Of Belts and Suspenders

All too often, I hear about some unfortunate ham who lost their computer-based log files due to some hardware or software failure. I don’t know about you, but just the thought of losing a decade or more of QSO data gives me the chills. 

Back in my working days as a Systems Engineer, I was called upon a few times to develop contingency plans for large computer systems and networks. While working on those projects, I would continually ask myself, “What would we do if…” 

As a result of all that, I still think about backup plans and backups for those backups. One customer once told me I was a belt and suspenders kind of guy; one method of holding up my pants just wasn’t enough.

The Problem in a Nut Shell

Storing your log files—or any data that’s important to you—in one place is a recipe for disaster. Hard drives can and do fail. (Been there, done that.) If your log file only exists on that failed hard drive, you’re out of luck.

The obvious solution is to keep a copy of your log somewhere other than your hard drive. I’ve had computers fail on me a few times over the years, and I was thankful I had backup copies of my important files.

External Storage Media

The easiest way to backup your log files is to create copies of them on removable storage media, such as an external hard drive, USB flash drive, or SD memory card. 

The cost of storage devices has dropped significantly over the years. You can get a 1TB external hard drive these days for less than $50. I have a 1T USB-connected drive that I use to backup all of my data, including my log files. 

If you’re just concerned with backing up your log files, a USB flash drive or an SD memory card is an inexpensive way to go. I often see 32GB flash drives for less than $10. I also use a thumb drive for an extra nightly backup of my logs. (Remember the belt and suspenders thing?)

If you’re an N3FJP ACLog user, you have an easy way to back up your logs. You can configure ACLog to save a backup each time you close the program. So, if you attach an external storage device (flash drive, SD memory card, etc.) to your computer, your backups will happen automatically. I do this with SD memory cards on each of my laptops. So, when I’m logging in the field with no Internet access, I’m still backing up my logs. More belts and suspenders. 

Off-Site Storage

Back in the day, the computer systems I worked with regularly transported copies of their backups to another location across town. These off-site backups ensured that copies of data would survive a catastrophic event in the computer room. Hopefully, none of us ever face that situation.

For off-site storage, you could make a copy of your log data on removable media and take it to another location for safe-keeping. I’m too lazy for that. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, however, there are ways to do this electronically—and for free.

An easier way is to use cloud-based storage. There are several cloud storage providers, and most of them offer a no-cost option. I use Dropbox and Google Drive for my ham radio logs.

I keep my main log files (N3FJP ACLog and SKCC Logger) in a Dropbox folder that gets replicated to all of my computers. This approach allows me to run those logging programs on any of my computers using the same database. It also keeps a copy on Dropbox’s server.  For good measure, I also backup my logs to Google Drive. (There are the belt and suspenders again.) 

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Logbook of the World as an off-site backup method. If you routinely upload to LoTW, you have a backup of at least the rudimentary information about your QSOs (callsign, date, time, band, mode, etc.). In my case, there is information in my logs that isn’t captured by LoTW. So, restoring from LoTW would be the last resort for me.

My approach to backing up my logs might be overkill, but I can always restores my logs in the event of a computer failure.
My approach to backing up my logs might be overkill, but I can always restore my logs in the event of a computer failure.

Making It All Happen

I make nightly backups of all my logs to an external hard drive, a thumb drive, and Google Drive. If I was disciplined enough, I could manually copy the necessary files to all three locations. Knowing me, though, that probably wouldn’t be a very reliable option.

So, I use backup software to automate all that. I use a paid version of SyncBakSE, but there are lots of other options available. I know Windows has a built-in backup capability, for example, but I have no experience using it.

Wrap-Up

Admittedly, my approach is somewhat overkill, bordering on paranoia. I’m not suggesting that you should do the same; I’m just offering up some possibilities for your consideration. 

Regardless of how you do it, please make regular backup copies of your logs or any other data that’s important to you. Someday, if your computer goes belly-up, you’ll be awful glad you did.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Fall Camping in Gifford Pinchot State Park

With just two more trips left, our camping season is quickly winding down. For our penultimate camping trip, we spent a beautiful Fall weekend in Gifford Pinchot State Park (POTA K-1356, WWFF KFF-1356) in south-central Pennsylvania.

