Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Mouse Without Borders

    Eureka!  What a WOWZER of a morning this has been!!!

Today I stumbled upon a piece of software that will make my life just SOOOO much easier.

You see, I have two separate computers in the shack as you can see in the photo on the right  (Click on any photo to see a larger image.)  Both have monitors mounted on a stand which let me see FOUR separate screens at the same time. But since they are separate computers, I need TWO keyboards and TWO mice to control them.  Not only that extra hardware is required but my brain has a certain degree of difficulty in navigating between the two computers.  90% of the time I grab the wrong mouse and 20% of the time I type on the wrong keyboard.  It's a HOT MESS!

Once I complete my XPOL EME antennas and the associated hardware/software, I plan to run MAP65 and Linrad on one computer (the Dell T1700) to get the highest performance possible.  But, at times I will need to copy text from that computer to the other one for use on one or another Chat pages or to enter into my logging program.  I may also want to copy a screenshot from one computer to the other as well.

It is of course possible to control multiple computers using only one keyboard and mouse by adding a piece of additional hardware like a KVM  (Keyboard, Video and Mouse) switch.  Still, you have to REMEMBER to flip that switch when you want to control the other computer.  However, even with a KVM switch, you can not transfer text or files between the computers.  Wouldn't it be nice to not have to flip that KVM switch or even use a second keyboard or a second mouse when working with both computers AND be able to Copy/Paste text or transfer files?  YES IT WOULD!

For quite some time I have struggled with the 2-keyboard/2-mouse setup when I have needed to copy information from one computer and paste it in the other computer.  My work-around was to copy the text then paste it into an email in my Gmail account.  Then open that same email on the other computer and AGAIN copy the text before I could paste it where I wanted.  Definitely not a satisfying process and certainly one I did not relish using.  

Today I did a Google search for this string - "transfer clipboard contents between 2 computers on the same network."  In the results that were displayed, the first item I looked at (a Post on Superuser.com) had what seemed to be the answer.  A Microsoft software product called Mouse Without Borders seemed to do everything I wanted and MUCH MORE!

Mouse Without Borders is a Microsoft Garage project by Truong Do. Garage projects are side projects that Microsoft employees like Truong build for fun on their nights and weekends. Mouse Without Borders was designed for people who use many computers in the same room. For example, a laptop or tablet that you take to meetings might sit right alongside the desktop PC in your office. 

If you are like me with more than one computer, and they are all on the same network and running Windows, then you should try Mouse Without Borders. This application allows you to move your mouse between computers like you would if you had a dual monitor setup. The nice thing here is that copy and paste works well between all computers. You can easily move your mouse on the monitor of computer A, copy something and then move your mouse off of that screen to the monitor of computer B and paste it.  Plus, this software will allow you to use one mouse on as many as FOUR separate computers!  Amazing!

Although I have not tried it, it appears that you can use this software with your desktop AND a tablet/laptop together!  WOOF!  What a concept!  In my situation with two desktops each having two monitors, I can just move my mouse to any of my four monitors with ease, just like they were connected to the same computer.

CLICK HERE for the Setup/User Guide which contains the step-by-step instructions for installing the software on all computers.  The most recent version (2.2.1.327) was published on April 6, 2021.  Supported Operating Systems are: Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2016, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows 10, (32/64 bit). .Net 4.0 & up.

Would you not want to have an incredible mouse that can seamlessly move from one machine to another?  If you are new to the idea of using a single mouse and keyboard to work with multiple machines or if you are having more or less troubles while using other software/hardware KVM then you REALLY want to give Mouse Without Borders a try. The first impression of new users are: “It is incredible! It is impossible!”

Downloading, installing and setting up the software on both computers took less than 10 minutes.  My mind is blown wide open by this!  My use of two computers just became MUCH more efficient and TONS more pleasant!  If you have more than one computer and want to use both from one keyboard/mouse, YOU NEED TO INSTALL THIS!

Monday, March 29, 2021

Ham Radio STILL Gives Me a Thrill!

Last night provided me with a thrill in Ham Radio that just never seems to get old.   Snagging that elusive DX on a New Band.  Working a New One is only surpassed by working an All-Time New One (ATNO) and it seems several in the West Virginia DX Association (WVDXA) scored one of those "rarest of the rare" contacts with this DX'pedition to A2, Botswana.  CONGRATULATIONS to all those folks!  Hopefully you got your piece of pie as a reward for scoring that QSO!!!

I am reminded of how it was "back in the day" when a New One was worked.  Back then there were no WARC bands (30-M, 17-M and 12-M) so the record keeping was a "little" easier.  Still, it meant having separate PAPER DXCC lists for each band AND for each mode!

