Oops!

Back in August I moved this blog over to a new hosting provider.  The old site went off-line this morning, as planned except…  I discovered that the migration didn’t go as smoothly as planned.  Many of the older blog posts retained image links to the old site and some images just didn’t migrate over at all, for some reason.  The net result is that many of the older blog posts have missing images.

I’m in the process of restoring the images and finished up the 2018 posts this morning.  However, it’s a somewhat tedious process and will likely go on for another week or two.  I still have more than two years worth of posts to check/fix.

So, if you go back through anything before 2018, you might run into this problem.  Thanks for your patience while the site is being restored.

(Remind me again how computers make my like easier…  HI HI)

73, Craig WB3GCK

[UPDATE 10/3/2018 – I finished restoring the images last night.  If you come across any problems, be sure to let me know. —  Craig WB3GCK]

 

25 Years of QRP-Portable

My (far) better half was going through some old pictures recently and came across some pictures of me operating while tent camping on a family vacation back in August 1993. After I studied the picture for a bit, it dawned on me that the old photograph had captured my first time operating QRP-portable.

Back in the early ’90s, I was just getting back on the air again after a long period of inactivity. I had a station at the house but what I really wanted was a portable QRP rig. I eventually purchased an MFJ-9030 QRP rig for 30M so I could take my hobby on the road.

Right around that time, we were getting ready to take a week-long vacation of tent camping on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Wanting to take my new rig along, I hurriedly went about assembling a portable station. I bought a gel cell battery from a local hobby shop and threw together a 30M dipole. I wasn’t sure how much coax I would need so I used 50-feet of RG-8x, which, in hindsight, was overkill. Together with my old Radio Shack straight key, I packed everything in a small, waterproof container and placed it with the rest of the camping gear.

Being the detailed planner and organizer that she is, it took my wife no time at all to spot my container of radio gear. This prompted a stern reminder that this was a family vacation and no way was I going to spend all day on the radio and leave her to deal with the kids. Despite my assurances that I wouldn’t do that, she remained skeptical.

The day after we arrived and got our camp set up, I went about putting up my dipole. Because of the dense pine trees, my dipole only ended up about 15 feet up. I had to coil up the majority of my 50-foot coax at the base of a tree. Yep, my fifty feet of coax was definitely too long. (It was replaced with 30 feet of RG-174 when I got home.)

WB3GCK operating QRP-portable for the first time back in August 1993 at a campground on the Eastern Shore of Virginia
WB3GCK operating QRP-portable for the first time back in August 1993 at a campground on the Eastern Shore of Virginia

My log shows that I made my first-ever QRP-portable contact on August 15th with K3EEL (SK) up in northern Pennsylvania. I made 3 more QSOs before calling it a day. I only operated for about an hour but I was hooked!

I’m an early riser. The rest of my family… not so much. So, for the rest of the week, I fell into a routine of getting on the radio early in the morning, while the coffee was brewing on the camp stove. I usually got on again later in the afternoon while the kids were relaxing before dinner. My better half soon realized that my ham radio habit could peacefully coexist with the rest of the family’s activities. In fact, one lazy afternoon she said, “Why don’t you get on the radio for a while?”

I had a lot of fun that week, making 34 contacts. Since then, a QRP rig has gone along on every camping trip or vacation we have taken.

Here’s to the next 25 years of QRP-portable operating!

72, Craig WB3GCK

Ron Polityka WB3AAL (SK)

I heard the sad news this morning that Ron Polityka WB3AAL passed away on March 30th. Ron was an avid QRPer who was well-known throughout the QRP community. Ron was known for his portable operations, particularly from the Appalachian Trail.

Ron and I go back about 25 years or so. Back in the early 90s, I was contacted by Ron, who was starting up the Eastern Pennsylvania QRP Club. My first meeting with Ron was at a local hamfest and I became an active EPA-QRP member after that.

Ron WB3AAL operating CW at the EPA-QRP Field Day in 2006
Ron WB3AAL operating CW at the EPA-QRP Field Day in 2006

Over the years, I participated in many EPA-QRP Field Days with Ron. I also camped out with Ron a few times for various QRP field contests. I spent an interesting weekend with Ron aboard the Lightship Chesapeake (LV-116) in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor in 2003. We activated the Chesapeake for a Lighthouse/Lightship Week event.

WB3AAL aboard the Lightship Chesapeake (LV-116) in 2003
WB3AAL aboard the Lightship Chesapeake (LV-116) in 2003

Ron was one of the founding members of the Polar Bear QRP Club. I was fortunate enough to take part in one of the very early Polar Bear Moonlight Madness Events with Ron and others at Pulpit Rock on the Appalachian Trail.

In recent years, I only had occasional contact with Ron. So, I was stunned to learn of his passing at the young age of 58. Ron touched the lives of many in the QRP Community and his presence will be missed.

RIP and 72, Ron.

de WB3GCK

A Memorable Contact

I’m sure we’ve all had memorable contacts.  You know, the ones where you can recall the content and the events surrounding them, even decades later.  I was going through one of my old logbooks today and I saw an entry from almost 22 years ago that brought back a flood of memories.

