Water Bottle and HT Holder

My XYL says I’m obsessed with bags, cases, and containers. She might be right.

During normal years, I participate in several public service events with my local ARES-RACES group. For a couple of those events, I’m often out on foot away from my truck with an HT. I wanted a convenient way to carry a few essentials for those situations. 

I put together this little kit last Winter, but it hasn’t seen much use. Sadly, the pandemic forced the cancellation of our public service events this year. This year has been anything but normal.

My water bottle carrier with HT pouch attached on the side
My water bottle carrier with HT pouch attached on the side

I wanted something to carry the following items:

  • Water bottle
  • HT
  • Spare battery for the HT
  • Small notepad and pencil
  • Minimal first aid kit (a few antiseptic wipes and bandages)
  • A few snacks

To carry everything, I bought a no-name water bottle carrier on eBay for about $13. I looked at lots of bottle carriers, but this inexpensive one was best suited to my needs. I’d provide a specific link, but these eBay offerings tend to quickly come and go. A search for “tactical military molle system water bottle bag” should should yield lots of options. I found some for less than $10. Of course, there are name brands out there that cost much more.

Here are the particulars of the one I bought:

  • The bag is constructed of 600D nylon. The specs say it’s waterproof, but I haven’t verified that.
  • The main compartment is 10.6″ tall and 4.3″ in diameter. It’s large enough to hold a 2-liter bottle. If I use a smaller water bottle, there’s room in this compartment for some other gear, too. It also has a zippered lid that will keep your gear from falling out.
  • There’s a 5.9″ x 4.3″ x 2″ gadget pouch on the front. This pouch is large enough for a couple of HT batteries, notepad, pencil, first aid kit, etc.
  • It has plenty of MOLLE webbing. A couple of them have Velcro for attaching patches. You could use the straps on the rear of the bag to attach it to another larger bag or your belt.

This bag certainly has room enough to carry everything I plan to carry in it. Heck, I’m sure I could carry a complete HF QRP station in it.

To hold my HT, I tried out several MOLLE-compatible pouches. The one I plan to use is a no-name item I bought from a Chinese seller on eBay. It only cost me about $4.00 (shipping included), but it works well with my current collection of HTs. I attached it to the side of the bottle carrier using the MOLLE webbing. An Internet search for “radio pouch” will bring you a dizzying assortment from which to choose.

As a final touch, I added a patch with my callsign on it. I ordered the 4″ x 1″ custom embroidered Velcro patch from a shop on Etsy. This little bit of vanity cost almost as much as the bag, but it looks good. 

So far, I’ve only used this bag for a few short hikes. I haven’t used this bag for its intended purpose yet, but I’m hoping that will change next year. (Fingers crossed)

73, Craig WB3GCK

Warm November Outing

With temperatures up in the 70s and clear blue skies, we had a beautiful Fall day here today in southeastern Pennsylvania. When you get a day like this, you have to take advantage of it. For me, that meant getting outside for some QRP-portable operating. The SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) is happening this weekend, so that’s where I focused my attention.

I drove out to the small farm that my daughter and her husband purchased earlier this year. The fields have tall grasses growing on them for later harvesting for hay. So, I drove my truck out into a clearing and set up my radio gear. I mounted my 19-foot vertical on the back of the truck and set up a small table for my KX3.

My setup for the November SKCC WES contest
My setup for the November SKCC WES contest

There was a fair amount of activity on 40M, so I spent most of my time there. The band was dead quiet, and the signals were strong. That’s a refreshing change of pace from the RF noise I have to deal with at home.

I moved up to 20M for a bit and worked F6HKA. Bert always has great ears. He gave my 5-watt signal a 579 report, so I was happy about that. Coincidently, I was at this location when I last worked him back in March.

WB3GCK operating in the November WES on a beautiful Fall day
WB3GCK operating in the November WES on a beautiful Fall day

My operating was mostly casual, with a couple of breaks to walk around the property. I also stopped by to take a look at the farmhouse being renovated and chatted with the contractor.

I ended up with 15 QSOs in the log. Best of all, I got to enjoy this beautiful Fall day and play some radio, too.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Zombie Shuffle 2020

WB3GCK QRP Zombie credentials

Last night was the 23rd annual Zombie Shuffle QRP Contest. It’s 2020, and we’ve seen a lot of scary stuff. Why not throw in some zombies, too?  

This year, I operated from home, using my KX3 and rainspout antenna. I didn’t start until after dark, so I headed first to 40M. My local noise level on 40M was somewhat higher than normal, so I came away empty-handed. I spent the rest of my time on 80M, which is the best band for the rainspout anyway. 

There was a fair amount of activity on 80M, and I heard some familiar callsigns and some old friends. It was good to hear my friend, Dan KA3D, and my Boschveldt QRP buddy, Glen NK1N. Glen was one of the bonus stations this year.

Speaking of the Boschveldt QRP Club… Ed WA3WSJ was operating as a bonus station using our club’s callsign, W3BQC. Sadly, I didn’t hear Ed at all this year. I think we’re located a little too close to each other.

I operated for about 90 minutes and ended up with 11 zombies in my log. That’s two more than last year and a tie with my personal best in this contest. 

My thanks go out to Paul NA5N and Jan N0QT for organizing this fun contest. It was one of the bright spots in an otherwise crazy year.

72, Craig WB3GCK

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)