Monthly Archives: August 2008

Finding Grid Square Locators

Note: I have written a page at http://www.levinecentral.com/ham/grid_square.php which does exactly what you might need. Check it out.

When I log a contact (I use HRD) I like to populate the grid square locator so that it shows the approximate distance between me and the contact. There’s a bunch of ways it can get populated and here’s what I use.

1) QRZ.com individual callsign contact data often has the grid square for a contact. If it does, HRD pulls it in. It only needs to be adjusted if the operator isn’t at his home station, such as when I operated from North Carolina.

2) In digital modes like RTTY or PSK, the contact often provides his grid square as part of the contact.

3) I use the QRZ.com GridFinder page at http://www.qrz.com/gridfinder where I have the most luck as long as I have a portion of the address. Most of the time this one site provides what is needed.

4) Next is site which is map based. http://f6fvy.free.fr/qthLocator/fullScreen.php where I can often locate, within reason, the approximate location of the contact. Also good if a contact is mobile and provides you an approximate location. You can then obtain the grid square. An example was a marine mobile station that provided his approx coords and distance off shore.  I just wish this site had a way to enter in a location like Google maps to get you close to a spot quickly.

5) A final shot is at http://www.vhfdx.net/callbook/ where you can look up by call sign and see if it’s listed along with a 6 or 4 digit grid square. I’ve used this when I didn’t have anything but the call sign and there’s not record or no relevant data on QRZ.

With the combination of the above, except in maybe 2 cases so far, I’ve been able to come up with a gris square value for the contact.

Some other references:
http://www.geocities.com/vhfdx2/gridqra.html for printable maps.
http://www.arrl.org/locate/gridinfo.html is ARRL’s reference with some maps.
http://www.g4xgt.co.uk/Grid%20locator.html is another quick responding Google map version.
http://no.nonsense.ee/qthmap/ another Google map locator.
http://ric.cqham.ru/ for looking up grid squares for Russian call signs.

If you are aware of others, post them as a comment.

73, K2DSL

Catching call signs

When I first got on the radio, picking up call signs was a bit frustrating. It felt like call signs were flying by like race cars on a track. If I picked up one or two letters from a call sign each time, in a couple passes I could usually piece the entire call sign together. I’d write down the letters on a piece of scratch paper I kept next to the radio.

Over the course of a few weeks, it started to become easier, even as folks used different phonetics for the various letters. As an example Kilo 2 Delta Sierra Lima, Kilowatt 2 Denmark Sugar London all started to meld into K2DSL with less and less thought as I spent more time on the air.  As I started to get comfortable catching them as they were called, it was still challenging to quickly repeat them back as part of the QSO. But over a few weeks, that two became easier and easier.

I remember Gordon (W2TTT) an outgoing member of the local Bergen Amateur Radio Association (BARA) club that I belong to telling me it will get easier. He was right. Like anything, the more practice you have at pulling out call signs from listening, the better you will get.  It happens quick enough if you can spend time on the air. I remember at this past field day I was sitting with a newer ham and I could pick the call signs up as she was saying “what? what?”. I felt like a pro, if for just a moment.

I’ll reach master level when I can pick up call signs out of a huge pileup as Steve (W2ML) can with what seems like hundreds of people calling all at once. To me it sounded like nothing but noise. To Steve, it was no different then if it was just 1 person  calling him. It was something spectacular to watch/listen to.

Besides call signs on the radio, I’m starting to associate individuals (specifically club members) with their call signs. I use to remember them by first name but now I refer to them by their call signs. Even hearing their voices on the local repeater is enough for me to think of their call. On HF there are voices I now recognize and think of as their call signs as well.

If you’re new, it won’t take long and it will be something you soon don’t think about.

73, David

Short Ohio QSO Party

Last night after getting home from dinner I popped on and made 22 contacts with stations in Ohio as part of their Ohio QSO Party. All contacts were on 40m and 80m. I missed out on the NJ QSO party since I was away on vacation. They are short and fun with the out of state stations only able to log stations within the state that is having the QSO party.

I didn’t fire up N1MM to do the logging which turned out to be a hassle because getting data into N1MM from outside is always a hassle.  I logged the contacts in Ham Radio Deluxe (HRD) which is fine for this type of contest but creating a Cabrillo file is a pain in HRD while easy in N1MM. But getting into N1MM from HRD isn’t easy, which I think, is caused by HRD’s export to ADIF that doesn’t match what N1MM wants on its import, specifically for the Exchange info. I need to use N1MM even if I don’t think I’ll do a lot of contacts since it just ends up being less of a hassle to create the log files needed to provide to the contest team.

