Monday, June 25, 2012

Field Day in EPA

The MURGAS ARC in Wilkes Barre, PA went out to Francis Slocum State Park near Dallas, PA this weekend for the ARRL's annual Field Day. Field Day is when various clubs and indviduals go out into the "wild" to operate portable stations, usually on emergency power, to ensure that the US and Canada have reliable stations and skilled operators in case a communication failure occurs. The club ran a class 3A station this year. In addition to the 3 main stations, a GOTA (Get on the Air) bonus station and VHF station were also on the air. There were three trailers for the main stations while the GOTA operated out of a tent. Two short towers were erected as well as a ground mounted vertical. The club had the ability to operate between 160 and 2 meters. Station was set up on the vertical and a tree mounted antenna. This enabled the station to operate 160, 80, and 40 meters on the vertical, and 20 and 15 meters on the tree antenna. This station operated primarily on the lower bands using CW. The rig was a TenTec Orion VII running 100 watts. Station 2 was for SSB on the higher HF bands and was working a 3-element trapped Yagi. This was the station I worked for about 30 minutes on 15 meters. It had a rotor and the rig was an Elkcraft K2 running about 80 watts out. The third station was running an older kenwood rig on a low 80 meter dipole that acted more like an NVIS antenna than anything else. In the same trailer the VHF rig was running 6 meters to a maxon antenna as well as a longer 2 meter yagi. The GOTA station was running a Icom 7200 to a buddypole. I had never seen a buddy pole in person before, but it seemed a reasonable antenna if a bit of a pain to tune with having to raise and lower the whole thing to tweak the elements. I was only at field day for a few hours on Saturday afternoon. 80 meters and the VHF bands were essentially closed, with modest acvity on 15 and 40 meters. When I worked the rig, the bean was heading west and I was able to work a good number of California stations as well as a few western stations. They seem to come in small bursts followed by long periods of silence. Not a full blown contest style FD by any means, but a good chance to check out what we can do in the field with compromise equipment and low power.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

new batteries

About ten years ago my father bought me a portable power station for Christmas. It is a plastic box with a pair of cigarette lighter plugs as well as a set of lugs in the back connected to a 7 AH battery in the case. The power station offered a portable 12 V power supply that is effective to charge batteries for scanners and cell phones as well as antenna relays and TNC's. You could operate a low power radio for a bit of time, but with a 7 AH battery, it won't last too long, so I didn't use it for such purposes.

About a year later, a presentation at a local ham club showed a similar box, with the same internal battery, but this one was much more versitile. In addition to two cigarette lighter sockets, and lugs, a 100,000 candle power spotlight as well as a regular flashlight with blinker option and 9, 6 and 3 volt coax sockets are all included.

About a year ago the batteries started to die on me and I finally got around to buying new ones this month. I opened up the cases and replaced the cells. The power box with the light was easy as it was just plugged in with the lugs. The original box had soldered lugs which made life a bit more difficult.

The hardest part was actually getting the cases back together by getting the wires running through the tight spaces so that the cases could close again.

So after less than $20 of new parts, I have two fully-functional portable power supplies and auxillary lighting.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

First steps to DXCC

While I have been a ham since 1997, and been active on HF since 2000, I have moved so many times that I've never officially earned my DXCC. I have worked well over 100 countries from various locations, and under various callsigns, but never enough from one place to earn my certificate.

So here I am in PA (W3 land) and I am starting all over again. I have ordered my new QSL cards and even put up a rather pathetic ground mounted screwdriver antenna with four radials to get me started.

I have been on a pactor kick lately, so went to the pactor watering hole on 20 meters, 14.111 CF. So I hooked up my SCS PTC-IIe to my Icom 746 and put out a rather pathetic 30 watts. As is normal with ARQ modes, you set the radio up to call CQ every minute or so and hope someone wants to chat and answers you. For my part, I swivel around in my chair and use another computer while calling and listen for connection noise in the form of the TX/RX relay in the rig to start clicking every few seconds.

I was watching a youtube video and this very thing happened. Imagine my surprise when I look at the screen and see not a US station, but one from across the Atlantic from England on my screen. G4APL was making a link and soon enough we were chatting amicably enough using pactor II. He was using a beam antenna and I was receiving good S8 signals. My signal, even with his beam was reaching him at S1 at best, so it was slow going at times. Still, even with repeats, with the 200 bps speed of Pactor 2 at it's most robust level, it was quite fast enough to have a keyboard to keyboard conversation.