Note: at the beginning of my DX'ing career, I had only ONE DXCC List because there were no 5-Band awards.  If I worked A2 on one band, that was all I needed in my mind.  And, if I worked them on SSB, I made no effort to work them on CW let alone RTTY (digital.)

Since there was no PacketCluster spotting system back then, you found the DX by simply tuning your radio and checking out EVERY signal you heard until you could identify that station.  If you happened to run across a pileup on the band, you had to then physically check your list(s) to see if that was a New One.  But I can tell you that if it was an ATNO, that list was kept in your brain and you knew instantly you had never worked that country before!

There were check-boxes in your paper logbook to let you record if a QSL had been sent or received.  But you still needed to keep paper records to record when you sent for a QSL, where you sent for it (bureau, manager, direct, etc.), and what you enclosed ($$$, SAE, etc.)  All this paper-shuffling made you feel more like an accountant than a ham radio operator.  That data can now be easily recorded in your logging program and instantly available to you.  It is simply amazing what an improvement that is.

Plus, today with the PacketCluster, computer logging, Club Log and LoTW - that record-keeping "burden" has been removed.  Today you don't need to tune the bands looking for DX, your logging program will take the incoming PacketCluster spots, check them against your log, then color-code them for you to tell you not only what stations have been spotted but whether or not it is a New One or an ATNO for YOU personally!

On the image at the upper-right, you can see that there are three spots from the PacketCluster that are color-coded Blue.  (Click on any image to see a larger version.) These spots are displayed in my logging program's BandMap.  Those are New Ones for ME.  If they were Red, those would be ATNO's.  If I hover my mouse over any of those (like I did with AP2HA in the above screenshot) I get a pop-up (shown in Yellow) with tons of detail.  BOY, that's so much of an improvement over the "old days" that you just can't believe it unless you were there.

The Green square shown just to the left of most of those calls indicate that station is an LoTW user, as does the "+" sign in the Yellow pop-up.  LoTW has improved the DX'ing hobby beyond measure.  At one time I waited 13 YEARS to get a QSL from an ATNO!  And, when that card came, it was still an ATNO as I had never worked that country again in all those years.  Today, you can sometimes get an LoTW confirmation while the DX'pedition is STILL UNDERWAY!  WOW!

All one needs to do is to click on any spot in the above BandMap and your radio jumps to the exact frequency and mode for the spotted station plus the callsign gets placed in the Call field of the logging program and is ready to be logged once the station is worked.

Your logging program can also tell you where you have and have not worked that particular entity (band/mode/QSL Rcvd or not.)  In the screenshot on the left, I have A2, Botswana, Confirmed (shown in Red text) on 10-M and 20-M SSB plus 30-M and 40-M CW.  The two Yellow "DIG" fields show that I have "Worked" (Blue not Red text) A25RU on 17-M and 30-M Digital Modes.  They are Yellow since I typed A25RU into the Call field to see these Worked/Confirmed records and the Yellow says I have worked "A25RU" (not some other A2 station) on those Bands/Modes.  If I had just typed "A2" in the box, there would have been no Yellow boxes, just the Mode shown in Blue text since it was not confirmed on those QSO's.  Plus the Yellow box for 80-M CW indicates my QSO from last night (as recorded in my log.)  It is SO easy to check what bands/modes you need an entity on now, just enter the prefix for the entity and your Worked/Confirmed window will display all that data!  No need to shuffle through all those PAPER DXCC lists!

From this data I can easily see that from this A25RU DX'pedition I have added two New Bands to my A2 list of stations worked as well as one New Mode.  And, it also shows a gaping hole for 12-M which is one I still need.

If I want to check when I worked those stations, I can just click on any of the above boxes and get a pop-up with my log data.  For instance, if I click on the Red SSB for 20-M, what I see is shown above.

Are you kidding me?  1973 for that A2 QSO?  WOW!  Some of you reading this may still have been in diapers or not even born then!

Still, the way things used to be, you were never 100% sure your QSO made it into the DX Station's log until you got his QSL (or not) which would always take 6-months or more and sometimes YEARS!  Today, you just need to check out an online log to see if the DX has recorded your QSO.  Below on the right is a screenshot of Club Log for the log of the A25RU DX'pedition checked against my own call.

Bingo!  All my A25RU QSO's made the log!  That is SUCH a benefit that you can't imagine.  Years ago I was certain I had worked A5, Bhutan, for my very last country.  That would have put me on the Top of the Honor Roll.  Two of my friends heard the QSO and congratulated me on the contact.  BUT, almost a year later I got back a "Not in Log" to my QSL request.  I was CRUSHED!  If I had been able to check online at that time for my contact and seen it was not there, I would have tried for another.