Got a mention in N8OIF’s Blog where Ned is discussing some digital modes and a lot of his equipment matches what I have. Ned posts some interesting topics so add him to your list of blogs/RSS feeds to follow.

73, K2DSL

MMTTY and N1MM working

When getting ready for my first RTTY contest I couldn’t seem to get MMTTY and N1MM working with my SignaLink so I just used HRD and DM780 which was fine. But I wanted to get N1MM working with MMTTY before the next contest. I downloaded the latest version of MMTTY which was just updated to 1.66 and isn’t on the official site. Saw a reference to it in the MMTTY Yahoo Group. I then followed the steps at AA5AU’s RTTY site and it worked. Not sure if it is the updated MMTTY, a step I missed that AA5AU’s site noted or I was just rushing to get it done. Anyway, MMTTY is working fine. In a quick look, DM780 is a much better program and other then for a contest I probably wouldn’t have a need for MMTTY.

But MMTTY integrates with N1MM which I also just updated. I followed the steps in the MMTTY help documentation that they have for N1MM and it’s all hooked up. Just need to fire up N1MM and select the Digital Window and it does what it needs to do. Hopefully when the next RTTY contest comes up shortly everything will still be properly configured.

73, David

QSL cards start to arrive

While away on vacation I filled out many, many QSL cards. I have a large stack to give to our local QSL manager to send off for all “DX” stations that don’t have a local QSL manager.

I filled out many QSL cards for US based (42 cent stamp) contacts. Some were in Hawaii, some were US special event contacts and some were US addresses for QSL managers handling DX stations. I mailed them while on vacation in NC and the day I got home 2 were already waiting. Every day since I’ve been home 2 or 3 cards have been waiting. My daughter usually calls me and asks if she can open them. I’ve also received 2 certificates as QSLs related to special events.

The vast majority of the cards are very nice to look. The only 2 completely generic ones are from 2 Hawaii contest stations. I’m sure they have thousands of cards to send out each year so cost is a big factor. The local QSL managers have so far done a great job in replying and sending out QSL cards.

No complaints and I (and one of my daughters) look forward to see what will continue to come in. In 2 weeks, if not sooner, I’ll deliver a good 2″ stack of cards to get sent off for processing by the bureau. It’ll be months before I see any reply back on those.

Another fun aspect to the hobby.

73 – K2DSL

SARTG RTTY Contest

While away on vacation in North Carolina and using a 20m dipole up 25 ft between 2 trees, I participated in the SARTG RTTY Contest for two of the three 8 hour time slots for the contest. I couldn’t participate in the final slot because I was traveling back to NJ.

I was trying to get N1MM and MMTTY to work with my SignaLink USB but I couldn’t get things to jive in the time I had before the contest started so I used Ham Radio Deluxe and DM-780. It worked well enough even though it’s not a contest platform.I’ll have to work on getting MMTTY to work and I think N1MM will be fine once that is worked out.

So with my 100w TS-2000, my 20m dipole up 25 ft and my SignaLink USB connected to the Internet via my Verizon Blackberry EVDO phone, I made a total of 106 contacts. Besides many in the US and Canada I made contacts in the contest with operators in Algeria, Argentina, Asiatic Russia, Austria, Belgium, Bermuda, Bulgaria, Cape Verde, Cuba, Czech, Germany, France, Hawaii, Italy, Martinique, Mexico, Morocco, Portugal, Slovenia, Switzerland, and the Ukraine. But the highlight for me was New Zealand (ZL4A) which shows at 8,800 miles from where I was in NC. All that on 100w and a little wire strung between trees. Absolutely amazes me.

This is such fun stuff!!

73, K2DSL

QSLing part 2

In my first post on QSLing I touched on the QSL card I had made and two electronic QSL services – eQSL and LOTW. Here’s some more QSL thoughts on bureaus.

Outgoing QSL Bureau
Besides spelling the word wrong every time I type it, there’s a bit to know about them. First off, at least for me, there’s 2 bureaus – an incoming QSL bureau and an outgoing QSL bureau. Since I’m an ARRL member, I can utilize the ARRL’s outgoing QSL bureau. Cost is fixed based on number or weight of cards. I haven’t done it yet (putting together the first batch now) but from what other local club members told me, out local club picks up that minimal cost for outgoing cards. So I just get the cards to one of my local club QSL managers and they take it from there. Only international cards can go through the bureau while US cards need to be sent direct (postal mail). So for me at least, the outgoing bureau is pretty straight forward and “free” as part of my annual club and ARRL memberships.

