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Propfire upgrade to Firefox 4

I’ve upgraded Propfire to version 1.73.18 making it compatible with Firefox version 4.

What’s Propfire?

Why it’s the solar / radio propagation add-on plug-in thing for Firefox of course. Over 50,000 downloads to-date!

Thanks to those who requested an upgrade.

Icom’s IP Remote Control Software

I’m looking forward to seeing Icom’s remote control software in action. I hope the price is right and it will work well with my setup. Based on their diagrams it looks like a simple connection (USB) to a Icom IC-7600, IC-7200 or IC-9100 .

I could certainly see using my IC-7600 remotely from my couch or some other location.  Come on Icom – let’s give this a whirl.

CQ WW CW – 48 hrs of…

Well another CQ WW CW has come and gone… Now it’s time to post scores, upload logs to CQWW and LoTW, make a to-do list for the next one and catch up on some sleep.  Was anyone else a bit groggy at work today?

I’ll post some more updates in the days ahead on my recent shack updates, the last minute tweaks to the 160m and 80m antennas, N1MM logger crashes (ICOM IC-7600 USB driver might be the suspect), and my petition to add the SOAB (A) LP category to the rules committee last year.

You can find the latest posted CQWW scores on the pileup website. That’s a great way to see how things are shaping up as new logs are posted. Worth a look.

 Band  QSOs  Zones  Countries
  160:   22     7       10
   80:   78    14       43
   40:  220    24       83
   20:  332    27      103
   15:  217    26       93
   10:   41    10       24
Total:  910   108      356  Total Score = 1,178,560

My writeup on 3830:

I had a few goals for this one…

1) Improve last year’s score – and cross the 1M mark for the first time in CQWW CW. Done. In fact, I beat my CQWW SSB score as well… about 100k more points with about 50 fewer Qs. I had hoped to break the 1000 QSOs threshold. Oh well, maybe next time.

2) Improve my lowband scores. Done. I’m still not satisfied though. No rx antennas, low power and fairly poor tx antennas on 80 & 160 sure is painful. I changed the feed systems on both antennas and I think that helped. Last year I had 7 Qs on 160 and 60 Qs on 80 – so this was a step up.

3) Work some new DXCC and band-countries. Especially on 80m (towards 5BDXCC). Done – 3 all time new ones. 10 new ones on 80m and 2 new ones on 160m.

4) At least 30+ hours in the chair. Done. I was distracted by a sale on PC speakers at Staples though – which meant a 6am Black Friday shopping run early Friday. I really needed to sleep in and should have asked the XYL to make the trip. Not sure I wanted to “go there” though :) “honey, will you run to Staples at 6am for some PC speakers on sale for me while I sleep in for the weekend contest?”

5) Improve station layout. Partial credit. I reorganized the table and added a shelf. I’ll post pics on my blog when I get a chance: Still need to replace my desk and rework the shack some more.

6) Reduce frustrating N1MM crashes. I’m using N1MM with my IC-7600 and the USB connection (driver by K3CT?). I had been having somewhat frequent crashes of N1MM. So, I brought in a new laptop running Win7, plenty of power and a fresh system. Still had a few crashes – much less than under my home PC with Vista.

Arrrg. One was a BSOD. I think it might be related to the USB audio via the Icom driver. I’m not sure I trust the USB Icom driver I guess.

7) Have fun. Done. This was a great contest. Propagation could have been better, but overall a lot of fun.

Excuse list: single radio, no skimmer, propagation from the black hole of the midwest, etc.

Log already uploaded to LOTW.


ICOM IC-7600 (100W)
10-20m: SteppIR 4 element @ 72′
40m: XM-240 @ 80′
80m: wire vertical mounted on chain link fence
160m: inv L sloped horizontal fed at tower base
Software: N1MM
Keyer: Winkey USB

I’ve added my log to my DXKeeper and uploaded automatically to the Logbook of the World resulting in some new DXCC band-countries confirmed.   All time new ones worked were Kermadec Dxpedition (ZL8X), PJ5 and V6.

The DXKeeper upload report shows 28 first QSOs for Entity-Bands (ie first Moldova QSO on 80m). That will certainly help towards my 5 band DXCC goal where I still need to confirm 100 countries on 80m.

. .

