Wednesday, July 12, 2023

The SalmonCon 2023

SalmonCon 2023

A few weeks ago a friend of mine who I know from the 10-meter net, Dick W9BFP reminded me of the local QRP club puts on a good convention at the Valley Camp in North Bend, WA.

I decided to go.

Wheels


First thing was to swap vehicles with my dad.  He has a 2500 Ram Van that he converted from empty shell into a work-in-progress RV -- has solar power, radiant heat floor, forced air heater, 120V AC from state of the art inverter system, rack of very large lithium batteries and a bunk to sleep.  It's still missing some key things but he will get to it later in the year (H2O system, shower, sink and dunny, etc..)   

But he's in Sequim and I'm in Fall City and between us is a round-trip drive of 8 hours (including the Kingston/Edmonds ferry).

I picked up the van on Monday night and started putting the camping gear together during the week after work each day.  By Thursday, I was ready but I was still bit rushed.   I packed up my radio I wanted to use, antennas to setup (two verticals -- one GAP 20 meter Monoband and a 10 meter monoband).   My K3, power system, and miscellaneous hardware/tools/wiring bits and bobs were loaded.

Camping gear reduced to a crate of stuff that is easy to load and unload.  All I really needed was my 25 year old MSR stove, fuel, and pan to boil water.  Freeze dried food was my menu.  Plus an espresso maker for the morning nectar of the bean.  Gotta have that.

In any case I live only 30-40 minutes away from Valley Camp so it was easy trek and if things were in need North Bend is only 10 minutes away from the camp.

Valley Camp


The camp is a sprawling and beautifully landscaped area.  There are lodges for meetings, and a wide open space they call the Orchard (presume because at one time it was were fruit trees were once planted -- only a few remain now).  It's flat, open and bounded by a ring of very tall cedar trees.  To the east corner of the Orchard is a meeting area -- open air cabin structure complete with outdoor kitchen, electricity and tables for gear and demonstration.




The hosts of the camp were extremely gracious and welcoming.  I am convinced this should be a regular thing each year for me to do.  I look forward to the next one already.

Pie and Coffee


https://www.pnwqrp.org/  The Pacific North West QRP Group is an organization that meets regularly and as far as I understand the "P&C" is the draw... P&C is "Pie and Coffee".   I say that it is the draw because what else besides radio is going to pull amateur radio operators together ?  Pie.. and Coffee.
Trouble is they meet during the week and while I'm at work, so I'm not able to attend those gatherings.


The goal of the QRP convention SalmonCon is to bring together folks from the local QRP community and discuss techniques and technology that is important not just to QRP operation, but radio in general -- with a mind and nod towards those who venture out on foot or RV to work POTA/SOTA/etc..

Setups


I saw many interesting setup -- the dominant antenna was either a wire dipole raised on a fiberglass mast, or vertical or inverted L wire antenna also using push up fiberglass masts.   The "Buddi-Pole" type tripod was also employed to raise the apex of those inverted V wire dipoles.

There were two operators there that drew my interest and I had the most questions for.

Curt, WR5J   and Guy W7UN  had setups that were really noteworthy.

Guy was using a KX3 I believe and a wire antenna.  The setup was purely QRP with batteries and a solar panel for daytime re-charge.  The station was so compact I could hardly notice it on the picnic table.     What he also had (and let be borrow) was a Linked-Dipole.   I am sure that I've read about this kind of dipole antenna, but I had forgotten about it.  I'll discuss that later.

Curt is someone that I've bumped into time to time and it almost had that Casablanca feeling when I see him -- it's like "in all the gin joints of the world.." moment when I find him there.  I met him first in Visalia for the DX convention and then later again at the Mike and Key Field Day operation.

Curt is a generous person and easy to talk to -- and doesn't mind the endless questions.   I had many.

He setup with a solar panel on his vehicle and ample supply of tools and equipment.  He's ready for just about anything.

Antenna-wise he seems to have mastered the mobile/portable antenna deployment.  A quickly raised mast, holding the guy-line supported Linked-Dipole cut and tuned for any of the HF bands 80 meters and up.