Incoming QSL Bureau
The other half of the process is the incoming QSL bureau. This is where cards from other contacts are sent, aggregated and delivered. The entire process is much like a private post office. Cards are aggregated, sorted and then sent to various locations throughout the world based on their destinations. For me, the local incoming QSL bureau is the NJ DX Association.  The NJ DX Assoc handles QSL cards for the 2nd call area – any US call sign with a 2 in the call.  From their site, they handle over half a million QSL cards a year. So cards destined for me go throught he QSL process and eventually make it to the NJ DX Assoc where they are then provided to my clubs QSL Manager and delivered to me.

The incoming bureau has a fee. It’s pretty straightforward and with PayPal pretty simple to get going. I pay for postal credits. They estimate about 5 to 7 QSL cards is the equivalent of 1 credit. So for each batch of 5 to 7 cards to be delivered to me, they deduct a credit. NJ DX Assoc allows you to bank $12 as a minimum initial purchase when using PayPal which they equate to 20 credits.  They meet once a month, so unless I’m getting in large batches of cards, that $12 will likely last about 2 years, if not longer. I think that’s pretty darn inexpensive for all the work that occurs.

Now I need to get off my rump and start writing out all the outgoing QSL cards (bureau and direct) and get the process going from my side. I’ve been told it can take 3 months to over 1 year for a card going through the bureau to get from point A to point B. Remember, I’ve made contacts last month I’m about to write out. Then I’ll bring them to my local QSL Manager in about 2 weeks at our next meeting. and then the process really starts.

73, K2DSL

Ham Radio Outlet (HRO) – excellent service

A diversion from my continuation of posts on QSLing.  I was heading to North Carolina from NJ for a vacation at my in-laws. I didn’t think I was going to bring my radio but I decided to at the last minute. But deciding at the last minute, and not having a shack full of stuff, I was antenna-less. So I figured I’d stop on the way to NC at one of the HRO stores along the way. I purchased by TS-2000 from HRO and it shipped from the Delaware store.

There are 2 HRO stores right off I-95. One is in Delaware just over the Delaware Memorial Bridge and the other is in northern VA.  Since we were leaving early in the morning, I’d be passing the Delaware store before they opened so I planned on hitting the VA store. It was a couple minutes off 95 so it’s very convenient. I parked and went in. I tried not to look around too much or I’d be there for an hour. Camden, N2CLB helped me. I told him what I wanted and was honest about the 20m Radiowavz dipole, saying it’s not the best. But I wanted something to throw up in my in-laws backyard. So I grabbed it and some coax, paid and Camden gave me his card in case I had any questions. Got out without looking at too much. It was tough!!!!

Got to my in-laws, screwed in a small screw with a closed loop into a solid golf ball and tied some string I used previously. Easily threw it over 2 trees in their back yard and used some other rope I had. Attached the coax to the balun and the ends of the ropes to the insulators on each end of the dipole. Hooked everything up and the TS-2000 wouldn’t tune which means it’s a bad SWR.  At home I have a G5RV and it tunes 10, 20, 40, 80 without issue so it shouldn’t be a problem on a 20m only dipole. I had a small piece of coax to swap out with to see if I could determine if it was the coax or the antenna. Same thing with a different piece of coax.  So I pull it down and see if there’s anything obvious that might be the cause, but without breaking it open I can’t, and if I’m going to return it, I don’t want it to be assumed the problem was because I did something to it.

So the next day I called HRO and Virginia and Camden answered. He remembered who I was and I told him what happened. I suggested I order another one to be delivered to NC and I’ll ship the defective one back when I get home. He put me on hold and when he came back he said they will ship me a replacement with a return label and I don’t need to give them any more payment. Really nice salespeople (if Camden is any indication) and terrific service. I have a local dealer at KJI Electronics, but for anything he can’t get or get quickly (and you know how impatient we can be), HRO Is my choice for terrific service and competitive pricing. I know when folks have an issue, they always post, but it’s nice when folks have a good experience that they post too.

I hope the replacement works. Even if it doesn’t, it’s not HROs fault. If there’s an issue I will write HRO and tell them they need to consider the quality of the Radiowavz product as something they’d want to stock and stand behind. But fingers crossed I’ll have a good one shipped.

