Friday, November 15, 2019

UPDATE - FA-VA5 Vector Antenna Analyzer

On October 23, 2019, I received the DG5MK FA-VA5 Vector Antenna Analyzer from SDR-Kits. I previously posted on this Blog my search for such a product - CLICK HERE - to see that post. My order was very well packed and included a BEAUTIFUL 40-page manual which is full of color photos.  The manual can be downloaded as a PDF from this link: https://www.box73.de/file_dl/bausaetze/BX-245_FA-VA5_Manual_EN_201908_w.pdf  The quality of the kit is top-notch and after checking the parts list, all components had been supplied.

I began the construction of the Analyzer which turned out not to be very difficult.  The hardest thing was to properly position the USB socket and solder it with a mica insulator between it and the circuit board.  There are 16 pads that need to be soldered so it's a bit tedious.  You can see that USB Socket on the left.  Once that is done, you need to screw the motherboard into the housing's lower shell with four M3 screws.  Here is where I ran into a problem.

USB Socket
I was only able to screw in three of the four M3 screws and those only with difficulty.  The holes in the motherboard and the fixed nuts in the lower housing just did not line up well enough.  The holes in the motherboard were just exactly the size needed for the M3 screw with no "play" to allow all four screws to be inserted.  I decided the simplest way to fix this was to drill four larger holes in the motherboard.

I measured the hole size as 3.36 mm which is 0.13228346 inches or ~17/128 of an inch.  I used a 5/32" drill which is 0.15625 inches to slightly drill out the four holes.  This provided just enough "play" to allow the motherboard to be screwed to the lower housing.

Inside Case View
The building instructions are quite detailed and I had no problem following them.  There is a 20-pin socket strip that needs to be soldered along with two 3-pin sockets and all of them must be elevated exactly 7 mm from the motherboard.  This is easily accomplished with the supplied cardboard strips.  See the image at the left.  A small tipped soldering iron needs to be used to prevent any solder bridges.

Three Videos have been produced by Joe Fellner - OE5JFE showing what is involved in Assembling, Operating the FA-VA5 either as standalone Instrument or when connected to a Personal Computer via USB. 

Video Part 1:  Assembling the FA-VA5 Antenna Analyzer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m67hDfm0XOE

Video Part 2:   Using the FA-VA5 - how to do a Firmware update and perform Master SOL Calibration on a the FA-VA5:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ad9gjQutxCw

Video Part 3:  Connecting the FA-VA5 Antenna Analyzer to a PC and how to use with the DG8SAQ Vector Network Analyzer Application: https://youtu.be/FnfoTX5_DBo
Socket Strips Spaced 7 mm

It took me 4 hours, 45 minutes to complete the build because of the issue with needing to drill out the holes in the motherboard and my need to be super careful with the soldering.  Once I had the unit built, the first thing to perform was a functional test.  This went well so I completed installing the unit in the case. 

However, when I tried to connect it to the computer - problems ensued.  The USB connector on the analyzer turns out to be a "USB 2.0 Mini-B 5-pin" connector.  That is not a common connector that appeared in my USB cable drawer.  But I did find a short (9-inch) USB cable with the proper connector and connected the unit to the computer.  Connecting the unit to the computer with this cable cause the analyzer to go into USB mode but no COM port showed up on the computer.  I tried this on two different computers with no luck.  The instructions say if there is a problem, it is likely in the cable or in the USB socket mounted to the motherboard.  I searched some more and found a second 9-inch USB cable but it did not let the analyzer work either.

My next step was to take the unit apart, unplug the display, and un-solder the USB socket.  As I said before, this is soldered with 16-pads so it was difficult to remove.  I then VERY carefully re-installed the USB socket but, when I connected it to the computer, there still was no COM port.

1.75:1 SWR Problem
I thought that maybe there could be an issue with the cable so I visited Amazon to look for a longer cable.  What caught my eye was some cables were marked as being a "5-pin" cable.  Why was it described this way?  As it turns out, there are identical looking USB cables (like my two 9-inch ones) which were meant ONLY for charging.  There were no DATA wires connected.  This turned out to be the entire problem in that power from the computer was supplied to the analyzer with my short cables but no DATA was flowing to create the COM port!  I sure wish there had been a note in the manual or in one of the videos I watched to let me know that I needed a particular type of USB cable, not just one with the same connectors.  Lesson learned!

Now that I finally had a working analyzer, I proceeded to calibrate it using the SOL (Short, Open, Load) Calibration Kit I had purchased.  This took a little time but was simple enough to do.  My next step was to use the Analyzer to troubleshoot a problem with my EME array.

1.11:1 SWR with New Feedline
About a month ago my SWR suddenly jumped to 1.75:1 and the amplifier was not happy with this.  Using the analyzer I checked the complete 2x13 array and found the SWR was indeed 1.75:1 (see the image above on the left.)

I then proceeded to take the analyzer and notebook computer outside and test each antenna and phasing line individually, the power divider, and the feedline.  Everything looked good until I tested the feedline by itself and it exhibited a high SWR.  Luckily I had a run of ABR400UF cable going from the shack to the EME antenna array.  I switched to that cable and the SWR returned to 1.11:1 as you can see on the image at the right.  Click on any image here to see a larger view.

When more time is available I will see what is wrong with the other feedline and eventually get it back in service.  And, since the analyzer shows both antennas to be resonant about 0.355 MHz low, I may tweak them as well.  It's super-easy to do this with the DG5MK FA-VA5 Vector Antenna Analyzer. But, for now, this little Antenna Analyzer has completely paid for itself by getting me back on EME!

DX Cluster Client Program - CC User

Many, if not all, logging programs have the ability to connect to a PacketCluster server to obtain DX spots.  However, if you want to control the spots that are coming into your logger, you need to issue archaic DOS type commands.  VE7CC has created a program called "CC User" which resides on your computer and easily allows "mouse click" changes to the spot information which is displayed in your logger.

This software, which you install on your computer, allows you to connect to the VE7CC PacketCluster or any other cluster you want.  You then connect to the "CC User" program from your logger.  "CC User" has the advantage of being able to supply spots to other programs like contest loggers (N1MM+ for example) at the same time.  Or, if you have other computers in the house, you can connect to the "CC User" program on your main computer and save on the usage of your Internet uplink/downlink while maintaining the settings you have created for receiving spots.  Plus, there are tons of ways to filter the spots coming from "CC User".

