Sunday, October 30, 2016

Favorite phone apps- Part 2 Google Maps

Google Maps is probably a favorite tool for a lot of people. I like to use it mostly for planning routes but I sometimes use it for navigation.

Recently for the 2 meter Simplex contest held by the SLSRC and the ILQP I used Google Earth to plot my operating locations by adding pin symbols and labels.

You save the KMZ file from Google Earth to your Google Drive and then follow these steps.

Open Google Maps

Select "menu"

Select "Your places"

Select "maps"

Select "Create Map" at bottom left

Import KMZ file from your Google Drive

Now you should have a map similar to this one.

Now during the contest, you can view this map on your phone or tablet and choose the navigation feature(blue arrow). You can tell it to navigation from your location to a spot on the map. Move the map around to the pin/label you want and select it. Now it will navigate to your next operating spot.

I also used this for the ILQP. This time I paired the phones bluetooth with my truck radio. Now I have turn by turn directions coming through the trucks sound system. It worked great!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

2016 Illinois QSO Party

Sunday October 16th was the Illinois QSO Party and this was my 5th year operating as a rover station. We had beautiful weather and even better conditions on 40 meters. I will attempt to share my observations, what worked well and what needs improvement.

The Plan
I planned to operate as a rover again this year. I was starting on the 3 county corner of Massac, Johnson and Pulaski. This is a secluded spot along a gravel road on the edge of a state conservation area. I have operated from this spot 4 and 5 years ago field day style but the last 3 years the spot has become overgrown. This year there is a construction project going on in the area and 2 large culverts were now taking up much of the parking area. There was room to get my truck off the road safely so I sat in the truck for about 2 hours. I operated all on 40 meters with most contacts on phone but I also did some CW search and pounce.  Antenna was a 31ft S9 fiberglass mast with 33ft of spiral wound wire going to a AH-4 tuner. Picture below shows the truck and culverts.  

Next I drove through Pulaski County making a few contacts and then parked at a spot in Alexander County. Originally the plan was to stay in Alexander for 1 hour but I was the only operator in that county and another operator had Union County well covered so I decided to spend more time in Alexander. Again mostly made 40 meter phone contacts with some CW mixed in.

After Alexander County I drove through Union County making a few contacts with the most important contact being with K9IUQ. Stan was the main operator handing out Union County points but no one else was in the county to work him. We made a 2 meter contact and we were both happy to be able to claim Union as a multiplier.

Since I skipped the planned stop in Union County that gave me extra time on the Jackson and Williamson County line. This spot is on the spillway for Crab Orchard Lake which borders Carbondale. Had a great run on 40 meter phone until about 6:30PM. 

Final leg of the journey was to head to the Franklin and Jefferson County line at Rend Lake. The W9W team was set up there and the plan was to get there just before the contest ended and work each other so we could each claim those counties as multipliers. Turns out Dennis KM9O was just a few miles behind me and we kept working each other on 2 meters as we crossed the county lines. I made it the W9W compound at 7:53PM. We squeaked out some contacts on multiple bands before the contest ended at 8PM. The W9W team had a great spot and set up. They even had a cheddar cheeseburger ready for me when I arrived!

What worked
The set up in the cab of the truck has evolved over the years. It is an ICOM IC-7100 with a homebrew audio/PTT box. This homebrew box has headphone jacks that are independent of the main volume control. The headphone jacks are driven by a 3 watt amplifier that is hooked up to the rigs discriminator audio. There is also a nice big PTT button that is just in the right spot as you drive down the road. I also run 2 voice recorders as back ups to when I have a logging problem.

The Android tablet was great for the Google Map navigation and it also ran the APRSDroid app. The cell phone in the picture below is an old phone that I just use as a clock mainly running the app called Hamclock. 

When operating stationary, I set up a steering wheel tray table for the keyboard and used a GearTie to make a hanger for the Winbook tablet that was for logging. Normally I use an Android tablet for casual logging but HamLog does not handle a QSO Party very well so I used a Winbook tablet running Windows 10 and got the N3FJP program talking to the IC-7100. Worked great and I will use this set up more often.

Laminated flip cards to help me keep track of which county I am in plus they have the phonetics on them also after I become a little numb.

The antenna mount in the truck bed has served me well over the last 5 years and in 2 different trucks. Everything is right where I need it to be for quick antenna changes. I can convert from the 102" whip to the 31ft S9 mast in about 5 minutes. 

Running 2 meters can be a distraction at times but it does help with multipliers especially if you can do some coordination with other rovers. 



Room for improvement
As hams, we are rarely ever happy with our antennas. The AH-4 tuner is a great solution to many  mobile antenna problems and its combination with a 102" whip is great for 20 meters and above but not so great for 40 meters. I realized this last year and did not learn my lesson. I flirted with the idea of using resonators while being mobile this year but abandoned the idea as I ran short on time while prepping the truck. I lost too many points and multipliers when I could hear the stations but they could not hear me. 

I need to be set up with a NVIS dipole when stationary. Again, I knew this but took the easy way out by using the vertical. 

My operating style has shifted more towards running with less search and pounce. NPOTA activations have helped with that problem but I need to do better. 

I must eat and drink more during the contest. I haven't learned this lesson yet!

Still need a 80 meter solution when mobile but I know this can be challenging. The last hour of the contest tends to shift to 80 meters. 

Allow more time for stationary operation. 2 hours for a 3 county corner is not long enough. It would also allow time to get on 20 meters.

I need to allow time to go after the 5 DX multipliers. 

I completely forgot to bring up the county hunter web page for spotting. I did this last year but not this year. Moron


Total claimed score 36,295
States worked 28
Provinces worked 2
IL counties worked 55
Total multipliers 85
Total QSO points 427

362 days to plan for the next one!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Favorite phone apps when operating portable-Part 1 - HamClock


This simple Android app is great for portable operations. Imagine sitting in one spot for hours running a pile up or bored calling CQ. After awhile I become numb in the head and forget where I am. Maybe it is just me. 

This app lets you customize 4 or 5 lines of text. I used this last during a NPOTA activation at NS73. 

It also works in landscape mode. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

160 mile contact on 446.00 FM

Today while driving to work and letting the IC-880 scan for signs of life on the repeaters I caught the tail end of a simplex QSO. I was only hearing one side of the QSO and finally heard someone sign as aeronautical mobile. I was surprised to see it come up on 446.0Mhz. The call was AJ8L and he was delivering a plane to Springfield IL. I made contact with him while he was over Champaign IL and I was just coming into St. Louis. Looks like the distance was around 160 miles. He had a great signal but we had to cut it short as they were dropping altitude as they approached Springfield.

Short but fun QSO to break up the morning drive time.