Fast Log Entry (FLE)

I recently discovered a very useful piece of software.  Fast Log Entry (FLE) is a small text editor that lets you quickly get your QSO information from paper logs onto your computer.  I originally installed FLE about a month ago but I didn’t immediately see its benefits.  After taking a closer look at it, I have now added into my logging utility “toolbox.”  FLE is a free download from DF3CB, although donations are welcomed.  It is a Windows application but it runs great on Linux under Wine.

Here’s a typical use case for me.  Quite often, I’m operating portable and logging my contacts in a small notebook.   If there’s a small number of contacts, I could just enter them into N3FJP’s ACLog, which I use for my main log.  However, entering into ACLog can be a little tedious if I have a significant number of contacts to deal with.  This is where FLE comes into play.

FLE provides a simple, keyboard-only, way of entering the information.  It uses a very simple format for the information.  To get started, you enter the date in the format YYYY-MM-DD.  Then, enter the band (e.g., 40m, 20m, etc.). Similarly, for the mode, you can just enter it (like “CW” or “SSB”).  See the screenshot below for an example.

Fast Log Entry (FLE) main screen
Fast Log Entry (FLE) main screen

You can now start entering your contacts.  Once you enter a contact at a particular time, you only need to enter the portion of the time that changed for the next contact.  For example, let’s say you worked a station at 1510 and another at 1511. After you enter the contact at 1511, you only have to enter “11” (i.e., just the minutes) for the next contact.  If you run a string of stations, you only need to note the time periodically in your paper log (say every 5 or 10 minutes).  FLE will interpolate the time for your contacts after you enter them if you like.  Also, there’s no need to worry about capitalization; FLE takes care of that.  You can enter RST (send and receive) information, or let it default to 599 or 59.  You can populate the “comments” field by enclosing the comment in angle brackets <>.  You can also add grid square information by prefacing it with a pound sign, like “#FN20.”

After you have finished entering your contacts, you can easily export an ADIF (Amateur Data Interchange Format) file for ingesting into your logging program.  FLE will also let you create a Cabrillo file for contest submissions.

My brief attempt at describing FLE probably doesn’t do it justice.  I recommend going to the author’s website to download a copy and taking it for a spin.  Be sure to check out the step-by-step instructions on the website.  Another great resource is a video by VK5PAS.  He gives a very thorough introduction to FLE and explains it much better that I can.  Although his video is targeted at the WorldWide Flora and Fauna program, it is a great tutorial on using FLE.

So, if you do a lot of portable operating with paper logs (think SOTA, NPOTA, IOTA, WWFF, etc.), take a look at FLE.

72, Craig WB3GCK

New Year’s Day NPOTA Activation

ARRL National Parks on the Air logoA few years ago, I started a tradition of going out on January 1st for some QRP portable operating.  Since the ARRL National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) program kicked off today, I headed over to nearby Valley Forge National Historical Park to operate.

I set up in the parking lot for the Wayne’s Woods area of the park.  I picked a secluded corner of the lot so I would be away from hikers and bikers using a nearby trail.  I used my drive-on mast support to support my antenna.  I used a 29.5-foot vertical wire supported by a 31-foot pole.  I laid out two 29.5-foot radials.  One was run around my truck and the other was laid out in a grassy area behind the truck.  The antenna was coax-fed through a 4:1 unun.

My “stationary-mobile” location
My “stationary-mobile” location

I used my FT-817 at 5 watts, along with a Z-817 tuner.  As mentioned in an earlier post, I used the YFKtest logging program on my little Linux netbook computer.

My somewhat messy operating position
My somewhat messy operating position

I started out on 20M and my first contact was with RA1M/MM who was also running QRP.  After making a second contact on 20M things slowed down.  I dropped down to 40M and started calling, “CQ NPOTA.”  It took a while before I got a response.  I was beginning to think I wasn’t going to make the requisite 10 contacts to validate my activation.  Just then, Dave Benson, K1SWL, called from New Hampshire, followed by Jim W1PID.  After Dave spotted me on QRPSPOTS, I had a mini pile-up on my hands.  I’m normally a “search and pounce” kind of operator, so I wasn’t prepared to hear a bunch of stations calling me at the same time!

YFKtest logging software on my Linux netbook computer
YFKtest logging software on my Linux netbook computer

As it turns out, I wasn’t the only Valley Forge activator today.  Fellow QRPer, Walt KB3SBC, was parked on Mount Joy about a mile or so away.  Walt and I worked each other on 2 meters simplex.  Walt was running SSB and had a good morning.  He logged about 38 QSOs until he ran out of paper!

