They won me over with their customer service!

I’m a pretty tough guy to satisfy.  I am especially picky with online businesses that are new to me.  So I was initially a little skeptical when I placed an order with Bioenno Power out of Southern California.  I liked their product offerings on their website but I had never done business with them before.  To my absolute surprise, they turned out to be fantastic!!  Not only are their products outstanding but their customer service is off the charts superbl.  Take a look to find out the details!

Why my antenna failed during my recent SOTA Activation

This past Sunday on April 30th, I attempted to activate Mount Arab (W2/GA-095) but due to the weather and the failure of my antenna I was unsuccessful.  Since I posted my video, I have received a number of questions regarding why the failure occurred and what actually happened.  So I decided to post another video on YouTube to explain what happened that caused my antenna to fail.  Please feel to leave a comment or better yet subscribe to my YouTube Channel to get notified of new videos that I will be posting in the future.

Another SOTA Activation Attempt — Mount Arab W2/GA-095

A wonderful hike to the top of Mount Arab.  The weather started out a bit cloudy with a few sprinkles and the temp was in the low 40’s.  Not too bad for this time of year. However everything changed once we got to the summit.  The rain and the wind kicked up and caused my antenna to fail and then have a small break.  The break is easily fixable but it ended my SOTA Activation Attempt.  I am disappointed but not discouraged.  I will be back!!

My First SOTA Activation — W2/GA-212!!!

What a day yesterday was. My son, his girlfriend, and I, hiked up Azure Mountain and I had the goal of activating this summit while we were up there. The hike was pretty short at 1.1 miles but it was a pretty steep climb. There was quite a bit of mud, as you can imagine after all that snow, which slowed us down a little.
Once we got to the top, I dropped off my rock (wait for the video), took in the marvelous views, and then started setting up my rig. I was able to find a dead standing tree, which I strapped my Packtenna pole to, connected the wire of the Packtenna Mini (9:1) and raised it up and then connected to my antenna tuner and radio. This took me 7 minutes. I noticed that there was some wind, so I spent an extra 3 minutes to tie off a couple guy lines to make the sure the antenna didn’t blow over.

I was on the air in 10 min flat after I sat down and made myself comfortable. The first thing I did was use my HT to sent an alert to SOTAWatch via APRS. I started out on 40m but could not make any contacts, so after about 15 min. I moved to 20 m (14.285), sent another SOTAWatch alert, started calling CQ, then voila my very first SOTA contact K4MF. I was actually a little tongue tied but I got through it. I made contact with W0MNA then KI4SVM and then silence. For about 3 minutes nobody answered back my CQ’s. I thought just one more, please. Then the call sign came NG6R from Los Angeles came back. I received him at 59  but he could only receive me at 33 (not bad for 5 watts and a wire), but regardless the contact was made and I met the 4 minimum contacts for my first summit activation!!

I am totally hooked on this now. I can’t wait to do it again!!

Adapting my pack for SOTA

After my last failed attempt to activate the St. Regis Mountain Firetower, I did a lot of thinking about how to improve the experience and help my chances for success. As I learned, there were multiple issues that were related to me having a very heavy backpack (approx. 42 lbs). So my focus over the past few weeks has been to find ways to rethink the items that are relevant for SOTA and the hike and trim the fat out of my pack. I also took a look at how I could change items to reduce weight for these required items.
The very first thing I did was completely change my antenna system. Although I love my Buddipole, it is just too heavy and bulky for me to carry up a steep summit. So I switched out my Buddipole for a Packtenna system that includes a Packtenna Mini 9:1 and a Packtenna fiberglass pole along with some accessories. Bottom line on this, I was able to reduce the weight by over 6 lbs. by moving to the Packtenna system.
The second big change was getting rid of the stuff that was really not needed. For example, I brought two large tarps, 6 caribiners, 4 days of food (for an afternoon hike), 4 liters of water (again for an afternoon hike), and a bunch of other items that were just not needed.
So I purchased two scales, a small kitchen scale that can handle up to 5kg and a luggage pull scale that can handle up to 50lbs. I also found a website called lighterpack.com (thank you to a You Tuber named Sintax77) and started weighing and categorizing everything that is going into my pack. Here is the output from my lighterpack list:

I weighed the bag to verify and it is very close to the lighterpack weight so I am very hopeful that this will help me hike up the summits a bit easier and therefore give me more time at the summit to complete my activation. I have two SOTA activations planned for April 23rd, Mount Arab and Azure Mountain!

Hiking St. Regis Mountain Fire Tower and First SOTA Attempt (fail)

On April 1st, my son Cooper and I decided to hike St. Regis Mountain Fire Tower as part of the ADK Fire Tower Challenge.  St. Regis is also a Summit On The Air Summit, W2/GA-061 so I also decided to make this my first attempt at a SOTA Summit Activation.

