During my last POTA activation, the eyelet at the top of my trusty 20-foot Black Widow telescopic pole snapped off. This pole has served me well for over 25 years, so I can’t blame the pole. The Black Widow poles are still available from the manufacturer, so I could have just bought a new one. But hey, what fun would that be?
After staring blankly at the broken pole for a while, I rummaged through my stash of parts and came up with an easy fix. I found a small ring terminal that fit snugly over the top of the pole, so I just glued it on using some Loctite outdoor adhesive. In keeping with my usual practice, I added a small key ring (split ring) to the eyelet replacement. (For more on the rationale for the split ring, check out this post.)
Well, that was easy enough. Hopefully, this silly little hack will squeeze 25 more years of use left in this old pole. It probably won’t, but a guy can dream, right?
Over the years I have accumulated a stash of the bags that Crown Royal whiskey comes in. I don’t drink much hard liquor myself, but I have a relative who enjoys a nip now and then. She knows I have a thing for bags and containers, so she passes them along to me. I graciously accept them, figuring someday I’ll find a good use for them.
When I take my Penntek TR-35 on the road, I use a repurposed insulated lunch box to carry the radio, an Elecraft T1 tuner, along with a variety of accessories. Pending a better solution to protect the TR-35 from bouncing around, I wrap some bubble wrap around it before placing it in the box. Decidedly low-tech, but effective.
The lunch box works great, but it’s a little bulky for my sling pack. So, for hiking, I usually pack the TR-35 loose in the pack, with a rubber band around the bubble wrap.
I found that a Crown Royal bag provides a more elegant solution for packing the TR-35 (or other small QRP rig). I just wrap the bubble wrap around the radio and place it in the bag. There’s no longer a need for the rubber band. Plus, there’s enough room in the bag to accommodate the T1 tuner.
These bags don’t offer any real protection from the weather, but they look cool. My collection of bags includes a variety of colors, so I can change them to match my mood (just kidding—let’s not get carried away here).
So, there’s a crazy little hack for you to ponder. If you’re a Crown Royal drinker, save the bags. Your radio just might fit in there.
My (overly) fastidious approach to logging my ham radio contacts has been well-documented. Since I upload all of my contacts to the Logbook of the World (LoTW), I like to reflect my locations accurately in the TQSL software. When you do most of your operating while portable, that can add up to a lot of locations to deal with. I’ll show you my approach to dealing with locations in TQSL.
How It Started
As best I can recall, I started using LoTW about six or seven years ago. I started creating new locations in TQSL for every place I operated away from home. So, there were lots of campgrounds that my (far) better half and I frequented, along with an assortment of parks and other places my radio has been to. Then, along came National Parks on the Air, followed by Parks on the Air. Before I knew it, I was scrolling through a long list of locations to find the one I wanted for an upload to LoTW.
One approach to paring down the list, I suppose, would be to go in and delete the one-off locations I’m not likely to visit again. That, however, conflicts with my inherent packrat nature. (That also explains the boxes of assorted leftover screws I have in the basement.)
One thing I noticed is that many locations in my list shared the same attributes, e.g.: state, county, grid square, etc. For example, all the parks in northern Delaware I activated recently are all in the same county and grid square. (Fun fact: Delaware only has three counties.) Based on this observation, I came up with an approach to tame my locations list and make it easier to scan the list to find a particular location.
My Location Naming Convention
I ended up deleting most of my locations is TQSL and created some new ones using the following naming convention:
The STATE is just the standard two-character abbreviation. The GRID is the four-character grid square. Here are some examples from my locations list:
TQSL automatically stores the locations alphabetically, so it’s easy to scroll through the list to find the location I’m looking for. I kept one or two of specifically named locations for frequently used places like “Home.”
While this works for my situation here in the States, operations in other countries would likely need some tailoring. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. Also, if you have certificates for more than one callsign, you’ll need to account for that.
Where Am I, Anyway?
To use this approach, I need to know what county and grid square I’m in. There are a couple of resources I use to do that. Before I get on the air from a portable location, I use these resources on my Android phone:
What County am I In. When I access this website from my cell phone, it shows the county I’m in, along with the zip code, address, and coordinates.
Easy QTH Locator. When you launch this app, it uses your phone’s location services to show your grid square, along with your coordinates and elevation.
Once I have determined the county and grid square I’m in, I jot this information down in my notebook or take screenshots from the apps on my phone.
These are the resources I use, but a web search will yield lots of similar tools you can use. I should also note that I have no financial interest in these apps.
