Cleaning up the station

Unfortunately my station looks a bit more like the one on the bottom rather than the top. I need to make a concerted effort this weekend to get things straight. It shouldn’t take long to get things in order, the hard part is just to get started.

Here Comes the Sun

After a week of cold temps here on the eastern edge of Kansas, it looks like we are finally going to see some relief and also bid farewell to all the snow that’s been hanging around.

Some initial high temps back around New Year’s Eve was able to melt a bit of the snow around my weather station perched way up on our roof. Then temps dropped and my wind vane froze pointing almost north (indicated by the solid red line at the top of the graph).

Some increased sunlight and rising temps finally freed the vane. Probably next will get some melting snow making the rain collector indicate some rainfall.

My Davis Vantage Pro2 weather station is going to need a good spring cleaning, replacing the on-board battery, cleaning off the solar panel that helps with power, and cleaning out the rain collector.

So far, so good with my new weather station >dedicated< computer setup. The computer has been puttering away without issue. I do still need to hook up the UPS to keep both the computer and radio alive should the AC power get interrupted.

Weather Display problems

I have been using my Davis Vantage Pro2 weather station along with the Weather Display software since the start of January without serious issue. I also have not been on my HF rig much. I’ve noticed over the past few weekends when I did key up the mike for a short QSO that the Weather Display software had locked up. The computer is still functioning, to include UI-View32 but Weather Display freezes. After a little testing, it looks like this only occurs when I transmit on 20M at some point above 50-75 watts out. I played around with a few ferrite chokes on cables between the computer and my IC-7000, but it did not fix the problem.

I need to fix this problem. I can’t have my weather data locking up every time I want to get on HF.

This week I am going to tear apart the station and try to isolate the problem. I am also using the opportunity to put sliders on the legs of the table which will allow me better allow me to pull the table away from the wall when I need to get behind the gear.

Station goals

I set a few goals back in July and thought I would take a look at my progress:

What I want to accomplish in the Kansas Shack:
– HF phone and CW operation; 80m-10m
– HF digital modes (PSK-31, RTTY, PACTOR III)
– Computer logging
– 2m FM base station
– APRS weather station, interfaced with a dedicated 2m transceiver
– Online weather page, showing current weather conditions
– Separate, organized workbench

HF phone and CW operation; 80m-10m – my HF activities are centered around my IC-7000. I would like to get the TS-930S up an operational, but I am afraid that is not in the budget at this point.

HF digital modes (PSK-31, RTTY, PACTOR III) – I am using my RIGblaster Plug & Play for digital modes… other than PACTOR III. I have not yet hooked up my SCS PTC-IIusb Modem.

Computer logging – I do have Ham Radio Deluxe loaded now, but I want to find a good linux version.

2m FM base station – currently the FT-2800M for the job. I do have some plans to move my IC-208H from the truck into the shack. That will give me a 70cm capability in addition to the 2M. The truck is getting a new rig… more on that soon.

APRS weather station, interfaced with a dedicated 2m transceiver – I am using a FT-1500 for the job, connected to UI-View32 and receiving data from the Davis VantagePro2. The problem here is that I only have the one antenna up so this limits my ability to hop on the local repeaters from the shack. I need to either get a coax switch to be able to switch between the two rigs or put another antenna up.

Online weather page, showing current weather conditions – yes indeed… I think this is working pretty nice.

Separate, organized workbench – also a success… although it seems to be too crowded with stuff. The best part is the pegboard for tools – I no longer have the problem of quickly locating the tools I need.

Overall, I am happy with the progress I have made getting the shack in shape. What I want to work on now:
– New antenna for HF
– Fix up the ARSIB
– Get the SB-200 amp working
– Transition all shack computers to Ubuntu linux

Working in the shack

I spent some time this afternoon trying to get the shack a little better organized. I mounted two power strips on the wall behind my desk to help organize my power cables. I also mounted the console for my Davis Vantage Pro2 weather station directly above my computer monitors for easy visibility. I use Anderson Powerpoll connectors and West Mountain Rigrunners for my power distribution. Things were looking a bit like a rat’s nest, so I shut everything down, unplug all the connectors, rerouted them in a more coherent fashion, and replugged everything in. I also added in my West Mountain PwrGate and hooked in my 12v deep cycle marine battery. The PwrGate keeps the marine battery charged and automatically switches to it should there be a drop in the 120v house power. I still need an UPS for my computer running the Weather Display software and UI-View32.