One of the main reasons I started using the "CC User" program a few years ago was that you can tell it to "Auto Reconnect" if the link to your chosen PacketCluster fails.  And, not only can you reconnect if you get dropped, but you can also automatically pull in all the DX spots you missed.

CLICK HERE for the page describing all the features of "CC User."  It is free software.  Once on the CC User web page, scroll about 2/3 of the way down the page to find the "Installation of CC User" instructions.  Under that heading you will find the link to download the program: "Download CC User Full Version (ver 2.421)"   Clicking on this link will allow you to download a ZIP file.  Just Un-ZIP and proceed as you normally would with any program installation.

There are tons of ways to filter the spots with just a mouse click (instead of sending an archaic DOS command to the Cluster.)  For example, on the top left of this Post is a window showing how easy it is to reject spots from certain bands. On the right is a snapshot of the screen where you can filter the station sending the spots, not only by country (as by telling it you only want to see spots from the USA) but you can drill down and filter only spots from a particular STATE or PROVINCE.  Again, on the left, is a screenshot of the "Set" menu with just some of the options available available in "CC User."  Click on any image to see a larger view. 

On the right is a "Tab" in "CC User" which I use often.  The screenshot is captioned "DX Tab."  Say I'm trying to work a station that I see spotted on 40-M.  But, the most recent spot only says "UP" with no indication of how far up he is listening or, the spot does not even SAY UP, it just gives the DX station and frequency.  So, I click on the DX "Tab" of "CC User" and select "40" for the band and I can then see all the spots that have come in on 40-M in chronological order.  I can then scroll up through the spots and look for any spots with good info for me.  Check out the spots for T33C on the "DX" tab screenshot and you can see what I mean.  Using this will also help me find spots with comments giving QSL information or the fact that the DX station changed bands, etc.  Your logging program may only show the most recent spot which may not give you this info and trying to scroll back through all the spots for all bands to find any useful info is a PITA and usually unsuccessful.

DX Tab
If you are serious about getting your spots or have questions about certain PacketClusters, you can run multiple instances of "CC User" to test various Clusters and answer questions like:  Which node should you connect to? Which nodes are faster? Are you missing DX by connecting to a certain node? Does the "Get Missed Spots" really work?  Just set up multiple instances of "CC User", connect to various nodes, and compare them side-by-side.

When you setup "CC User" you need to look at the "Port Setup" screen like what is shown next on the Left.  I've marked in Red the part that deals with your connecting to "CC User" from your Logging Program.  If you are going to use Telnet to connect to your logging program you can ignore the settings for RS-232.

With the setup shown, the program is waiting for incoming connections from logging programs on port 7300. If the logging program is running on the same computer, use the local telnet loopback port (127.0.0.1 :7300). If the logging program is in a different computer, telnet to this computer's IP address at port 7300. The number of logging program connections is unlimited. To enable or disable this feature, you need to go to "Configuration>Ports/Logging Program>Logging Program Connection>Telnet" in the "CC User" program.

To enable this connection in the Logger32 logging program, Right-Click in the Telnet window of Logger32 and choose Setup | Setup remote hosts.  You should then setup a remote host to look like the screenshot shown on the right for "Telnet connection setup..."

You can see the address for connecting to VE7CC-1 is the telnet loopback port address of 127.0.0.1 and the Port is 7300.  This Port has to be the same as what you set up in "CC User."  In my setup I was already using Port 7300 so I clicked on "Use Custom Port" and entered "7100" - then that is the Port I had to use in Logger32.

This may seem like a lot of work just to set up a source for PacketCluster spots but, for me, the other benefits of the "CC User" program are well worth the effort.  I let my computer run 24/7 and "CC User" is always running.  I may shut down and later re-start Logger32 but when I do, my VE7CC-1 Cluster is always there.


Friday, October 11, 2019

FA-VA5 Vector Antenna Analyzer

FA-VA5 Vector Antenna Analyzer
For a long time I have been wanting an Antenna Analyzer that is better than my MFJ-259B which I have owned for many years.  The 259B covers 1.8 to 170 MHz and is a nice little hand-held unit to find the SWR and resonance of your antennas.  It can read SWR, return loss and reflection coefficients simultaneously.  It has two meters (one for SWR and one for Impedance) as well as a 2-line digital display.  In addition to those normal functions, I have even used mine to as a Time Domain Reflectometer to find where I had accidentally cut a feedline.  I believe I paid about $250 for this unit several years ago and feel I have received my money's worth over the years I have used it.

However, it has (for me) a major drawback.  It is NOT a graphing device meaning that you can not see a visual display of the SWR curve or other measurements.  Also, it takes 10 AA batteries and that gets expensive if you use it a lot.  I always remove the batteries after I use it so that takes a bit of time.

Components in the Kit
I was now looking for a unit that would interface to a computer and allow me to save graphical images.  I have had an N8LP LP-100 Digital Vector RF Wattmeter for many years and have used that to save graphs from the data it acquires.  I have really enjoyed being able to create those graphs and save them for later reference.  I can look back at how my antenna performed on a certain date and see if anything has changed.  However, the LP-100, as nice as it is, is not a portable unit, it is just a piece of shack equipment that is limited in where I can use it.  Also, it only covers 1.8 to 54 MHz with the one directional coupler I own so that limits its use as well.

Charlie, N8RR, purchased a SARK 110 a couple of years ago and helped me tune my 2-M EME antennas with it.  That's quite a nice little unit which operates between 0.1 and 230 MHz.  Current price for this unit is $389 and I seriously considered purchasing one for myself.  It can save and transfer measurements and graphs via its USB interface to a computer.  Just what I want.  It has an internal Li-Poly-1000 mAh battery that should run the unit for 2.5 hours but it can be charged over USB so you can extend the operating time by connecting it to a computer.  It has a 3" Color display which is 400x200 pixels but having it connected to a computer with a larger screen makes it much more useful.
Presentation Case + Adapters

In addition to the cost of the unit, you need to purchase at least an OSL (Open, Short, Load) Calibration Set plus some SMA adapters since the unit only has a female SMA connector as it's antenna connection.  $59 will get you the OSL Calibration Set, 4 SMA adapters plus a rubber case.
Suggestions for Adapter Placements

So I began researching what type of Vector Antenna Analyzers were available.  WOW!  Prices can be VERY low.  You can buy a Chinese NanoVNA for only $79.99 from Amazon!  It has a 2.8" LCD screen, built-in 400 mAh battery, and covers up to 900 MHz.  Plus it can export files to the PC.  This could be just what I need.  But, could it be too good to be true?