A few days later I was at it again and this time I was able to work Peter OZ1PMX from Denmark, at first on pactor 2, and then on pactor 3. My signal was even worse into Denmark, so even the robust Pactor 2 was dropping the signal quite a bit. When we upshifted to pactor 3, we were able to maintain the link quite well.

So for DXCC, my first country was not the US, but England, and followed by Denmark. Last night I worked Brazil and the Maldera Islands for my third and fourth entities. One of these days I'll have to work the US. I am just hoping to get out there with a slightly better signal and finally get 100 countries from one place.

Until next time, 73.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

VE session

Here in the US amateur radio license exams are given by trained volunteer examiners (VE's). I am new to Northeast Penn, so was not connected in with the local examiners, but I am a member of the MURGAS club and when a cry came out for an Extra Class examiner in nearby Scranton, I took up the challenge. I have not participated in an exam session since 2006, so I thought I would be rusty. Fortunately it all came back to me fairly quickly.

We have four candidates show up for the exam. Three were trying to obtain their license (Tech class) and one was attempting to upgrade to Extra (hence the need for me).

I am happy to report the W3ATS aquired his Extra license with no problem, while the other four candidates were able to pass their tech exams and earned their licenses. I just wish that there were more young people looking to get licensed. None of the new licensees were younger than 30, and two were in their 60's and 70's. We need to figure out a way to get the youth more involved.

Jeremy N1ZZZ

Monday, February 27, 2012

VHF Packet QSO

Well I have my packet station up and running and even managed two packet keyboard QSO's. I haven't had a k-k packet QSO in about 12 years. The last one I remember was when I lived in Western MA in 2000.

Since I am currently operating in a valley and am talking to people over the hills from me I had to utilize a digipeater to get there from here.

While the text was 100% copy as to be expected from an ARQ mode, it was painfully slow. I was using 1200 baud and there was no other traffic through the node so I can't see that packet collision was a problem. Still by the time the packets went through the node on it's way to the other stations, I was staring at a blank screen for at least a minute between the sequential packets were displayed. I hate to say it, but HF digital has much faster net transfer of text over VHF packet through a single node.

I hope that the problem was just a poor connection between the other stations and the digipeater node I was using it. I saw very few NAK packets between my station and the node. I hope that my experience isn't indicative of the mode in general.

73 Jeremy

Friday, February 17, 2012

Packet Track

Well today I took one step forward and one step backward. The good news is that I was able to work the packet node KC3MN packet node in Scranton, PA from here in Wilkes Barre. Running 10W to a 5/8 wave on 2 meters allowed a connection to the PBBS but I was unable to work it as a Digipeater. I left a message for the Sysop and hopefully I will get a message in return. In the mean time I will continue to beacon and listen at both 1200 baud and 9600 baud on 145.010 MHz to see if I can't drum up some business, at least during the day when the wife is at work.

On the backwards step, N1ZZZ-9 APRS mobile station is down for a few days when the center pin of my UHF to SMA adapter broke off. Since that particular adapter isn't a locally stocked part, I had to order it off the Internet. I think this is strange as most H-t's tend to have SMA connectors over the more commonly available BNC cables.

Now I just have to get the club to work on getting the local club node up and running. I am hoping the article on packet that I'm writing will get at least a few people interested. Only time will tell.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Packet Radio

I have been spending the last week trying to get back on VHF packet radio. While I have been actively using APRS at the 1200 baud level (N1ZZZ-9 for mobile and N1ZZZ-7 for portable), the use of keyboard to keyboard chatting or Bulletin board systems (BBS and personal mailboxes) has been lacking in my radio activities since I lived in Florida.
Here in the Wilkes Barre area, there is a very good APRS network on 144.390, but the only listed packet node is dead and despite my question to the local club board, there seems to be no interest to fix the node, and little interest in the local hams to get involved in an active packet system. This is too bad because there is a lot more to do with packet than shoot out position and weather packets on an open network.
The real tragedy is that without some practice, no one in the area will be able to provide emergency email on the local level since they will have neither the skills nor the infrastructure to move data even within the valley. It would not take much effort to get the main node up and then have attached node to provide both local email through personal mailboxes and even to the greater Internet via an RMS node.
For my own efforts, I have been able to make connections on both 1200 and 9600 baud via a Kantronics 9612 attached to an Alinco DR-135 for one station and my Kenwood TH-7A which is an all-in-one packet station when you have a computer, as the other. The great thing about the Kantronic 9612 and Alinco is that with the right cables, you can have a 2 port packet station (1200 in one, and at least 9600 in the other), with one radio. While with one radio you can only connect through one port at a time, it give the attaching station the option to connect via either speed on the same frequency. Of course you can also monitor two frequencies with separate radios, with one speed each. This is frequently the way it works, with a 1200 baud port on 2 meters and 9600 on 70 cm.
I am currently running XPWare to run the modems. It took me a bit of time to get the settings on the modem set so that it would talk with my computer, but once that was set up, I was off to the races. XPWare is freeware at this point and works with a wide range of TNC's for both packet and HF modes. The program opens two windows with the 9612, one for each port, and a third window when you open the mailbox.
While the Internet is the easy way to do everything that packet can do, and more quickly. Still, being a radio geek, the way to get there is more important than the information transmitted, but also the idea of having a off-grid network is a good idea in the case when the main network goes down.
Once I get set up at home, I want to get an RMS winlink node set up, but I won't have the range to make it effective unless I can convince the local club to get the main node up. This is my next mission.

