December 28, 2020

Teach them to dream...

“You will teach them to fly, but they will not fly your flight.
You will teach them to dream, but they will not dream your dream.
You will teach them to live, but they will not live your life.
Nevertheless, in every flight, in every life, in every dream,
the print of the way you taught will always remain.” -- Mother Teresa



Good DX and 73, NJ2X

December 27, 2020

December 24, 2020

1947 Amateur Radio Direction Finding Field Day Film

Wonderful silent archive footage of the Direction Finding Field Day (North of the Thames) on May 18, 1947.  It is so interesting to see radio amateurs of all ages having fun early radio fox hunting.





Good DX and 73, NJ2X

December 18, 2020

Science Friday: Earth is a giant iron magnet

Earth is a giant iron magnet


Earth’s core is solid iron.  Around this inner core is a layer of liquid iron. The interaction between the liquid and solid iron is responsible for generating electrical currents and a powerful magnetic field.  The magnetic field is in alignment with the Earth's rotation and extends all the way into space.




Good DX and 73, NJ2X

December 11, 2020

Evaluating Radio Fox Hunt Alternatives for a Scout Troop

During the Summer of 2020, I taught the Radio Merit Badge for a troop of enthusiastic Scouts.  The scouts had a great time setting up a wilderness radio station and operating on HF, VHF, and UHF.  Part of the curriculum included discussing various radio related activities that amateur radio operators participate in.  The scouts were really excited to learn about amateur radio fox hunting (also known as amateur radio direction finding).  The scouts asked if they could organize a radio fox hunt for the troop sometime.  The answer was of course was an equally enthusiastic, "Yes!"  (I only needed to figure out how to do it first).



Radio fox hunting (also called amateur radio direction finding or radio orienteering) is a challenging amateur radio sport that combines radio direction finding with orienteering map and compass skills.  Radio fox hunting is a timed race in which competitors use a topographic map, a magnetic compass, and radio direction finding apparatus to navigate through diverse wooded terrain while searching for hidden radio transmitters.


The objective of this hunt is to have fun using leadership skills in an inter-patrol competition while also developing radio direction-finding skills.  Teamwork, skills, and speed are all advantages.


When I started working on an approach for a radio fox hunt I began with the end in mind by drafting a set of requirements:
  • Waterproof - We don't get much rain here in Northern California.  However, we can experience huge downpours during the rainy season that starts with the onset of Winter.  The  electronics need to stay dry rain or shine.
  • Sufficient Battery - The transmitter equipment for the hunt will transmit on a 50% duty cycle for the duration of a hunt and demonstration / practice prior to the hunt.  The total operating duration will likely be between 120 minutes and 150 minutes.  The transceiver will likely be run on low power.  Battery storage that will support 4 hours would probably be good enough.
  • Stealthy - The fox transmitter will need to be hidden from view from both hunters and passers by.  The transmitter profile needs to be discreet and easily hidden behind weeds or inside a bush.  Camouflage or dark color would be appropriate.
  • Labelled -  The transmitter needs to be labelled to inform a finder of its purpose in the event of accident discovery.  The label will also help a radio fox "hound" quickly confirm she has found the transmitter during a hunt.
  • Secure - Provide the ability to secure the radio fox transmitter to a tree with a bicycle cable lock to deter theft.
  • Auto ID - The fox transmitter needs to be able to identify the call sign every 10-minutes per FCC rules.
  • Intermittent Transmission - The fox transmitter needs to alternate between sending a signal for the hounds to locate and then going idle with no transmitted signal.  A 50% duty cycle of 15 seconds on and then 15 seconds off would be about right.
  • Lightweight - The fox transmitter device needs to be relatively lightweight to promote easy portability as part of backpacking outing or hike.  This limits the weight to a couple of pounds maximum.
Armed with requirements, I researched various options for setting up a radio fox transmitter.  I identified three basic alternatives:
  1. Transceiver + radio CW beacon - Use a 2m handy-talkie as a transmitter interfaced with a CW beacon controller.
  2. Transceiver + radio fox controller - Use a 2m handy0talkie as a transmitter interfaced with a fox controller.
  3. Dedicated integrated radio fox transmitter - These are special purpose radios with a built-in radio fox controller.

Option 1: Transceiver + Radio CW Beacon

Pros
  • Lowest cost since existing equipment could be repurposed
  • Easy to setup
  • Flexible frequency and power (determined by the transceiver)
  • CW beacon could be paired with different radios
Cons
  • Not a commonly adopted approach for radio fox hunting
  • A CW signal could be more challenging for new fox hunters to locate with rudimentary techniques such as body fading.
  • Requires an additional battery pack
  • Requires a waterproof container to deploy

Option 2: Transceiver + Radio Fox Controller

Pros
  • Proven effectiveness in radio fox hunting
  • Likely easier for new radio fox hunters to locate with rudimentary techniques such as body fading
  • Flexible frequency and power (determined by the transceiver)
  • Fox controller could be paired with different radios
Cons
  • Additional expense in purchasing a radio fox controller
  • Requires an additional battery pack
  • Requires a waterproof container to deploy

