Thursday, September 15, 2016

Surviving our first VHF contest rove

Chris KG6CIH and I went out roving for the first time this past weekend. It went much better than it could have, much worse than we'd hoped but much much better than expected. We're still tallying up and confirming our hand-scribbled logs, but it looks like we had around 7k points with 46 mults, in the Limited Rover category. Our stretch goal was 10k points, and our "would be nice" goal was 25 multipliers. We were short on points, but absolutely destroyed our mult goal. We learned a lot, and we've got a ton of improvements to make for next time.

Our weekend didn't start so great. It was very hectic leading up to the 'test so we were wrapping up preparations until the very last minute. I finished one of our beams around 2am Saturday morning. We met early Saturday to load everything into the car to head up to Equinox VT, when we realized we had no idea how to pack the 200+lbs of equipment into my car. A mess of that later, a second realization that I had used the wrong connector on a critical power cable, and a handful of other small messes later we finally got on the road over an hour late. It was a 3 hour drive up to our FN33 site, and we didn't manage to make the site until after 3pm. We took a wild swing at setting up and finally got on the air close to 3:30, an hour and a half after the contest started. We quickly realized how awesome it was to be up a few thousand feet with beams and reasonable power on our bands, and starting pulling in contacts left and right. Unfortunately, the road up Equinox closes at 5pm - we had to break down after only about 45 minutes of operating and were being chased (slowly, and with a friendly demeanor) down the mountain by a gentleman who was dropping a massive steel gate to close the road.

2m operating station. The switch was meant for the defunct 23cm transverter and so not in use.
We did fairly well up there, but had some problems. We were incredibly unorganized, and were so scattered about getting up there and going so late and so rushed that we fumbled some contacts. I know at least once I tried to call using the callsign I operated under at FD'16, and I was constantly forgetting to call CQ with "rover." I think all of my contacts included it though. We also were really terrible about handing contacts back and forth. I was running 2m, with 6, 1.25 and 70cm on Chris' station, and he was on the ground outside of the car while I was in the driver seat. It was a great site, but we certainly had some growing pains.
After heading down Equinox, we headed over to our second grid, Hogback Mountain in FN32. This site wasn't quite as good as we hoped, but it was still productive. We had intended on working from directly by the edge of the mountain. Upon arriving, we realized that the parking lot along this edge was essentially a wide shoulder, on a hard curve on a steep downhill on a road heavily used by trucks. Not really wanting to get clobbered by a semi (it really takes a bite out of your final score), we moved across the street to a big parking lot. This gave us plenty of space to setup, though we had trees around us and got to smell what we later discovered was a nearly fully-decomposed black bear.

Having some experience now, this operation went much better. Setup was faster and cleaner, and we were really getting into a roll running the bands with the operators we contacted. I'm pretty sure this is where we made our longest contact, FN32 to FN10. Considering our last effort was at home in a valley, it was pretty crazy that we made it from Central VT to near Harrisburg PA with 100W and 7el on 2m. We also worked guys out on Long Island, FN30.

The first day netted us around 43 mults. We were sitting around 5000 points when we did some back-of-napkin (okay, cell phone) calculations at our hotel. We were VERY excited by this, and figured we'd hit at least 51 mults after we hit 2 or 3 grids on Sunday.

K1SIG/R at Hogback Mountain, set up for operating. The sun was hot in the window, so we improvised some shades. 2m on left, 6/1.25/70cm on right
Waking up on Sunday, we discovered some bad news. It was pouring outside, and a look at the radar and weather reports showed that pretty much every grid, site and backup site on our list had severe thunderstorm warnings until about 4pm. Mount Kearsarge, our intended Sunday AM FN43 stop, also had a road that closed at 5. We really had no desire to head up a mountain and wave a bunch of aluminum in the air during an electrical storm. After a lot of head scratching, poking around on Google, maybe some cursing, and a whole lot of sighing, we decided to return to our FN32 site at Hogback. We figured we could at least snag a few more contacts and maybe scratch out another multiplier or two. We did manage I think another 2 mults from this site in the morning. Irritatingly, while I was trying to diagnose issues with my 23cm transverter that kept us off of a fifth band for the contest, I turned the power down on my radio and forgot about it. This likely cost me a contact with W1AIM in FN34, a new mult. He was coming in strong but my puny 5W out was insufficient to make it through.