We arrived Friday afternoon, and it didn’t take us long to get things set up. So, my next task was to get my antenna set up. I tried several times to drive my Jackite pole ground mount in, but the ground was just too hard. I ended up strapping the pole to a steel lantern post. 

Leary about having my antenna wire so close to the metal pole, I took care to make sure the wire stayed at least two inches away from it. I used some extra straps and lightweight bungee cords to make sure the wire stayed in place.

This weekend was a busy one for ham radio. The SKCC WES contest, the Pennsylvania QSO Party, and a couple of others were all going on. I opted to do some casual operating in the SKCC contest. 

My daughter lives about 30 minutes away from the Park, so she brought my grand-kids down for a visit. So, I spent Saturday afternoon hanging out with the kids. Along with hotdogs cooked over the campfire, the kids enjoyed making s’mores.

I still found time for the contest. I operated on 40M during daylight hours and 80M at night and early in the morning. There was enough WES activity on those bands, so I never ventured up to 20M.

WB3GCK doing some early morning operating from Gifford Pinchot State Park in south-central Pennsylvania
WB3GCK doing some early morning operating from Gifford Pinchot State Park in south-central Pennsylvania

The metal lantern pole didn’t seem to affect my 29-foot vertical wire at all. Running 5 watts, I was getting some strong spots on the Reverse Beacon Network on 40M. Even with a compromise antenna on 80M, I was able to work stations from Canada to Georgia and several stations in Indiana and Illinois. 

My Jackite pole strapped to a steel lantern post. I took great care to keep my antenna wire as far away from the post as I could.
My Jackite pole strapped to a steel lantern post. I took great care to keep my antenna wire as far away from the post as I could.

I finished out the trip with an even 30 SKCC QSOs in my log. I didn’t do a formal Parks on the Air activation this weekend, but I submitted my log to both POTA and WWFF. 

All in all, it was a great weekend. I enjoy camping in the Fall, with the cooler temperatures and the beautiful Fall colors. We have one last trip with the camper before it’s time to get it ready for storage over the Winter.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Rainy Camping is Better Than No Camping

We’ve had a lot of great weather for our camping trips this year. We were bound to have a rainy weekend eventually, and I guess this weekend was it.

We headed back to nearby French Creek State Park (POTA K-1355/WWFF KFF-1355) near Elverson, Pennsylvania. We arrived mid-afternoon on Friday and got everything set up, including my 30-foot wire vertical. After dinner, my (far) better half and I enjoyed a campfire while listening to a ballgame on the radio. Before turning in for the night, I gave my KX3 and quick test to make sure everything was working.

I woke up Saturday to the sound of rain hitting the roof of our little trailer. It kept raining most of the day, with some heavy downpours at times. Outdoor activities were out, so we spent much of the day staying dry inside the trailer.

The WB3GCK "QRP Camper" at French Creek State Park on a rainy Fall weekend. My antenna is on the left, behind the camper.
The WB3GCK “QRP Camper” at French Creek State Park on a rainy Fall weekend. My antenna is on the left, behind the camper.

To help pass the time, I turned on the KX3 in search of some contacts. I found wall-to-wall RTTY signals across the 40-meter band. I eventually found an open spot on 40M and decided to do an impromptu POTA activation.

The cell service was flakey, but I was eventually able to spot myself. Not long after that, stations started responding to my CQs. I was running 10 watts and seemed to be getting out fine. I operated for about an hour and a half and ended up with around 25 contacts. Among those were seven park-to-park contacts.

The rain let up around dinner time on Saturday, and a heavy fog rolled in. We managed to make dinner outside and got a campfire going. Unfortunately, as soon as I got a decent fire going, it started raining again. We wound up sitting under the trailer’s awning about 25 feet away from the fire. Talk about social distancing! When the heavy rain started up again, we packed it in for the night.

This was our view from the camper. During a brief break from the rain on Saturday evening, the fog rolled in.
This was our view from the camper. During a brief break from the rain on Saturday evening, the fog rolled in.

The rain stopped at some point during the night, so Sunday morning was damp, dreary, and muddy. I got back on the radio to see if anyone was up as early as me. After spotting myself, I got on 80M. About eight early risers gave me a call. I picked up a couple more on 40M, but the band didn’t seem as strong as the day before. I ended up with 35 contacts in my log for the weekend.

It wasn’t the most pleasant weather this weekend, but I’ll still take a rainy camping trip over not camping at all. Besides, my (far) better half and I needed a little downtime after the busy week we had.