He showed me how the KX3 and KXPA-100 work.  A table of wires, "which sometimes puts people off", paraphrasing.. But I don't care about that. It is what it is.  The gem though was this very tiny keyer fastened to the table with 3M universal tack material like Velcro but not sided.  Either surface is the same.  But the key it held was really interesting (and I kick myself for not getting a picture).

It was the size of an ice cube from a refrigerator tray.   Two paddles. No visible springs.  And adjustable.

The KX3 was setup to use two antennas.  The button push let us choose the vertical wire, or the inverted V.

It wasn't rocket science to understand the whole setup.  The issue wasn't that particular radio, amplifier or key.  What was important is that the whole kit literally was a single Pelican case worth of gear.  Really portable.

That was the eye opener -- how easy it is to go anywhere to operate.

K7S


The event was afforded a special event call sign.  I used K7S to work CW and FT-8 during the weekend and added a few dozen calls to the accumulated log of the whole event.  I sent those logs eventually to the log coordinator of the SalmonCon.

I was working 20 meters and 17/15 meters on my GAP mono-band.




WRTC


It happened that weekend was the IARU contest and in the middle of that was the WRTC.  A good friend of mine reminded me to listen for the Italian call signs of those 50+ stations competing in the WRTC.   Had I been at home, I would have thought I'd had a better chance to work those I41, I42, I43, etc.. stations.  But, since I was at the QRP SalmonCon, I just assumed that my chance to work them would be slim to none.

I was wrong.

So, let's step back just a bit.  It was Saturday July 8th, and another friend arrived just to visit, Mike KF7GGM.  He isn't an active CW operator, but I think he wants to become one.   I was in the van working IARU contest stations with my K3 and Guy W7UN and Mike were right there and we were both chatting about CW and listening to the calls I was working (N1MM+ and the K3 on the Linked Dipole antenna).

There were a few calls that Guy helped with and we talked about the way in which N1MM worked for helping Mike understand the process.   The 20 meter band was active and just about every station I wanted to work came back to my call (K7S in this case).

I decided to switch chairs and invited Mike to sit and operate the station.  He jumped into the van, sat in the chair.   I explained the basic thing going on:

The stations we're hearing are IARU contest stations calling CQ.   Some of them might be the WRTC stations competing for that contest.

I pointed out on the spot-network that these stations are spotted at these frequencies.  I showed him that in N1MM, to work one of them (or at least try to) we can select that frequency and listen to see if that station is still calling CQ as spotted.   I ran through the process with Mike.

I explained that we're using N1MM because it makes it easier to call these contest stations and send our call and the exchange with the information required.  I reviewed the Function keys with the K3 in test mode so he could recognize the pattern.

I put the K3 back into Normal Mode and we started S/P for a strong station.   As we heard the strong station calling CQ, I explained to Mike what we're listening for as a trigger to answer the call (drop our call K7S via F4).

JW>  "OK, he's wrapping up his call, get ready for F4. Yeah put your finger right over that button and wait for it.. OK he's done. NOW!"

Mike presses F4 and we drop "K7S"

We wait, nope.  He took someone else.  

JW> "It's OK, he's working someone else..  Get ready.... OK the station sent the TU.  We know he's probably done with that TU.  We will listen for another cycle to make sure that's his pattern."

So we listen to that station work another and finish with TU.

JW> "OK Mike, get ready.. NOW!"

Mike pressed F4 and we wait.  

JW> "He's coming back to us. Get ready for the Exchange."

Mike> "What exchange?"

JW> "We need to send him a signal report and our section. It's pre-loaded into the N1MM macro.  Here we go.."

JW> "Press F2 .. NOW!"

Mike pressed F2 and we sent the exchange.   We listened and heard the TU.

JW> "That's it.  We logged the contact!  Good job!"

We did this a few more times with Mike.  We worked some HQ stations in the IARU contest on CW at 22 wpm and Mike had a grin ear to ear.  I know it was overwhelming for him because he's not a CW operator, but I had a glimmer of hope we (Guy and myself) convinced Mike that this was a fun aspect of the hobby.   

I told Mike that he did great and that thrill you feel, that excitement is really the best part.   

Mike had to get back home soon, so we said our farewell.

It was getting dark anyway and Guy strolled back to his campsite.

The Italian Job

I put on a fresh pot of espresso on the camp stove and got settled for a night on 20 meters.