Finally, my logging program, Logger32, even tracks my progress toward various awards.  Looking at my confirmations for Mixed DXCC I can see my totals in the screenshot at the bottom of this Post.

That 80-M QSO with A25RU last night gave me 240 entities worked on 80-M All-Time and 237 Current since I have 3 Deleted entities worked on 80-M.  You can see two Yellow boxes with a "W" in them.  That indicates that A2, Botswana, has been "Worked" on those Bands but not yet Confirmed.

The Green boxes with a "G" in them indicate those QSO's have been Confirmed AND Credit for them has been "Granted" by ARRL.  The Orange "C" box tells me that QSO is "Confirmed" but not yet Granted toward my DXCC.  

This table is a HUGE help in trying to confirm your contacts.  Just scroll through the list and see what contacts are "Worked" but not "Confirmed."  Click on the "W" box and a pop-up will give you the log information on that entity/band QSO.  Below is what I see if I click on the Yellow box for 80-M on the A2, Botswana line.  This gives me the information for ANY station marked as "W" (Worked and NOT Confirmed.)  That will allow me to track when (or if) I sent for a QSL and give me access to all the information regarding that QSO.  Using these tools you can stay up to date on your QSL'ing.  And, we all know, the QSL is supremely important.  Without a QSL or an LoTW Confirmation, you have NO Credit for working that entity.  Anyone can "claim" they worked anything but if you can PROVE it, that makes all the difference.


The Red boxed text in the image below simply shows I've been DX'ing for a LONG time.  I have Worked and Confirmed 18 entities which no longer count for DXCC!  Some of those countries I have worked on as many as 3 modes and NINE bands!  But, none of those QSO's count anymore because those entities have been DELETED from the ARRL DXCC List.  BUMMER!


 
Below is the list of countries/entities I have Worked and Confirmed in the past that no longer count for DXCC:

  1.  Abu Ail Is.
  2.  Yemen Arab Republic
  3.  Saudi Arabia/Iraq Neutral Zone
  4.  Germany
  5.  German Democratic Republic
  6.  Bajo Nuevo
  7.  Serrana Bank & Roncador Cay
  8.  Kingman Reef
  9.  Canal Zone
10.  Czechoslovakia
11.  Territory of New Guinea
12.  Bonaire, Curacao (Neth. Antilles)
13.  Sint Maarten, Saba, Saint Eustatius
14.  Malyj Vysotskij Island
15.  Southern Sudan
16.  Aldabra
17.  Penguin Islands
18.  Walvis Bay


So, even though I have been DX'ing for over 50 years, I probably enjoy it now more than I ever have.  That is because of all the new technology that makes the hobby easier to enjoy.  For me, this thrill of contacting some far-off country on a band where I have never worked them before, is STILL powerful!  It just does NOT get old!

Please remember this history when your QSO does not show up in an online log as fast as you expect.  Or when you think it is taking too long for LoTW to update after your upload.  Today things are so much better than before so please - have a little patience!  Remember, I waited 13 YEARS for one country to be confirmed!!!  Just enjoy what we have now and keep working the New Ones!

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Replacement for Wire Nuts

First, a disclaimer.  I have never been an advocate of the use of Wire Nuts for connecting together multiple wires.  Too many times I have seen where the nuts have been loose or even fallen off the wires they are supposed to be connecting together.  To combat this I have seen where the installer twisted on the Wire Nut and then taped the connection to keep the nut from falling off!  But, for as long as I can remember, it seems that they have been the standard method used for splicing wires in electrical wiring.  

The photo at the upper left is a cut-away view of a Wire Nut and you can see the imprecise way this method of connection is supposed to work.  (Click on any image to see a larger version.)  Standard wire nuts are roughly conical in shape and usually have ridges on their sides so your fingers can get a good grip. Some types have little side wings instead of ridges. Inside the plastic cone is a little square-cut spring that provides tension on the wires to hold them securely.  As you tighten the wire connector by twisting it, the spring draws tighter around the wires.

But recently I have found what I think is a superior way to join together 2 or more electrical conductors.  It is the Wago line of  LEVER-NUTS® which is available at Amazon, Lowe's, Home Depot, etc.  In the photo at the right you can see how the Wago 221 model compares to a Wire Nut.  The Wago connector is smaller, faster to install, able to accomodate multiple wire sizes including solid and stranded conductors, and in my opinion, MUCH more secure!

Wago Connectors were designed to make the splicing process easier without needing tools. The Wago clamp technology makes for faster installation and eliminates maintenance. All these connectors use clamps to terminate stranded, fine stranded and solid conductors.