Also added a lamp to the desk to help me see what the heck I’m doing.

Finally, I fired up the IC-7000 just to make sure it was still working and had a nice QSO with VE6CQ operating from Calgary, Canada.

Back in the saddle

I -finally- got my HF rig working here at the Kansas QTH.

Since arriving here back in July, I’ve been super busy. School (the Army’s Command & General Staff College (CGSC)) kicked in at the beginning of August. The last formal schooling I had was eight years ago – so I was a bit rusty at getting into the swing of things (i.e. reading, reading… and more reading). I’m also taking a complementarity master’s degree program in International Relations through Webster University (two nights a week). The good news is I was able to talk the XYL into taking the master’s courses with me. The bad news is that sometimes the master’s stuff chews up more time than my school work for CGSC.

CGSC can be intense. September was packed with wall-to-wall learning, usually from 0830 to at least 1530. The schedule is starting to lighten up a bit.

Today I was able catch my breath a bit… out of class at 1130. The sun was shining, a beautiful day. I had some antenna maintenance to do. A little bit of time on the roof and the majority of my HF problems were fixed. I’m now up on HF, except for 80M. I think a little work on my counterpoise will fix that.

Back in the basement (aka The Scud Bunker) I hooked up my Icom IC-7000 to the new and improved HF antenna – bingo… all the problems I was experiencing in the past were gone. A QSO with KC2PBX, Pierre on Long Island, NY on 20M and then TI8II from Costa Rica on 17M, later with Ray, W1RAA from Tampa, FL. It felt good having some HF QSOs. I did a little more work with my station setup; hooking up the RIGtalk and RIGblaster Plug&Play. There’s more work to do and I should have time later in the week.

Other news:
– I’m switching from Windows to Ubuntu Linux. I WILL NOT UPGRADE FROM XP TO VISTA. Vista is a tool of the devil and I will have no part of it. My Toshiba laptop has been dual boot between XP and Ubuntu for a while, but had rarely been using the Ubuntu. I ordered a Dell Mini 9 (very tiny netbook) to help with school (writing papers in the library rather than goofing off in the Scud Bunker). The Dell Mini is coming with Ubuntu pre-loaded. Sweet. The next step will be setting up one of my towers as an Ubuntu server. Goodbye Microsoft.
– I’ve gone Kindle. Both the XYL and myself have the Amazon Kindle. I like it a lot better than my Sony eBook. Getting the Washington Post first thing every morning is great. The battery life is a little to be desired. The best part is that I can read KE9V’s blog right on my Kindle.

Ok – back to the books. I will get better at making frequent updates here.

A New Beginning – Goals For The Kansas Radio Shack

One advantage of the move to Kansas will be the opportunity to redesign and implement a new shack layout. I don’t have a clear picture of what I want it to look like, so I am going to start with making a list of what I want to be able to accomplish in the shack. This will be a basement shack… a big basement. I’ve never lived in a house that had a basement and I’m looking forward to the possibilities.

What I want to accomplish in the Kansas Shack:
– HF phone and CW operation; 80m-10m
– HF digital modes (PSK-31, RTTY, PACTOR III)
– Computer logging
– 2m FM base station
– APRS weather station, interfaced with a dedicated 2m transceiver
– Online weather page, showing current weather conditions
– Separate, organized workbench

There are a number of tall trees to the north of the house that will support some different wire antenna options. My plan is to start out with a RadioWavz 246′ End Fed Zep. We’ll see how that works. Maybe try a loop before winter comes. Another challenge will be getting the feedline into the basement.