I began looking at the reviews on the NanoVNA and several other low-cost units and eventually came to the conclusion that these were actually NOT precision pieces of equipment.  Many reviews mentioned problems with some of these devices including those who received units that failed to work out of the box.  While the price points were super attractive, I came to my own conclusion that "you get what you pay for" and decided against going the "low-ball" route.

Turn On Look
More research and I found the DG8SAQ VNWA 3 Low Cost 1.3 GHz Vector Network Analyzer available from SDR-Kits.  I really, really liked this unit.  It is indeed a precision piece of test equipment and it would cover the 1296 MHz band which was one of the things I was thinking would be nice for future UHF work.  BUT, it is not really a "hand-held" unit, it has no display and MUST be connected to a PC to operate, it has no internal batteries, etc.  But, BOY, did I like this unit!  The software written for it is really extensive and impressive.  I spent a lot of time figuring out how I could get this unit which would run me about $565 for the DG8SAQ VNWA 3 unit, presentation case, OSL Calibration Kit, and a 165 page "Guided Measurements" book.  WOAH!  This is one SERIOUS piece of test equipment.

Dual-Band Antenna Measurement
But, while reading and viewing YouTube videos about the DG8SAQ VNWA 3, I became aware of the DG5MK FA-VA5 Vector Antenna Analyzer.  This is a truly portable analyzer AND it uses the SAME wonderful software as the DG8SAQ VNWA 3!  It only requires 2 AA batteries (which should allow it to work for up to 40 hours), and has a large display with good visibility.  The unit measures just 5.9 x 3.35 x 0.87 inches so it will fit easily in one hand.  It contains a real-time clock with capacitor backup so measurements can be time/date stamped and it has an audible buzzer alert for minimum SWR.  And you can connect it to a PC for real-time measurements on a larger screen.  Doing this gives full control of the FA-VA5 to the software (like the SARK 110) so that measurements can be made much more quickly than by using the analyzer's simple controls.

The FA-VA5's graphic display shows the complex impedance, standing wave ratio, complex reflection coefficient, capacitance and inductance.  Using the DG8SAQ VNWA software it can also be used as a Time Domain Reflectometer (TDR) to help find defects in antenna installations, measure the length of cables, and other similar applications. 

TDR Measurement
Since this is a one-port device (unlike the DG8SAQ VNWA 3 which is a 2-port device), it is limited to only measuring the S11 parameter.  S11 is a complex reflection coefficient, made up of a real and imaginary component. A lot of other values can be derived from S11 like Standing Wave Ratio (SWR) and impedance Z. Very often those values will be displayed using a special chart type, the Smith-Chart. The Smith-Chart does allow solving a lot of matching problems graphically.

The unit does only cover 10 kHz to 600 MHz so I lose the ability to use it on the 1296 band but it does add the 432 MHz band to my measuring ability.  And, this is a band the SARK-110 does not reach. But I gain a tremendous amount of accuracy as well as the ability to use it with some really great software.  And, the antenna connection port is a BNC connection.  In my experience this is MUCH easier to use than the SMA connector and can speed up the measurement process significantly by keeping me from not needing to fiddle with the SMA connection. 

It is a "Kit" which will require a bit of assembly (approximately 3 hours) but the process looks pretty straightforward.  You can CLICK HERE for a 3-minute video showing the assembling of the unit. And, no small feature, the cost is MORE than reasonable!  The basic unit can be had for about $225 including shipping.  I chose to purchase the basic unit, a "Presentation Case", a 600 MHz OSL (Open, Short, Load) Calibration Kit, 5 BNC adapters, a BNC to BNC cable and a BNC to SMA cable.  Total price was $270.72 including shipping.  Obviously, the price / performance ratio is outstanding!  It is essentially the same amount of money I paid for the MFJ-259B so many years ago and about $200 less than I would pay for a SARK 110.  AMAZING!  Click on any image in this Post to see a larger image.

So, based on the high accuracy, low-cost, portability, great software and excellent documentation for this analyzer, I decided to order the FA-VA5 from SDR-Kits. When I first decided to buy the unit it was shown as being out-of-stock due to high demand and they were taking reservations.  I made my reservation and just 2 days later received an email saying the unit was now available.  I immediately made the purchase (paid for with Pay-Pal) yesterday (10/10/2019) and today received a tracking number from Deutsche Post.  I am really looking forward to receiving this Vector Antenna Analyzer and learning to use it and the software.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Messi & Paoloni Coaxial Cable

Two years ago when first building my EME station, I purchased through GigaParts a 75-foot length of 400-UF cable with Male N-Connectors on each end which was built by ABR Industries and supplied to GigaParts.  This is cable which is apparently built for ABR Industries and is supposed to be "similar" to LMR400-UF but is actually marked as "ABR400UF" cable and NOT a Times Microwave LMR cable.  

This was to be the Receive cable from my preamp down to the shack.  It tuned out that the installed N-connectors were CRAP!  One of them was so difficult to screw on that I had to put a set of a double-female N-connector and a double-male N-connector on the shack end of the cable to allow the cable to be easily connected.

As I made more and more EME QSO's, I began to notice that quite a lot of the time I was receiving better signal reports than I was giving.  So, I tracked the QSO's where I had signal reports to see if my impression was true.

Out of 174 EME QSO's, 71.54% of the time I RECEIVED a better signal report than I gave.  That RECEIVED report was an average of 5.2 dB better than I gave.  21.14% of the time I GAVE a better report by an average of 3.0 dB.  7.32% of the time the reports were equal.  Now that I proved there was a substantial difference between signal reports received and sent, I began to suspect there was an issue with the ABR400UF cable and/or the N-connectors from ABR Industries.

Since I am now moving to an XPOL system with 2 preamps, I will need two receive coax cables.  I did not feel like using the current ABR400UF cable so I decided to look for something else.

Searching around I became aware of coaxial cable which was built in Italy by Messi & Paoloni.   They have been producing cables since 1984 and have received very good reviews.