Once the wire is inserted into the connector, the Wago clamp secures the conductor and encloses its insulation. This guarantees that the conductor does not come into contact with any live parts, which in turn increases safety.

Installation is simple, pull the orange lever up, insert a stripped conductor, and push the lever back down - done. WAGO's 221 Series compact splicing connectors easily, quickly, and safely connect solid, stranded, and fine stranded wires ranging from 24-10 AWG.  The connectors come in two sizes with the 221-412, 221-413 and 221-415 (for connecting 2, 3 or 5 wires) able to accept all wire types from 24 to 12 AWG.  The "6" series (221-612, 221-613, or 221-615) is capable of connecting conductors from 20 to 10 AWG.

There is an older model called the "222" which is not made of transparent material.  I prefer the Model 221 which is transparent and you can clearly see whether your wire is properly positioned inside the clamping compartment.  But, the 222 model does accommodate wire sizes as small as 28 AWG so those could be useful to connect smaller conductors.

If there is a downside to the Wago connectors, it appears that you can only install ONE conductor per section.  Wire Nuts and Terminal Strips can accommodate more that one conductor for each connection but these Wago LEVER-NUTS® (for me) will replace the Wire Nuts for everything except the applications where I need a Terminal Strip.

One MAJOR advantage I see for the Wago Lever-Nut® is that the conductors are not deformed by twisting them when you connect them with Wire Nuts.  If you ever want to change that connection, it usually means you need to cut back the conductor and strip the insulation again.  With the Wago connectors, the conductors are NOT deformed and can be reconnected with no issues.  Simply lift up the lever and pull out the conductor.

Each Lever-Nut® has two test slots (or ports) that allows you to connect a meter test probe on the connection.  COOL!  You can see in the photo on the right how a Green test probe is able to slide right into the test slot to test the connection.

As I understand, Wago pioneered lever nuts and received UL certification on the first such device in 2003.  Obviously I was a bit "late to the party" in discovering this product!  Generic 221 and 222 style lever nut connectors can be found, but Wago is such a leader in this space that the term “Wago connector” is now applied as a general term.  In reading the comments from various users it appears that some of the "knock off" or imitator connectors are missing some of the features or the quality of the Wago brand.


As you can see on the bottom left image, there are also "mounting carriers" available for all 221 Series Splicing Connectors (2, 3 and 5 conductors) and can be installed either vertically or horizontally. Secure the carrier by simply snapping it onto the DIN-rail or using screws on smooth surfaces. Flexible mounting clamps simplify both connector insertion and removal.

The "mounting carriers" also allow you to mount 2, 3, and 5 conductor Wago connectors to any flat surface by just screwing down the mounting carrier.  You can mount them vertically or horizontally and the Wago connectors simply snap into the carrier.

The photo on the bottom right shows a cut-away view of the Wago 222 connectors.  Both the 222 and the 221 models are UL approved and rated for 600 volts at 20 amps. 

From my research, I would choose to ONLY use the Wago brand because of the quality issues I noted for the "look-alike" knock-off brands.  As in most circumstances in life, "You Get What You Pay For!

To check these out I purchased an assortment containing 10 of the 2-port, 10 of the 3 port, and 5 of the 5 port from Amazon.  My cost was $16.43 including tax (free shipping with Prime.)  That is about $0.66 per connector for this assortment.  If you were to buy a higher quantity, the price, of course, goes down.  For example, an order of 100 of the 2-Port model runs about $0.29 per connector.

Here is a 3-minute VIDEO that demonstrates and describes the 221 Series of Wago LEVER-NUTS®.

I will be passing some of my assortment of Wago connectors off to my Grandsons for them to put in their tool box for future use.  That's just what a Grandpa does!

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Sycamore Tree Removal

Damaged DE
I have a "forest" of trees directly East of my EME antennas.  In the winter when the leaves and sap are gone, it seems not to be a huge problem to my moonbounce operations, but in the spring and summer it provides a "brick wall" that keeps me from hearing all but the very strongest EME signals.   Two of these trees (directly behind the house) are Sycamores.  It turns out that Evelyn is severely affected by the dust these trees develop under their leaves in the summer.  If she steps out on the back porch, she will start exhibiting an allergic reaction in less than a minute!  Thus, these trees HAVE TO GO!

Once we decided to have these two Sycamores removed, we chose RealTree Tree Services (a local tree service) and they were able to schedule the removal for today.  I told them we just wanted to "drop" the trees over the lip of the hill where they sat.  Therefore they did not need to be cut up nor did we need the stumps ground down.  This kept the costs down.