A good buddy of mine, who is a soccer coach, tells his players, “You either win or you learn”.  Well that is exactly what I ended up doing on this trip… a lot of learning.  I will let my video give you all the details but bottom line, I was not prepared for the SOTA Activation and ultimately failed at that part.  However not all was lost.  I got to hike a gorgeous mountain and spend some time with my son Cooper.  And…I was able to complete my first Fire Tower Hike in the ADK Fire Tower Challenge.  One down, Twenty-Two to go!!!

 

Hiking the Inman Gulf Loop – Good Prep for SOTA

Been a while since my last post.  Work has been crazy and I have had to travel to Minnesota, DC, and Milan over the past few weeks.  So I was so excited when my son and his girlfriend agreed to go on a snowshoe hike with me to a nearby trail called the Inman Gulf Loop.

The full Inman Gulf Loop is an easy 6.9 mile hike that is a combination of trail along the ridge of the Inman Gulf that includes a walk along William’s Road.

We chose a slightly shorter version of the loop because we were going to have to snowshoe the entire hike.  Me being a first time snowshoer, my son and his girlfriend felt it would be better to take a shorter hike.  It just so happens that it was a good call because we started late and almost ran out of daylight.  Another reason that it was a good call was because I wanted to carry a 35lbs backpack with me to help me prepare for my plans to start activating the ADK Fire Towers with SOTA.  The typical Fire Tower is about a 5 mile in and out trail and I will probably have between 30 and 40lbs on in my pack.  As it turns out, we snowshoed  5.1 miles in moderate snow.

The scenery is really beautiful.  The gorge has is made up of sedimentary rock and over time the river has carve into the rock and created a mini Grand Canyon!  You can see all of the various layers and we agreed that sometime in the near future, we will try to find a way to the bottom of the gorge so we can better examine the lower land and look for fossils.

For those who get vertigo, this may not be the trail for you.  We had a few technical areas with the snowshoes where if you lost your footing, you could end up falling a long way down into the gorge.  But overall the views were spectacular.

One characteristic of the area is that the land is not flat.  My GPX file does not show the topographic lines clearly enough but much of the trail is up and down, which really gave me a workout.

After following Oak Rim for quite a ways we came across the John Young Trail.  Since the day was starting to move along, we wanted to get back to the car before we lost daylight.

Although, motorized vehicles are not allowed on the trail, we happened to come across a snowmobile trail which made our hike quite easy and a blast to walk.  I became mesmerized by the sound of our snowshoes crunching through the snow.  It was a very peaceful walk.

After about a mile on the John Young, we came to the end of the trail.  We had a good laugh at the condition of the trail sign, which has definitely seen better days!!

You could argue that this sign has more than its fair share of character!  We are thinking that maybe this summer we will come out for a day to help build some signs and make the trail a little easier to follow.

Overall this was a great hike.  It was my first snowshoe hike and I am already disappointed that winter is coming to a quick end and I may have to wait until next year before I can snowshoe again.  I was very pleased that all the walking I have been doing helped me handle this trail.  So I think I am ready for the physical aspect of the hiking that will be required for SOTA.

The biggest benefit from this hike??  Getting to spend time with one of my boys and his girlfriend.  My son Cooper got accepted into the University of Buffalo and will be heading off before I know it so it was great to spend a fantastic Saturday hiking in the woods with them.  Hope to a lot more of this when I kick in high gear in the spring for the ADK Fire Tower Challenge and SOTA.

 

Using FLAMP on a Digital Net

I’ve recently started to focus on developing my skills on various digital methods and tools.  Every Friday night WA2NAN, hosts a digital net on the OVARC VHF Repeater.  This week we started to explore FLAMP.  FLAMP utilizes the AMP (Amateur Multicast Protocol) to send and receive files over the airwaves without the Internet.  We did multiple tests/trials to see how FLAMP performed and for each of us operators to “fail fast” and learn how to better operate with this really powerful tool on our own radios and laptops.

We did multiple tests:

  • Send/Receive a text based file that contained a weather report
  • Send/Receive an HTML file
  • Send/Receive a file that was tarred up and gzipped to simulate a binary file transfer
  • Send/Receive a file that was broken up into multiple transfers

In all of the tests that we tried, we used variations of the BPSK digital mode. This helped us  determine how the changing of the bandwidth impacted the speed and duration of the file transfer.

Overall the tests were all successful.  We also had an unplanned test of how to handle a situation when not all the blocks of the file were received.  FLAMP has a feature that allows the receiving operator to issue a “report” to the sending operator so he can resend the blocks that were not received.  We had one operator who consistently had missing blocks so we got to see this in demonstration quite a few times.

FLAMP has some very good use cases, especially when the Internet is unavailable:

  • ARES/RACES — the sending of files or forms that cannot be sent via FLMSG
  • Sending Operating Manuals or instructions. The file can be a word doc, pdf, html, or even xml.
  • Sending an executable file, while this kicks off a bunch of concerns it can still be done.