In looking at the specifications on the M&P website, I decided to go with the "ULTRAFLEX 10" cable.  The main reason for choosing this cable is that it has a very high (Greater Than 105 dB) "screening efficiency" which is reported to reduce background noise more than other similar cables.  The shield effectiveness of the ABR400UF is Less Than 90 dB.  That's a BIG difference.  Loss per 100-feet at 144 MHz is 1.4 dB for the ULTRAFLEX 10 while the loss of ABR400UF at 150 MHz is 1.8 dB.  Not really a big difference considering I'm only using about 75-feet.

The N-connectors I chose for the M&P cables are their new generation ones with double sealing that protects even more from humidity, condensation and water.  The model is CO.N.10M-S and if you CLICK HERE, you can see the description of those connectors as well as a couple of videos showing how to install their connectors.  Also, you can click on any image on this page to see a larger version.

25m Cable as Received

Currently two 75-foot lengths of ABR400UF with N-connectors costs $213.90 and GigaParts would ship them for free.  Today I purchased two 25m (82-foot) lengths of ULTRAFLEX 10 with SOLDERED N-connectors installed direct from Messi & Paoloni for a total of $259.50 including shipping and PayPal fees.  So for an extra $45.60 I will at the very least have peace of mind and possibly MUCH better receive cables.

UPDATE: My order was placed on October 8th, it was shipped on October 10th (from Italy) and UPS says I should expect it Monday, October 14th.  Not bad at all!

2nd UPDATE: On Monday, October 14th, as expected, my package containing two 25m lengths of "ULTRAFLEX 10" cable with N-connectors factory installed was delivered by UPS.  Only 6 days after I placed the custom order and, it was shipped from Italy!  Besides the coax, M&P graciously included a couple of lens cleaning cloths with their logo on them.  NICE!  This is VERY good looking cable and I'm really excited to check it out.  Stay tuned for the results!

Monday, December 31, 2018

Moving the 2-M EME Antennas to Vertical Polarization

Horizontal Polarity for 13 Months
For the last 13 months I have operated 2-M EME with antennas that were fixed in horizontal polarization.  My two 13-element LFA InnovAntennas have been mounted "side-by-side" in a horizontal arrangement (see photo at left - click on any photo to see it larger.)  In an effort to see if I can expand the number of stations I have been able to work and maybe work a few New Ones, I decided to re-mount the antennas in Vertical Polarization.  Other EME stations I have talked with here in the U.S. tell me that they work more stations with Vertical Polarization than they do with Horizontal.  In that 13 months of operating with Horizontal Polarization, here are my 2-M EME totals as of November 26, 2018:

Antennas Are Down
   259 EME QSO's
   232 Initials (New Stations)
   185 Grids

   58 DXCC Countries Worked / 53 Confirmed

   U.S. States on 2-M
   44 Worked / 44 Confirmed
(not all via EME)

So, on 27-December-2018, with the help of my grandsons, Owen and Grant, we took down the two 13-element InnovAntenna yagis.  I then began the work of re-configuring the antennas so that they can be mounted in Vertical Polarization.

On 30-December-2018 the temperature was up to 49° F with a little sunshine so I proceeded with adapting the antennas for vertical mounting. This required removing and reinstalling the mounting bracket after rotating it 90°, doing the same for the truss mounting bracket, drilling two holes in each antenna for the truss cables to attach to the boom, and sealing the original holes in the boom.  I decided to locate the new holes for the truss wires 1-inch further away from the center of the antenna to not weaken the boom at that point.  Then, Scotch® Super 88 electrical tape was used to seal the old holes.

Cross Boom Mounting
Rotated for Vertical Mounting
Care was taken to make sure the truss cable was as far from the vertical elements as possible.  I achieved a spacing of 2-inches.  The truss cables are non-conductive but I wanted to avoid any close proximity to prevent transfer of rain/snow/ice and "critter" construction projects (spider webs.)  I also made sure that the antennas remained "in-phase" with each other (both antennas have the same side of the driven element in the same position.)  That is, the side of the driven element that is connected to the center conductor of the coax is pointing down on both antennas.  Both could have been pointing up but that's just how it worked out.  Care was also taken to make sure the mounting bracket for each antenna was positioned at the same point on both antennas. Finally, I drilled a 1/8-inch hole in the bottom rear corner of the driven element (which is constructed of tubing) to allow any condensation to drain out.

When the antennas were in horizontal polarization, the mounting brackets had the antennas sitting on top of the fiberglass cross boom.  I decided this time to allow the antennas to "hang" from the cross boom by the U-bolts when mounted in vertical polarization.  It may not make any difference but I thought it would make it easier for me to install the antennas with the nuts for the U-bolts now on the underside of the bracket.

The above work (including acquiring and replacing all tools) took four hours.  At this point all I need to do is to adjust the turnbuckles on the truss cables to bring the antenna boom into a horizontal position.  I also plan to construct two trusses for the cross boom in order to reduce the "droop" which has crept into the fiberglass cross boom.  That will be covered in my next Post.

Mounting Antenna
Adjusting Truss Turnbuckle
On Sunday morning, January 6, 2019, my grandsons, Owen and Grant, came to my QTH to help put up the antennas.  The temperature reached 50° and was partly sunny.  A very good January day.  First we mounted the antennas one at a time on a Workmate® "Portable Folding Work Support " in the vertical position.  Then, as you can see in the photo at the left, we adjusted the turnbuckles on the support truss so that the antennas were supported enough to keep the boom straight.  And added a Zip Tie to prevent the turnbuckles from loosening.

Once we had the first antenna complete, Owen and Grant installed it on the fiberglass Cross Boom.  In the photo at the right you can see them installing the second antenna on the Cross Boom.  We took care to make sure that the antennas remained "in-phase" with each other when we mounted the second antenna.

The difficult part was to tighten down the second antenna so that it remained parallel to the first antenna.  This took several tries until we all figured out how much we had to "over-compensate" when beginning to tighten the U-bolts.  Once we got that down, we quickly had the two antennas parallel.  The total time to do all of the work today was only 2 hours.  And, the thing I learned from when Tim, K8RRT, and I installed the antennas the first time in Horizontal polarization, was that having TWO people mounting the antenna makes it MUCH easier!  Also, using a small electric drill with the proper deep socket was a BIG improvement over just using a manual ratchet!