This could very well be another case of over-thinking on my part. Regardless, I’ve been using this approach for a while now, and it has been working out for me. I’d be interested in hearing your method of managing portable locations for LoTW.
Oh, and before I forget… Remember to make regular backups of your TQSL locations, certificates, and preferences. Someday you’ll be glad you did.
Nothing can bring a portable radio outing to a screeching halt faster than forgetting to pack a critical item—an adapter, a cable, or heaven forbid, a radio. Been there, done that. My solution is a detailed checklist for such occasions.
At some point in my life, I became an obsessive checklist maker. Back when I was still working for a living, I relied heavily on checklists for my daily to-do list, things I needed to prepare for meetings, and the like. I naturally carried that habit over into my ham radio hobby.
Ham Radio Checklists
I keep a variety of checklists handy for different types of operating. A few of my standard checklists are:
Stationary-mobile operating from my truck
Operating from the camper
I also keep some checklists for some special events:
Our annual summer vacation
For those one-off, ad hoc events, I sit down in advance to prepare a special checklist of things I need to take.
I know all this sounds like a no-brainer, but I wasn’t blessed with the greatest of memories. When I try to take a shortcut around this process, the risk of forgetting an important item goes way up.
Preparing the Checklist
When developing a checklist, I do a mental walk-through of my setup in the field. I simply try to visualize setting up and make a detailed list of the things I’ll need. This method works for simple setups. For more complex set-ups, I sketch it out on paper and make my checklist from that.
An even better approach is to assemble the equipment at home. Then you can do a detailed inventory of your equipment to form your checklist.
When I prepare a checklist, I first list out the containers (backpack, box, bag, etc.) that I’ll be using to carry the equipment. Next, I list out everything that needs to be in those containers. I indent these items on the checklist below the container.
As items are packed in a container, I check them off. Then, as the containers are loaded into my truck, they are checked off.
I also keep a list of things I need to do before the event. I call this my pre-flight checklist. I use this list to make sure batteries are charged, my truck’s GPS is programmed, and the like.
For years, I created my lists using a word processor. When it was time to pack, I just printed them out. That works fine, but I now use a paperless method.
I now use an application called Evernote to keep my checklists. My checklists are stored in the cloud, so I can access them from any of my computers and even my cellphone. I can check off items on my phone as I’m packing. After the event, I just go in and un-check the items, and the checklist is ready to go for the next outing.
You can get a basic Evernote account for free. There are paid options for folks (like me) who need additional capabilities and features.
Some “Pro Tips”
Here are a few lessons I’ve learned over the years:
Don’t be too quick to check off an item. If you check off an item before it is physically in the container or loaded into your vehicle, you’ll eventually run into problems. Don’t ask me how I know this; just trust me on this one.
After an event, take a few minutes to update your checklist, if needed. Was there something you wish you had brought or should have left at home? Some of my frequently-used checklists have been evolving for decades.
So there you have it. I know this is a somewhat mundane topic, but checklists have saved my bacon on several occasions.
You have probably seen Amazing GOOP® in your local hardware store. This product with the funny-sounding name has been around for decades. I’ve been using it for ham radio applications for the past 25 years or so.
I recently did some extensive research on Amazing GOOP. (Full disclosure: OK. I lied. My “extensive research” merely consisted of a quick Google search and reading a Wikipedia article.) Back in 1972, a senior executive in the aerospace industry created a product called “Shoe GOO®.” Shoe GOO was intended to repair rubber-soled shoes. In fact, I first used it many years ago to repair a pair of rubber fishing waders. The original Shoe GOO is still produced by Eclectic Products. They also produce a wide variety of waterproof, flexible adhesives for a host of applications and environments. The Amazing GOOP® product line is what I’ve been using for ham radio applications.
Here are some of the uses I’ve found for it:
Sealing portable antenna connections. This was my original use for Amazing GOOP. After soldering the connections between the feedline and dipole elements, I seal them up with Amazing GOOP. I’ve never had any corrosion problems like you can run into with RTV.
Wire end loops. Instead of end insulators for my portable wire antennas, I just form small loops. I twist the wire to form a loop and use Amazing GOOP to hold the wire twists in place. (This works very well for my lightweight portable wire antennas but I would use end insulators for permanent antennas.)
Powerpole® connectors. I’m a “belt and suspenders” kind of guy. So, I crimp and solder my Powerpole connectors. After I assemble and test them, I apply some Amazing GOOP where the wires enter the connector housing. This provides strain relief and makes them very rugged. I also place a dab of GOOP on both ends of the roll pin. This keeps them from popping out in the field.