Around 11 pm things went side-ways.. 20 meters came alive.   It was an extremely good opening into EU and lo and behold dozens of I4* WRTC stations started popping up on the spot cluster.   I tuned the radio to where they were and sure enough they were S-5 or better for me on the wire antenna.

Each of the WRTC contest stations had a special callsign in the I4 prefix.  I41A, I42B type of format.  The list of calls had been published, but the identity of which team was which call was still secret.

Didn't matter.

I started working these stations and I believe in the span of about 20-30 minutes I had about 16-18 of them in the log.  There were also a large number of other IARU stations there too.  *HQ stations and others.   It was a really magic night on 20 meters for a number of reasons.

I worked them on my callsign and I'm glad to have given the WRTC points around.    What was very interesting about working those WRTC stations is how well they copied me.  They literally turned it right around and gave me the exchange.   I was running 90 watts.  That is incredible work on the part of those contest stations.   

In general the evening was special for a few reasons:

  • Mike got a chance to work at speed IARU contest stations  (good job Mike!)
  • I got a chance to work some of the WRTC stations and
  • The band that is normally difficult for me into EU was really open.  

I wondered what it would have been like had I stayed home and worked the horizontal loop I have at the QTH.   That loop would have been ideal!

The Next DX'p

Having a portable station doesn't have to be complicated.   I'm radio brand agnostic -- to a point.  I have Yaesu, I-Com and Elecraft radios already.  The way I explain it, I choose the right radio for my budget and style and function.  I prefer Elecraft for HF work.  I prefer some I-Com for UHF/VHF work, especially satellite operations.  And I prefer Yaesu for iron-tough portable radios.

What I saw and learned at SalmonCon is that the portable radio kit with the KX3 would be great thing to try.   The lithium batteries are not too heavy and the Linked Dipole antenna is a great way to get tuned on the band.

I learned that going to a San Juan island or some POTA location would almost as good for my goal to work DX from the other side.. The DX side.   It has to be good practice to setup a temporary station, string wire, tune the rig and call CQ.

Finally, I grew to appreciate the friends we can make in amateur radio and I really value the comradery and willingness to help each other learn new things to try.

I look forward to the next time we get together at SalmonCon.  In the mean time I will try to put together my own Linked-Dipole antenna.  I will prune my camping gear and portable radio gear to the stream-lined approach I saw from other QRP experts at SalmonCon.

Until then..




Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Collecting Colonies

When I was a kid, I remember my dad had these small blue card-stock books where he collected pennies. One round slot for each year back to whenever, and all of the special variants -- wheat backs, etc..   It was a neat collection he started when he was a kid I guess.


This 13-Colonies "contest" reminds me of that.

While each Colony (state) is workable, it's fun to be able to fill the slots on each one for each band and mode.

Perhaps it is just the special significance of the 4th of July holiday is the draw.

I've worked them all on CW so far.  I just need a couple more on SSB complete those columns.

I've also worked the special WM3PEN station on CW but not on SSB yet.

And the two other "DX" special call signs  GB13COL and TM13COL are (to my best knowledge) only worked on SSB or FT-8 at this time.  That may change, I hope.

Adjusting my preference to work CW over SSB lately has highlighted something that I noticed when I was trying to work the SSB K2x stations.   The mosh-pit of the pile up on SSB is incredible.  I guess that is how it has always been.  I should know because I used to focus on SSB and those pile-ups remind me of all those years of trying to wiggle through.  The east coast is especially difficult to work SSB sometimes.  Being near Seattle, I contend with the loud stations in the south west, and mid-west.

100 watts from Seattle to the south west can yield a report of +20 to Arizona -- that pipeline still amazes me.  But the same signal strength to the east coast is just noise to them most of the time.  Even when I raise the power to 400 watts I'm just about S-5.   No big deal.

I'm going to try to round out the list for the SSB contacts for the colonies I need.  I'll hope that the DX (GB13, TM13) stations are workable too.


Monday, July 3, 2023

MST - Ahead of the curve, finally

As I practice CW in the MST contests one metric that I have been striving for is to keep pace with the clock.

At first, I wanted to at least have 30 Q/hr.  The contests last one hour so I thought 30 Q/hr was a reasonable goal.   It didn't take long to pass that goal.   On a lot of sessions I can get to that mark.