Once the antennas were installed, Owen adjusted the inclinometer so that it read the actual elevation (as measured by a digital level on the boom of one antenna.)  I was anxious at that point to raise the antennas to their final operating position until Grant pointed out that I had not connected the feedlines to the power divider!  DUH!  I'm sure glad these boys are understanding what we are doing so that they can keep old Grandpa straight!

Antennas are now Vertically Polarized
As you can see in the last photo, the left-hand antenna has just a little too much tension in the truss for the rear portion of the antenna.  When the grandsons are here later this week (when they are out of school), we will tweak that.  Also, I have completed the trusses for the fiberglass cross boom and maybe we can install them at that time.  That should (hopefully) eliminate the droop in the cross boom.

As I mentioned above, once I have installed the trusses for the cross boom, I will Post that info (with pictures) to this Blog.  Until then, I'm very anxious to try out the antennas in Vertical Polarization to see if I can work stations who I was not able to work when the antennas were Horizontally Polarized.  Moon conditions are not very favorable for the next two weeks but January 20-24 looks like some REALLY good moon conditions so you can bet I'll be in the operating seat whenever the moon is up on those days!

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Acquiring Equipment for Cross-Polarization Operation

My future plans for EME call for me to install cross-polarized antennas so that I will be able to change my antenna polarity at will.  That way I can transmit in either vertical or horizontal polarization and also receive the same way.  No longer will I be "locked out" of making a QSO because of polarity differences between my station and the station I want to work.

IQ+ Dual RX Radio
This switchable Dual-Polarity is a pretty big improvement for me.  But, there is another level of improvement beyond just being able to switch between Horizontal (H) and Vertical (V) polarization. This is call Adaptive Polarization.  It requires a good deal more hardware and software but does an amazing thing.  It combines the Receive signals from the H and V antennas, computes the vector angle of polarization and then peaks the output according to that polarity.  This completely eliminates polarity loss.

The first piece of hardware to accomplish this is the IQ+ from HB9DRI and his company, LinkRF.  This is essentially two receivers in one box with inputs for the H and V antennas.  The two receivers are "locked" together with the same Local Oscillator (LO) so that the output from each have the same amplitude and phase of the original signal.  These outputs supply the I and Q (quadrature) signals which are samples of the same signal taken 90 degrees out of phase. 

UADC4
Those I and Q signals are fed into the UADC4 (Universal Analog to Digital Converter) and then into the software.  The UADC4 is another product of LinkRF.  It replaces the PC audio cards traditionally used to interface between radios and computers.  However, the UADC4 is MUCH better than even the best PC audio card.  With the proper hardware ahead of it, the improvement can reach as much as 15 dB better performance yielding dramatic improvements in the noise floor!  (Click on images to see them larger.)

The software that does the amazing job of combining the H and V signals is called Linrad and is the creation of SM5BSZ.  Originally it was written in Linux but it is now available for Windows.  The output data stream from Linrad is sent to K1JT's Map65 software and this program provides a waterfall showing all signals in a 192 kHz passband, a WSJT type control panel for transmitting and decoding messages, plus lists of all the stations copied in the entire passband!  WHEW!

As the first step toward configuring my EME station to do all this, I have placed my order for a UADC4 and for the IQ+ revC (modified to work with the UADC4.)  I had previously pre-ordered the UADC4 some 13 months ago but it has taken this long to move the product from initial prototypes to final production.  My IQ+ and UADC4 are scheduled to be shipped about the end of January 2019.  So now I need to get the XP antennas ordered, built and installed.  Let the fun begin!

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Why You Should Backup Your Log - NOW!

Don't Put This Off - DO IT NOW!
Have you given any thought to what would happen if you were to lose your log?  Think of those THOUSANDS of QSO's and data that are contained in your log.  Do you keep track of Grid Squares, States, IOTA, Counties, names of operators worked, QSL Sent / Received status, comments about those QSO's, other notes, etc.?  What if all that information and those memories simply disappeared?  FOREVER!

Well, that happened last week to WVDXA member, Jimmy Aeiker, W8JA.  Jimmy had QSO's in his log going back to the 1960's.  Over 11,000 QSO's!  And suddenly, they were GONE!

Jimmy's computer got hit by a virus and he had it taken to a local computer repair shop to be repaired.  That shop ran an automated virus removal program to clean up the hard drive and, unfortunately, that removal program did not recognize Jimmy's logging program, Logger32, as a valid program.  It thought Logger32 was a virus and it removed the program PLUS everything in that folder.

Jimmy called me in a panic and we did a conference call with the computer technician.  I gave the tech the file names he needed to look for in order to help Jimmy recover his data.  Jimmy had Logger32 set to make sequential backups of his data every time the program was shut down so he was hopeful that the data was saved in a ZIP file. 

Monday Jimmy called to say he had the computer back and the tech had placed the files he recovered on the desktop.  Tuesday I visited Jimmy's QTH and attempted to put his logbook back together.

Simply stated I was able to load a new version of Logger32 and, using my own Logger32.ini file, get Jimmy's Logger32 back to pretty much where it should be - minus the log data.  However, after going through 35+ files left by the computer tech, ALL those ZIP files were EMPTY!  We had struck out!  NONE OF HIS LOG DATA WAS LEFT!

At this point I told Jimmy that I could recover the basic info for the QSO's he had uploaded to Logbook of the World (LoTW) but that data was limited to DATE, TIME, BAND, MODE, and CALL.  NOTHING MORE!

That meant that if I downloaded all the QSO info from Logbook of the World, Jimmy would not have any of the data he had previously recorded in his log for Grid Squares, States, IOTA, Counties, names of operators worked, QSL Sent / Received status, comments about those QSO's, other notes, etc.  That data would be all GONE FOREVER!

USB Thumb Drives Come in Various Shapes and Sizes
While Jimmy was digesting this bad news, he was trying to find SOME way to make it not be TRUE!  He suggested the fact that his log had been uploaded to Clublog but I told him that I believed Clublog stripped out all that extra data and just kept the basic 5 items.

Then, that "Light Bulb" came on above my head and I started searching Jimmy's hard drive.  Under "C:\Ham Radio\Logs\Clublog Uploads" I FOUND the last ADIF file Jimmy had uploaded to Clublog.  It was of his FULL LOG up to July 5, 2018!  Within 2 minutes I had loaded that ADIF file into Logger32 and VIOLA! NEARLY all of Jimmy's logbook was safely back in Logger32! WHEW! 