As if to spite us, the weather became absolutely gorgeous. Blue skies, a bit windy, and a nice mid-70s for a temperature. A check of the radar showed that the storm had blown out to sea much faster than anticipated. We discovered this too late to get up Kearsarge, we'd have arrived after 4pm and would have barely been able to work any contacts before having to clear off. It was also really too late to head down to RI for our FN41 site, we hadn't planned to work much later than around a late dinner. We made the decision to head to my house in FN42 to at least activate the grid for our 46th multiplier. The noise floor was fairly high here, with beams nearly level with the power lines across the street from my house. Fortunately, the quietest direction happened to be aimed directly at AF1T in FN43 and we quickly and easily ran the bands with him. 
The rover bundled up and ready to roll

We had a great time time, despite getting rained out on Sunday and thus losing a number of mults and points. While we were driving, eating and during general down time we talked a lot about what we could do better (step 1: weather machine), and where we might be able to go to improve our operating location as well as make ourselves more desirable for contact. We have some plans brewing, so we'll see what comes of it.
A big problem was set up time. We were running 2x 100Ah deep cycle batteries in parallel charged from the car battery/alternator. I didn't have time to get the relay/solenoid for this together, and I didn't want to leave the battery connected with the car off, so each site required the connection and disconnection of large batteries, which was a little sketchy. I also just had the batteries sitting in the back with tape over them. We used our wooden mast mounts as a wall to keep things from rolling onto the batteries.
We had a lot of disorganization that would have streamlined our setup time if it were fixed. We plan to have this a little better for the next outing.

I had a 23cm transverter with me, and had intended on using it. However, if as having a heck of a time getting it to work and at one point arced the power plug to the case. I still don't know if I fried anything. I hope to get this band up next time. We also considered a drive by of a friend in FN42 for a 900 contact, but since we ran let of time and lost 1296 we decided to stick with limited rover and just the bottom 4 bands.
Next stop: better sites, better organization, and more bands! Also, more advance testing, scouting and probably a dry run of packing and setting up.

We're already planning for next time!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

SOTA Activation of Mount Temple's Holt Peak, W1/HA-181

I just recently activated my second summit, Holt Peak of Mount Temple. Temple has two peaks, Holt and Burton, but only Holt is activatable.

I was up there with Chris KG6CIH. We brought along 2m and 20m equipment, as last time. Unfortunately, Chris' LNR radio had a problem with the mic gain so we failed at an HF activation again. We had a very active 2m activation, 9 contacts in a fairly short time.

The hike was a fairly easy one, 1.9 miles one way up  relatively easy terrain. We had a little bit of snow, a few inches, with some ice here or there. While we had snowshoes with us, we left them in the car. Microspikes were more than enough to get through the ice on the ground.

I'm really looking forward to more SOTA activations. We're working now to figure out our HF problems, whether we fix our gear and get that on the air, or drag along another operator who has functional gear.

I need to work on my gear, I'm plenty warm but I tend to wear too many clothes and get nice and sweaty. I need to shed more layers, earlier. It hasn't been too bad on our short hikes, but with a longer hike it might get bad or dangerous.

I should make a post on what gear I'm carrying, it's not fancy but it works.

Thanks to our chasers:

Monday, January 25, 2016

Combining Blogs

I'm moving posts from a newish blog that I created ( to here. They are radio and hiking related, and I'll continue posting the computer stuff at this site. Eventually I'll redirect that url here as well. I figure why split up such a low traffic blog. I have a few other techy things to post, an ergodox build and an atreus build (both in progress). I'll also likely have some other stuff eventually.

Monday, January 4, 2016

First SOTA Activation, Mount Tecumseh W1/HA-015

After a few years of talking about doing it, and not actually doing it, I finally have my first SOTA activation under my belt.

I've had some hiking experience in the Appalachian Mountains through the Boy Scouts, but other than short walks through the woods (maybe 2-3 miles on fairly easy terrain), I haven't done any hiking since about 2002.

KG6CIH, AB1KW and myself decided to take on Mount Tecumseh (SOTA Designator W1/HA-015) this past December. Tecumseh is one of New Hampshire's 4000 footers, albeit the smallest of any of the 4kers in New England at 4003'.  We went on December 19th, which has the interest of being in a weird limbo time. The activation counts as a Winter activation, but since we were hiking before the official start of Winter the Appalachian Mountain Club doesn't count it as a Winter ascent. Since I didn't hit all of the trails on the mountain anyway, I'll have to return at some point to knock those off and to get it officially summited in Winter per AMC rules.

The weather was cold and windy. With wind chill, we believe that it was around 0 degrees F at the summit. Fortunately, we had expected this and had packed a lot of extra jackets and warm layers. It was pretty windy, but the weather held save for some flurrying on the way down.

