Monday, January 16, 2023

Improving the QCX-mini power

I recently built my second QCX-Mini, this one for 20 meters. It's such a fun a build and even more of a joy to operate. I took it out to my local park for a test run using my homebrew, end-feed, half-wave, multi-band antenna. When the radio came on, the band filled with signals from a CW contest. I tried to respond to a few station, but apparently no one could hear me. I texted a friend who lives nearby and he was able flip on his HF radio and verify that I was indeed getting out. 

Back at the house, I pulled up Hans' video on maximizing output power on the QCX and sat at my bench to work on mine. I hooked it up to an RF power meter and found my rig was putting out a whopping 1/2 watt. No wonder no one could hear me. 

I adjusted the L3 inductor by spreading out the windings and managed to get right at 4 watts. But regardless of how much more I worked with it and the other two inductors, 4 watts was the most I could get. So, following Hans' advice, I desoldered the inductor and remove two windings. Once I soldered it back on the board I was able to get just over 6 watts. Perfect! I closed up the radio and packed it in the bag. 

This weekend, I took it back out to the park. Again--being a Saturday--the band was jammed packed with contest signals. However, this time, after waiting for a pause in an exchange, I called a station sending CQ. Instantly he returned my call! I gave him the exchange and he sent, "TU." It worked! I had about an hour of daylight left, but I wound up with 14 QSOs, all of them solid exchanges. 

Sunday, January 1, 2023

TinyPaddles are a HUGE deal!

As the Christmas holidays approached, I decided to give myself a small and inexpensive gift...a new set of paddles. Mind you, these aren't just any set up paddles. These are a SUPER tiny micro-paddles! Called the "TinyPaddle," they were designed built by N6ARA. You can buy a kit version, but I opted for the assembled set. I first saw these on Tom Witherspoon's (K4SWL) site, I finally ordered a set just before Christmas and they arrived before New Years.

These are indeed very small! The paddles are soldered onto a circuit board and the board is insterted into a 3D-printed holder. The assembled version comes with a case which is basically a 3D-printed sleeve to protect the paddles when stowed. I also ordered the cable. The both came with an adjustment tool to carefully bend the paddles in or out as a way of adjusting the feel of the paddles. He also sells a version with the male plug instead of the female jack, in case that fits your setup better.

After playing with them for a little bit, I have to say I really like them! No, they don't feel like a $200 set of paddles. But, then they only cost $24! They are perfect for backpacking, POTA (my use), SOTA (not in Texas!) or any other ultralight station bag. I'm a sucker for cool, lightweight, micro gadgets and these certainly fit the bill!

Friday, December 30, 2022

Quick POTA trip with friends

Don (the ham who inspired me to get back into CW) asked at the last club meeting if I wanted to activate our local state park over the holiday break. Since both of us work for school districts, he knew I'd have a little spare time during Christmas. I said, "of course!" and that led to a fun Friday morning last week at Martian Creek State Park, just south of Tatum, Tx.

Don also invited a few friends from the Longview Club (LETARC) who got there early in the morning. In total, there were four stations on the air at some point during the day including two on SSB and two on CW. It was Don's first official outing with his BuddiHex. It was an impressive site to see the spider-web antenna hoisted high in the trees! He racked up 40+ POTA contacts within the first hour or so and seemed to created a pile-up every time he keyed the mic!

I took my new 20-meter QCX-mini for its first time in the wild. I paired it with my homebrew ENHW multi-band antenna. My wife tagged along as well. She got a new fishing rod and a Solo Stove for Christmas and spent time breaking in both along the shore of the lake.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

A new LiFePO4 charger

I'm in love with LiFePO4 batteries. They are lightweight, powerful, and last forever (if you count 2000+ cycles forever). I have a several that I use with various radios and other projects.

What I don't have is several chargers. The charges tend to be very expensive, especially ones with higher amperage. The first one I received as part of a deal when I bought by first battery. Since then, I've looked for cheaper chargers with little success.