Thanks to everyone who pulled me out of the noise this weekend.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Heads Up – QRP Afield

If you haven’t heard, the annual running of the QRP Afield contest is Saturday, September 19, 2020. This contest, sponsored by the QRP Club of New England, has been around for decades, and it’s been one of my favorites. 

The contest runs from 1500Z – 2100Z. You can get all of the details from the QRP Club of New England’s website

QRP Afield is one of the contests I always add to my calendar each year. Unfortunately, family obligations will probably prevent me from participating this year. However, if you are so inclined, head out to the field and give it a go!

72, Craig WB3GCK

If at First You Don’t Succeed

Given my epic fail the other day, I needed a win. I went on the same bike ride this morning, but this time I was more careful while packing my radio gear.

I rode on the Schuylkill River and Perkiomen trails, stopping off again at Lower Perkiomen Valley Park in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. I set up my 19-ft vertical by mounting it to the picnic table bench. For the rig, I used my little YouKits HB-1B, which puts out somewhere between 4 and 5 watts.

My set-up in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park. I even remember to bring the antenna this time!
My set-up in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park. I even remember to bring the antenna this time!

I heard WB8JAY in Ohio calling CQ on 40M. I gave him a call, and we exchanged SKCC numbers. As we were signing off, a couple rode up on their bikes. They spotted my antenna from the trail and came by to say hello. Craig KC3MVF is a relatively new ham and is interested in doing some portable operating. It was nice chatting with Craig and his wife, Erin. 

After they rode off, I tuned around for another contact. Despite getting some decent RBN spots, it just wasn’t happening. I needed to get back home anyway, so I loaded up the bike and headed back down the trail. I only had one QSO today, but at least I got on the air this time!

It was a beautiful Labor Day weekend here in southeastern Pennsylvania. I hope you all had a great weekend as well.

73, Craig WB3GCK

For the Want of a Nail

You might have heard the old proverb: For the want of a nail, the kingdom was lostIt means that even the smallest of details can prevent a successful outcome. That was true for me today.

I went out into the garage this morning and noticed that my bike had cobwebs on it. I guess the spiders were trying to tell me that I was overdue for a ride. I decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and take a ride to blow the cobwebs off of the bike—literally.

Of course, I planned to do some portable operating during my ride. After some thought as to what I needed to bring, I gathered everything up and started stuffing the radio gear into my pannier bags. I put everything into the truck, loaded up the bike, and off I went.

I went to one of my favorite trails, the Schuylkill River Trail, and rode a couple of miles up to Lower Perkiomen Park. I found a bench away from the trail and proceeded to unpack my radio stuff. 

Radio—check!

Battery—check!

Cables, paddles, and earbuds—check!

Antenna pole and ground mount—check!

Antenna bag containing my 19-foot vertical parts—oops!

I frantically searched through my pannier bags only to conclude that I must have left my antenna bag at home. A phone call to my (far) better half confirmed that my bag of antenna parts was indeed at home. Although I used a checklist, I made the fatal mistake of checking off the antenna bag before actually packing it in the pannier bags. Doh!

My bike loaded up with everything I need for operating QRP in the park—except for my antenna!
My bike loaded up with everything I need for operating QRP in the park—except for my antenna!

I didn’t get to operate from the park today, but it was still a great day for a ride. And, the cobwebs are gone. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

If It’s Metal, Load It Up!

On one of the several ham radio mailing lists I subscribe to, there was some recent discussion about unusual antennas. You know—bed springs, light bulbs, and the like. It brought to mind a memorable QSO I had 27 years ago.

In the July 1993 issue of QSTRod Newkirk W9BRD (later VA3ZBB, now SK) wrote an article about building small, multi-turn loop antennas[1]. If his name doesn’t ring a bell for you, Rod wrote the “How’s DX?” column in QST from 1947 to 1978 and coined the term, “Elmer.” 

Although I never actually built one of Rod’s loops, I found the article fascinating. At the end of the article, Rod noted that he conducted his loop antenna experiments in the partially-underground cellar of his Chicago home. Remarkable!

Fast-forward to September 1993. I went downstairs to my basement shack one evening and fired up my old MFJ-9030 on 30M CW. I had three QSOs that night; one of them was with—you guessed it—W9BRD. 