These two trees were directly East of my EME array and provided significant blockage from 70° to 110° in Azimuth. This was the direction of my MoonRise and that's where I need to see the moon to be able to work stations in Europe. In the photo on the Top-Left you can see how close my antennas are to these trees even when the antennas are turned broadside to the trees.  And you get a bit of an ideal of how tall the trees are.  The tree cutters estimated the largest one was 65-feet tall.  The image on the Center-Right shows a better view to indicate the height of the trees.

Over the last 3 years I have been on EME, these trees have grown to the point where they prevent my antennas from pointing in their direction.  I first noticed this early in February of 2020 when my SWR suddenly shot up.  I tracked that problem down to the fact that the trees had reached out and GRABBED the driven element of one antenna and actually pulled it apart.  (See the image on the Top-Right of this Post.)  Click on any image to see it larger.

For multiple reasons I asked my Grandsons (Owen and Grant) to come down today to help out.  I knew they could clean the debris from the yard and could cut any of the trees that fell across the "trail" we used to access the HF tower.  They showed up about 8:15 a.m. and brought their friend, Logan, as well.  Evelyn had made a BIG breakfast for them with ham, eggs, biscuits, fried apples, hash browns, and hot chocolate.  After they ate (and the tree service had not arrived) I had them do a small amount of tree trimming at the mailbox.  Later I had them check our whole house generator and replace the battery in it.

When the tree service arrived, they saw that we had three strong men available so they cancelled their own ground crew.  The one guy that did all the major work then paid my "ground crew" $100 of what he had planned to charge me.  You can see on the Bottom-Left photo my Ground Crew cutting up the large tree.  It fell across the "trail" so they got to work with their chainsaws and cleared the way. Logan is on the left gathering up one of the ropes for the tree service guy.

Click HERE for a 30-second video of the trees coming down.  I was a little slow in starting the video for the large tree falling so it is not included.  That large tree definitely shook the ground when it hit.

There are still a LOT of trees to my East but I'm hoping that by removing these two large trees (which were so close to the antennas that the branches were touching the antenna elements) that my signals toward MoonRise will improve. Maybe it is wishful thinking but I feel like I can see more "sky" than I could before removing these two Sycamores. Time will tell. However, on Thursday morning I can tell there is a great deal more light coming into my bathroom. Those trees were definitely blocking a bunch of sky.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Weatherproof Cable Entry Port

Roxtec EzEntry™ 10/10
When I built my current EME antenna system 3 years ago, I used a PVC box to hold the T/R relay and the LNA close to the antennas (see photo at left.)  Since I was using cables which already had the terminations installed and I did not want to remove those connectors, my only option was to drill a hole large enough for the connector to pass through the wall of the box.  Those holes are marked by Purple arrows in the image.

As I began construction of my new XPOL array, I needed to purchase a new and much larger plastic box to hold the multiple relays (5 this time) and the two new LNA's.  Because I have purchased a pair of matched 1/4 λ cavity LNA's for this system, I need a MUCH bigger box than before.  These LNA's (click HERE to see them) are 17-inches long.

This new system will require FIVE large coaxes plus multiple control wires to enter the box.  In the old system I had THREE large coaxes and needed to drill holes in the box large enough to pass the connectors on the ends of the cables.  I was never able to manage to waterproof those large entry holes well enough to keep water out of the box.  As we all know, water is the enemy of electronic equipment.

Looking for a more elegant solution, I came across the Roxtec EzEntry system.  This solution provides a cable entry seal that can be used to weatherproof pre-terminated cables without the need for removing the terminations.  That is AWESOME! You can use any cables with connectors already installed and be assured the Cable Entry Port is weatherproof and insect-proof.  It is also a system that can be modified to add or remove cables with ease.

Different size cables are easily installed.  To adapt the sealing modules to different cable sizes, simply peel off layers from each half of the blue modules until it fits the cable.  It is important that you leave a  0.1 to 1 mm gap between the halves of the blue module when placed around the cable.  Unused blue modules can stay in the frame for use as "spares" in the future.  During installation all parts are lubricated with the supplied lubricant.  Click HERE for a 5-minute video of the installation process.

Module Installation
Once all the modules and cables have been installed, an integrated compression unit is tightened with a Hex key.  This compresses the modules for sealing, squeezes out the excess lubricant, and the installation is complete.

I was really excited to learn about this product which I believe will greatly improve my ability to keep water away from the relays and LNA's for my new array.  This system is available in many sizes but I decided to go with the Roxtec EzEntry™ 10/10 model.  It allows for up to 10 cables each ranging in size from 0.138-0.650 in (3.5-16.5 mm).  This is more than large enough to accomodate 1/2-inch Heliax which has a diameter of 0.51 inches (12.95 mm.) Overall size of the unit is 2.76 x 6.61 in (70x168 mm) which will easily fit my new box.