After two hours, I was starting to get hungry and a little chilly.  I packed up and headed home.  I ended my activation with 25 CW QSOs and the one FM contact with Walt.

National Memorial Arch at Valley Forge
National Memorial Arch at Valley Forge

My next activation will be the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area and Appalachian Trail in New Jersey in a few weeks.  Walt, KB3SBC, will be there also.     This is going to be a fun year!

72, Craig WB3GCK

YFKtest Logger

I’m planning to take part in ARRL’s National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) event next year.  In fact, I plan to activate Valley Forge National Historic Park on New Year’s Day.  It will likely be cold so I plan to operate “stationary-mobile” from the cab of my pickup truck.  I suspect there will be a lot of “chaser” stations so I’m planning to use a computer for logging and sending CW.

I considered a couple of options.  One is to use N3FJP’s ACLog on my Windows laptop.  I use ACLog for my main log and I’m very comfortable with it.  The drawback is that my Windows laptop might be a bit large for the cramped cab of my little truck.  That led me to using my little Acer netbook computer, which runs Ubuntu Linux.

In my search for a contest-type logger for Linux, I tried several programs before stumbling across one called YFKtest.  YFKtest satisfied my three main requirements for a logging program:

  • It has to be simple to use with keyboard input only; I don’t want to have to use a mouse.
  • It needs to provide programmable CW messages and be able to key my transmitter.
  • It has to have the ability to export logs as ADIF files that I can import into my main log.
YFKtest main entry screen
YFKtest main entry screen

Fabian DJ1YFK is YFKtest’s original author while Bob Finch WY9A currently maintains the software.  Since it has been around for a while, the code base is stable.  YFKtest is a PERL program, so it runs under Linux.  It supports a large number of contests, including some QRP contests.  It generates CW over a serial or parallel interface, as well as via Winkey.  It works with the same serial interface that I use with the N3FJP software, so that’s a plus.  If you are so inclined, YFKtest will do rig control using the hamlib utilities. It also generates ADIF, Cabrillo and contest summary files.

YFKtest screenshot showing my custom CW messages
YFKtest screenshot showing my custom CW messages

Installation on Linux was straight-forward.  The user interface is a bit “old school,” compared to other logging software.  It was, however, easy to configure and use.   For NPOTA use, I took the “DXPED.def” definition file for DXpeditions and made a few minor tweaks to it. To give myself some peace of mind, I created a cron job in Linux that automatically backs up my log files to an SD memory card every 15 minutes.

YFKtest is hard coded for “599” or “59” signal reports.  There may be a way to accommodate honest signal reports, but I haven’t explored that yet.  Since LoTW doesn’t use signal reports, this is a non-issue for NPOTA logging.

Bob Finch’s support is top-notch.  During my initial testing with it, I reported a bug in the ADIF files.  In a day or two, Bob uploaded a fix.  You can’t complain about support like that.

So, I’m going to give YFKtest a shot for my New Year’s Day operation.  I’m anticipating a lot of NPOTA activity on the first day and that YFKtest will help me keep up with it!

For more information, visit the YFKtest website.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Antenna Testing at Black Rock Sanctuary

I almost talked myself out of going out today.  My grandkids got together and gave me one heck of a cold for Christmas.  Thanks a lot, kids.  🙂  Despite being a little under the weather, I packed up and headed out.  I’m glad I did.

I drove to nearby Black Rock Sanctuary to test the equipment I plan to use for a National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) activation on New Year’s Day.  My antenna today was a 29.5-foot vertical wire with two similar wires on the ground for a counterpoise.  I ran one of the wires around the tires of my truck.  I ran the other wire into a grassy area directly behind the truck.  I figured I was in an area that wouldn’t see any pedestrians.  (More on that faulty assumption later.)  My rig was my old Yaesu FT-817 and Z-817 tuner.

My vertical antenna. 29.5-foot radiator fed through a 4:1 unun with two 29.5-foot radials.
My vertical antenna. 29.5-foot radiator fed through a 4:1 unun with two 29.5-foot radials. It loaded up great 40M through 10M.

I had last used the FT-817 on 14.060.  So, when I powered up the radio, I immediately heard my QRP buddy, Ed WA3WSJ, and gave him a call.  Ed was operating pedestrian mobile on Monocacy Hill about 20 miles away from me.  He had a great signal.  Right after I signed with WA3WSJ, Ed W1GUE gave me a call from New Hampshire.