Option 3: Dedicated Integrated Radio Fox Transmitter

Pros
  • Proven effectiveness in radio fox hunting
  • Smallest physical size and lightest weight - easiest to hide - stealthy
  • No additional battery pack required
  • No additional waterproof container required
Cons
  • Additional expense in purchase a integrate radio fox transmitter
  • Highest cost approach
  • Low power with no options
  • Fixed frequency / less flexible in terms of frequency

After considering the pros and cons of the three options, I decided to start with Option 1 by pairing a vintage 1990's 2m Kenwood HT with an existing CW-keyer that I had available in the shack.  This option would provide a zero-cost opportunity to experiment with using a CW beacon for radio fox hunting.  In my next post in this series, I will share how I configured my first fox transmitter and what I learned in the process.


Good DX and 73, NJ2X

October 24, 2020

Fun completing 18 five-band-WAS contacts today

Conditions were pretty good this morning on the 10m,15m, and 17m bands.  I had a blast completing contacts with 18 different new states that I needed for five-band WAS.  This was an unusually high number of needed-QSOs in a single operating setting.  It is amazing how well amateur radio works even at the bottom of the solar cycle.  

My five-band WAS is ways off yet as I need to make some improvements to my 80m antenna capability first.  I also need favorable conditions on 10m to return.






Good DX and 73, NJ2X

October 19, 2020

2020 Jamboree on the Air

My daughter (KN6JYE) and I (NJ2X) had fun this past weekend (October 16-18, 2020) participating in the annual scouting Jamboree on the Air.  JOTA is the world's largest scouting activity and involves scouts all around the globe getting on amateur radio and having fun.

We had a blast talking with scouts and scouters in The Netherlands, Brazil, Australia, and the USA.  Scouting and amateur radio make a great combination.

JOTA 2020



Good DX and 73, NJ2X

October 16, 2020

What is a radiogram?

A radiogram is a formal message routed by amateur radio operators through the National Traffic System (NTS).  A radiogram is initially written down using a paper form to help organize and normalize the information.  The radiogram is relayed to volunteer radio operators who also use the radiogram paper form to copy and pass the message onward.

The radiogram has been in use for a very long time in amateur radio and retains its usefulness in emergency situations when fragile infrastructure-based communication such as Internet and telephone fail.




Good DX and 73, NJ2X

October 9, 2020

Digital DXCC Completed!

The digital door to DXCC is available to hams with a transceiver, computer, TNC, and software


I completed my DXCC Phone award back in 2015 and DXCC Mixed award (#57,420) in 2012.  I have been working casually on the ARRL's Digital DXCC Award for the last decade with all contacts confirmed exclusively via the Logbook of the World.  Today (October 9, 2020), my 100th digital DXCC contact was confirmed on the LoTW with BI4XDT.  Woot! Woot! I did it at last!

The award requires completing 100 contacts using only digital modes.  I really enjoy digital radio communication and the various digital modes.  Browsing my log, I noticed I accumulated my contacts using the following digital modes:
  • CONTESTI
  • DOMINO
  • FT8
  • JT65
  • MFSK16
  • OLIVIA
  • PSK31
  • PSK63
  • PSK125
  • RTTY
It is amazing that we amateur radio operators have access to so many digital modes.  My list above is only a few of the possible available modes.  Digital modes are fairly easy to use and available to hams having transceiver, computer, communications software, and a terminal node controller (TNC).

Looking forward to exploring new digital modes on more bands with more countries on my way to the DXCC Challenge award.

Good DX and 73, NJ2X



Calculating the line-of-sight radio path

VHF and UHF radio communication are most commonly based on line-of-sight propagation.  Line-of-sight is the thus the ordinary limiting factor which determines how far your signal will reliably travel.  There is a really great free tool for visualizing the line-of-sight path between two GPS locations.


Recently, I worked a station through the W6CX Mt. Diablo repeater from the summit of Mt. Lassen 292 km (182 miles) away, using my 5W Kenwood TH-F6A HT.  Below is the line-of-sight plot between the two summits using scadacore.com.  I simply entered the GPS decimal coordinates for the two locations and scadacore.com automatically produced the the radio path study and a google map showing the two locations.  This was quick and easy to do.

Radio path study between the summits of Mt. Diablo and Mt. Lassen

You can find GPS decimal coordinates for a location easily using Google Maps.

  1. On your computer, open Google Maps
  2. Right-click the place or area on the map or type in an address in the search
  3. Select, "What's here?"
  4. At the bottom, you’ll see a card with the coordinates
  5. Click on the card to open it
  6. Highlight the GPS decimal coordinates on the card to copy

The scadacore.com google map is interactive which allows you to move the points around and instantly see the plot.  This is a very helpful way to explore possible paths between two locations.


Good DX and 73, NJ2X



October 2, 2020

WSJT-X Automatic Logging Into Ham Radio Deluxe

Ham Radio Deluxe DM780 supports an excellent selection of digital modes.  There are several popular digital modes that HRD DM780 does not support including FT8, JT65, and WSPR.  To run these digital modes, additional non-HRD software is required.



