Thursday, January 4, 2024

POTA outing with the DigiBox

With the extended Christmas break, I had an opportunity to head out to Martin Creek Lake State Park (K-3036) for a POTA activation. I used my revamped DigiBox and my homebrew EFHW antenna. The weather was perfect with clear sunny skies and about 63 degrees outside. It was very comfy in the sunshine! 

I found a covered picnic table near the lake and setup my equipment. I extended my 21-foot collapsible fishing pole and used a rod holder stuck in the ground about 40 feet out from the picnic table to hold it, basically creating a sloper antenna.  

Over all, it worked very well! I made just over 36 FT8 contacts in about an hour and a half. I found the bottleneck on on working contacts was my own clumsiness in clicking stations! Typically, my signal reports were about 10db to 15db below the reporting stations, which I felt pretty good about considering I was running about 4w and the bands were FULL of station. 

Monday, August 7, 2023

Upgraded digital GoBox

After several months of use, I decided to upgrade my digital GoBox. The new version includes a larger screen (10" vs 7"), solar charging capabilities and a nicer layout. I used some white marine board to create a mounting point for all the equipment. This gives it a much cleaner look. I also installed a 30A solar charge controller to allow for solar panel use if desired.

I wound up frying to Raspberry Pi 4 computers with the old setup. The best guess on why is that the USB port was getting confused with the RPi and supplying it with 12V instead the required 5V. I removed the blown diode (was not able to salvage the pads for a replacement) and use the RPi anyway.

I also added a Real Time Clock (RTC) module to help keep the unit calibrated. I previously had installed a GPS unit to update the time, but the RTC module is easier, smaller and cheaper. It uses the DS3231SN chip to maintain accurate date and time  

I wrapped the module in some shrink wrap and connected it via the i2C bus. It seems to work very well and includes a rechargeable Lithium Ion battery. I followed these instructions to setup the software portion. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Yellow is for Solar!

I'm a big proponent of using Anderson PowerPole connectors on all radio gear. They have become the standard for ARES and other emergency radio services, so it just makes sense. However, I wanted to make sure I didn't mix up wires from different voltages, such as power lines coming in from by solar panels. 

I ordered a handful of yellow housings and have begun swapping over all the connectors that would bring solar (often 18v - 24v). Hopefully, it will be an extra-level of protection when hooking things up in a hurry!

Friday, April 28, 2023

Wires-X on the N5RCA repeater

I've had an HRI-200 for a few years now, but for most of that time, its sat silent in my GoBox. I mounted it there along with a FTM-400DX to use when I deployed the box. Typically, the box sits on my desk in my home QTH and I use it and the FT-991 (also in the box) as secondary base rigs.

Since the club swapped out our repeater controller for a (newer) DR-1 Fusion machine, I decided I would try to setup the HRI-200 as a remote Gateway. We don't have internet access (or even easy physical access) to the repeater site, so having a remote Gateway is the only way we can do it. 

The whole process was rather easy. I installed the Wires-X software on my PC and connected the radio and HRI-200. Now, anyone with a Wires-X capable rig, can connect to the Wires-X network, choose a room and talk with other distant stations. Try it if you get the chance!

General Instructions (refer to your radio manual for exact instructions):

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Low-power antenna build

I decided to try and miniaturize my EFHW antenna. I typically use this kind of antenna with one of my QCX-minis or my QDX (both from QRP Labs) so it would never see more than about 8 watts maximum. So far, I've always built them with FT140-43 cores which work very well, but are somewhat bulky. A friend said they didn't really look like "QRP" antennas to him, so I thought I'd try something smaller.

To build this mini-version I used use two stacked FT50-43 cores, so yes, they are small. I wound them like some of my others to be 64:1 transformers using 3 turns on the primary and 24 on the secondary. I included a 100pf capacitor as well. Then sealed the whole thing inside some shrink tubing.

I cut a wire for 20m and tested it out and it tuned very well. Next, I'll take it to the field and try it out in

Sunday, April 9, 2023

The QDX + QCX-Mini at K-3036

Easter weekend gave us a little bit of time to hang out with out family, but the weather was not very cooperative. Saturday proved to be the best weather-wise, we we headed out late to the nearest state park, Martin Creek Lake. When we arrived, my wife and the kids began rigging up fishing poles, while I started throwing lines up in the trees.

With the help of my daughter's boyfriend's pitching arm, we managed to get the end of my 20m EFHW about 25 feet up in a pine tree. I wasn't sure if it would be good enough for 5w, but a few minutes on the air proved my worry was misplaced.

I broke out my 20-Meter QCX-mini, hooked everything up and called CW POTA. Instantly, KD3D came back to me. This being my first true CW activation, I stumbled quite a bit over the callsigns. I blame it on a mixture of nerves and a lingering lack of confidence in my CW skills. But as they say, 'experience is the best teacher!' (At least I'm sayin' it.) 

Soon I had stations calling on top of each other! Wow! Within about 15 minutes I had managed to pick out 12 stations and I was pumped! The sun was about to set and I knew I wanted to try my QDX as well, so I packed the QCX-Mini and

Monday, March 27, 2023

RF Chokes and my NanoVNA

Spent some time last week working with my NanoVNA. I've had the VNA for a couple of years now  but used it mostly for checking SWR on my antennas. It's the 4-inch screen model, which is easier on the eyes but still small enough to throw in my go-bag. 

I've had a few issues with RF in the shack causing some interference. I use a multi-band vertical and an 80-meter dipole as my primary antennas. The vertical is prone to producing some RF on the coax so I built a couple of chokes to help eliminate the problem. After watching some YouTube videos on using the NanoVNA properly (I really like Barry's videos - , I was thrilled to be able to measure the signal loss on each choke.

I started by building a testing jig which allowed me to use the "Through" function of the VNA with a choke inline. I cut a set of alligator clips to use with it and wrapped it all in heavy-duty shrink wrap to protect it. My "Ugly Balun" choke was fair. Probably enough to be ok at the lowest frequencies, but not efficient higher up the dial. I then built a choke with RG-316 coax and a 140-43 toroid. This one was much better across the band. I took the opportunity to also install my grounding box with lightening arrestors at the same time.