A view of the "cockpit" of my truck.
A view of the “cockpit” of my truck.

On 15 meters, I called CQ on 21.060 and got a quick response from WA8IWK/8.  Allen was portable in Michigan.  While I was working Allen, a woman walked her dog directly behind my truck.  I noticed her child looking down at the ground.  After they left, I went back to check.  They apparently had gotten caught up in my counterpoise wire.  I re-routed the wire around the truck.  Fortunately, I didn’t notice any difference in the antenna tuning.

I moved down to 17 meters and heard Jim W1PID working HK1MW.  Jim was hiking in New Hampshire with W3ATB.  I moved down a little bit and called CQ.  I was hoping that I would catch Jim’s attention.  It worked!  Conditions were great on 17 meters and Jim said I was very strong into New Hampshire.

On 30 meters, I got a call from a familiar callsign.  Wink WA8KOQ from Tennessee is a regular on 30 meters.  I’ve worked Wink many times over the years and it was good to hear him again.

I went back to 20 meters to see if I could find Tim W3ATB.  No luck today.

Finally, I went back to 17 meters and had a quick QSO with John, YV5IUA in Venezuela.

I’m glad I went out today.  The bands were in good shape and my antenna seems to be working great.  I should be ready for my NPOTA activation next week.

72, Craig WB3GCK

‘Twas the day before Christmas…

Or was it?  You certainly couldn’t tell by the weather.  It reached a balmy 71 degrees F today here in southeastern Pennsylvania.  It just doesn’t seem right being outside in late December wearing a T-shirt.

Christmas Eve 2015 Weather
Christmas Eve 2015 Weather

Anyway, the shopping was done and the presents were wrapped, so I decided to sneak out to a local park for a little QRP-portable.  I drove a couple of miles down the road to Charlestown Township Park and set up in my truck.  The forecasters were predicting possible storms, so I operated in the truck today.  I used my roll-on support to put my 31-foot Jackite pole up.  I used one 30-foot wire as a vertical and another on the ground for a counterpoise.  I fed it through a homebrew 4:1 unun.  I used my YouKits HB-1B running 4 watts.

Stationary-mobile set up in Charlestown Township Park
Stationary-mobile set up

I started out on 20 meters but had no luck there.  Moving down to 30 meters, I got a call from Walt WB8E near Detroit.  Walt had a nice signal in Pennsylvania, despite some fading on the band.  Next, I went to 40 meters and had a nice, long chat with Lou WA3MIX in Williamsport, PA.  Lou grew up in my area and has some relatives in nearby towns.  Finally, I went back to 20 meters and called CQ on 14.060MHz a few times.  As I reached over to shut off the radio, I heard Dave KB8XG calling me from Michigan.  This was Dave’s second CW contact.  After wrapping up with Dave, I packed up and headed home.

Whatever your weather is like, I hope you have a very Merry Christmas!

72, Craig WB3GCK

QRP Joy on Mount Misery

I can’t believe it– three decent weekends in a row.  Thanks to El Niño, we’re headed for record temperatures this weekend.  I definitely needed to take advantage of these mild temperatures.  So, I drove down to Valley Forge National Historic Park to do some portable operating.  I had planned to operate from Mount Misery (aka Valley Forge Mountain) for a while but never got around to it.

Following some directions that my friend, Carter N3AO,  gave me, I hiked up the Mount Misery Trail.  Carter operated a QRP field contest there years ago and said it was a nice spot.  I hiked in about a mile and branched off onto the Horse-Shoe Trail for another half-mile or so.  Most of the other hikers seemed to be staying on the Mount Misery Trail.  I figured the Horse-Shoe Trail would be more secluded.  I was right.  The only other person I saw was a Park Watch volunteer.  She came by as I was trying to figure out where to hang my antenna.  I’m sure she was wondering why I was standing there staring up into the trees.

The intersection of the Mount Misery and Horseshoe trails.
The intersection of the Mount Misery and Horseshoe trails.

My biggest challenge of the day was getting my antenna up in the trees.  I continued to hike looking for something that resembled a clearing.  The woods up there are dense and there is a lot of brush just waiting to snag my antenna wire.  After about 20  minutes, I managed to get my LNR EFT-10/20/40 EFHW antenna up.  I set up my trusty YouKits HB-1B and got on the air.

My operating position on Mount Misery.
My operating position on Mount Misery.