I have found WSJT-X easy to work with especially when combined with JTAlert.  WSJT-X implements communication protocols or "modes" called FT4, FT8, JT4, JT9, JT65, QRA64, ISCAT, MSK144, and WSPR, as well as one called Echo for detecting and measuring your own radio signals reflected from the Moon.  These modes were all designed for making reliable, confirmed QSOs under extreme weak-signal conditions.


However, by default WSJT-X writes only to its own log when only basic configuration is setup.  This is inconvenient to Ham Radio Deluxe users as there doesn't seem to be an easy way to export/import the WSJT-X log into Ham Radio Deluxe.  Even if there were a manual export/import, who would want a two-step logging process anyway?  Spend less time logging means we have more time for making contacts. 

Fortunately, WSJT-X and Ham Radio Deluxe can be easily configured to work together to enable WSJT-X logged contacts to automatically update the Ham Radio Deluxe log.  The integration involves enabling and configuring "QSO Forwarding" in both applications.

Step 1: Configure HRD QSO Forwarding

  • Navigate to HRD-->HRD Logbook-->Tools-->Configuration-->QSO Forwarding
  • UDP Send - uncheck "Forward logbook changes using UDP to other logging programs"
  • UDP Receive
    • Add a check to "Fill in missing fields on Receive"
    • Add a check to "Lookup missing fields on Receive"
    • Uncheck "Receive logbook changes using UDP from other logging programs (TR4W, N1MM)
    • Receive QSO notifications using UDP from other applications (WSJT-X)
      • Receive Port: 2333
      • Target Database: My Logbook
      • MyStation fields should be: Merged

Step 2: Configure WSJT-X QSO Forwarding"

  • Navigate to WSJT-X --> File --> Settings --> Reporting
    • Check "Prompt me to log QSO"
    • Network Services
      • Check "Enable PSK Reporter Spotting"
    • UDP Server
      • Check "Accept UDP requests"
      • Check "Notify on accepted UDP requests"
      • Check "Accepted UDP restores window
      • UDP Server: 127.0.0.1
      • UDP Server port number: 2237
    • Secondary UDP Server (deprecated)
      • Check "Enable logged contact ADIF broadcast
      • Server name or IP address: 127.0.0.1
      • Server port number: 2333

Step 3: Test QSO Forwarding from WSJT-X to HRD

Note on rig control: I have configured rig control in both WSJT-X and HRD.  This means that I can only use one or the other at the same time to control my station.  With this approach, I simply disconnect HRD rig control when I am going to run WSJT-X.  When I am done with WSJT-X, I close the application and then click the "Connect" button in HRD to re-enable HRD rig-control.  If I attempt to run rig control in both applications at the same time, they conflict and generate an error.
  • Complete a contact in WSJT-X
  • Log the contact in WSJT-X
  • Confirm that the contact was logged in HRD

VoilĂ !  You have successfully configured WSJT-X and HRD to automatically log WSJT-X contacts in the HRD logbook.  This will save you tons of time from having to manually type your WSJT-X QSOs into the Ham Radio Logbook.


Good DX and 73, NJ2X




Related posts:

September 25, 2020

TH-F6A Power Jack Vulnerability

The Kenwood TH-F6A is a wonderful tri-band HT.  I have owned one for many years and enjoyed operating.



The radio's design is flawed in one aspect.  It is important to plug in the power connector into the jack on the radio before plugging it into the wall, cigarette lighter, or other external power source.  This is because an internal surface mount fuse can be blown if an energized power connector is plugged into the radio power jack.  Replacing the fuse is possible though difficult since it is a surface mount component.  This typically requires the radio be sent to Kenwood service for repair.

A better design would allow the power connector to be inserted or removed without risk to the radio.  Also, it would be desirable to design fuse replacement so that it can be performed by the owner and does not require the radio be sent to a service center for an expensive repair.

Good DX and 73, NJ2X

September 18, 2020

Transmitting using a vintage Radio Shack center-loaded telescoping antenna

I have a vintage Radio Shack center-loaded telescoping antenna from the early 1990's.  It has a BNC connector and a loading coil in the middle of the telescoping sections.  It ordinarily sits in a box along with other radio odds and ends that I don't use regularly.  Radio Shack made these for ages and you can still find them for sale online.


Radio Shack center-loaded telescoping antenna with all sections collapsed


I was recently working on a vintage Kenwood TH-22AT 2m HT that still has its original rubber duck antenna.  The antenna wasn't pulling-in stations very well so I decided to dig out my old Radio Shack telescoping antenna and give it a try.  I was happy to find that the Radio Shack antenna worked better than the stock rubber duck.

As I was setting it up, I remembered that some adjustment is required in order to use it for transmitting.  The antenna can be used on a transceiver or a receiver such as a scanner.