The last QSO in that ADIF file agreed with the last QSO he had uploaded to LoTW.  Any QSO's after July 5th were NOT in the ADIF file, had NOT been uploaded to LoTW, and were NOT backed up since the Logger32 daily backup ZIP files were empty.  Thus, any QSO's he had made after July 5, 2018, were LOST FOREVER!

You can't imagine the expression on Jimmy's face when he saw all that data back in his Logger32 logbook.  Heck, I was grinning wide enough to hurt my own cheeks!

This happy ending occurred simply because of an amazing stroke of LUCK!  Not, planning!  That file could have so easily been removed by the computer tech or by the virus itself.  Nothing but LUCK saved these 11,000+ QSO's worth of data!

Jimmy HAD a good plan to prevent this - in the past!  He subscribed to an online (cloud) backup service called Carbonite (https://www.carbonite.com/).  All the files on his last computer were uploaded to Carbonite daily.  BUT, when he got his new computer, he failed to enable the Carbonite backup!  Critical error!  (BTW, he NOW has the Carbonite backup back in place on his current computer!)

I told Jimmy, it is not a question of "Will my hard drive fail?"  Instead, it's a question of "WHEN will it fail?"  All hard drives will fail - that's a given!  Plan and prepare for that fact NOW!!!  Jimmy laughed and said, "That's exactly what the computer tech told me!"

So, here is my advice to you (I recommend that you do this NOW!)

Backup your log on a REGULAR basis (DAILY!)
Backup the data somewhere that is NOT on your Hard Drive!
   1.   Use a Cloud Service like Carbonite or FREE services like Dropbox (https://www.dropbox.com/) or Google Drive (https://www.google.com/drive/).
   2.   Backup the data to a USB Thumb Drive and REMOVE the drive after you store the backup - Use the "Safely Remove Hardware" icon in the System Tray to safely remove the USB Drive.
   3.   Send the log data to yourself in a web-based email program like Gmail, Hotmail, MSN, etc.

HECK - use ALL or more than one of the above!  Belt AND suspenders!
NOT a Good USB Thumb Drive!

While you are backing up the basic log data, don't forget things like the initialization (.ini) files for your logging program, your CW/RTTY/Data Macros, etc.  No need to have to "re-invent the wheel" WHEN your hard drive crashes!  And it should go without saying, any documents, photos, or other files that you would be upset to lose should be backed up at the same time.  Data on your hard drive is FRAGILE and can disappear in a heartbeat!  Last year the contractor who built my house had his hard drive crash.  It had all the financial data for his entire business.  I helped him try to recover it but in the end, it had to be sent to a firm in California and it cost him over $2,000 to recover the data!  (Yes, I had recommended he use an online backup service like Carbonite when I helped him set up the computer but he failed to follow through on that suggestion.)

It is equally important to backup your Logbook of the World Certificate, otherwise, you have to start that process all over to be able to use the LoTW system.  Click HERE for instructions on how to save your LoTW Certificate.

Jimmy KNOWS how lucky he was this time.  I am really sure it won't happen to him again!  He suggested that I write this Post so that others can avoid the problem he just faced.

As I was typing this information, I had a brief phone call from Tim, K8RRT.  He was in bed but wanted to ask me a quick question.  Before hanging up I told him about Jimmy's "near miss" at losing his log.  Tim immediately got out of bed, went to his ham shack, and backed up his log to his USB Thumb Drive.  He normally does this but I guess he realized it had been too long since he last did it and felt he could not go to sleep without doing it NOW!

You can do this backing up manually but it is best to set the backup process so that it is done AUTOMATICALLY.  That way you don't get caught by forgetting to make a backup.  Look at the cartoon at the top of this Post.  Good intentions are NOT enough!

DO NOT BE THE POSTER CHILD FOR A LOST LOG!  BACKUP YOUR DATA NOW!
HEY, I'M TALKING TO YOU! 

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

ARRL Triple Play Award Received

WOW, what a nice looking award!  (Click on any image to see it in a larger size.)  The ARRL Triple Play Award (http://www.arrl.org/triple-play) is issued for confirmation of QSOs with each of the 50 U.S. states on voice, CW, and digital modes - those confirmations MUST be recorded on LoTW.  Contacts must be made after 0000Z on January 1, 2009, to be considered for this award.

My great friend, John, W8WEJ, achieved the ARRL Triple Play Award  on March 4, 2009, and was given Award No. 191 !!!  WOW!  At that time I started to think about trying for it myself.  However, it wasn't until the W1AW/portable operations from all the U.S. States in 2014 that I began to get serious about trying to accumulate the 150 necessary LoTW confirmations.  By the end of the W1AW/ program, I had acquired most of the necessary confirmations but not enough.

This spring I checked my records and found that I needed only four more states to reach the 150 total:

Georgia - Phone and Digital
Minnesota - Digital
Washington - CW

I actually posted a note on my computer monitor with the above information but it stayed there for several months before I did anything about it.

On 26-July-2018 I got an email from N1ADM asking if I could give him a CW QSO from WV as one of the last two he needed to complete his Triple Play.  In his email he said:

"I don’t have much to offer in return, except for my gratitude. Georgia isn’t very tough to work for awards, but I am happy to work skeds with anyone who needs my grid or county."


HEY, this dude's in GEORGIA - and I need GEORGIA on Phone and Digital.  What a match!

We worked that night on all three modes and N1ADM now only needed ND on CW to complete his award and I only needed MN on Digital and WA on CW.  BTW, N1ADM scored a ND QSO only 1 hour later and received his Triple Play Award (No. 2073) the next day.

Now that I was only 2 QSO's away, I finally got busy looking for MN on Digital.  Using FT8 I called "CQ MN" on 20-M for awhile - no response, then again on 17-M - no response.  When I moved to 30-M, before I could start calling CQ, I saw WBØN calling CQ from EN34.  A quick look to QRZ and YES - he was in Minnesota!  In 2 minutes we had completed and he quickly uploaded to LoTW.  Now I only needed ONE more - Washington on CW.

I looked around the Internet and found WR7K was a station in Washington and I decided to email him.  Guy, WR7K, promptly replied with his phone number and I set a sked with him for the next evening via a follow-up email.  When the sked time came I telephoned him but got his answering machine.  I called him on the sked for 5 minutes with no response.  I then noticed on QRZ that Guy was born in 1939 so I thought he might have fallen asleep on the couch!