Back in August of 1995, my wife and I took our two daughters on a weeklong tent camping trip to the Eastern Shore of Virginia.  My wife had a “milestone birthday” that week (I won’t say which one) and that’s how she wanted to spend it.

We arrived at our campsite on Saturday, August 12th, 1995, and quickly set up our tents.  As is my usual custom, I brought a QRP rig along.  My simple set up for this trip was my old MFJ-9030 30M rig and my old J-38 straight key.  I strung a lightweight dipole between two pine trees and ran the RG-174 coax down to a picnic table.  The rig was powered by a 7 A-H gel cell battery, which was enough power for a week of casual operating.  The MFJ-9030 put out about 3 watts under battery power.  On a typical day, I got on the radio each morning for a couple of contacts and again later in the day.

Our vacation got off to a great start.  While my wife was away from the campsite on her birthday, the girls and I threw her a surprise birthday celebration.  We decorated the campsite with balloons and streamers.  My family enjoyed spending time outdoors without the distraction of TV and telephones.  Back in 1995, smartphones weren’t available and I didn’t own a cellphone yet.  By Monday, there weren’t any other campers near us.  So, we were blissfully unaware of what was going on in the world outside of our little campsite.

The morning of Tuesday, August 15th, 1995, was a typical morning for me while camping.  I was up earlier than the rest of the family.  I got the percolator ready and fired up our old Coleman camp stove.  While the coffee was brewing, I turned on the radio and tuned around the 30-meter band.

Just before 7:00 AM local time, I made contact with Clark W8IHN/8.  Clark was operating portable from Houghton Lake, Michigan.  We had a very nice rag chew.  During our CW conversation, Clark mentioned that he was 79 years old and had been on CW for 66 years!  He was interested in our camping set up and our location.  He asked me if I was following the news.  I said I hadn’t been.  He said I should since there was a hurricane heading our way.  He said it looked like the Virginia coast was going to be getting high winds and “big surf.”  He advised that we not wait too long to leave the area.  We signed off after an enjoyable 45-minute chat.  In my notebook, I wrote, “QSL for sure.  Send a postcard.”

QSL card from W8IHN. On the back of the card, he wrote: “What can I say, Craig, it’s not often that I run into a fellow ham that I take a liking to. I do hope we can meet up again on 30M.”
QSL card from W8IHN. On the back of the card, he wrote: “What can I say, Craig, it’s not often that I run into a fellow ham that I take a liking to. I do hope we can meet up again on 30M.”

Concerned by Clark’s warning, I got in the car and tuned the radio to a local broadcast station. Clark was right — Hurricane Felix was heading our way.  Before we left Pennsylvania, Felix was still churning around in the Caribbean.  It didn’t seem to be much of a threat to our vacation plans.  Now, a hurricane warning, which included our location near the lower Chesapeake Bay, had been issued.  To the south of us, they were planning an evacuation of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  Things were getting serious.

We spent the day listening to the news on the car radio and considering our options.  I suggested that we head inland and look for a safer campsite.  In the end, we decided to just head home the next day.

The next morning, I made two last contacts on 30 meters before taking the dipole down.  After breakfast, we tore down the tents and packed up for the trip back to Pennsylvania.  We stopped in the campground office to check out.  They said they were planning to evacuate the campground later that day.  Since they were planning to close the campground, they gave us a credit for our unused nights.

We were all disappointed that our vacation was cut short.  At least, we able to get out of the area, avoiding the traffic and confusion of an evacuation.  As we drove home, I was glad that I brought the QRP rig along and very grateful for that CW contact with W8IHN that had tipped us off to the bad weather heading our way.

In the end, Felix never did make landfall in the U.S.  It did, however, impact the East Coast.  In addition to major beach erosion,  nine unfortunate souls lost their lives due to the heavy surf.

Clark and I exchanged QSL cards but I don’t think I ever worked him again after that.  His real name was Whittier E. Clark.  Doing some Internet research, I found out that he became a Silent Key two years after our contact.

Wherever you are, Mr. Clark, I still think about our CW contact in the summer of 1995 and the concern you showed for me and my family.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Logging: Keeping Track of it All

Going all the way back to my Novice days in the mid-70s, I’ve always been a bit anal…  er… diligent, when it comes to logging contacts.  Years ago I started using logging software and that diligence persists.  Over the years, I’ve evolved to a logging process that I’m sure some would find overly complex.  It’s actually not that bad and it works well for me.

I use a variety of methods to capture QSO information.  Eventually, everything ends up in one central log.  From there, all QSOs are uploaded to Logbook of the World (LoTW).  The diagram below shows how everything ties together.

Overview of my logging process. In the end, all contacts end up in the Main Log.
Overview of my logging process. In the end, all contacts end up in the Main Log.

Here are the main components of my logging system:

ACLog.  I use this software by N3FJP for my main log.  All QSOs, no matter how they are made or logged wind up in here.  Because most of my HF operating is done while portable, I added a few custom fields to keep track of where I was (MY_QTH), what rig I was using (MY_RIG) and what power I was running (TX_PWR).  Everything in my main log gets uploaded to LoTW.  ACLog makes it very easy to do that.  For casual operating at home, I enter the contacts directly into ACLog.  Same goes for paper logs from portable operations with just a few contacts.  For larger batches of contacts, I might resort to other methods.