Receiving: 25 MHz through 1296 MHz
Transmitting: Can be used as a 1/4 wavelength transmitting antenna from 130 MHz through 535 MHz.
  • Caution
    • When you use the antenna to transmit, you must always collapse the section located just above the loading coil. If you do not collapse this section, you might damage the antenna and your radio.
    • When you use the antenna to transmit, you must calculate the 1/4 wavelength and adjust the antenna length accordingly. If you do not do this, you can damage your transmitting equipment due to an improper standing wave ratio (SWR).
      • Use this formula to calculate the proper length for a 1/4 wavelength transmitting antenna: 2834 / Freq. in MHz = Antenna Length in Inches 
Common 2m Band Antenna Lengths
  • 144.000 Mhz --> 19.7 inches
  • 144.500 Mhz --> 19.6 inches
  • 145.000 Mhz --> 19.5 inches
  • 145.800 Mhz --> 19.4 inches
  • 146.520 Mhz --> 19.3 inches
  • 147.570 Mhz --> 19.2 inches
  • 147.990 Mhz --> 19.1 inches

When receiving only:
  • 25 Mhz to 136 Mhz - Extend all nine sections of the antenna
  • 136 Mhz to 174 Mhz - Extend only the top four sections
  • 174 Mhz to 1296 Mhz - Extend only 1 to 3 lower sections

Good DX and 73, NJ2X

September 4, 2020

Migrating Ham Radio Deluxe to a New Computer

I have been migrating my applications and data to a new computer.  My old computer served me well for many years and has been exhibiting a growing number of issues indicating it was time to be retired. The next step in the transition process was to migrate Ham Radio Deluxe (version 5.24.0.38) to the new computer running the latest version of Ham Radio Deluxe (version 6.7.0.301).

I am very excited about this upgrade to HRD as I am looking forward to running a well supported high-quality application and discovering new features and enhancements.  HRD has been the rug that really tied the shack together.  This will also be the first version of HRD that I have had to pay for as I have always relied on the free version.


My strategy was to migrate my HRD log using a backup as well as custom DM780 macros and then manually configure the application.  I chose this strategy since it was straightforward and would assure a clean migration.  This strategy would also afford me the opportunity to review the HRD configuration for new settings and features that have been introduced since the old freeware version.

I have shared my migration procedures below in case this information is helpful.  If you have any additional tips or advice regarding upgrading and migrating Ham Radio Deluxe (HRD) to a new computer, please be sure to leave a comment.

Migrate HRD Log Procedure

1) Install the latest version of HRD on the new computer.

2) Backup the HRD log files on the old computer and save the backup to cloud storage (e.g. Google Backup and Sync, Microsoft OneDrive, ...).
  • HRD Logbook --> More --> Backup --> Options
    • Change the backup location to use cloud storage
  • HRD Logbook --> Backup
3) Restore the HRD backup files from cloud storage on the new computer.
  • HRD Logbook --> Backup --> Restore
    • Add the cloud storage location of your backup file
    • Click Restore
    • Confirm the number of records to restore and click, "yes"
    • Confirm the number of restored entries and click, "OK"
    • Click "Finish"

Reconnect HRD to the ARRL LoTW

1) HRD Logbook --> More --> LoTW --> Download
2) Add the LoTW username and password
3) Click download to confirm it is working properly

Migrate HRD DM780 Macros Procedure

1) Save the old Macros to a file on cloud storage
  • Digital Master 780 --> Tools --> Macros
  • Save the file to cloud storage
2) Load the old Macros into the new HRD
  • Digital Master 780 --> Tools --> Macros
  • Load the macro file on cloud storage
Confirm the old macros are available

Reconfiguring HRD Procedure

I choose not to attempt to migrate HRD configuration settings from my old version of HRD to the new version of HRD on the new computer.  I didn't want to deal with having to clean up self-created migration messes to save a few minutes of configuration.  Manually configuring HRD would work just fine for my needs and this would also provide me with an opportunity to discover new configuration settings and options.

1) HRD Logbook --> Callsign (My Info)
  • Name
  • Locator
  • QTH
  • E-Mail
  • HomePage
  • Radio
  • Antenna
  • Power
2) HRD Logbook --> Clock
  • Format - change to GMT/UTC

Reassociate Keyhole Markup Language with Google Earth

During testing, I found that HRD would not launch Google Earth when attempting to do a lookup on a contact.  Instead, Adobe Reader was being launched due to a mis-association in Windows with Adobe and .KML (Keyhole Markup Language) files.  The solution was to re-associate .KML files with Google Earth in Windows.
  1. Go to https://developers.google.com/kml
  2. Click on "Half Dome hike" to save a .kmz file to downloads
  3. Right click on the .kmz file in the downloads folder
  4. Select "open with"
  5. Select Google Earth and check "Always use this app to open"


Good DX and 73, NJ2X




Related posts:


August 29, 2020

Repairing Portable Rotatable Dipole

For portable operations, we have been using a portable rotatable HF dipole from EmComm-Products (model RADS 9-11/A) since 2008.  The antenna provides HF (160m, 80m, 40m, and 20m) and a second VHF/UHF antenna on top of the dipole which is fed by a separate cable enabling concurrent operations of both a HF and VHF/UHF radio on one mast.