I recently found one on Amazon that was around $20 and sometimes even had a coupon. I ordered and, so far, am pleased with it. It's only 3-amps so I'm not going to be charging my larger batteries with it, but it seems to work very well with my 6 and 10-amp batteries.

LiFePO4 Battery Charger

All my equipment has Anderson Powerpoles installed (a ham radio and emergency radio standard), so, as you can se in the pictures, I clipped off the RC connector and installed powerpoles. This way, it mates easily to all my batteries and my power boxes.

I hook it up to a 6-amp battery along with a power monitor and watched it top off the battery. Once it got to 14.7V, the charger ramped down the power and turned itself off. We'll use it over the coming weeks and see how it fares.

Monday, November 21, 2022

ARRL Sweepstakes - 2022

The ARRL Sweepstakes was the first contest I ever participated in. Way back in 1993, my buddy (KA0ZWV) and I joined forces on in our college station. It was on the 3rd floor of the school library and had an amazing tri-bander on top. The only problem was, after dark the bands died and we were dead in the water. 

The building was not a typical structure. It was basically an open steel frame with concrete floors. The whole structure was surrounded with a glass fa├žade. Imaging placing a rectangle fishing tank upside-down over a parking garage. If you stood on the 3rd floor at the end of the hall you could reach out and touch the windows, but you could also look down and yell at the guy on the first floor. The point is, there two large metal frames at each end of the building holding the whole thing up. So, we drug the coax down the hall and alligator clipped it to the metal - we lit up the whole side of the library. I'm not sure how, but it tuned up and we worked 80 meters all night. 

Ever since then, Sweepstakes has held a special place in my heart. Every year, I try to spend at least sometime during the third weekend in November work the contest. For the past few years, my son (KG5CZR) or my wife (KC5ERV) have helped out, making us a "multi-op" station. It's been fun and this year was no exception! This year, I used by FTDX-3000 and my relatively new boom with a Heil Goldline mic. I had two antennas; an 80 meter dipole and a three-month old Hustler 6-BTV vertical. It worked very well, although there were times I was in the noise on 40m. I need more radials!

I absolutely love N1MM logging software. It's amazing and, having used it for so many years, it's like a trusted companion in the shack. All the windows go right where I need them and it takes my data entry without a hitch! I kind of chuckle when I hear an operator say, "hang on, I got the info in the wrong place." With N1MM, I type it however I hear it and it magically figures out which is the serial number and which is check! I also love the Band Map feature which tracks where the stations are on the band so I can avoid ones I've already worked and go back to ones I wasn't able to pull in an hour ago. I can't beat N1MM. 

It's hard to believe another SS has come and gone...can't wait until next year!

Monday, November 7, 2022

2022 North Texas ARES SET

The North Texas ARES recently held its Simulated Emergency Test and it gave me a great opportunity to use my tiny thermal printer for ARES messages. It worked amazing well!

The drill simulated a large solar flare, shutting down the power grid for several days. As EC, I planned a drill in conjunction with the SET for our local ARES members, especially to practice their Wnlink skills we recently practiced at a local club meeting. 

During the SET, I asked operators to deploy to local school campuses and report on the status, including the number of cars in the parking lot. This "real world" metric was helpful, giving operators something to actually observe instead of simply "making up" a status report. 

As each operator relayed in the their reports via Winlink, I printed off a copy to give to our agency, which, in this case was the Office of Emergency Management. The printers worked well, operating on battery power and producing a readable report on paper. 

The SET was a success and our local ARES members got a chance to put their skills to the test!

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

A vacation with the QCX-mini

The family took a few days of Fall Break and spent some time in the Texas Hill Country. We rented a house along the Guadalupe River and enjoyed a relaxing time of kayaking, fishing and family fun. Of course, I packed a few ham radio bags as well!

Once we settled in, I used my arborist line to string up my homebrew, multi-band EFHW antenna from the balcony to a large tree in the back yard. Then I broke out my 40m QCX-mini and checked the band. Sure enough, 40 meters was hopping and I got a chance to work several stations. 

It was a very nice trip made even nicer by the chance to test out my OCX-mini and antenna with worked flawlessly!