I also think it is important to note that you can install the Roxtec EzEntry frame in the box without the blue modules and run the various cable into the box through the frame.  Once everything is connected and positioned, THEN you can install the blue modules to seal the cables.  This makes the process very convenient.

I have found several suppliers of these products online.  The model I have decided to use (Roxtec EzEntry™ 10/10) is available for about $85 including shipping.  I feel that is a super low price to pay in order to weatherproof cables entering my Relay/LNA box.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Moon Globe

For more than a year I have been serving as an "Elmer" to Carlos, WD6Y, in his efforts to build a 70cm EME station.  An "Elmer" is defined as a mentor; an experienced operator who tutors newer operators.

Recently Carlos sent me a photo of the current configuration of his station.  In one corner of the photo a Moon Globe caught my attention. (See photo at Left.  Click on any photo to see a larger image.)

In my next email to him I added the following post script:

   "P.S. I like the moon globe behind the IQ+ receiver!"

Yesterday my wife picked up the mail and there was a box from Amazon.  She asked what I had purchased and I said, "I'll have to open it and see because I can't remember having any orders outstanding."

Later that night I opened the Amazon box and found a Beautiful Gift Bag from Amazon.  I proceeded to carefully open the bag (so that my wife could re-use it at a later time if she wanted.)  Inside was the box you can see on the Right and I believe THIS is that product on the Amazon web site.

I waited until today to see about putting a battery in it.  But, when I started to open the battery compartment, I found there was just a small plastic tab I needed to remove to activate the included and installed batteries.  One pull and the Moon Globe lit up when the switch was flipped!

It did not take long for me to find a suitable place to put the lighted Moon Globe.  On August 21, 2017, I traveled to Sweetwater, TN, with my great friend, Karl, K8KT (SK) to view the Lunar Eclipse.  I took quite a few images (see the best HERE) but my favorite was the "Diamond Ring" photo and I had that one professionally printed.  As you can see in the photo on the Left, it now prominently hangs on the wall of my shack.  It is also on my EME QSL (see it HERE.)

I was totally SURPRISED to receive this thoughtful gift from WD6Y and can not be MORE THANKFUL!  The gift itself is a minor item but the thoughtfulness of the sender was immense! (Plus, my wife is especially appreciative for the Gift Bag!)

THANK YOU, Carlos!


 

Monday, August 24, 2020

GridTracker with Logger32

New Ham Radio software continues to appear which adds tremendous functionality to our hobby.  Computer programs for Amateur Radio applications seem to be growing at an exponential rate.  This provides a lot of utility for hams but also comes with a (sometimes steep) learning curve!

Red Path: W8TN to 5Z4VJ

Yesterday I decided to take a look at the program called "GridTracker" and I can report that my mind was officially BLOWN!  I had previously been using JTAlert since the beginning of December, 2019, and was very pleasantly surprised that it helped me work a half dozen New Countries and a couple of New Grids in really short order.

GridTracker performs similar functions.  JTAlert interfaces with WSJT-X or JTDX and provides audio and visual alerts for stations you may need for various awards and you can find it HERE.  GridTracker does the same thing but includes a graphical (map) interface which is WAAAAAY COOOOL!  On the right you can see the map showing the paths between stations I could hear on one period on 20-M yesterday.  The Red path showed up while I was working 5Z4VJ.  (Click on any image to see it larger.)  Notice that I had it display the position of the moon (at that time just off the West coast of South America.) Hover your mouse over the moon and you will see the Azimuth and Elevation for the moon from your QTH.

To begin learning about GridTracker I found a video on YouTube by Josh, KI6NAZ, who posts a lot of videos under the heading of "Ham Radio Crash Course."  This particular video is 1-1/2 hours long and has Josh interviewing the creator (author) of GridTracker, "Tag" Loomis, NØTTL.  You can see that video HERE.

Even though I was watching the above video, I still spent SIX HOURS getting GridTracker up and running and trying to understand some of its features.  The reason I placed the "WOW!" graphic above is because the functionality (and complexity) of this program is HUGE!  I have only scratched the surface of what it will do and what I have seen is just phenomenal.  In fact, I would stop the video every so often and use what I just saw/heard for learning about my installation.

You can download GridTracker HERE and rather than printing all the features in this Blog, I will just refer you to that page.  Suffice it to say that GridTracker is a companion program for WSJT-X or JTDX.  It listens to what those programs decode and displays that information on a map.  It also interfaces with your digital log and will give alerts for stations you have not worked or have not confirmed.  Say for example you are working on your W.A.S. award, it's nearly impossible to just look at what WSJT-X (or JTDX) decodes and know where a particular station is located.  GridTracker has a database of all U.S. hams and compares their call to that list.  It can then display the information for that station for you.