During our QSO, Rod mentioned that he was using one of his experimental mini-loops indoors in his shack. When I told him I was running 5 watts into my rainspout, he sent back, “Hey, if it’s metal, load it up.” According to my log, we chatted for about 12 minutes before signing.

Needless to say, that contact put a smile on my face. It was the kind of QSO I really enjoy—one with a station using an unusual set-up or operating in a unique location. I guess you could say this QSO checked both of those boxes. Not to mention that I had just worked a very well-known figure in Amateur Radio.

QSL card from W9BRD documenting our unusual QSO in 1993.
QSL card from W9BRD documenting our unusual QSO in 1993.

I fired off a QSL card to Rod to acknowledge our QSO and to let him know that I enjoyed his loop article. Before too long, I received a card back from Rod. His typewritten note on the back of the card continued the theme of our QSO. It read, in part: “Hey, if your XYL uses gold or silver thread for that needlepoint, let’s try loading it up, Craig.” He also wrote about his experiences with rainspout antennas, including his attempt to feed a particularly stubborn one.

Rear of W9BRD's QSL card: DR OB Craig -- Hey, if your XYL uses god or silver thread for that needlepoint, let's try loading it up, Craig. Thanks for your gratifying "Shrinker" comments. Rainspouts have been kind to me, too. All except one which was a 40-meter halfwave grounded at one end. Totally anti-resonant on 40 and 20. NO WAY could I get power into it. Not bad on 80, though, shunt fed. Take cre -- CUL -- VY 73 . . . . Rod
Rear of W9BRD’s QSL card

From articles I have read, it’s clear that Rod had a penchant for assembling and experimenting with unusual antennas. His daughter, Amanda, once wrote: “He especially loved discovering how much of a signal he could achieve with his various objects: the coffee cans, cookie tins, piles of wire and boxes and tidbits—out of which he wrung quite magical things.”[2]

When it comes to unusual antennas, Rod was a man after my own heart. Over the past 27 years, his words from our QSO have been my mantra: “If it’s metal, load it up!”

Thanks for the inspiration, Rod.

73, Craig WB3GCK

References:
[1] Newkirk (W9BRD), Rod. “Honey, I Shrunk the Antenna.” QST, July 1993, pp. 34-35, 39.
[2] Newkirk (WN9PMC), Amanda. “On Being W9BRD’s Daughter.” K9YA Telegraph, Vol 11, Issue 9, September 2014, pp. 2-3. (K9YA Telegraph website)

Skeeter Hunt 2020

NJQRP Skeeter Hunt Logo

Today was the annual running of the Skeeter Hunt contest sponsored by the New Jersey QRP Club. It was a miserable day for a portable QRP contest, but it was a lot of fun nonetheless.

Since it was raining here in southeastern Pennsylvania, I opted to operate from my truck from a local park. I mounted my trusty homebrew vertical on the back of my truck and fired up my KX3.

I started on 40M, and the Skeeters were swarming. It only took me a minute to log my first Skeeter. I had a steady stream of contacts for the first half-hour or so. I heard lots of familiar callsigns, and I added a fair number of new ones to my log.

My location for the 2020 Skeeter Hunt contest
My location for the 2020 Skeeter Hunt contest

With the steady rain, it was a little uncomfortable in the truck. It was getting warm, but if I opened my window too far, I got rained on. So, after about 2 hours I decided to call it quits. I ended up with 24 contacts in the log. It wasn’t the best I’ve ever done, but it certainly wasn’t the worst. 

WB3GCK operating in the NJQRP Skeeter Hunt contest and sporting my Skeeter Hunt t-shirt
WB3GCK operating in the NJQRP Skeeter Hunt contest and sporting my Skeeter Hunt t-shirt

As always, I extend my thanks to Larry W2LJ for coordinating this great contest. It’s always a good time.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Outer Banks 2020

Once again, our family headed down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for our annual vacation. Naturally, I made ham radio a part of my vacation.

We rented the same house in Corolla that we were in last year. It’s a great place that overlooks the Currituck Sound. Plus, I already knew what to expect, radio-wise, and how to set things up.

After a long but uneventful drive down on Saturday, we arrived at the rental house. So did some thunderstorms. Despite the weather, it didn’t take us too long to get unpacked and settled in. 