Miniature audio connectors. I’m hard on the little 1/8″ audio plugs I use on my CW keys. So, after soldering and testing them, I put some GOOP on the connections before screwing on the plastic housing. Then, I put some GOOP on the wires where they enter the connector to add strain relief. I also apply GOOP to spade/ring lugs after they are crimped and soldered.
My CW Clipboard. I used GOOP to attach the steel washers to the clipboards I use in the field. The washers are how I attach the magnetic bases of my portable paddles and straight key to the clipboard.
My rainspout antenna. I use a liberal amount of GOOP to seal the connection to my trusty rainspout antenna. GOOP holds up well to the continuous exposure to the elements.
Hopefully, the pictures will clarify my descriptions.
If I can find it, I use one of the GOOP varieties intended for outdoor use for my rainspout and portable wire antennas. Right now, I’m using Amazing GOOP Max. Regular old household variety of Amazing GOOP is fine for most uses, though. For all applications, I like to let the GOOP cure overnight before use.
A few disclaimers are in order:
This stuff is permanent. Be sure whatever you’re using it on works before sealing it up with GOOP.
This stuff works for me, as described. I don’t know what you’re using it for or how you’re using it, so your results may vary.
I have absolutely no financial interests in this product. I’m just a satisfied consumer.
Here’s yet another quick little hack. I raided my junk box to cobble together a ground mount for my portable vertical. While this solved a couple of specific issues I had, it might only be of interest to a few of you folks out there.
I often support my 19-foot vertical with one of those inexpensive fishing poles from eBay. (I paid around $10 USD for my 7.2M pole.) I had been using a simple method for ground mounting. I shove a screwdriver in the ground, take the bottom cap off of the pole, and place the pole over the screwdriver. Voila!
While the screwdriver technique is a useful way to support my vertical, there are two issues with it. First, the screwdriver method places the bottom of the pole in direct contact with the dirt. This can gunk up the threads on the bottom of the pole. (Ask me how I know.) Next, since my homebrew 19-foot vertical takes up the entire length of the pole, the matchbox ends up too close to the ground for my liking. I made a simple little gizmo that addresses both of these issues.
From some scraps and junk I had on hand, I used the following:
Duct tape (optional, for a better fit between the 1/2-inch PVC and the bottom of the pole)
A dab of Lock-Tite thread locker
[Note: The PVC pipe I used works with the particular pole I use. If the bottom of your pole has a different inside diameter, you might need to use a different size pipe.]
I joined the two pieces of PVC pipe together with the PVC reducer. Then I glued the two end caps together, back-to-back. Next, I drilled a 1/4-inch hole through the center of the two end caps. I fastened the stainless steel rod with two nuts and a lock washer. I also used a dab of thread locker for good measure. I had to do some sanding on the 3/4-inch pipe to allow the end caps to slide on and off easier. At this point, you might want to put a layer or two of duct tape on the 1/2-inch pipe for a snug fit inside the pole.
In the field, I place the end cap assembly on the 3/4-inch pipe and shove the rod into the ground. The pole goes over the 1/2-inch PVC pipe, of course. This places the bottom of the pole about 8 inches above the ground. With lightweight poles, guying is unnecessary. For travel, I flip the end cap assembly around so that the bolt stores inside the pipe. This prevents poking holes in my backpack or bicycle pannier bags.
The threads on the end of the stainless steel rod pick up some dirt in use. It’s not a major problem but I might cut the rod off just above the threads. I haven’t decided yet.
That’s all there is to it. I’m hoping the accompanying pictures clarify how I built it.
This is another one of those little hacks that takes longer to describe than to build. Some time ago, I stumbled on a clever idea online that has been useful in my ham radio activities.
I used to use ball bungee fasteners in a variety of sizes as temporary fasteners. While they are handy, they have limitations for my uses. On occasion, I found that the sizes I had available were either too small or too large for the task at hand.
A year or two back, I found a great video on the MOD YouTube Channel. The video described how to make these simple, adjustable cable ties. I made up a few and found them handy for several ham-related applications.
These little devices have a multitude of uses but my main use is for antennas in the field. I use them to fasten a BALUN or UNUN to a telescopic pole for portable verticals.
I also found they are also handy for lashing odd items to the MOLLE loops on my backpack. In a recent post, I showed how I use them to secure a 19-foot telescopic pole to my sling pack.
Of course, they make great cable ties. Their ability to adjust allows them to fit a wide variety of cables.