ADIF Master.  I use this great piece of freeware a lot.  It allows me to take an ADIF file and easily add in the custom fields I keep track of and do a quick bulk edit to populate the fields for all QSO records in the file.

Fast Log Entry (FLE).  I wrote about this software in an earlier post.  This came in handy last year for National Parks on the Air activations.  When I used paper logs for activations, FLE gave me a fast way to enter the QSO data and generate an ADIF file.

SKCC Logger.  I use AC2C’s SKCC Logger software to log all of my Straight Key Century Club contacts.  This software does automatic lookups from the SKCC member database when you enter a callsign.  It also helps keep track of award levels and generates award applications.  From SKCC Logger, I generate an ADIF file for further editing and importing into ACLog.

fldigi.  Every now and then I get on a digital mode kick.  Initially, I use fldigi’s internal log and export an ADIF file.  I haven’t worked JT65 or JT9 in a while but, when I do, I export an ADIF file from the WSJT-X software.

HamLog.  When I’m away camping for a few days, I use HamLog on Android cellphone to log my contacts.  If I have a cell connection, I can do QRZ.com lookups while logging a contact.  I export an ADIF file when I get home.  After, editing the ADIF and successfully importing it into ACLog, I go back to HamLog and clear out the log file so I’m ready for the next trip.

Contest Loggers.  When I use a specialized contest logging program for a contest… Well, you know the drill.  I export an ADIF file, edit in my custom fields, and ingest it into ACLog.

So, that’s it in a nutshell.  It probably sounds complicated but it has all become second nature to me.  I’m not suggesting that you do the same but, perhaps, some of the utilities and techniques will be useful to you.

I hope to see you somewhere down the log!

72, Craig WB3GCK

Ham-iversary

For a variety of reasons, the past week has been a slow one for me, radio-wise.  However, I did notice on my calendar this morning that today is the 42nd anniversary of my first ham radio license.  Wow!  Where has the time gone?

Forty-two years ago, I had finished up my 4-year enlistment as a Navy Radioman and had just started school studying electronics.  I had plans to get my ham license, so I began to blow the dust off of my rusty CW fist.  Although the Navy trained me in Morse code, I never really had many opportunities to use it.  Also, I had never copied code without a typewriter (or “mill” as we called them in the Navy) so I had to learn how to copy CW with pencil and paper.

Radio gang aboard the USS LaMoure County (LST-1194) in 1974. I’m standing in the back, second from the right (with my eyes closed).
Radio gang aboard the USS LaMoure County (LST-1194) in 1974. I’m standing in the back, second from the right (with my eyes closed).

Once my code was back up to snuff, I contacted a local ham, Bob Rothrock K3MAZ (SK).  Years earlier, he restored an old console radio that my grandmother had given me.  Bob was the only ham I knew at the time and he graciously administered my Novice exam and helped Elmer me along when I had questions.

After receiving the callsign, WN3YSV, it took several months to put a station together and get on the air.  I found a used Heathkit DX-60 transmitter and paired it up with a Realistic DX-60B shortwave receiver I already had.  Anxious to get on the air, I quickly threw together a low dipole for 15 meters.  I picked 15 meters only because the dipole would fit easily across the backyard.

When I finally got on the air, I nervously called CQ a few times and was answered by K3RDT.  I was excited to hear someone calling me and I’m sure my sending reflected my nervousness.  I had never had a conversational CW exchange before.  As it turns out, Pete was only about a mile away from.  He helped other novices get on the air and seemed happy to be my first contact.

A few days after that shaky QSO, I received my first QSL card.  On the card Pete questioned my choice of 15 meters and encouraged me to figure  some way to get on 40 meters.  Of course, he was right.  I eventually rigged up a 40-meter dipole and ran across the roof of the house and across the backyard.  Although I made some nice contacts on 15 meters, the 40-meter novice band was where the action was for me.  I also became interested in QRP early on.  I built a little one-watt transmitter during that time and made a few contacts with it.

QSL card from my first ham radio contact with K3RDT.
QSL card from my first ham radio contact with K3RDT. It was 599 both ways, since we were only about a mile apart.

After a little over a year of operating, I moved away to start a new job.  My ham radio gear got packed away and I focused on my career and raising a family.  It would be another 15 years before I got back on the air with my current callsign.  Ham radio was definitely better the second time around.

Even after all these years, the thrill has never subsided.  This radio stuff is still like magic to me.

73, Craig WB3GCK

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Yet Another QRP Blog…

Craig WB3GCKYep.  That’s right.  After maintaining my static website for many years, I decided to start a blog.  While my existing website gets a fair amount of traffic, it’s just too cumbersome to add new content.  So, most of my new content will be posted to this blog.

The old website will stay on the air but will see fewer and fewer updates (not that I have been making many new updates to begin with).  A few items from the old website will probably find their way over here.

So, I hope you find something that interests you here.

73/72, Craig WB3GCK