions with my “Elmer” yielded the idea of angling the bracket using washers as spacers to give the antenna about a 20 to 30 degree tilt which would help it clear the roof, and get it away from the building.
So I took a trip back to the hardware aisle and grabbed some longer bolts, and washers to stack along the upper bolt, and disassembled my setup again for the 20th time.
After a little experimentation, I came up with an acceptable angle.
The next hurdle was to tune the 20m hamstick. This is a chore because my indoor space is full of furniture, and the SWR readings indoors are not accurate at all compared to when it’s actually outside.
Hamsticks need to be tuned using a couple of set screws at the midpoint between the whip and base coil section, so unlike the much shorter Comet antenna, I can’t just reach out the window and adjust the whip on the fly.
I ended up needing to take it on it’s plank mount out of the window and unscrew it from the connecting cable after each reading, adjust it, and put it back again all over again to see the effects of each adjustment on the SWR reading.
This took a while to get close, but eventually I got it down to an acceptable number with the addition of a radial, again just taped to the wall with painters tape.
Drawbacks of the Longer Antenna Install
I have a few concerns about this install.
The whip is rather flexible, and the wind can be pretty aggressive at this end of the apartment complex. It’s piled up our patio furniture, flipped over all our rather heavy “fake grass” outdoor rugs, knocked over plants, and some things have even just vanished entirely after a storm, carried away to the land of the lost socks never to be seen again.
So with this wind in mind, I worry about the whip snapping around and breaking, or hitting things if I don’t take it inside when the desert storms spin up.
The install is also not sealed against water at this point, so I’ll want to bring it inside when it rains (Yes it does that in Arizona sometimes!)
It’s also just a little more visible from the ground than the Comet antenna, being longer, and leaning out from the building a lot further. So it remains to be seen how long it will be till/if someone in the office notices, and whether they will take offence!
The good thing however, is that the installation didn’t create any holes to patch if we move later! I can just pull the planks out of the window and unscrew my antennas and take ’em with me! No muss, no fuss!
Initial Transmission Results
I finally got the antenna tuned up about 7pm and the radio, a G90 hooked up with my digital setup.
So after being a ham for over 2 years, I finally took part in the ARRL’s summer field day for the first time this year.
While a friend of mine with a gorgeous antenna install at his house made nearly 200 contacts, and I only made about 17 or so, it was still a great time and a bit of an adventure getting my antenna outside so I could work FT8 from my little apartment.
I spent a few of days prior purchasing and installing a feedthrough panel, which I installed vertically in the slide channel of my 3rd floor apartment window, along with a second plank where I installed a L-bracket to hold my antenna outside about 6 inches from the building.
The L-bracket required drilling out the end hole to fit a PL-259 barrel connector, to which I screwed my little Comet HFJ-350M antenna, tuned for 20m. A short piece of coax connects the antenna to the feedthrough panel. And a longer coax cable runs from the panel on the inside to my radio (a Xiegu G90).
I also made up a radial wire which also runs through the window, and is just taped to the wall inside with blue painters tape.
The radial made a huge difference in getting a reasonable SWR with this installation, but I am still seeing a little issue in the morning with signal power being squandered and SWR rising when the sun heats up that side of the building.
One of the symptoms I see when things heat up is that the SWR on transmit rises, and the SignaLink I use for digital modes flutters on and off during the transmission a couple of times instead of transmitting the message steadily for it’s full cycle. Also, the forward power bar on the radio displays a lower numer of arrows.
I’ve done some debugging attempts, checked cables, fittings, whip lengths, added a choke coil, and I can’t figure out which part of the install is causing the issue as of yet. Next I’m going to try out switching to a 20m hamstick instead of the Comet antenna, but that requires a different connector on the bracket.
Hamsticks are a full 1/4 wave, while the Comet is substantially shorter with a loading coil in the base and some jumpers. Hopefully the hamstick will provide me with stronger signal output.
So that’s a build for another day.
World Radio Friendship Award
One of the great things about doing Field Day was that it allowed me to finish off enough confirmed contacts to get my first QRZ.com award, the World Radio Friendship Award.
One of the little gotcha’s of the QRZ awards is that contacts who don’t maintain a logbook on QRZ cannot be used for the awards, even though they technically count as confirmed if you get them confirmed on Logbook of the World and import them across.
So while I’ve had more than 25 confirmed contacts for a while, enough of them didn’t have a QRZ logbook to keep me from getting the award.
But I got it last night, and have ordered the certificate for my wall =)
The one that got away because of field day…
When you set up your software for field day, it changes the messages being sent to an abbreviated format that includes the letters FD in your CQ call, and a station class and location code in some of the replies.
So stations not working field day are still sending the regular messages. If you contact one of them, these fields are MISSING from the data for the log so you can’t LOG them!
I had such an ARGH moment when I had a contact with Cuba, that I really wanted for my country count, slip away and be unloggable because he wasn’t working field day and I was.
“Mr. Cuba”, I’m sorry, I heard you, you heard me and we had the RR73, but only we two know it. (I feel like such a geek now, after writing that! Lol.) Maybe I’ll catch you another day!
Most Entertaining Club Contact
People are quirky, funny, inventive, crazy, and make me laugh. I like to peruse my logs after uploading, follow links to profiles, and take a look at who I’ve made contact with and see all the wonderful creativity on the other end.
Among my contacts for field day I found some hams back east have a club entertainingly named “Hams of Insignificant Value”, call sign N0FOO. Their website features gorgeous space colors and three ginormous UPO saucers floating gently up and down on the front page. I had a good giggle =)
The Mysteries of Atmospheric Propagation
Skywave Propagation is such a weird, wonderful, and unpredictable thing. Oh there are general rules to it, that work more often than not.