Activating Hatteras Island, NC

KC2VSR (Field Day at Fort Ord, CA) rotating the dipole by giving the mast a simple twist


When setting up the antenna for portable operations to teach the radio merit badge in 2018, we discovered that we could no longer tune up when using the 20m elements.  SWR was extremely high.  The was the first time we had an issue when using the antenna after a decade of use.  It was time to give the antenna some attention and bring it back to working order. 

Diagnosis

Once back home, we brought out each of the elements and check them individually for continuity using a ohmmeter.  To perm this test, we placed one of the ohmmeter probes on one end of an antenna element and the other problem on the other end of the antenna element.

All the elements passed this basic test with the exception of one of the 20m elements.  The 20m element had no continuity indicating that the wire had a break somewhere along the fiberglass element.

I visually inspected the element for apparent damage and found none.  This suggested that something was amiss with connection between the wire and one or both end connectors.

Corrosion on the joint between the antenna wire and antenna connector


Using an X-acto knife I carefully cut a window in the shrink wrap at the junction between the antenna element wire and the end connector to inspect the connection.  This revealed corrosion on the junction.  Using the continuity tester, I checked for continuity between the wire and both end connections.  This showed continuity at the junction to the far end connector and no continuity to the near connector.  Ah ha!  We found the issue.  The corrosion was likely caused from a decade of operating near saltwater and in the rain.

Repair

A brass wire brush was used to remove the corrosion.  The connector was then resoldered to the wire along with a copper wire wrapped all the way around the connector to assure positive contact.  The connector was recovered with shrink wrap and relabelled as a 20m element.  This was a straightforward and easy repair.

Repaired 20m element

Results

We setup a wilderness radio station to teach the radio merit badge at summer camp with the portable rotatable dipole as one of the antennas.

Portable rotatable dipole back on the air at summer camp near Truckee, CA

We setup the antenna with the 20m elements and it performed flawlessly all week while at summer camp.  We made numerous SSB contacts on 20m.

Several people have contacted me asking about buying their own portable rotatable dipole antenna.  Sadly, the manufacturer, EmComm-Products, is no longer in business.  It has been an outstanding antenna.

Good DX and 73,  
NJ2X



August 21, 2020

Radio Scouting: Earning the Radio Merit Badge at Summer Camp


The Radio Merit Badge was earned by 5,205 Scouts in the US in 2018 representing a 10.9% drop from the year prior.  We hams need to make sure we step up our support of scouting and act as counselors for the radio merit badge.  The Radio Merit Badge requirements are demanding and require both classroom learning as well as applied learning in front of a radio.  The radio merit badge looks great on a scout uniform sash with its wonderfully designed Morse code message and lighting bolts.


Scouts BSA Radio Merit Badge

I had the privilege to teach the radio merit badge with my daughter's Scouts BSA troop while at summer camp in the Sierras in Northern California in 2020.  We had a small group of scouts and parents which provided the scouts with more radio operating time and more time for discussion and questions about radio.  This made the merit badge class sessions more fun and engaging.

The scouts had a blast learning hands-on on how to setup the entire wilderness radio station including:
  1. Generator
  2. Power supply
  3. Kenwood TS-480SAT (HF+6m transceiver)
  4. Yeasu FT-8800 (2m / 70 cm FM transceiver)
  5. Kenwood TH-F6A (triband FM HT)
  6. External speaker
  7. 40 Meters home brew wire dipole
  8. 20 Meters rotatable dipole
  9. VHF/UHF antenna
Emergency communication rotatable dipole and VHF/UHF antenna packed up in its storage bag


The scouts made numerous contacts on 40 Meters, 20 Meters, 2 Meters, and 70 Centimeters.  We also tuned up and down on the shortwave broadcast bands and listened in on various programs from around the world.  This was an eye opening experience for the scouts who had never heard shortwave broadcasting nor made amateur radio contacts before.

Kenwood TS-480SAT Transceiver
Kenwood TS-480SAT Transceiver

The rotatable dipole worked like a champ having been serviced in the work prior to camp.  While on the workshop bench before camp, it was discovered that one of the elements had developed a break due to corrosion.  The repair was straightforward requiring a quick cleaning of the corrosion, resoldering, and shrink-wrapping.  The rotatable dipole helped demonstrate the directional nature of dipole antennas to the scouts.

Emergency communications rotatable dipole with VHF/UHF Antenna on top setup at summer camp 


One of our scouts, Sadie, earned her FCC Amateur Radio Technician license (KN6JYE) just prior to arriving in camp.  She had a blast using her license for the first time on VHF/UHF simplex calls, calls over area repeaters, and checking into various area nets including a fun 2m simplex net.  By the way, Sadie and her troop are running a popcorn fundraiser to help keep their scout program going.  Please stop by Sadie's Trails End popcorn storefront to make a purchase and support scouting and her troop.

Sadie, KN6JYE making contacts at elevation 3187m on top of Mount Lassen, California

The scouts were amazed and excited to experience the thrill of DX communication for the first time.  We made contacts on 40 Meters to other states and countries including Hawaii and New Zealand.  DX is alive and well even at the bottom of the solar sunspot cycle.

