K1EL WKmini Morse Interface

I haven’t bought any new ham radio toys lately, so I decided to upgrade the homebrew passive CW interface I use for contesting. I had been looking at the K1EL WKmini USB keyer for a while. I recently bought one, and it fit my needs exactly.

I’m not a big contester, but for Field Day, Winter Field Day, and some POTA activations, I key the radio using macros in the logging software. For years, I used a passive interface built into a DB-9 connector, along with a USB-to-RS-232 adapter. The interface consists of a resistor and a 2N2222 transistor. It served me well, but occasionally, there were some hiccups. With this simple interface, the logging software on the laptop is doing all the CW work. Once in a while, I noticed some timing issues in the code sent.

The WKmini is based on the WinKeyer 3 chip and designed for use with contesting logging software. The WKmini takes on the work of generating the CW, so it eliminates those timing issues. The logging software sends commands and data to the keyer, and the keyer does the rest.

The other nice feature is the paddle input. This feature allows me to instantly send CW manually when needed. I was able to do this in my previous setup, but it was a bit more complicated. The WKmini keyer is a more simple, elegant approach. Its small form factor makes it ideal for portable operating.

The WKmini Morse Interface from K1EL Systems. This compact device measures 2.25" W by 1.75" D by .5" H.
The WKmini Morse Interface from K1EL Systems. This compact device measures 2.25″ W by 1.75″ D by .5″ H.

The WKmini was incredibly easy to set up. I connected the keyer to my laptop, and Windows immediately recognized it. I used the free K1EL WKscan utility to determine which COM port the keyer was using. I connected the keyer to my KX3 using a stereo patch cable with 1/8-inch connectors. Using the K1EL WK3demo utility, I was successful in keying up the radio and sending some code. 

The last thing I needed to do was to configure my N3FJP logging programs to use the WKmini instead of the old passive interface. The WKmini doesn’t have any external controls; the logging software provides the necessary settings. There is a long list of software that supports WinKey keyers, including the N3FJP suite of software. The User Manual covers the N3FJP software, which was helpful. So, with a few mouse clicks, I was in business. All of this testing and setup took less than 15 minutes.

Like other K1EL keyer products I own, the WKmini is a solid performer. I’m hoping to give this little gem a workout during Winter Field Day later this month. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

Cold Moon Polar Bear Outing

I have a long-standing tradition of operating portable on New Year’s Day. I opted out this year due to a forecast of rain and the possibility of freezing rain. Fortunately, my delayed first outing of the year aligned with a Polar Bear Moonlight Madness Event. 

The Polar Bear QRPers tend to get on the air on the Saturday closest to a full moon. The full moon that occurred on December 30th is known as the Cold Moon

I headed out to my daughter’s property near Birdsboro, Pennsylvania, and set up in my usual spot on top of a hill. Today I went with a 50-foot wire configured as a sloper. I attached the far end of the wire to the top of my 28-foot Jackite pole and ran a 25-foot counterpoise wire off into the brush. I set up my KX3 on a small table and set to work looking for some of my fellow Polar Bears. 

My set-up for the January 2021 Polar Bear Moonlight Madness Event (PBMME).
My set-up for the January 2021 Polar Bear Moonlight Madness Event (PBMME).

As soon as I fired up the KX3 on 40M, I heard K3Y/2, one of the SKCC on-air event stations operating during January. I gave him a quick call and added him to my log. 

I moved down to the 40M QRP watering hole and started calling CQ. Not long after spotting myself on QRPSpots, I received a call from VE3WMB. After chatting with Michael for a bit, I received a call from another Polar Bear, Eric VA3AMX. Nice! Back-to-back Polar Bears!

My fellow Boschveldt QRP member, WA8YIH, wanted me to let him know when I was on the air. I fired off a text message to Ron, and a little while later, we had a QSO. 

This location on top of a hill is ideal for radio; it has good elevation and no RF noise. The downside, though, is that it tends to get windy up there. My CW sending hand was getting stiff from the cold, so I made a few more contacts before packing up. I had a chat with an Ohio station, worked a POTA activator in Indiana, and ended up working K3Y/8 in Michigan. 

Despite the cold wind, it was a fun outing. In particular, I was happy to log two of my fellow Polar Bears up in Canada. I have to admit it sure felt good to get back in the truck out of the wind. 

I’m hoping 2021 turns out to be a better year than the one we just went through. Stay well, my friends.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Post-Christmas Outing

After the hustle and bustle of Christmas, I took some time for what could be my last portable outing of the year. It was a cold and windy day, but I had fun.

I went to one of my usual haunts, Upper Schuylkill Valley Park, here in southeastern Pennsylvania. I typically operate from the parking lot overlooking the river, but that section of the park was closed due to recent flooding. Instead, I opted for a parking lot next to a little zoo. One of the zoo’s residents, a large goat, kept me company during my visit.

My operating location overlooked a small zoo. This guy didn't seem to mind the cold weather at all.
My operating location overlooked a small zoo. This guy didn’t seem to mind the cold weather at all.

The temperature was 29F (-1.7C) with a stiff wind, so I operated from my truck. As usual, I used my KX3 and 19-foot vertical.

I made a half-dozen contacts, starting with a two-way QRP chat with VE3KZ. Bob’s 5-watt signal was a solid 599. In addition to Bob, I worked made three other SKCC contacts. For good measure, I also worked two POTA activators.