CQ WW SSB 2010 results

I’m finally getting around to writing a wrap-up post for CQWW SSB. I managed to get on the air for 30 hours or so in this 48 hr major contest. This was my first entry in this one with the IC-7600 and I was on the air for about 6 more hours than usual attempts.  The improved solar conditions sure helped the numbers as well.

So, that’s some of the factors that contributed to a higher score. My score last year was 337k so I was happy to cross the 1M mark. I still need to work on a few things to really improve even more.

  • N1MM crashing frequently during the contest. I’ve installed it on a new laptop and will give that a try during CQ WW CW next weekend.
  • Lowband antennas – as always. 160M L must be reworked and the feedpoint wire broke. Hopefully, the wx will cooperate to allow the repairs. 80M sloped vertical wire also needs grounding/radial improvements. Not having a rx antenna for either band and only 100W limits QSOs on these bands.
  • Ergonomics. Since the CQ WW SSB test, I’ve changed the shack setup. The table was becoming disorganized. I’ve added a shelf and I think the changes will help.
  • More sleep ahead of the contest. Hopefully, that will mean more time in the chair.
Band    QSOs    Pts  Cty   ZN
 1.8      7      13    3    3
 3.5     55     127   20   13
 7       99     269   50   21
 14     279     779   87   30
 21     440    1254  109   33
 28      88     252   19    6
 Total  968    2694  288  106
Score: 1,061,436

FLOOD 2010: Time to rebuild the ham shack

Our community was on the national news several times over the past few weeks due to the weather.  Central Iowa was hit with record-breaking rainfall this summer (after one of the snowiest winters on record). The result was severe flooding and millions of dollars in damages impacting Ames & Des Moines.

My QTH is just west of Ames at a higher elevation – so “floods” weren’t the issue.  Unfortunately, our house was linked to a drain tile system that had clogged resulting in 24 inches of water in the basement.  We’ve had to replace several things including our hot water heater, HVAC controls, and many loose ends. The good news is that we’re now disconnected from the tile system so this shouldn’t be an issue in the future.

As far as ham radio equipment flood damage – there were a few causalities:

  • Office cubical  – as my ham shack is in a cold/unfinished basement, I’ve installed office “cube walls” which give the shack a warmer feel and better sound insulation from the cold concrete walls. The water destroyed the walls and most likely the desk.
  • A bunch of things I didn’t use too often but were nice to have:
    • FT-530 Yaesu HT
    • MFJ 259 Antenna Analyzer with most accessories
    • Many kits and projects in various states (K1EL keyer for example)
    • Hundreds of books and magazines (CQ/QST)
    • QSL cards (ouch). I saved many, but lost some of my first DX cards.
    • Cables, connectors, adapters, etc.

The IC-7600, IC-746 and rotor controller were rescued. It was a bit scary putting on hip-waders to walk through 24″ deep water and carry the IC-7600 past floating couches and debris.

Of course, we’re thankful that we didn’t have more damage than we did. It certainly could have been worse.

I guess this is my opportunity to rebuild the station from the ground up (more or less). New walls & desk, new chair, and a new layout seem likely before I can get into the contest season.

Treasures from your local hamfest

Last Sunday I drove to Cedar Rapids, Iowa to a hamfest.

Some of my earliest ham radio memories are going with my dad to the hamfest in Cedar Rapids in the 1970s.  In those days, the hamfest was a huge event… I vaguely recall table after table of boat anchors and Art Collins sightings. Art, founder of Collins Radio, was one of the local ham celebs that Iowa hams would easily recognize.

In the 1980s and 1990s, PCs began to invade the local hamfests.  Even though I’m a bit of PC nut, I was never drawn to PC stuff at hamfests. I figured that I could always buy PCs elsewhere – I was there to buy ham stuff. Maybe that sounds hypocritical coming from a guy who sold a lot of solar panels at Dayton. Oh well.

Anyway, I picked up a few goodies (antenna mount, patch cables, and a barrel connector). I also got to catch up a bit with some Iowa hams I don’t see often.  Good times.

Is the local hamfest what it used to be now that the internet is here? No – but it’s still worth the trip in my opinion.

QST meet John Atanasoff, inventor of the digital computer

Atanasoff Berry ComputerWhile flipping through the July 2010 issue of QST I stumbled on the Vintage Radio column titles “From Dits to Bits”.  In this article, John (K2TQN) describes his long held fascination with computers and connections to some some early computer magazines, clubs and kits. I would imagine many hams would have a similar long time passion for electronic computing – myself included.