73s K2DSL

Follow-up 8/13/2008: The replacement antenna arrived today via UPS. I installed it and it worked fine. Made a quick contact with Spain from NC before heading out to dinner. They also included a return label for getting the defective antenna back to them. Great job Camden and HRO!!

QSLing

Being a newer ham, there’s so many things besides just pressing PTT that need to be considered. One area that is much larger then it appears is QSLing. Until I get farther along in the post, I’m not sure if this will be 1 post or multiple. The areas I’d like to post about are QSL Cards, eQSL, LOTW, bureaus, IRC, greenstamps, SASE, incoming, outgoing, etc. Yeah, I don’t think this will be 1 post.

To start, once I got on HF and started making contacts within the US and to DX locations, I figured I needed to get QSL cards. So I started looking. Cards ranged from generic without your call sign, plain with your call sign, and full blown customized. I considered all of them and decided to start with the full blown customized. It’s much more expensive then generic cards but I didn’t consider those for long. Then I considered the more plain QSL cards that had some customization such as call sign and a selection of canned images. I spent a couple days reviewing web sites and thinking about it. I figured if I was going to go through the effort of sending them, and in some cases the expense of sending them, then I might as well send something I felt really good about. So once again I hit the Internet looking for various QSL card companies. I ended up with a short list of 3 or 4 that I felt provided what I wanted at a cost I was willing to pay. I checked out their references on various sites and from posts in forums, etc where folks talked about dealing with the vendors.

I selected http://www.qslworks.com because of all the good reviews/comments I read about them but more so because of the interaction I had with them. Specifically, I dealt with Tami at QSLWorks and it couldn’t have been a better experience. I had an idea of what I wanted and did my own mock up. I sent them the image I wanted to use and Tami sent back an amazing card. After a little back and forth to tweak the back of it, it was all set to go.  Assuming it stays up, the card is visible at http://www.qslworks.com/K2DSL/. Top not service and quality at QSLWorks!

I use Ham Radio Deluxe (HRD) for logging and it automagically updates eQSL, an online QSL site. There’s no charge to sign up and it seems a lot of folks use it, but it’s not an official way if you’re looking at specific awards such as Worked All States (WAS). Regardless, there’s no harm in uploading your contacts to it (HRD does it for you) and seeing contacts confirmed by others. As of 8/7/2008 I am seeing just under 20% of the contacts I made confirmed in eQSL.

Another online QSL site is LOTW (Logbook of the World) which is hosted by the ARRL. Like eQSL, it’s web based and you upload your logs (ADIF files). LOTW, since it’s hosted by ARRL, takes confirmed contacts as the equivalent of physical QSL cards received for use in awards such WAS, DXCC, etc. It’s more cumbersome to use and does require setup time in that postal mailing is involved, but it’s worth it as it’s a recognized QSL platform.

I think that’s it for this post and I’ll finish up some other QSL items in a subsequent post.

73, K2DSL

PSK31 & Oak Island Lighthouse

My Tigertronics SignaLink USB came in this week from DX Engineering. Easy to set up with a couple of jumpers to get going based on the rig and then pretty much plug and play. It works extremely well with HRD’s DM780 and PSK31 Deluxe programs. As an aside, I’d buy from DX Engineering again in a heart beat. They were fantastic to deal with and had great communications through the 6 week delivery (Tigertronics is back ordered and that was known putting in the order). I couldn’t ask for better service!

The only piece I haven’t yet figured out, and I’ve made some posts looking for assistance, is how to get it to send CW. Supposedly the TS-2000 doesn’t support sending CW through the ACC2 port which is what the SignaLink connects to. There are some posts hinting at ways to make that feature work (which might involve not using the SignaLink) but I don’t have clarity yet on specifically what to do. Hopefully someone will give me something more to go on.

Tonight I fired up PSK31 Deluxe and made my first PSK31 contacts. 2 in the US, 1 in Canada and 1 in Costa Rica, all on 20m. Looked like there was a little PSK31 contest going on at the time.  I also used the SignaLink earlier in the week to grab some SSTV pictures also on 20m. Pretty neat stuff and a bunch of new modes to try out.

N4C is a special event station running now to celebrate 50 years of the Oak Island, NC lighthouse. At 50, it’s still the newest lighthouse in the US according to the operator. I’ve been to Oak Island before as my in-laws live not too far away in Wilmington, NC. Real nice op and I was glad to catch them on the air.

73s, K2DSL

Private