Monday, February 13, 2012

New stamp

Of course it would be when I mail my last 2 direct cards to international stations, they come out with the $1.05 stamp. I must have mailed 300+ cards out with various smaller stamps.

Oh well, at least people can see more than one picture...




QSL cards are a time honored tradition in Amateur radio. Final confirmation of the contact, and the basis of most of the "wall paper" awards, especially for the DX'ers.

As a operator of at least semi-exotic callsigns and locations, especially maritime mobile, I pride myself at getting all of the cards I receive answered. While electronic QSL-ing is gaining popularity, there are still many stations who use the old fashion paper cards.

Since regular mail is getting expensive, I have a few rules when you send a card to me, especially directly. I want to return the card to you, but I can't go broke doing so. To help me answer the cards efficiently and economically, you should do the following:

1) look me up in to find out my correct mailing address. Make sure you are QSLing via N1ZZZ not N1ZZ who also goes to locations for DXpeditioning.

2) send a self-addressed envelope. This is very important. I am already going out and having cards printed, I can't be going out and spending more money on envelopes. If you are a US station, paste a "Forever" stamp on the envelope so that if the postage rate increases before I get home to answer they, there won't be a delay or additional cost for me to add postage. Non-US stations should not try to send stamps to me. Also, needing to take the time to fill out the address just adds to my work load.

3) If you are a non-US station, include at least two $1 bills OR an IRC. As of 2012, the cost of an international letter is $1.05. So a single $1 bill means I am paying for your card and at least a bit of your postage. This might not seem like much, but when you have to answer 1,000 cards, the costs add up for me. IRC's are fine because no matter what the cost of the postage, I still get a stamp. I am willing to pay the $0.09 for the card, but at least cover the postage.

4) If you're a US station, don't QSL me via the bureau. It takes forever for me to get the card, and then I have to pay for your card, postage and envelope. This does not make me happy. Take the time to find out my foreign call's manager and send a card directly or electronically.

5) If you don't follow my rules you will probably get a card, but at the very least it will be delayed. I have what is called my "special handling" pile. These are the direct cards with no envelope etc. If you included money or an IRC you will get a direct card, but delayed until every other direct card is answered. This may mean a week or two delay. If you sent no postage or currency, your card will be returned via the bureau.

6) Bureau cards. There are many DX operators who do not answer bureau cards. These not only take the longest, but are also the most expensive for me to answer. I have to front the cost of the card, the cost of the postage from the bureau to me, the cost of the postage to the ARRL bureau, and then the ARRL bureau fee. It is by the sheer sense of duty that I answer bureau cards. While bureau cards are fine for longer ragchew QSO's, when you are working a DX station who is regularly running pilups, you everyone a favor, either use direct paper cards, an EQSL, or nothing at all. If you do insist on a bureau card, be prepared to wait at least a year, usually more for the card to get to me, and then for me to get around to answering them (usually I send my bureau cards out the last week or so before I rejoin the ship) and then for the card to get back to you. In 2012 I am getting many cards from QSO's dating from 2010, and that is only when they get to me. Expect another year or so to get back to you.

So while I am happy to get and return QSL cards, if you want me to get back to you soon so that you can fill out your DXCC paperwork, get LoTW for the fastest response, or send me a card directly so that I can get the card answered reasonably fast.


Monday, February 6, 2012

Just when I finish the last of the VQ9ZZ QSL cards from the pile of mail from being away, thehen the friendly mail carrier drops off two bundles of cards from the Bureau. Oh well, I know what I will be doing tomorrow. I think I need to order more cards...