Home QTH

My travels home was long and slow, but forward progress was consistent. After spending more time than I wanted to in Kuwait, we arrived in the US to McGuire Air Force Base, NJ and were transported over to Fort Dix were we’d remain overnight. Our bus was met by a small group of Vietnam veterans, some in wheelchairs or missing limbs, all greeting us with smiles, hearty handshakes and a “Welcome Home”. The vets goal is that never again should a US soldier arrive home from war without a welcome. I was truly moved by the selflessness of these vets and although I would be completely content if the US never again has to send soldiers into harms way, I would like to return the kindness and fellowship I received that sunny afternoon. The next morning we loaded up on buses and headed to Philadelphia to take a commercial flight to Kansas City. There was a bus ready to pick us up when we arrived to Kansas City, which set the tone for the next two days in which we outprocessed at Fort Riley, KS. We completed a lot of activities in our few hours at Fort Riley: medical screening, records updating, pay adjustments, equipment turn-in, “re-integration” briefings, after action review, as well as an opportunity for me to take my team members to The Little Apple Brewing Company (Manhattan, KS) for my long-delayed promotion party. I was promoted to the rank of Major back in October 2007 and it is Army tradition for the newly promoted to throw a party (i.e. an event with beer). As I was unable to do this properly while in Iraq (US soldiers are not allowed to possess or consume alcoholic beverages in Iraq), I was glad to have the opportunity to carry out the tradition back in the states.

And then the next morning, June 6th, it was over. Our team members said their goodbyes. Some had their vehicles at Fort Riley and were driving to their next destination. Most of us headed back to Kansas City to fly home.

It was good to be home. Wife, daughter, dog, and cat – all together again.

Next on the agenda: move house and household, bag and baggage from Hampton, Virginia (where I had been stationed at Fort Monroe prior to my deployment to Iraq) to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas to attend the Army’s Command & Staff College.


During my deployment to Iraq, I wanted to setup and operate a MARS station. I know that MARS is not nearly as well used by deployed soldiers as it once was to send MARSGrams and use phone patches to talk to family back home. Access to the internet and AT&T Call Centers now enable most soldiers to stay in touch. However, it is always good planning to have a back up for communications – and a MARS station provides that. I have been through initial MARS training back in Virginia, completing the basic course and participating in local nets. It was good to get that training because it provided me a better understanding of how MARS functions and well as educating me on basic net procedures. MARS nets are generally not procedurally similar to how military voice radio communications function today. It was good to be familiar with the differences.

Applying for a MARS callsign to operate in Iraq is straight forward. I contacted Mr. Daniel Wolff, AEM1WF, in Germany. Mr. Wolff processed my application and assigned me my MARS callsign as well as provided me with the regional net plans and basic MARS information for operating in the region.

For a station setup, I am using an ICOM IC-7000. The rig is a reasonably priced, full-featured radio with a modest size that lends itself to portable operations.

The primary means of moving MARS traffic in the region is digital, specifically Pactor using the WL2K/Airmail PMBO (Participating Mail Box Office) backbone. To add a Pactor capability to my station I initially chose the Kantronics KAM XL. Although this TNC is only capable of Pactor 1, it can do the job.

I wanted flexibility for the power system. We our currently on the Iraqi power grid which is 240V. At some point my team may relocate to a US-controlled area where the power source could possibly be 120V. I needed a power supply that was capable of using both a 120V or 240V electrical source – the Astron SS-30M suited this requirement nicely. For power distribution, I am using a RIGrunner which uses the Anderson Powerpole connectors. I’ve had past success using Anderson Powerpoles; they provide flexibility of operation and a dependable connection. The power grid here is up and down – I needed a battery backup to provide sustainable power during the brief outages. The solution was an 18Ah battery tied in through West Mountain Radio’s PWRgate. The PWRgate automatically transitions from the Astron SS-30M power supply to the backup battery should shore power fail and does so without a drop of supplied amps. I’ve been in the middle of a connection with the regional WL2K/PMBO when the power grid dropped and the PWRgate kept my the power coming without interruption.

I wanted a simple, efficient antenna that provided coverage from 80M to 10M with a modest footprint and that I could deploy with minimal assistance. A 130′ inverted vee was the solution. I am fortunate to be at a location where our one-story building has a high 20′ ceiling. There was also an unused 30′ OE-254 mast already emplaced on top of the roof that I could use to support the center point of the vee. Some more scrounging around the camp rewarded me with additional support polls that I used to get both ends of the vee 35′ off the ground. The building and surrounding structures allowed me to orient the antenna NE/SW, leaving the sides to face NW towards AEM1US in Germany and SE to AEN5QT in Qatar – the two nearest PMBOs. I used ladderline from the center point down to a 4:1 balun and into the LDG AT-200pro antenna tuner.