Amateur Radio Operator scout uniform strip

A big THANK YOU to the patient hams who talked with the scouts and helped them log their very first amateur radio contacts.  These hams helped the scouts to successfully earn their radio merit badges and we couldn't have done it without them.  It is the hands-on learning and radio operations that is the most inspiring and engaging aspect of the radio merit badge.  Several of the scouts expressed their enthusiastic interest in earning their own amateur radio licenses.  Please support scouting, radio merit badge activities, the annual Scout Jamboree on the Air (JOTA) special event, and youth learning the ropes on the air.  The next generation needs our support and encouragement just as much as we all did when we were their age.  Remember, it is youth who are the future of the amateur radio.

Good DX and 73,

NJ2X



August 20, 2020

Wildfire Evacuation Tactics

It is August 20, 2020, wildfires continue to rage along the central coast of California in Santa Cruz County and the neighboring Santa Clara County affecting tens of thousands of people and tens of thousands of acres.  There is zero containment so far.  Evacuation of entire communities is occurring.



I received a helpful list from a neighbor on preparing for a wildfire evacuation. I am sharing this information in case it is helpful to others.

- BE PREPARED
- TURN ON yard sprinklers.  Turn them off before you evacuate.
- MOVE outdoor furniture / anything flammable to IN garage.
- TAKE DOWN shades 
- CLEAN gutters / leaves of debris
- RUN hose lines around property, brass nozzles are best. 
- Turn OFF natural gas - wrench next to meter 
- Turn ON outdoor house lights (front of house/garage) 
- CLOSE windows and doors - Remove all cloth and plastic curtains 
- EMAIL / TEXT / CALL Let family outside of area know individual / group plans - Leave a letter on kitchen counter of who you are, who is with you and where you are going and how you’re getting there - INFORM all neighbors of your plans and learn theirs 
- MOVE indoor furniture away from windows / doors to center of room 
- MOVE flammable materials to the center of the garage, ideally not on the ground. 
- PLACE extension ladder leading to roof 
- CLOSE OFF roof / eave vents - duct tape 
- DISCONNECT automatic garage door opener, manually close. 
- TAPE any gaps between garage door and ground, so no embers can blow under 
- LEAVE car unlocked with keys in ignition 
- WRITE note and paste to front door informing you have evacuated and the date. Note where the closest fire hydrant is to you. 
- POSITION security cameras to see your surroundings better 
- CUT all branches that are too close to your house. Form pile away from house, not under trees (center of driveway for example) 
- REMOVE flammable plants (lavender, etc) within 3 feet of home 
- HELP your neighbors and COMMUNICATE regularly 
- EVACUATE while you have time on your side

If you are a amateur radio operator, remember, cell phone and internet services are prone to failure.

- BRING your fully charged amateur radio HTs and charger with you (already programmed with your area's repeaters).
- LISTEN to your radio to monitor for news updates.


Do you have additional tactics to add to this list?  Please leave a comment.


Be safe,

NJ2X


July 20, 2020

Anticipation is ... Monitoring the FCC ULS

There is nothing quite like the feeling of happiness and anticipation monitoring the FCC ULS after passing your FCC Technician exam.  What will my call sign be?  I hope it is a good one.  Wouldn't it be amazing if it included my initials?  Has my new call sign posted yet on ULS?  How about now?  Better check again a little later... Where is it!?  Cue the Carly Simon song, anticipation... is making me wait.  

The wait is part of the journey and part of the joy of becoming a ham.  It is just as much fun for Elmers too.



Good DX and 73, 

NJ2X

July 19, 2020

In every walk...

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir


July 12, 2020

One's courage...

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” – Anais Nin

Death Valley, California


July 5, 2020

Backpacking Hack: Packing Duct Tape

I recently returned from a wonderful backpacking trek in the John Muir Wilderness located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California.  The John Muir Wilderness is rugged and exceedingly beautiful.  It is also challenging backpacking country with high altitude and difficult terrain.  The trek tested our group's skills, readiness, and fitness.  Fortunately, we were well prepared and able to handle every test mother nature presented us.

John Muir Wilderness Marker
One item in my pack proved its usefulness over and over again - duct tape.  Duct tape is not just for air ducts or home repairs.  Here are just a few uses of duct tape while backpacking:
  • Repair a pair of shoes by re-affixing a delaminated tread with duct tape
  • Repair a tear in a tent stuff-sack with duct tape
  • Patch a puncture in a water bag with duct tape
  • Secure a moleskin pad with duct tape to prevent it from rubbing off while walking
  • Cover a hip abrasion caused by a backpack with duct tape to prevent further injury
  • Wrap a sprained ankle with duct tape to support the join and prevent further injury
  • Whip an end of rope to prevent fraying
  • Patch a torn tent bag
If you aren't carrying duct tape in your pack then you will inevitably find yourself wishing you had.  Fortunately, you don't have to bring a bulky and heavy roll of duct tape to benefit from this miracle material.  Several feet of tape will do.