I called CQ on 20 meters and AF5BA answered from Arkansas.  After that, I got a call from fellow QRP Polar Bear, WA8REI.  Ken was also QRP portable, operating from his trailer in a deer camp in Michigan.  Next up was VE1BA in Nova Scotia.  John’s  5-watt signal was booming into Pennsylvania.

I moved down to 40 meters, but I didn’t hear a lot of activity.  I tuned around and heard NM1I calling CQ from Massachusetts.  I gave him a call and we had a nice chat.

I took a break to stretch my legs and take a few pictures before heading back to 20 meters.  I worked the VE9CRM club station in New Brunswick.  The operator was VE9BEL.  Their club station was putting out a very strong signal.

WB3GCK operating on Mount Misery in Valley Forge, PA
WB3GCK operating on Mount Misery in Valley Forge, PA

I was getting ready to shut down when I heard KG0YR calling me from Missouri.  Dave was running 1 watt and had a nice signal.  On his heels was K4AKC from Alabama.  Tom was running 5 watts.  I hated to cut our QSO short, but I needed to pack up and hike back down the hill.

All in all, it was a productive 2 hours.

Trail marker on the Horseshoe Trail
Trail marker on the Horseshoe Trail

I did have one take away from today’s outing.  I have been using 20 lb. test monofilament line with a 2-ounce lead sinker to get my antenna up.  It works great, but the line becomes completely invisible in the woods.  I need to get some high-visibility line and paint the sinker.

Across from Mount Misery is another mount named… Wait for it…  Mount Joy!  That’s on my list for a future outing.

73/72, Craig WB3GCK

December Bike Ride

It’s hard to believe, but this was the second weekend in a row with unseasonably warm temperatures.  So, I loaded up my bike and went for a ride.  I rode about 2 miles along the Schuylkill River Trail and another mile or so on the Perkiomen Trail.  I stopped in Lower Perkiomen Valley Park to do a little QRP portable.

My transportation and operating position
My transportation and operating position

I found a picnic table near a nice stand of trees.  I tossed a line up in one of the trees and pulled up an experimental 42-foot end-fed wire.  I used the handlebars of my bike to secure the 4:1 unun I was using.  I laid out a couple of radials on the ground.

My bike served to support the feedpoint of my antenna.
My bike served to support the feedpoint of my antenna.

I fired up my trusty YouKits HB-1B and checked 20 meters.  I didn’t hear much going on there.  After a few unanswered CQs, I tried 30 meters.  My Elecraft T1 tuner couldn’t get the SWR as low as I would like it, so I went down to 40 meters.  I called CQ a couple of times and Keith, KB8FE, answered from the Akron, Ohio, area.

My operating position
My operating position

After a short QSO with Keith, I called “QRZ?” and Chuck KY3P gave me a call from New York.  I had a nice two-way QRP ragchew with Chuck, despite some fading on the band.

After signing with Chuck, I did a few quick experiments with my antenna.  By that time, the sun was starting to go down and I could feel the temperatures starting to drop.  So, I loaded up my bike and headed back.  I got back to the trailhead just as the sun was setting over the trees.

When December days like this show up here in Pennsylvania, you just have to take advantage of them.

WB3GCK operating on a beautiful December afternoon
WB3GCK operating on a beautiful December afternoon

73, Craig WB3GCK

Jackite Pole Repairs

As you can tell from other posts, I’m a big fan of Jackite fiberglass poles.  My 31-foot pole sees heavy use as the main component of my Pop-up Vertical antenna. I also use it a variety of other portable situations, including my Bike Rack Vertical antenna.

Recently, I was in a wooded area and had the pole strapped to a signpost. While packing up to leave, the tip section got stuck.  It refused to slide back into the next larger section.  I noticed that the split ring I have attached to the top eyelet (see my Jackite Hacks post) had some damage. I’m guessing it got hung up in a tree branch when I was collapsing the pole.  My downward pulling most likely caused the top two sections to become jammed.

Damaged split ring. (Click for full-size image.)
Damaged split ring. A possible clue as to how two sections of my Jackite pole became hopelessly jammed.

I have had these two sections become stuck once or twice before.  I guess I’m sometimes a bit too aggressive when I extend the sections.  Usually, a little WD-40 does the trick.  Not this time.

I worked on it when I got home and wound up cracking the tip section.  The two sections were still stuck together.  After few minutes on the Jackite website, a new tip section and the next larger section were on order.  I received a shipping notice the next day. The cost was reasonable.  It was definitely less expensive than replacing the entire pole.  A couple of days later, the parts arrived and the pole is ready to head out into the field again.