Thursday, February 2, 2012

EComm in Luzerne County, PA

Communications in Luzerne County, PA
By Capt. Jeremy
Allen, N1ZZZ

most critical question that needs to be addressed when considering the role of amateur
radio in emergency response in Luzerne county is who the served agencies are,
and what communications services they may require during a civil
emergency. Once these questions are
answered, a program to provide the equipment, operators, and services can be
In some
cases, the served agencies are not quite sure what amateur radio is, or what
services they can provide. In such
cases, the EC must be able to suggest services, explain how they can be
delivered, and reinforce these offerings with either a demonstration or at
least a presentation.
rapidly changing communications offerings by commercial providers have greatly
raised the bar of expectations. In years
past the demonstration of an auto-patch through a local repeater was a source
of wonder. Since cellular telephones are
carried by nearly everyone, the ability to make a telephone call from an H-t
will likely leave them unimpressed. In fact, since smart telephones and 4G
networks are all the rage these days, the average served agency will want
something approaching this capability from the amateur radio community. The days of providing voice nets on FM
simplex or CW NTS nets are long over.
These services, especially provided by ill-trained amateurs, will be
counter- productive. The goal should be
inter connection of the served agency’s remote locations with relatively fast
data as well as voice connection. Adding
television or image transfer is also desirable.
was not built in a day and neither can the Ecomm capabilities for the
county. The first goal must be a core
group of willing and able amateurs to help provide communications to the served
agencies in the county using the existing, or easily built infrastructure. Emergency coordinators need to operate across
jurisdictional boundaries to include local, state, and even federal
agencies. Getting all of these people to
operate in concert, the DHS and FEMA have developed the Incident Command System
(ICS). This is the standard modus
operandi of all Ecomm services, and if the amateur community wishes to take
part in an emergency response, then they must be trained in ICS. All active amateurs in ARES must have minimum
training in ICS (ICS-100), while the leadership must have more in-depth
training (ICS-100, 200, 700).
Fortunately most of this training is provided online or can be taught
relatively quickly in small classes. In
addition to the ICS training classes, the ARES membership, and especially the
leadership should consider enrolling in the ARRL Ecomm classes; level 1 for
most members and up to level 3 for the leadership. This training will make for informed
operators who can intelligently assist emergency service providers in the
high-stress situations that we will be operating in.
the general training is completed, then practical training can begin. Practical training can be as simple as drills
where a specific skill set is practiced, to more comprehensive exercises are
undertaken to test the whole system.
Simple drills include voice nets to test equipment pre-staged at sights,
as well as assembling simple FM voice and/or packet stations. Another good test is to operate a packet
station to be able to pass simple packet traffic if that is an option offered
the served agency. Drills should be
scheduled at least monthly and exercises annually, preferably as part of the
served agency’s training exercise, if it occurs.
careful review of the current ARES capabilities must be undertaken so that the
group can make an honest presentation of the group’s current capabilities. I would suggest that FM simplex and/or
repeater capabilities be tested so that all major facilities (EOC, Hospitals,
FD HQ, PD HQ, shelters) are able to be contacted. If there is any pre-staged equipment, this
must be cataloged and tested as well. If
there is no pre-staged equipment, then people assigned to the location must be
able to provide a station that can operate effectively on emergency power from
that location. If repeaters are to be
used, is emergency power available, and if so, for how long? If there is a loss of repeaters, can they be
replaced by temporary repeaters, or will simplex be required?
first improvement that should be implemented is a simple 1200 baud packet
system that can pass digital text traffic from shelters and hospitals to the
EOC. This should be fairly simple and
inexpensive. All that would be required
is cheap 2 meter radios and inexpensive TNC’s and simple desktop
computers. Training of operators on how
to send and receive packet messages is imperative. Modern emergency systems want email, and it
is something that must be provided for even at the simple level of 1200 baud
Once we
can demonstrate that we are a valuable asset for communications in an emergency
situation, we can start to press for grants and funding to increase the
capabilities of the group to better serve the county. To this end, I would suggest that the D-Star System
and Winlink 2000 capabilities be implemented.
2000 is a VHF/HF/Telnet email system what works on a variety of platforms to
get email to commercial email addresses.
The end user connects to a node station which then opens a telnet link
to the email server and passes the traffic fairly automatically. Only the initial connection is made
manually. The software can utilize
direct telnet if internet connections are available, packet for point to point
connections (1200 or 9600 baud are the most common speeds). On HF the two options are a soundcard mode
called WinMor which is the most economical and offers relatively fast speed. The other mode for WL2K is Pactor. Pactor 3 is the fastest HF with speeds up to
3600 bps connections, but the cost of these controllers is relatively high at
$1200 or more.
this area, a pair of physically separated nodes a running RMS Packet station
attached to a permanent internet connection would be a great first step. This would allow for a redundant and
relatively robust connection to the internet that can be accessed by end users using
standard TNC’s or soundcard packet stations and running the free client
software to access the WL2K system.
In addition
to the local packet system, the EOC can be outfitted with an HF station that
can be used to access WL2K via HF on either WinMor or Pactor. (As an aside, while I am in town, I can offer
this station in a fixed, mobile, or portable operation using Pactor 3 and my
personal WL2K account). A simple
muli-band antenna can be used at the EOC as there are many WL2K HF stations in
the US within range during most propagation conditions.
ultimate goal of this operation should be a fully-functional 2-node D-Star
system. This would require grant money
of upwards of $20,000 to implement, as well as the willingness of local hams to
acquire D-star capable radios. Ideally a
pair of Digital Data (DD) nodes linked with a 10 GHz RF link with full-time
internet access would be utilized to provide a pair of 128 kps connections at
the EOC and major locations such as shelters and hospitals. Augment this with digital Voice (DV) and its
slower digital capability to offer cell-phone quality, and intelligently linked
voice capabilities. The DV system can be
either 2 meter and/or 440 MHz systems (or a mixture of both). This would offer the biggest “wow” factor to
the served agency. Of course setting up this system would also require capital
investment, monthly maintenance of the internet connection, repeater sites, and
frequency coordination. To this end, I
will start researching and asking other Ecomm groups who have implemented
D-star systems and look for hints and kinks.
This is
just an introduction to the vision that I have and is of course subject to
change as we learn what the county needs and wants as well as the ability and wiliness
of the local groups to assist in this public service. I welcome you input and thoughts on these