The hike is a bit of a slog. Round trip, we only hiked a hair over 5 miles. The hike does go up almost 2500' over that distance (half that distance, since it's one way and now round trip), and the steepest part is the last mile or so. The trail maintainer has been putting in rock stairs, which makes it both easier and harder in ways. Much of the water runoff that we crossed while we were on our way up had frozen while we were on the summit. There wasn't enough ice to justify breaking out the microspikes, but it was very slick in places. We mostly had bare rock to contend with (Bare rock? In the Whites? Inconceivable.)

There were a few stream crossings. Rik crossed the main one right at the trail, but Chris and I decided to go upstream a bit and cross there. This resulted in somewhat of a short bushwack, but we survived. On the way out, I just relied on my waterproof winter hiking boots and forded the shallow stream, as did Chris. Rik unfortunately found the slippery spot...

For gear, we had a couple of HTs and my FT-817ND. Most of the HTs had rubber ducks, but Chris had his 2m Arrow with him. I had a homemade buddipole for the 817.

The Arrow worked great. We staggered our ascents so that we could all get chaser credit, and then made the rest of our contacts from the summit. The furthest contact on 2m (with 5 watts, FM, even!) was with W1NOV in Plymouth, ME, a straight line distance of nearly 130 miles.

My buddipole, however...clearly I did something wrong. I thought I had it tunable and working before we left, but when we reached the summit and got set up I could hear things but not get out, it was a total space heater. I need to work on that before the next summit attempt we do, it was a lot of weight to carry for nothing.

All in all, a successful activation. We're not sure if we're going to do HF Winter activations anymore, it's pretty cold up there and 2m is working fine for us, and HF takes a while to set up. When I get my MTR running, that may open up our options.

Thanks to our chasers for giving us a successful activation:

I look forward to the next one, and to getting really rolling on my official hiking lists...

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

MTR Build Begins

I was fortunate enough to win the Mountain Topper lottery and was one of the lucky 98 who got to purchase a 5 band MTR from Steve Weber, KD1JV when he released them a few months ago. It's been a while, and I've made no progress, but last night I finally sat down and started melting some solder.

MTR5B #024, ready to be built

The thing is pretty intimidating. I've only some very light experience soldering SMD components, basically soldering the diodes on my Ergodox keyboard PCBs last week. The MTR5B components are even tinier:

So very, very tiny.

It turns out that soldering these tiny things aren't actually as difficult as they look on the surface. One of the reasons it took me so long to actually get started on this was because I wanted to make sure I had the right equipment to do so. I'm glad I did. I was using radio shack and weller non-regulated irons previously, and the hakko fx888d that I purchased is SO much better, both in actual use and with the fact that the iron tip is quite small. The other useful things I have are very fine point tweezers and a lit magnifier.

For the ICs, you basically lay a thin line of solder paste on the pads on the board and melt it. It's pretty magic, the solder paste melts and then just wicks onto the pads, leaving the solder mask clean but for some flux residue that wipes off. You then carefully hold the IC on and heat up the pads until everything melts and sticks. I've had to touch it up with a few dots of paste afterwards. Once the leads are all soldered down, you place some solder wick on the leads and suck up any bridges.

After about 2 hours, I have most of the ICs on the board. It looks kind of messy, but under magnification I can't see any bridges. The only component I'm worried about is the clock, it was a little finicky to get on and it took me a few tries. Hopefully I didn't cook anything.

It's getting there...

With any luck, I'll have it completed soon and I'll be able to give it a shot on the air. My morse abilities are very poor, but I'm learning. I also can't wait to get this thing to the top of a mountain and use it where it belongs.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

RHEL7 RHCE Objectives

I haven't seen official objectives for the RHEL7 RHCE/RHCSA exams, yet. CertDepot has the RHCSA and RHCE objectives for EL7 posted.

My RHCE (EL5 based) expires any day now, and so I probably should start working on updating my brain for the new bits in EL7. Big things are going to be swapping System V init with systemd, and the old standard of iptables with Firewalld.

Sadly after RHEL6 went GA, the Red Hat policies changed from certs expiring after 2 major releases to them expiring after 3 years. I also believe that you now need both EX200 and EX300 for the cert, not just one monolithic exam.

I may have to look into taking other exams, rather than keep retaking the CE exams to keep my cert live.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Icing on the antenna

It's the joys of New England. We had some sub-zero temps yesterday, and when coupled with an inch or so of snow, the buildup of ice/snow on the antenna caused me to lose the ability to use 15 meters. The tuner just could not match anywhere on that band, the SWR meter was pegged. Fortunately, the other bands seemed to be unaffected and I was still able to snag a couple more new countries for my logbook (France, Bosnia, and Estonia).

The ice melted in the overnight rain, and I was back up to being fully operational today.