Installing Airmail (version 3.3.081) on my PC was straight forward with good directions provided by “Airmail for WL2K MARS_Basic Training. PDF” and additional help from the Yahoo Group. The KAM XL TNC (version 1.07050) is supported by Airmail and configures all the Airmail software settings for you. I did a hard reset on KAM XL then configured the KAM XL’s XMITLVL setting via Airmail’s Tools>Dumb Terminal. I used the CAL command and then the T command (send square wave) to create a signal into the IC-7000. I incrementally increased the XMITLVL value until I peaked the IC-7000’s ALC meter into the red. I then backed the XMITLVL setting down one. I make slight adjustments of the XMITLVL depending on the band I am operating on.

With Airmail, connecting to a PMBO is relatively easy. Bringing up the HF Module and selecting Mode>Monitoring Enabled allows you to see all communications between the PC and the modem.

Once you select Mode>Monitoring Enabled you’ll see:

Close the HF Module window and then go back to Airmail and select the HF Module again.

This time when the HF Module is stared, Airmail connects to the KAM XL and makes the following setting adjustments (which you can see because “Monitoring Enabled” is ON):

2007/MM/DD HH:MM:SS KAM-XL modem initialized OK
reply=XFLOW was OFF
cmd= ECHO ON
reply=ECHO was ON
reply=XMITECHO was ON
reply=TXFLOW was OFF
reply=XFLOW was OFF
reply=TRFLOW was OFF
cmd= AUTOCR 0
reply=AUTOCR was 0
reply=AUTOLF was OFF
reply=CRADD was OFF
cmd= MAXUSERS 10/10
reply=MAXUSERS was 10/10
reply=CRSUP was OFF/OFF
reply=LFADD was OFF/OFF
reply=LFSUP was OFF/OFF
cmd= ARQID 0
reply=ARQID was 0
reply=ARQBBS was OFF
reply=PTHUFF was ON
reply=SHIFT was MODEM
cmd= SPACE 3000
reply=SPACE was 1600
cmd= MARK 1400
reply=MARK was 1400
cmd= SPACE 1600
reply=SPACE was 3000
cmd= INV ON
reply=INVERT was OFF

Next, select the callsign of the PMBO you are trying to reach. Combined with the integrated ITS HF Propagation software, it is easy to select the best frequency to attempt a connection. Airmail has the ability to control your rig directly and adjust the proper frequency and mode prior to transmitting. Adjustments can also be made manually by using the dial frequency/mode being displayed in the lower right corner of the HF Module window.

When trying to connect, Airmail will make several 1 to 2 second transmissions attempting to raise the distant PMBO. I adjusted the IC-7000s MONITOR function to allow me to hear and confirm that the data is being transmitted. The following is displayed in Airmail’s HF Module window when you initiate a connection:

2007/MM/DD HH:MM:SS Calling (PMBO’s callsign)

cmd=PACTOR (PMBO’s callsign)

Upon connecting, something like the following appears in the HF Module window:

2007/MM/DD HH:MM:SS Connected to (PMBO’s callsign)
(LINKED TO (PMBO’s callsign))
1AEN5AC (This is your callsign)
(Pactor1: )
Welcome to…. (info concerning this PMBO you connected to)

The Following are a list of frequencies that this PMBO scans.
Please note that not all these frequencies can be used from all locations.
Please consult your Netplan for proper usage in your area.

(PMBO’s callsign) last contacted the Central server 1 min ago.

AEN5AC de (PMBO’s callsign) QTC 0 Msgs 0 bytes>
; (PMBO’s callsign) de AEN5AC
2007/MM/DD HH:MM:SS Disconnected from (PMBO’s callsign)

Airmail uploads outgoing mail before it downloads incoming mail – the process is automatic.

Despite heavy QRM and QRN, Pactor is able to get through with just a 100 watts. Pactor 1 has a slow data rate, but can get simple text emails through quickly. I have recently upgraded the TNC to an SCS PTC-IIusb Modem with Pactor 3 capability. The PTC-IIusb provides a more stable connection and better data rate transfer.

Future plans for the station include mounting everything in a road case for easy portability.

The dog ate my SWR

Was having high SWR on 40M and I checked my ground out of the shack window to the grounding rod. I knew there was something wrong when I saw the braided grounding cable slack… I looked closer and saw it was no longer secured to the grounding rod. The dog had chewed through it.

I guess it serves as a reminder now that Springs here to get out a check the antennas, cable runs, and grounds.