I use 4mm diameter shock cord most often to make these. For some smaller, light-duty applications, I have used a thinner 2.5mm shock cord. I have found that the cord locks seem to hold better with the larger 4mm shock cord.
Construction is super simple.
Cut the shock cord to the desired length. Be sure to singe the cut ends with a lighter to prevent fraying.
Put the two ends through the holes in the cord lock.
Holding the two ends together, tie a simple overhand knot and snug it down.
To use them, place the bungee around whatever you need to fasten. Place the loop end over the cord lock to hold it. Press the button on the cord lock and pull the ends to cinch it down.
That’s all there is to it. In the time it took to write and edit this post, I could have made a ton of these things. It’s not an Earth-shattering thing but sometimes it doesn’t take much to amuse me.
I’ve seen a lot of discussion on the Internet lately about the FT-817’s less-than-robust DC power connector. Its miniature coaxial power connector has long been recognized as a failure waiting to happen. I thought I’d chime in with my crude, little hack.
Over the years, users have come up with a variety of ways of dealing with the FT-817’s power connector. If you’re brave enough, you can just hard-wire the power cord directly to the FT-817’s main circuit board and eliminate the connector altogether. You can also buy a really slick adapter that gives you an Anderson Powerpole connector on your FT-817.
When I bought my FT-817 almost 15 years ago, I was immediately leary of the little 4.0 x 1.7 mm power connector; there was no way it was going to hold up in the field. I didn’t know of any commercial options at the time, so I raided my junk box to come up with a solution, albeit a crude one.
I merely attached a small right angle lug to the FT-817’s ground screw. Then, I used a couple of small nylon cable ties to secure the power cable to the lug and provide some strain relief. I installed Powerpole connectors on the other end of the cable. It’s not pretty but it served the purpose.
Although my FT-817 doesn’t see as much field use as it used to, my stupid-simple hack is still going strong after 15 years. While this approach doesn’t eliminate the FT-817’s little DC connector, it has (so far) survived many years of portable use in the field.
When operating in the field, I often like to alternate between a straight key for SKCC contacts and paddles for everything else. I found a quick and easy way to do this, courtesy of an excellent article by Rich AG6QR.
In the past, I would sometimes run an external keyer and connect a straight key in parallel with the keyer’s output. I have often used this as a way to use both computer keying and paddles during Field Day. I have also resorted to putting the CW KEY1 jack into the straight key mode and turning my Palm Mini paddles on their side to simulate a straight key. I could have used the Elecraft paddles designed for the KX3 but that arrangement isn’t very comfortable for me.
I did some searching and found a neat little adapter on the Pignology website. Unfortunately, at the current time, they aren’t accepting orders. A little more searching produced AG6QR ‘s article, which provided a perfectly workable solution. Best of all, I had everything I needed in my junk box.
Inspired by Rich’s article, I assembled a two-pin, female header connector (with standard 0.1-inch spacing) by crimping on a short length of two-conductor wire. On the other end, I soldered on an in-line 1/8-inch stereo jack. (I connected to the tip and sleeve terminals, leaving the ring terminal open.)
After setting the CW KEY2 jack to the “HAND” setting, I connected my header connector to the two right-most pins on the front connector and a straight key to the stereo jack. Voila! It worked just fine. As is my usual practice, I used a little Goop sealant/adhesive to add a little extra strain relief and make the connectors more rugged for field use.
So until Pignology reopens, I have a great (cheap) solution for simultaneously connecting a straight key and paddles. Be sure to check out AG6QR’s page for a more detailed description (and better photography).
Here’s another quick hack that took longer to write up than to actually build. I recently built a portable vertical antenna using some #26 Stealth Wire. I needed some sort of end insulator that would facilitate pruning the wire to resonance. Here’s my quick and dirty solution.
Using scissors, I cut a piece of plastic from a used up gift card I had in my wallet. The piece I cut is about 1 inch by 0.5 inches. Then, I drilled 3 holes in it. Two of the holes were just slightly larger than the #26 Stealth Wire (The Wireman Product #534). These holes hold the wire in place. I drilled a larger hole for attaching to a light line or, in my case, a small clip at the top of my telescopic pole. I also rounded off the corners a bit.
So far, this is working out well for my portable vertical antenna. If I was using heavier gauge wire, I would definitely use something more substantial than the gift card. I also wouldn’t use it for a permanent installation. But for an ultralight antenna that is only used for portable excursions, it’s perfect.
If I ever need to replace it, I have enough of the original gift card left to make a bunch more!