A helpful method of packing duct tape is to roll several feet onto a plastic medicine bottle.  The width of the duct tape fits perfectly on the bottle and adds very little weight or volume to a pack.  This hack also provides you with a waterproof container for medicine or small items.  Later, when a length of duct tape is needed, simply peel off the desired amount from the medicine bottle.

You don't need to pack the whole roll

I hope this article has inspired you to add duct tape to your backpacking kit and try rolling it onto a plastic medicine bottle for convenient packing.

Several feet of duct tape rolled onto a plastic medicine bottle

Happy trails and 73, NJ2X


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© Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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How to setup backpacking tarp shelters (A-Frame, Lean-To, and C-Fly)

Many backpackers prefer camping with a lightweight tarp shelter versus a traditional tent due to the weight savings, cost advantage, and convenience that a tarp shelter provides.  In this article, I explore the tarp shelter in detail.  I made the switch to backpacking with tarp shelters many years ago and these shelters have served me very well through all kinds of weather and conditions.  I hope this article inspires you to give a tarp shelter a try on your next backpacking adventure.

Tarp shelter in use in the John Muir Wilderness
What is a tarp shelter?
A tarp shelter is a lightweight and simple shelter consisting of a tarp, 550 cord, stakes, and trekking poles.  There are many different ways to construct a tarp shelter.

Why use a tarp shelter?
A tarp shelter is an attractive alternative to a tent because of its weight savings, low cost, and simplicity.  Weight is an important consideration for wilderness backpackers.  A tarp shelter is also helpful in a survival situation when a tent is unavailable.  A tarp shelter is very inexpensive, costing only a few dollars to construct using a common utility tarp and a few on-hand items.  Tarp shelters are also easy to set up and tear down.  Setup/tear-down speed is an especially nice advantage when it is raining.

What are the disadvantages of a tarp shelter?
Tarp shelters are typically open to the elements on one or more sides, meaning rain, snow, or insects can potentially intrude on your sleep.  Unlike a tent, a tarp shelter does not provide a waterproof pan or offer much protection to your sleeping bag during a heavy rain.  This risk can be mitigated, though, by adding a waterproof bivy sack, which would also add extra warmth, and a small tarp as a floor under the sleeping bag, which would provide an additional layer of protection against dampness.  Also, adding a mosquito head-net would mitigate the risk of insect bites while you sleep.

Condensation is often a challenge with tent camping.  How about with tarp shelters?
Condensation is never a problem with tarp shelters, provided the construction of the shelter includes openings for ventilation.

How many lengths of cord should you pack for use as tarp shelter guy-lines?
I typically pack six lengths of 550-cord for setting up my tarp shelters: two 4-ft lengths (1.2 m), two 6-ft lengths (1.8 m), and two 8-ft lengths (2.4 m).  Packing multiple lengths of cord allows me to set up my tarp shelter in different configurations and in different conditions.

What types of knots are used for the guy-lines?
I like to use bowline knots and tautline hitches, tying a bowline knot on one end of each guy-line and a tautline hitch on the other end.  The bowline knot is useful to attach to the tarp, while the tautline hitch provides adjustable tensioning when attached to a stake.


Bowline knot

Tautline Hitch

What is the optimal height to set my trekking poles for my tarp shelter?
There is no optimal pole height because the pole height will be determined by the type of tarp shelter you decide to build and your needs.  If you want more headroom, increase the height.  If you want better rain runoff, increase the height.  If you want less exposure to the wind or rain, decrease the height.  If you are using the lean-to shelter and want a better view of the night sky, increase the height.  The beauty of using trekking poles and guy-lines with tautline hitches is that everything can be adjusted easily - even in the middle of the night if needed.

Are there any tricks to staking?
When staking, angle the stake away from the guy-line to provide more secure support.  If the ground is soft, place a good-sized rock on top of the stake to help it stay put all night.  Pound the stakes all the way to the ground to reduce tripping hazards in camp and to maximize the holding power of the stake.  Common lightweight metal camping stakes will work fine.  Avoid plastic stakes since they are bulky and not as durable.

Do I need to purchase a special tarp designed for camping purposes, or can I use a common utility tarp from a hardware store?
Inexpensive utility tarps from a hardware store are durable and work just fine, and can be purchased starting at around $5 USD.  The inexpensive utility tarps are preferred by those of us who are thrifty or are just getting started in backpacking.  The more expensive backpacking tarps offer more features like durability, versatility, and additional weight savings, and are preferred by through-hikers and the ultra-light crowd where saving grams is the goal.

How do you pitch a tarp for rain?
All of the tarp shelters described in this article will help protect against rain.