My operating location at Upper Schuylkill Valley Park.
My operating location at Upper Schuylkill Valley Park.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to get out again before the end of the year, but I always try to get out on New Year’s Day. I like to start the year off with some Straight Key Night (SKN) contacts.

I hope you are all having a wonderful holiday season. Stay well, my friends.

73, Craig WB3GCK

WES at Black Rock Sanctuary

Today I headed out to Black Rock Sanctuary, one of my favorite winter-time operating locations. My primary objective was to make some contacts in the SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES). I was also curious to see if I could hear any ARRL 10M Contest stations.

When I arrived, there was a thick fog blanketing the park; I could feel the moisture hanging in the air. I went with my usual set up, my KX3 and 19-foot vertical, and was on the air in a few minutes.

The WB3GCK QRP-Mobile at Black Rock Sanctuary. You can see some fog over the hills in the background.
The WB3GCK QRP-Mobile at Black Rock Sanctuary. You can see some fog over the hills in the background.

I found lots of SKCC activity on the bands. 40M was wall-to-wall, and there was a fair amount of stations on 20M, as well. I ended up with 18 SKCC stations in my log, including F6HKA. Bert is always good at hearing QRP stations. I also worked a station using KS1KCC, the SKCC club callsign.

When I tuned around 10M, I didn’t hear much. I hadn’t used the 19-vertical on 10M before, and I found that the KX3’s internal tuner could only get the SWR down to 2:1. I suspect that the antenna is not super efficient on that band. Nonetheless, I did work a couple of local stations operating in the contest.

I made a few more SKCC contacts and worked a POTA station in Kansas before packing up. As I was taking down the antenna, the fog had dissipated, and the sun had come out. Isn’t that always the way?

73, Craig WB3GCK

Polar Bear Moonlight Madness – December 2020

The Polar Bear QRP group started scheduling Polar Bear Moonlight Madness Events (PBMME) for the Winter, so I went out to operate for a couple of hours today to see if I could find any of my fellow Polar Bears on the air.

The weather has been a little sketchy; a nor’easter came up the coast overnight bringing some heavy precipitation. Fortunately, my area is far enough inland that we escaped the heaviest weather. It was only a rain event that tapered off this morning. However, with the soggy ground and the predicted high winds for today, I decided to wimp out and operate from the truck.

I drove over to nearby Upper Schuylkill Valley Park, one of my favorite operating locations during the Winter. Mine was the only vehicle in the parking lot today. I used my trusty KX3 and went with my usual 19-foot vertical, mounted on my truck.

My operating location for the Polar Bear Moonlight Madness Event on a dreary afternoon. My truck was the only vehicle in the parking lot.
My operating location for the Polar Bear Moonlight Madness Event on a dreary afternoon. My truck was the only vehicle in the parking lot.

I spotted myself on the QRPSpots and the Polar Bear QRP Ops mailing and started calling CQ on 40M. After one or two calls, W3FSA gave a holler from Maine. John and I chatted for a while, and I went back to CQing. 

I wasn’t having much luck, so I started chasing some POTA activators. I ended up with 8 POTA stations in my log, including fellow Polar Bear, VE2JCW. Jean was doing a joint POTA/PBMME operation, and I managed to find him on 30M. 

I switched over to my straight key and finished up with 2 SKCC contacts. All in all, I logged 11 contacts during my 2 hours of operating. 

Although it was a dreary, windy day, it was a fun day for radio. Thanks to fellow Polar Bear VE2JCW for allowing me to bag a bear and avoid getting skunked. 

72, Craig WB3GCK

Back to the Field

Things are still busy around here, so I haven’t had much time for ham radio lately. I did, however, manage to squeeze in a short outing this afternoon.

I planned to head out to my daughter’s property and play around with an antenna I built a few months ago. As I was loading my equipment into my truck, I discovered my antenna had gone missing. After a brief but frantic search, I gave up. In the interest of time, I ended up taking my Alexloop antenna instead. (Note to self: The shack is seriously overdue for some straightening up.)

My set up with my Alexloop
My set up with my Alexloop

I set up at my usual spot atop a hill and tuned up the loop on 40M. I heard KC5F doing a POTA activation in South Carolina and quickly logged a contact with him. Further down the band, I heard Stan WB2LQF in New York and gave him a call. I’ve worked Stan a few times before; like me, he is a former Navy Radioman.

While I was chatting with Stan, the wind started gusting and almost blew the Alexloop over. I finished the QSO with one hand on the key and the other hanging on to the tripod. I took a few minutes to rig up a tent stake and a bungee cord to keep the antenna steady.

I had to rig up a tent stake and bungee cord to keep my antenna from blowing over.
I had to rig up a tent stake and bungee cord to keep my antenna from blowing over.

I moved up to 30M and called CQ near the SKCC watering hole. I immediately received an ear-splitting call from K1NIE in Ohio. Dick was using an attic dipole and was booming into Pennsylvania. I chatted with Dick for a while before changing bands.

The 20M band was full of contesters, so I gave 17M a try instead. It only took a couple of CQs to get an answer from WBØAUQ in Arkansas. By the time I finished with Bob, my fingers were starting to get stiff from the cold, and it was time to pack up.

It was great to get out, even just for an hour or so. Now, I need to find that missing antenna.

73, Craig WB3GCK

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.


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