Thanks to the good folks at Jackite, I’m back in business.  I’ll try to be more careful next time.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Disclaimer:  I have no interests, financial or otherwise, in Jackite.  I’m just a happy customer.

QRP by the River

I haven’t been able to get out to do any portable operating in while.  I had a few hours this morning before we headed out of town to spend the weekend with family, so I thought I do a quick trip to nearby Upper Schuylkill Valley Park.  The forecast was calling for rain, so my original plan was to operate from my truck with my antenna mounted on my bicycle rack.

A conveniently-placed bulletin board served as my antenna support.
A conveniently-placed bulletin board served as my antenna support.

When I arrived at the park, it was a mild 55 degrees (F) with no wind and no rain.  I figured there won’t be many more days like this for a while, so I decided to head further into the park and operate from a picnic table next to the Schuylkill River.  My antenna was a 30-foot vertical wire fed through a 9:1 unun.  I used some nylon cable ties to secure my 31-foot Jackite pole to a sign post.  My rig was my trusty YouKits HB-1B.

I started out on 20 meters.  The band was jam packed with stations working the CQ DX Contest.  I’m not a big fan of the quick contest-type exchanges so, after working PJ2T, I moved down to the more peaceful 30 meter band.

WB3GCK operating by the Schuylkill River
WB3GCK operating by the Schuylkill River

W9ZN was booming into Pennsylvania so I gave him a call.  I’ve worked Bill several times before from a variety of portable locations and it was nice to work him again.  We had a nice chat until the band started fading.

Next, I moved down to 40 meters and called CQ.  W2ZRA gave me a call from Eastern Long Island.  We had a nice rag chew.  Kevin was running 50 watts and I gave him a 589 signal report.  During the QSO, he reduced his power to 5 watts and was still about 569.

After that, I needed to pack up and head home.  My timing was impeccable; it started raining a few minutes after I got home.

It was a very brief but enjoyable morning to be operating outdoors by the river.

72, Craig WB3GCK

AlexLoop Mounting

In my 40+ years in Amateur Radio, the AlexLoop Walkham was the first commercially-made HF antenna I ever bought.  I wanted something for those spur-of-the-moment QRP outings when I want to get on the air quickly and not have to deal with putting wires into trees.  The AlexLoop fit the bill nicely.  There’s probably nothing novel or new here but here’s how I mount the AlexLoop for operation.

Tripod Mounting.  While I was waiting for the AlexLoop to arrive from Brazil, I ordered a Vivitar VPT-1250 tripod from a vendor on eBay for less than $20.  The VPT-1250 is super lightweight and stores nicely in the AlexLoop’s carrying bag.  It’s a decent tripod for casual use but for something like a SOTA activation under windy conditions, you’d be better off with something more robust.

vivitar_tripod_2
Vivitar VPT-1250 Tripod with PVC pipe installed.

To use the VPT-1250, I removed the pan/tilt head.  I cut a 4-inch piece of 1/2-inch PVC pipe, which I slide over the center post of the tripod.  I added a bit of electrical tape to both the tripod post and the PVC pipe to give a slight friction fit.  The base of the AlexLoop slides onto the PVC pipe.

Picnic Table Mounting.  This is an idea I got from AK4LP’s QRZ page. For mounting to a table, I take the same piece of PVC pipe and insert it into a 1/2-inch PVC elbow fitting.  I sanded the end of the PVC pipe so it was easier to remove from the elbow fitting.

table_mount_1
Table mount attached

I just use a 2-inch C-clamp to secure the pipe and elbow fitting to the side of the table.  Again, the base of the AlexLoop just slides over the pipe.  I store the PVC parts and the C-clamp in the tripod’s nylon carrying bag.  When a picnic table is available, this mount goes to together faster than setting up the tripod.

table_mount_2
AlexLoop base mounted to table

If anyone knows the ham who came up with the picnic table mounting idea, let me know in the comments and I’ll make sure he gets credit for it.

UPDATE (11/16/2015):  I remember now where I got the idea for the picnic table mount and have updated the post accordingly.  Many thanks to Bob AK4LP for coming up with this simple and novel idea!  Be sure to check out his page on QRZ.com for pictures of his picnic table portable setup.  I had the pleasure of working him at that Smith Mountain Lake location back in 2013 while I was camping in Maryland.

73, Craig WB3GCK