The next day he emailed to say he was out at the sked time and we should try the next night.  Well, a half-hour before the sked time, Guy, WR7K, called me on the phone to say 40-M sounded a little noisy at his end but we could still try if I wanted.  The sked had been set for 11:30 p.m. EDT so I was not ready and had to turn on all the equipment.  When I got on frequency, there he was calling me with his 100-watts.  BINGO!  A CW QSO with Washington was made.  I telephoned him and got the machine again so I left him a message and he phoned right back.  By the time I hung up the phone and uploaded to LoTW, his QSL was already there!  That gave me the needed 150 QSL's and I applied for the Triple Play award right then.

Many awards only require you to work a certain number of QSO's (like 100 for DXCC out of 340 countries) but the Triple Play Award requires you to work ALL of the U.S. States on three different modes.  Getting them confirmed on LoTW is usually a lot easier than getting QSL cards.  Since they are all recorded on LoTW, it's a snap to apply for the award - you do it all online!

I'm very pleased to have finally completed this award.  And, it's a VERY NICE looking award as well.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Worked All Continents Awards Received

W.A.C. stands for "Worked All Continents."  It is an award sponsored by the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU), and is issued for working and confirming all six continents. These are North America, South America, Oceania, Asia, Europe and Africa.  This award is available for hams in the U.S. through the ARRL:

http://www.arrl.org/wac

In an earlier Post to this Blog (https://w8tn.blogspot.com/2018/04/2-m-worked-all-continents-completed.html) I detailed my completion of W.A.C. on 2-M EME.  This award has now been received:

2-M (EME) W.A.C. Award

Then, with the receipt of a paper QSL on July 6, 2018, from JG1TSG (who included a Self-Addressed Envelope PLUS $2 in U.S. currency!), my 6-M W.A.C. finally was complete.  It only took me 51 years and 10 months to accumulate 6-M QSL's from NA, SA, EU, AF, OC, and AS.

NOTE:  The W.A.C. Award requires PAPER QSL cards!  LoTW confirmations are not currently allowed!

So, with the most gracious help of ARRL Card Checker, Mr. Dave (WA8WV), my QSL's were checked, and the application was  mailed to ARRL.  It only took me 4-1/2 hours from receipt of the QSL from JG1TSG until I had my application prepared, cards checked and the application put into the mail system.  As Tim, K8RRT, says, "How bad do you want it?"


The 6-M W.A.C. Award has now been received as well.  (Click on any photo to see a larger image.)

6-M W.A.C. Award

Now, who would have thought that I would complete W.A.C. on 2-M BEFORE I completed it on 6-M?  Go figure!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

EME is Not Always Easy

There is currently a DX'pediton to Mozambique, C8T, (http://dxpedition.c8t.cc/) and they have a 2-M EME station.  As that would be a New One for me on EME, I made plans to be at the radio to try and work them.  They are not a large station as they are running two 11-element yagis mounted horizontally and 1.2 kW of power.  Very similar to my two 13-element horizontal yagis with 1 kW.

However, Mr. Murphy did not just pay a visit to C8T, he actually moved in it seems!  On their first morning they found they did not have the electrical power they were promised.  They only had one 10-amp circuit instead of the three 80-amps they were supposed to have.  The owner of the lodge did fix that though and the electric company came the next day with the new circuits.  But, Internet access wasn't stable enough for them to use their pre-programmed software to upload their QSO's every minute.

However, the problems did not stop there.  When they connected all their systems to the power, ALL the laptop power supplies, one laptop and a K3 DIED because of the high voltage!

Problems continued for a bit with their RTTY software changing frequency unexpectedly.  And, they then decided to move the EME station down to the beach where they could see the moon from horizon to horizon.

The next day just after the grey-line they started well on HF but the entire city had a power failure!  The lodge owner brought them a rented generator but it was not big enough to run their amps.

Because of their location on the East coast of Africa, we only have about 3-1/2 hours a day of "common moon" between Mozambique and West Virginia.  The first day that was from 2:20 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. my time.  I did not really plan to be on for that moonpass because the Degradation was 4.3 dB and would get better on subsequent days.  However, I had a case of Montezuma's Revenge so I turned on the station and monitored for about 3 hours between trips to the Porcelain Facility.  Nothing was seen on my screen from C8T.

The red marker on the map shows their location in Praia Do Bilene, Mozambique.

Then after reviewing their logs they saw it was very difficult to work NA on HF even when conditions should have been favorable.  They felt this might be because they were on the south-side of a hill so they got permission from the property owner of the hill to move their 5-band Spiderbeam to the top of that hill.  This location was 120m further away and 50m higher.

 The next night (Monday) I could not be on because my wife and I were going to be Poll Workers for the primary election and had to be at the polling location by 5:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Thankfully ON4AOI was sometimes in telephone communication with the DX'pedition and could post on the EME Chat Page information like the following.  Each line is an individual post over a few days.

Correct Petter. Marc his radio jumps sometimes 30-40 hz up/down after every seq, must be heat
wind is playing with ant at C8T
looks wind is blowing them of moon now
C8T has power cut in all village. just got Marc on phone
Just got the news that they have qrm from HF stations so patience sometimes is needed
qrm from HF today is a problem
I cant reach them either now not even via cellphone
not cfg yet but think C8T again powercut
they are aware of the shift but no solution found yet
They will cool down the kx3 with ice now looks a thermal problem

As you can note above, C8T was having trouble keeping his TX on frequency.  Possibly due to the heat at his location he would jump 30 to 60 Hz up or down after each sequence and sometimes it could be 200-300 Hz different from his last transmission.  Many of the people who had copy on him were complaining of the difficulty of finding the "moving target."

After working a 16-hour day at the election polls on Tuesday, I hit the sack early and got up at 3:25 a.m. Wednesday to look for C8T.  By 6 a.m. I had not seen even a trace from C8T and this was due to the city-wide power failure.  It was beginning to look like a serious problem because I could see on the Chat page that C8T was indeed working stations - I just could not see him.