However, the article did have a glaring error that I need to mention. It credits ENIAC as the first electronic computer built at the University of Pennsylvania.

While ENIAC was certainly a major milestone in the development of computers (and truly was the first general purpose electronic computer), ENIAC was not the first electronic computer.

In 1939, John Vincent Atanasoff, prototyped the first electronic computer at Iowa State College (now Iowa State University) in Ames, Iowa. This machine, dubbed the Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC) was little known until a highly publicized court case in the 1970s.   The judge ruled that the ABC was “prior art” which voided the Sperry Rand claim that the ENIAC was the first electronic computer.

So, here’s to you John Vincent Atansoff… let’s hope that QST sets the record straight.

Solar Powered Field Day – Part 2: 190W Rollable

The Story County Amateur Radio Club (SCARC) held field day at the 4H building on the Iowa State University campus again this year. This building is considered an EOC for the campus which allows us to “compete” in “F” category. We have been using two transmitters plus a “Get on the air” station to put us in the 2F category.

This year I offered to provide the solar power for field day.  Not many ham radio clubs have access to a 190 Watt military roll-up solar panel, so this was something new for the guys.  The PowerFilm 190W Solar Quad is folded and rolled into a package that is roughly the size and weight of a sleeping bag. Unrolled, it’s a flat mat that is staked and plugged into a battery system.

Solar Power Field Day Setup Quad-and-BOSThe  solar panel and its BOS performed quite well and several QSOs were made with a 100W IC-746 using this system. The BOS is a DC-AC power inverter, pair of deep cycle batteries and a charge controller in a box.

The SCARC group had a great time and worked more QSOs than any previous year.  The score is not final, but I think we were a bit behind in our bonus points. Anyway, great fun was had by all.

My pictures from this outing are included with the DMRAA effort in a single Solar Powered Field Day 2010 photo album.  See you next FD!

Solar Powered Field Day – Part 1: 1kW PowerShade

Field Day 2010 is in the books. The antennas have been plucked from the trees, the BBQ has been finished and the generators have been unplugged. Field Day is always entertaining and it’s a great way to try a new aspect of the hobby. This year, I spent time with two clubs: the Des Moines Radio Amateur Association (DMRAA) and a combined effort of the Story County Amateur Radio Club (SCARC) and Cyclone ARC (CARC).

At PowerFilm Solar, we’ve put an effort into supporting ham radio & EMCOMM groups. To this end, this year we loaned about $30,000 worth of solar panels designed for the military to DMRAA and SCARC.

1 KW Solar Power Shelter at Field DayA crew of 5 deployed a 1 kW Solar PowerShade (a solar field shelter) for the DMRAA. Setup went well and we really didn’t have any issues.

While we did have a few clouds and an overnight storm with high winds, the shelter performed well – but functionally and electrically.

A full set of PowerShade solar shelter setup photos from Field Day 2010 can be found by clicking on the image. I’ve posted pics from both clubs including setup of the 1kw PowerShade and 190W roll-out solar quadrant at SCARC.

At the Dayton Hamvention we displayed a scale model of the PowerShade Field Shelter – the 2KW version. That model drew a lot of attention and comments such as “Hey Bob, look at this…. this is just what we need for our field day outing.”  We knew that this shelter would be a hit for DMRAA.

The DMRAA group has posted a writeup and video of their Field Day experience this year.

Solar Panels at Dayton Hamvention

PowerFilm Solar will have it’s first booth at Dayton Hamvention 2010. This will mark an entry into the ham radio market for the thin-film solar panel company.

Last fall, I joined PowerFilm Solar. At PowerFilm Solar we make thin film solar panel products for a wide variety of products. PowerFilm products include:

Anyway, since joining PowerFilm, I’ve wondered how well these products would do in the ham radio market. Many of our products were designed for military use, but are deployed where Emcomm service is required (for example, Haiti).

So, we’re going to give it a shot – we’ll have our first booth at the Hamvention at Dayton this year. We’ll be selling and displaying everything from small solar panels to larger panels. Still locking in the details – but we’ll be there.

I’m looking forward to returning to Dayton – this time, from the other side of the booth.