Note that I just said "display that information."  BOY, that is an understatement!  GridTracker can display more information than you can even imagine.  And, that is one of the keys to the utility of this program.

I looked for an online "manual" for installing the program and what I found was a PDF file (find it HERE) for Version 1.18.0318 and the current version is 1.20.0821.  In the YouTube video "Tag" says this information was written TWO YEARS ago and is out-of-date.  Still, it is a bit of a start.  "Tag" has a real job and works on improving GridTracker on the weekends but it seems to be evolving very quickly.  The YouTube video was created just 3-1/2 months ago and I found a TON of things that were different in the current version.




Settings for Logger32

Lightning Strike Alert Settings

I won't try to give a step-by-step description of how to install this program but, it is really not that hard to do.  For those with limited screen real estate, there are some things I can suggest to help out.  Right off the bat, you can shrink down the WSJT-X window vertically because you no longer need to see a LONG list of stations, GridTracker will take care of that for you. In the upper left you can see I shrank mine to about 5 lines tall.  Next, if the GridTracker map takes up too much room, you can grab the left side of it and shrink it to the right to just leave the control panel.

There is a grid of 18 buttons in the lower right of the control panel.  Just above that grid is a button called "Call Roster + Award Tracker."  Click on that and position the window that opens below your WSJT-X window.  On the Call Roster there is a menu screen with many selections.  Once you select what you want, Right-Click in the Black area and choose "Hide Controls."  To get that menu screen back, Right-Click  to the right of the word "Callsign" or any blank part of the menu bar and choose "Show Controls."  If you Left-Click on any column header in the Call Roster, the contents will be placed in order.  For example, click on the DXCC heading and all the same countries will be grouped together and alphabetically.  Click again and the column will change between "Lowest to Highest" to "Highest to Lowest."  When you are finished, click on the "Age" column to put the spots in order with the most recent showing first.

In that "Grid" of 18 buttons, the "Settings" button is at the right end of the second row.  It looks like two gears meshed together.  This is where you access most of the controls for GridTracker.  There are 11 tabs on that screen to organize the settings in a logical manner.


Once you set up the Audio Alerts, you will get a pleasant female voice saying "New State" or "New DXCC" or whatever alerts you have enabled.  There is also a Button for Lightning Strikes!  I thought this was a really nice feature.  It will indicate on your screen and play an Alert sound if lightning is within (I think) 30 miles from you.  (See the "Lightning Strike Settings" image above.)  So, I turned that on but nothing seemed to happen.  An hour or so later a HUGE sound burst from my speakers and nearly cause me to lose control of my bladder!  It was the Lightning Strike audio alert (default is set to "Long") and the volume level default was set to 100%.  I managed to find the controls for that under Settings | Audio, dropped the volume level to 41% and changed the alert to a "Voice" alert.  Whew!  If you want to hear the original sound, click HERE.

If you want to see how I configured GridTracker to work with Logger32, check out the second image above (on the right.)  It gives the settings I used in GridTracker and the ones I used in Logger32.  Now, spots from WSJT-X (GridTracker) flow into the UDP Bandmap in Logger32 and, when I tell WSJT-X to "log" the contact, it transfers to my Logger32 Logbook.

Use your mouse-wheel to scroll in or out of the Map.  If a country is shown bordered in Red it means you decoded someone calling "CQ NA" or "CQ JA" etc.  Click on Settings | Map and you can adjust a ton of things there and you can even change the map source.  

In Settings | Logging you can tell to get your log from ClubLog, LoTW, QRZ, eQSL, or from a local ADIF file.  You can set a "Button" for many of these on the menu and/or tell GridTracker to get the file at startup.  By mistake I clicked the "Log?" button for ClubLog (see above on the left) and today I find that my QSO from last night has been uploaded to ClubLog!

The place where I have NOT managed to fully understand GridTracker is in how to get it to just display ONLY the spots I am interested in.  I can "hear" the audio alert for "New DXCC" but I can't see the spot in the Call Roster.  I did manage to get it set up to display "New State" and you can see above the settings I used for that.

Press "F1" anytime and you will get a pop-up with all the Hot-Keys like you see in the image on the right.  Right from that pop-up you can print that list.  A push of one of two Buttons will pop-up a window for PSK Reporter for the last 24 hours or a set time to see who has heard you.  OH, there is a text messaging feature built-in where you can send a text to another user of GridTracker.  Maybe you need him on another band or something so just message him.  This only works if he is using GridTracker.