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Welcome to the N1ZZZ blog. This will also be the home of my DX callsigns and other operating locations. Since a vast majority of my radio activity takes place outside of my home, it may take us far afield.

I've been licensed since 1997 when I swept through and aquired my amateur call as well as the first of three commercial radio licenses. Currently I hold an amateur extra call, General radiotelephone operators license, Global Marine Distress and Safety System operator (GMDSS-O), and GMDSS maintainer's license. I also hold the radar endorsement. In addition to these FCC licenses in the US, I have also held radio licenses issued by the BIOT (VQ9JA and VQ9ZZ) and Ascension Island (ZD8JA). Through reciprocal agreements I have also operated in EA8 (Canary Islands). Lastly I operated KH0 in Saipan, CNMI; and KH6 from the island of Maui, HI.

I tend to go off the beaten path with most of my operating. While I love being the DX and working the pileups on RTTY and SSB, at home I take a much more laid back approach and perfer the digital modes. On HF I work quite a bit of PSK31 and some of the lesser used soundcard modes. I am particularly fond of MFSK16 and Feld-Hell. Still, I really love using the TOR modes and I have TNC's to operate most of them. My favorite is Hal Communications Clover which I find great to use both to access BBS' and to work keyboard QSOs. I also like to use Pactor, and operate at levels I, II, and III through my PTC-IIe controller. Most of my pactor work is on the Winlink 2000 system at sea for email, but I also enjoy keyboard QSO's. I am also capable of GTOR and AMTOR, but since I can't find anyone to work with me on those modes, I tend not to use them. The only TOR mode I don't use is 300 Baud HF packet. There are so many better options out there, that I just don't like to use it.

On the VHF side, I have the ability to use from the 6 meter to the 70 cm bands inclusive. Most of my VHF activity is mobile or on foot. I use FM voice to a limited extent, but most of my transmissions arein the form of APRS packet on 2 meters. I have a transponder in the car and a portable unit. The car is usually N1ZZZ-9 and pedestrian mobile is N1ZZZ-7.

My day job is a merchant Mariner. That is to say that I work as an officer on cargo ships in the US Merchant Marine. I usually work HF from the ship where I bring a tuned long wire and a small HF rig. As I mentioned, I use WL2K for email, but also get on the digital modes or SSB to work various stations from odd water grids. I usually send position reports via WL2K so it's pretty easy to track me across the oceans.

I do QSL both with paper and electronically. I always answer my cards, but it may take awhile due to my schedule. LoTW and cards are uploaded fairly soon after I return home, and then I try to answer all direct QSL cards. Buro cards are answered on a secondary basis and are usually mailed to the ARRL right before I return to the ship.

Jeremy N1ZZZ