I am sure there are other use cases but this is all I can think of at the current time.

FLAMP does have its limitations.  For example, the program is somewhat challenging to setup and configure.  I had issues with autosaving.  Lastly the help and menus are pretty cryptic. But overall this is a very capable application for sending and receiving files when the internet is unavailable.

We plan on additional tests next week.  I will make another video and put up another post next week on this topic.

 

 

First Bench Test of the Yaesu FT-817ND with Digital

I finally decided on a radio for my SOTA and ADK Fire Tower Challenge activations that will be starting soon.  Based off of many reviews, some consideration to budget, and a lot of consideration on simplicity and usability, I decided on the Yaesu FT-817ND.

Coming from a having owned all Kenwood’s, I am taking a very deliberate approach to learning how to operate my new 817.  With a little practice, I should be proficient on the rig and ready for the field within a few weeks.

However, I had one concern about the 817, that is, until I completed my first bench test today.  The Yaesu FT-817Nd has a maximum transmit power of 5 watts and if you are using the internal rechargeable battery pack, it defaults to 2.5 watts of output. So today, I decided to do a bench test to see how well it would perform with a TX power of 2.5 watts. My first test was to see how far I could log a report on PSK Automatic Propagation Reporter using JT65. So I hooked my radio up my Buckmaster OCF 7 band through a Z817 Antenna Tuner. Using my SignaLink, my linux laptop running WSJT-x and FLRIG I started the bench test of my radio.

I started on 20 meters with JT65 by calling CQ a few times and by answering a few CQ’s from various places around the US.  After about 15 minutes, I was not able to make a contact but I was quite happy to see the reports on PSK Reporter.  I got reports across the US and Canada into Western Europe and into the lower part of the South America!!  I conducted this test with only 2.5 Watts of power and with band conditions that were definitely sub optimal.  I also conducted the same test on 40 meters and got very similar results.  Unfortunately, I was not able to make a contact on that band either.

Overall I consider this a successful first test of my new radio.  As long as the weather is acceptable this weekend, I plan to take it out in the field, perhaps up to Thompson Park and do some additional tests on this radio along with my buddipole.

 

Importance of wxWidgets 2.8 and TrustedQSL on Ubuntu 16.04 LTS

Had a very interesting issue pop up today that I would like to share since it I did not find much info out on the web and others may experience the same problem.

I recently upgrade from Ubuntu 14.04 LTS(Trusty) to Ubuntu 16.04 LTS(Xenial) on Friday.  Interestingly enough, no major issues, just some small housekeeping items that occurred post upgrade. Or so I thought.  This morning after making a few contacts on JT65, I went into my usual routine of uploading my QSO’s to eQSL and LOTW.  The upload to eQSL went normally as it always does.  However the upload to LOTW did not.

I use CQRLOG as my primary logging application.  It works extremely well.  The upload process to eQSL, Clublog, and LOTW is very predictable and consistent.  The process for uploading QSO’s to the LOTW is easy from an end user point of view.  First, you have to sign and export the QSO’s that were not previously uploaded.  Once the export is signed, the next step is to upload the signed file up to LOTW.  CQRLOG calls Trusted QSL in the background to perform the upload to LOTW. I am currently running CQRLOG 2.0.4 and Trusted QSL 2.2.  Normally there are no issues, except today the call that CQRLOG made to tqsl failed with the error indicating that a wxWidgets library file was missing, specifically a wxWidgets 2.8 library file.  I checked my library inventory and the error was valid, I did not have that library file on my system.  I believe it must have been deleted in a post upgrade step as the file was obsoleted by a newer wxWidget library, version 3.  So I went looking for the library.  As with any Linux package system, finding older libraries can be a journey and finding the 2.8 version of wxWidgets took me about an hour after a lot of searching. About half way through my search for a package that I could use with APT, I decide to explore the  path of building from source.  Again, another fork in the road that was another journey all in itself.  Ultimately I found the package in a third party repository. Once I added the repository, I was able to successfully install the required libraries (more then one) I am including  screen shots of the repository and the packages for reference.

At this point, I am thinking my journey is over and I can get back to uploading my QSO’s up to LOTW.  Nope, another level to go through on my journey (think Dante).  I tried CQRLOG again and experienced the same error.  This was definitely not what I expected so I decided to run tqsl from the command line but now I got a new error..Progress!!  Now there was a mismatch error which indicated to me that the error might be that when I compiled Trusted QSL from source about a year ago, I might have compiled it with an older dot release 2.8.x of wxWidget than I just installed.

So I backed up my tqsl directory so I would not lose my certificates and configuration, downloaded the latest source file from ARRL and recompiled TQSL.

Voila!  Trusted QSL from the command line worked brilliantly.  Then I opened up CQRLOG again and tried the upload to LOTW — again Brilliant!  My journey ended, I made it to Paradisio!!