What are the pros and cons between the basic tarp shelter options?
  1. Lean-to Tarp Shelter
    • Pros
      • Quick and easy to set up
      • Good rain runoff
      • Good protection from sun, wind, and rain on one side
      • Provides a nice view of the night sky for bedtime meteor-watching
    • Cons
      • No floor, so no protection when setting up on ground that might already be damp
      • Not ideal for heavy wind or rain
  2. A-Frame Tarp Shelter
    • Pros
      • Good rain protection and rain runoff
      • Good wind protection on two sides
      • Flexible
    • Cons
      • No dampness protection when setting up on ground that might already be damp
      • No view of the night sky
  3. C-Fly Tarp Shelter
    • Pros
      • You can still see some portion of the night sky from your sleeping bag
      • Good rain runoff
      • Good protection from sun, wind, and rain on one side
      • The tarp fold on the ground acts as a floor, providing additional protection when setting up on ground that might already be damp
    • Cons
      • A little more complex to set up
      • Requires more stakes than the other shelters (8 stakes total)
      • Limited view of the night sky
What materials are needed to construct a tarp shelter?
  1. Lean-To Tarp Shelter
    • 4 stakes
    • 2 lengths of 550 cord
    • 2 trekking poles or a couple of foraged sticks
    • Tarp
  2. A-Frame Tarp Shelter
    • 6 stakes
    • 2 lengths of 550 cord
    • 2 trekking poles or a couple of foraged sticks, or run a ridge line between two trees
    • Tarp
  3. C-Fly Tarp Shelter
    • 8 stakes
    • 4 lengths of 550 cord
    • 2 trekking poles or a couple of foraged sticks
    • Tarp

What do the tarp shelters look like when set up?
  1. Lean-To Tarp Shelter (shown with a 5-ft x 7-ft tarp)

    • Lean-To Tarp Shelter
      Lean-To Tarp Shelter shown with optional bivy sack
  2. A-Frame Tarp Shelter (show with an 8-ft x 10-ft tarp)
    • A-Frame Tarp Shelter
      A-Frame Tarp Shelter
  3. C-Fly Tarp Shelter (shown with a 6-ft x 8-ft tarp)

    • C-Fly Tarp Shelter
      C-Fly Tarp Shelter
What are the steps to set up a tarp shelter?
It is generally easier to set up a tarp shelter for the first time using a photo as a reference or having an experienced tarp camper guide you.  However, for those who prefer step-by-step instructions, here they are.  Don't worry if you struggle the first time; with practice, you will quickly find what works best for you.

Lean-To Tarp Shelter
    1. Choose your location wisely
    2. Open the tarp and position it
    3. Using two stakes, stake down one side (two bottom corners) of the tarp
    4. Stand up a trekking pole with the handle pointed down and adjust it to the desired height
    5. Attach a bowline loop to a trekking pole tip, insert it through a tarp grommet, then twist the loop and flip it over the trekking pole tip. Cinch the loop so it is firm around the pole tip and tarp grommet.
    6. Attach the tautline hitch to the stake and insert it into the ground so that the cord line is at a 45-degree angle from the corner of the tarp
    7. Repeat steps 4, 5, and 6 for the other tarp corner
    8. Adjust the guy-line tension using tautline hitches
A-Frame Tarp Shelter
    1. Choose your location wisely
    2. Open the tarp and position it
    3. Using two stakes, stake down one side (two left corners) of the tarp
    4. Stand up a trekking pole with the handle pointed down and adjust it to the desired height
    5. Insert the trekking pole into the center grommet of the tarp to form a peak
    6. Using two stakes, stake down the right side of the tarp with the trekking pole in place 
    7. Attach a bowline loop to a trekking pole tip, insert it through a tarp grommet, then twist the loop and flip it over the trekking pole tip.  Cinch the loop so it is firm around the pole tip and tarp grommet.
    8. Attach the tautline hitch to the stake and insert it into the ground so that the cord line is at a 90-degree angle from the tarp
    9. Repeat steps 6, 7, and 8 for the other tarp peak
    10. Adjust the guy-line tension using tautline hitches
C-Fly Tarp Shelter
    1. Choose your location wisely
    2. Open the tarp and position it
    3. Using four stakes, stake down one end of the tarp to make a 'floor'
    4. Stand up a trekking pole with the handle pointed down and adjust it to the desired height
    5. Attach a bowline loop to a trekking pole tip, insert it through a tarp grommet, then twist the loop and flip it over the trekking pole tip. Cinch the loop so it is firm around the pole tip and tarp grommet.
    6. Attach the tautline hitch to the stake and insert it into the ground so that the cord line is at a 90-degree angle from the side of the tarp
    7. Repeat steps 4, 5, and 6 for the other side of the tarp
    8. Pass the bowline knot through the front corner tarp grommet and feed the guy-line through the bowline loop, attaching the cord line to the tarp
    9. Repeat step 8 for the other front tarp corner
    10. Attach the tautline hitch to the stake and insert it into the ground so that the line is at a 90-degree angle from the front of the tarp
    11. Repeat step 10 for the other front corner guy-line
    12. Adjust all guy-line tension using tautline hitches

I hope this article has inspired you to give backpacking with a tarp shelter a try.  A great way to get started is to practice setting up your tarp shelter in your own backyard.  This will help you gain experience and confidence before heading out into the backcountry.

Happy backpacking,

Michael (NJ2X)










© Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.