On Thursday, I set my alarm for 3:55 a.m. but did not actually "come to" until 4:30 a.m.  Rats!  Still I was on the moon in just a couple of minutes and was looking hard for C8T.  It was not until 2 hours later that I decoded the following:

JT65B 102600 2 -26 dB 2.8 s -840 Hz 4 W Freq 430 Hz > WO7R C8T KG64 OOO

WOW!  I had actually copied C8T on 2-M EME.  But, that was the ONLY decode that day.  I stayed on the radio until 8 a.m. with only that one decode.

By this point, I have invested 9 hours (over three nights) in front of the radio with only a single decode to show for my effort.  Plus, I'm getting a little punchy from lack of sleep.

During my EME operations on Thursday morning I noticed I was having problems with my Elevation rotor.  Turns out the crossboom had slipped in the rotor.  Tim, K8RRT, came by at 7 p.m. and we managed to re-position the system and tighten down the rotor clamps.  We did this once before so maybe I need to "pin" the rotor to the crossboom.  In any event, thanks to Tim's help, I was ready to get back in the hunt for C8T.

Thursday night I set my alarm for 4:30 a.m. to try again for C8T.  Again, I saw nothing until just over three hours later when I got my next decodes from C8T:

114600  1  -25  2.0  283  1 #      W8KEN C8T KG64      OOO   1   0
114700  0  -33 -0.3  261 28                                       
114800  3  -29       284  2   RRR                                 
115000  2  -30       321  3   RRR                                 

Since I was copying him, I started calling C8T at 1149 GMT just after he sent W8KEN the first "RRR" above. 

Seven minutes later when I copied my call and "OOO" report from C8T, I nearly wet myself!

115600  0  -28  2.0  277  3 #      W8TN C8T KG64       OOO   0  10
115800  1  -31       277  5   RRR                                 

WHEEE!  I really did manage to make a QSO with C8T for a New One! 

This QSO took a little more than 12 hours of my time in front of the radio to complete!  Part of the problem was knowing that C8T had such difficulties on his end that I never knew if my monitoring was useful or if he was off the air due to power failures.  Part was the size of his station and mine and that we were both horizontally polarized. 

I continued to stay on his frequency for a half hour after our QSO and decoded NOTHING more!  But, what I did decode was enough.

Also that morning LA8KV and WP4G were on the moon.  Both would be New Ones for me but I did not see them the times I looked.

Besides working a New One on EME, this QSO taught me something about my EME capabilities.  In looking at the fact that I only saw C8T Thursday when my Azimuth was 127° and not at all on prior days, I think the trees to my East are now blocking a good bit of my EME signals and the antennas now have to nearly clear them for me to copy weak signals.  At 132° Azimuth (where my antennas were pointed when I copied C8T calling W8KEN Friday), one antenna can see the moon clearly and the other is still partially blocked by limbs and leaves.

When I began EME operations on November 1 of 2017, the trees were bare and the sap was gone.  Now that summer has come and things have "greened up", the trees are severely limiting my ability to work EME toward my East.  Unfortunately, that is where most of the EME stations are located.

There are no new DX'peditions on my radar until August 31st when PQØF is scheduled to start up from Fernando de Noronha.  I will have plenty of moon past the trees to work them.  But, other DX'peditions might surface during the summer.

Still there are many entities in Europe that I have not worked.  Hopefully the tree blockage won't cause me to miss too many.

But, today is a HAPPY DAY with DXCC No. 53 in the log!

From the C8T Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/C8T-Mozambique-DXpedition-2260834114136813/), here is a photo C8T posted this morning with these comments:
Day 7: 13000+ qso's in the log now. C8T will not break records, we realise. However, big pile-ups on 15 and 12m to JA now, so catching up... Enjoying a beautiful sunrise in the mean time

 The day before they posted this:

Day 6: nearly 11000 qso's in the log. Propagation is not with us, some rare openings towards EU and JA this afternoon, NA and SA still difficult. FT8 expedition mode is helping us out😉. EME on 2m on the other hand is a big success , nearly 200 contacts so far, the vast majority ATNO! By tomorrow morning, the 300 mark will be made.
Another try on 160m tonight - watch the cluster.

Packing up EVERYTHING you will need for a DX'pedition and traveling thousands of miles to fight the weather, bugs, power outages, and all the other problems takes a HUGE amount of effort.  Please remember that when you are having trouble making a QSO with people who are doing so much to provide you with the opportunity of a New One.

Saturday morning, I was able to copy a CQ from C8T at an Azimuth of 106° which is pointing fully through the trees!  I would need to move the Azimuth a good 20° to the right (West) to get at least one antenna clear of the trees.  However, I listened for another 2 hours and did not decode anything else.

104200  0  -28  2.1  401  3 *      CQ C8T KG64               0   9
This may have happened partly because C8T overnight changed the polarity of their antennas from Horizontal to Vertical.  Plus, the moon might have been in a bit of a "gap" through my trees at that particular time because I did not get another decode.

Still, it shows what difficulty you can have working small stations via EME from another small station.  I spent 12 hours looking for him when he was horizontally polarized and only managed to decode him 6 times!  Of course, most of that 12 hours was spent looking through the trees.

GOOD NEWS!  My call showed up in the online log as the last person C8T worked Friday!

IK4ADE,-23
GW3XYW,-24
W8KEN,-22
W8TN,-24

By changing the polarity of their antennas they are doing all they can to see that they work the most people.  As of my QSO Friday, they had logged 244 stations on 2-M EME. 

C8T UPDATE & NEWS
They are trying to solve the freq jump by adding an external blower on top
of the open Rig (: 
Marc told me that it seems to be better (tests were done after MS) but in
full sun at 35C it still is unpredictable.

35°C is 95°F.

Here is a photo that shows their 2-M EME operating position! Yes, that is a BOAT where they are operating the moonbounce station. 

We can only imagine what the operators at C8T are going through to put this entity on EME.  It is Africa after all, they are close to the coast so there have to be bugs, mosquitoes, lizards, spiders, oppressive heat and humidity, rain, storms, wind, etc.  This "operating position" for their EME station is interesting to say the least.  All I can say is WOW!  Since I have done a few DX'peditions myself I have some first-hand knowledge of their situation.  This makes my QSO with them worth so much more.

Click on any photo to see a larger image.

This QSO brings my 2-M EME totals to the following after less than 6-1/2 months on the moon:

203 EME QSO's
193 Initials (New Stations)
156 Grids
53 DXCC Countries Worked / 42 Confirmed
U.S. States on 2-M
41 Worked / 36 Confirmed
        (30 worked via EME)