Click on the "Show Stats" button on the end of the top row of Buttons, and the window that opens has more detail about your logbook than you can imagine!  Keep scrolling down to see it all.  You can set GridTracker to pop-up a window from QRZ, HamQTH, QRZCQ or the free "CALLOOK" to give information on the station you are working.  You can see that function during the YouTube video above.

Click on the button that looks like a Gold Cup and toggle between EIGHT different "Overlays" for various awards.  This will show graphically (on the map) what Continents, CQ Zones, ITU Zones, States, DXCC Entities, Counties, Grids, etc. that you have worked.  Just zoom in with your mouse for more detail.  Hover your mouse over the Grid that is shown and see a pop-up of those stations you have decoded from that Grid.

I know I have covered only PART of the functionality of this program here so you can see why my mind was totally BLOWN yesterday.  It did take a little time to get this set up, and I know I need to figure out how to display only the spots I want, but the program is working GREAT without any "Gotches" so it seems to be a VERY well-written piece of software.

On the left above is a list of the items that need to be configured in WSJT-X under Settings.  These are just the UDP settings that worked for me - your mileage may vary!

So, this is my "overview " GridTracker.  I will continue to be learning how to work this going forward but I see that for many folks, this will be a WONDERFUL addition to your software stable.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

FINALLY! Reached the 2,500 Level on the ARRL Challenge

Thirteen years after I first achieved the basic ARRL DXCC Challenge Award with 1,000 confirmations, I have now reached the 2,500 confirmation plateau.  When the envelope arrived with my 2,500 Medallion, it was a feeling quite a bit more exciting than receiving the QSL for an All-Time New One! (See photo of my 2500 Medallion at left - Click on any photo to see a larger image.)

Once I took the photo on the left, I pealed off the 3M backing tape and affixed the 2,500 Medallion to my DXCC Challenge Award.  You can see the on the right.  This plaque hangs right on the wall as you enter my shack!

The way this award is figured is by counting your CONFIRMED "Band-Points."  Each "Band-Point" is earned by working a country on one band and getting it CONFIRMED.  Since this award applies only to the 10 bands from 160 through 6-M (60-M does not count), and since only "Current" countries (entities) are counted, when you multiply those 10 bands by the current maximum number of countries (340) you find that the maximum number of "Band-Points" you can achieve is 3,400.  But, to reach that level, you would need to work (and CONFIRM) each and every country in the world on each of those 10-bands.  Imagine trying to confirm 340 countries on 6-M!

Below is the basic rules statement for the DXCC Challenge Award as found on the ARRL web site:

"The DXCC Challenge Award is earned by working and confirming at least 1,000 DXCC band-points on any Amateur bands, 160 through 6 meters (except 60 meters). Certificates are not available for this award however, there is a distinctive wall plaque available to display your achievement. Plaques can also be endorsed in increments of 500 additional band points. Deleted entities do not count for this award."
Should you manage to reach the rarefied height of having 3,000 Confirmations, your "Medallion" would look like the photo on the left.  It is difficult for me to imagine my achieving that level but, as I make this post, I have 2,513 Confirmed and am waiting on another another 13 QSL's for stations already Worked.  So, only 474 more to go - Never Give Up, Never Surrender!

Sunday, November 24, 2019

QSO Today Podcast with W8TN

QSO Today is an audio podcast created by Eric Guth, 4Z1UG / WA6IGR.  It consists of audio interviews with hams from around the world.  As the host of the QSO Today Podcast, Eric poses questions to those being interviewed about their own personal ham radio story.  He asks questions about how the person being interviewed got started in ham radio, about their first rig, their Elmers, about what affect ham radio has had on their career, their family life, what they see as the most exciting aspect of ham radio today and a host of other things.

Each interview runs about an hour and can be listened to online or can be downloaded on Apple Podcasts.  Episode 200 is an interview with Eric himself as the subject.  All prior episodes can be accessed and a list of all the interviews is available HERE.

Eric has been doing this for 4-1/2 years as a way to document the stories and ham radio history for hundreds of individuals in our hobby.  As of today, November 23, 2019, Eric has produced 277 episodes.

Today's Episode 277 is with me, W8TN. The interview was conducted over Skype on November 10, 2019.  The image at the right is from the Skype app during the recording.

I consider many of those who have already been interviewed as being absolutely at the pinnacle of this hobby.  Looking at the list of hams who have already been interviewed, I am extremely honored and humbled to be included here.

Using the embedded player below you can listen to this Episode right from this Blog. Note there are buttons to rewind 30 seconds or skip ahead 30 seconds.

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.