But what I really wanted is the next goal of 1 Q / minute.   It's just a goal.

I should qualify -- I mean 1 Q /hr when I am in run-mode, not S/P.

Tonight I was well on my way.  At first I was about pacing the clock, which is good, but I started to pass the clock in terms of more than 1 Q / minute.

It lasted for about 20-22 minutes and I was really glad.  It was great fun.  I was busy in the contest so I had to be quick about getting a screen grab.  But the Q count was 17 at this point at 15 minutes in.  It actually persisted at that rate for some time after.   But nonetheless I was pretty excited about that.

By around 24-26 Q I saw the Run fade off and the rate fell.  But I was still in run-mode.



NN7SS NA-065 RSGB IOTA CW

https://www.ng3k.com/misc/iota2023.html


W7BRS will be working from NA-065 (Vashon Island) during RSGB IOTA CW contest as NN7SS (K6UFO).

July 29-30.  

Let's do this.


Sunday, July 2, 2023

13 Colonies

This is a fun contest.  Not really a contest, but sort of.  Just work them.   So far the K2C station has the most humor.

Could be a contest, couldn't it?

Maybe the club might layer something on top of it:

1 point per callsign per band.
multiplier for each callsign (K2A and K2B would be a mult of 2)
10 multipler for the WM3PEN special station.
10 multipler for the DX special stations.

(perhaps add some other special figures in our Colonial history)

But that would take some time to puzzle out a UserDefinedContest -- and it's too late. Maybe next year 2024?   Would/may need a 3830 score template.   Next year, maybe.

Anyway, I was tinkering with the Filter on the Cluster and thought I'd share the filter I use:

Might save you a few minutes of time searching the filter syntax manual.

I threw this into my cluster command line when I want to just see the Colonies show.

set dx filter call=[k2a,k2b,k2c,k2d,k2e,k2f,k2g,k2h,k2i,k2j,k2k,k2l,k2m] and mode=cw

If you want to just get the spots for the 13 from states that are generally in our neck of the woods (RF-wise)

add this:

and spotterstate=[wa,ca,nv,az,ve]

or for just spotter state WA, trim back to 

and spotterstate=wa

Or adjust accordingly for your location

Note that these stations are working on all bands, including WARC.
http://www.13colonies.us/

If you want to also look for the three special calls WM3PENGB13COL and TM13COL then see below

(As you work through the call signs, you might decide to trim some out of the filter)

So the complete filters are (it's case-insensitive) -- note the clauses for either CW or SSB.  If you aren't looking for that mode, take that clause out of the filter.   They are also working digital modes (FT-8, etc..) so a mode-"less" filter might help.

# 13 Colonies as spotted by WA, CA, NV, AZ, VE   where mode is CW on any band
set dx filter call=[k2a,k2b,k2c,k2d,k2e,k2f,k2g,k2h,k2i,k2j,k2k,k2l,k2m] and mode=cw and spotterstate=[wa,ca,nv,az,ve]

# 13 Colonies as spotted by WA, CA, NV, AZ, VE   where mode is SSB on any band
set dx filter call=[k2a,k2b,k2c,k2d,k2e,k2f,k2g,k2h,k2i,k2j,k2k,k2l,k2m] and mode=ssb and spotterstate=[wa,ca,nv,az,ve]

#  3 special + 13 Colonies as spotted by WA, CA, NV, AZ, VE   where mode is CW on any band
set dx filter call=[WM3PEN,GB13COL,TM13COL,k2a,k2b,k2c,k2d,k2e,k2f,k2g,k2h,k2i,k2j,k2k,k2l,k2m] and mode=cw and spotterstate=[wa,ca,nv,az,ve]

#  3 special + 13 Colonies as spotted by WA, CA, NV, AZ, VE   where mode is SSB on any band
set dx filter call=[WM3PEN,GB13COL,TM13COL,k2a,k2b,k2c,k2d,k2e,k2f,k2g,k2h,k2i,k2j,k2k,k2l,k2m] and mode=ssb and spotterstate=[wa,ca,nv,az,ve]

Things happening

It has been a busy few months since I hung up my software-spurs. On deck -- DX'pedition for Lord Howe Island Lord Howe Island (July 202...