Some countries are easier to get in the morning, others in the evening, and sometimes a stray signal can travel 5000+ miles for a minute, and then the conduit collapses after a few seconds and you can’t get a signal through again.
This week I saw brief moments where my signals were picked up in Estonia, Norway, Switzerland, Portugal, Spain, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Hawaii, Japan, Australia, Finland, and New Zealand according to PSK Reporter.
Some day I’ll get my antenna setup efficient enough to log an actual contact in those places, but for now I can only dream of making the contact.
One sort of unusual property of my current antenna setup however is that I have a little bit of near vertical propagation going on some days where I have been able to contact people only 5 or 10 miles away on 20m!
Mesa to Mesa on 20m is normally really hard! I usually see a “crater” about 550mi wide around my position where my signal just skips over and doesn’t touch down. So I don’t know if it’s the building to antenna position reflecting things straight upward to get those close contacts, or what, but it’s been fun!
In order to do multi color print with one extruder. You can pause the printer at a specific height. Make sure your machine supports the M600 command otherwise just see what they use for said firmware. Just insert the following after the layer height call in the gcode file. For example search for “; layer 5” and add the following after it:
;Pause Code G91 ;Set Relative Mode G1 E-5.000000 F500 ;Retract 5mm G1 Z15 F300 ;move Z up 15mm G90 ;Set Absolute Mode G1 X20 Y20 F9000 ;Move to hold position G91 ;Set Relative Mode G1 E-40 F500 ;Retract 40mm, this can be commented out if you just want to pause to insert magnets or something. M300 ;Beep (marlin) M600 X0 Y0 Z10 E10 G90 ;Set Absolute Mode G1 F5000 ;Set speed limits, depending on slicer this can be set to your initial mm/min speed or it can be used for the following move only then the next layer will set the speed G28 X0 Y0 ;Home X Y M82 ;Set extruder to Absolute Mode G92 E0 ;Set Extruder to 0
## for switching filament leave_heaters_on_suspend true after_suspend_gcode G91_G0E-5_G0Z10_G90_G0X-50Y-50 # Gcode to run after suspend, retract then get head out of way before_resume_gcode G91_G1E1_G90 # Gcode to run after temp is reached but before resume – do a prime
Use this gcode to purge and wipe filiment before printing.
M107 ;turn off fan G28 X0 Y0 Z0 ;home X, Y and Z axis end-stops G29 ;initiate z-probing G1 X0 Y0 Z.10 ;move to corner of bed G92 E0 ;zero the extruded length G1 F200 E3 ;extrude 3mm of feed stock G92 E0 ;zero the extruded length
Advanced wipe and purge
M107 ;turn off fan G28 X0 Y0 Z0 ; home X, Y and Z axis end-stops G29 ; initiate z-probing G0 X0 Y0 F9000 ; Go to front G0 Z0.15 ; Drop to bed G92 E0 ; zero the extruded length G1 X40 E25 F500 ; Extrude 25mm of filament in a 4cm line G92 E0 ; zero the extruded length G1 E-1 F500 ; Retract a little G1 X80 F4000 ; Quickly wipe away from the filament line G1 Z0.3 ; Raise and begin printing.
My larger multi-band antenna, a Wolf River Coil, comes with a trio of pre-cut radial wires to attach to the legs. No matter how carefully I roll them up into a tied off bundle, the next time I get them out and setup the antenna, I spend a significant amount of time untangling them.
I’ve been thinking about solving this problem with my 3D Printer for a while, but I have a ton of projects like this in the works and it’s taken me a while to get around to it.
While shopping for some other radio parts the other day however, I saw a commercial radial storage spool design in a portable antenna kit that I really liked. It was elegant, practical, and not overly complicated. So I dove into Fusion 360 to draw my own version of the design.
I exported the design to a .STL file, sliced it up in Cura using the draft .2mm layer height profile and 20% infill with a brim, and zipped it off to my OctoPi for printing in a dark blue PLA+ filament on my silent-steppered (mod) Anet ET5X.
The resulting spools (I printed three) came out great!
I’ve uploaded the design to Thingiverse if you want to print your own 🙂
Working HF from my current base location has been a bit difficult due to the available locations for antennas being rather limited and all indoors. (I live in a tiny apartment.)
However, last week I spent a few days in Utah for a wedding in the family and had the opportunity to make quite a number of HF contacts on FT8 from a park in Ogden, a church lawn in Orem, and even from the roof of my parked car outside my hotel!
I logged contacts from Canada, California, Washington, Mexico, Oregon, to name a few.
But my favorite one was made with a station (K7NWF) here in Arizona that I just can’t hit from Arizona due to the bounce distance being about 500 miles on 20m. We sail right over each other’s heads normally, and we had unsuccessfully been trying to make a FT8 or FT4 contact for 4 days, but Saturday night as the sun was going down, we watched our signals shorten, hitting closer and closer till we finally popped up on each other’s digital signal reports.
I was using my Comet HFJ-350M compact multi-band antenna planted on the roof of my car right outside my hotel room and my radio in the trunk. The radio I was using was a Xiegu G90, along with a SignaLink USB Soundcard.
Other QSO’s over those few days also used a Wolf River Coil Screwdriver antenna where space permitted a pretty large radial ground plane footprint, but that really wasn’t possible to set up at the hotel since the space is tight in the parking lot and there is not much lawn. (I really didn’t want anyone running over my radial wires or antenna!)
All in all it was very rewarding to finally be on my way to my first award (I’m within 5 confirmed contacts of the QRZ.com World Radio Friendship Award) and it’s terrific to finally be working HF.
Thank you to Norm, Don, and all my other Elmers who’ve helped me graduate into the Skywave arena.