After the storm had passed, I took a few minutes to set up an antenna for HF. I kept things simple this year. I strapped my 31-foot Jackite pole to the railing on the 3rd-floor deck and set up a 30-foot vertical wire and 9:1 unun. I ran 25 feet of coax down to the second-floor deck, so I had a shady place to operate during the day.

My 31-foot Jackite pole strapped to the railing on the 3rd story deck of the rental house. I operated from the deck below with a great view of Currituck Sound.
My 31-foot Jackite pole strapped to the railing on the 3rd story deck of the rental house. I operated from the deck below with a great view of Currituck Sound.

After a late breakfast on Sunday, I took my KX3 out to the deck to catch a little bit of the monthly SKCC WES contest. This month’s theme was Homebrew Keys, so I brought along one that I made a couple of years ago. The band conditions weren’t great, but I ended up with 10 QSOs before pulling the plug and heading for the pool. 

My homebrew key for the SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES). For a bunch of junkbox parts, it has a suprisingly good feel.
My homebrew key for the SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES). For a bunch of junkbox parts, it has a suprisingly good feel.

During the WES, I encountered much more RFI coming from the house than I experienced last year. To my good fortune, whatever was making the racket stopped after a while, and things improved somewhat. For most of the week, I still had some S2-S3 noise at times, but it was manageable. 

For the remainder of the week, I did a little casual operating each morning, while I still had shade out on the deck. I spent the rest of the day doing the usual Outer Banks vacation stuff—swimming, crabbing, and just hanging out with my family. 

WB3GCK operating in Corolla, NC, on the Outer Banks (with a cold "807" on the table)
WB3GCK operating in Corolla, NC, on the Outer Banks (with a cold “807” on the table)

Most of my contacts this week were casual rag-chews along with a few POTA stations here and there. During the week, John W3FSA worked me twice from Maine. It’s always good to chat with him.

For something different, I checked into the Outer Banks Area Wide Net on Thursday evening, while enjoying the sunset from the deck. I used my handheld to access one of the linked repeaters in a system that covers the entire Outer Banks. The net had a friendly mix of locals and visitors to the area.

For the most part, the weather was great this week—sunny, hot, and rain-free. Things got a little unsettled on the last day, though. There were storms in the area, but I still got in some more time on the air before tearing down the antenna and packing up the radio. My last QSO of the week was on SSB with my friend, Glen NK1N, who was doing a POTA activation in New Jersey.

I always say that our annual vacation on the Outer Banks is the shortest week of the year. That was true again this year, as the week just flew by.

73, Craig WB3GCK

French Creek State Park in the Camper

Because of the ongoing issues with the pandemic, my (far) better half and I decided that we would be doing our camping close to home this year. Fortunately, French Creek State Park near Elverson, Pennsylvania, is a beautiful park and only about 35 minutes from home.

We hitched up the trailer Friday afternoon and headed up to the campground. The weather was hot and humid, but it was a few degrees cooler than back home. 

Our campsite at French Creek State Park
Our campsite at French Creek State Park

After dinner, I put up my trusty 29.5-foot wire vertical back near the woods. I fired up my KX3 to make sure everything was working. As I tuned around on 40M, I heard KF9UP doing a POTA activation in Indiana. It took a couple of tries, but I worked him for a park-to-park contact. After that, I joined my (far) better half out at the campfire.

My trusty Jackite pole supporting a 29.5-foot wire vertical and a 9:1 unun
My trusty Jackite pole supporting a 29.5-foot wire vertical and a 9:1 unun

On Saturday, my daughter and her family were coming up to visit the campsite. I didn’t have a lot of time for ham radio, but I managed to squeeze in a quick POTA activation. (French Creek State Park is K-1355 for POTA and KFF-1355 for WWFF.)

Band conditions weren’t the best, and our site was in a low spot. Despite all of that, I was able to log 14 contacts in about 45 minutes or so. Four of them were park-to-park contacts. The grandkids arrived after that, and I spent the rest of the day hanging out with them.

I got on the radio for a bit on Sunday morning, while the coffee was perking. I didn’t hear much of anything on 40M, so I called CQ for a while. I was getting some decent spots on the Reverse Beacon Network, but I got no takers. Although we had the campsite until 3 PM, we decided to head home a little early to avoid packing up in the heat. 

After the issues we had on our last camping trip, it was nice to have a rain-free and problem-free weekend with the camper. 

73, Craig WB3GCK