Monday, January 30, 2017

A 40m WSPR weekend

40m from 7am-7pm local time
With the Solar cycle heading on a downward trend I have been reading how 40, 80 and 160m may be the bands of choice for QSO's. Since my MFJ 1788 will only venture down to 40m and at the best of times I have found it to preform like a wet noodle on this band. I decided this weekend to give WSPR a go on 40m using 1 watt to see what results I got. My 1 watt signal was picked up throughout Canada and the U.S. There was a one off to Spain but the consensus from was on 40m my DX was going to be North America. There was one odd report which repeated itself over and over, it was from WY1R saying he was hearing me on 6m?? Not to sure what that was all about. I also was checking with PSK reporter looking at WSPR mode and funny thing was there was never any hits for my call?
40m from 7am-1am local time

Sunday, January 15, 2017

North American CW QSO party contest

Oliver keeping a close eye
I was able to take part in the North American CW QSO party contest on Saturday, it was only a part time effect with only putting in 5 hours. With the solar conditions in the downward turn I like the local contests as the DX is just south of the boarder. I was operating single operator, QRP power at 5 watts and with no spotting assistance. The two bands I operated on were 15m and 20m, the reason for this was... my MFJ 1788 loop does not go up to 10m and on 40m it's like a wet noodle. Starting on 15m was a very slow go it took me 25 minutes for the first contact! From 1800 UTC to around 1930 CW op's south of the boarder we just above the noise floor at times and when they popped up to S7 it was only for a very short time before fading. Switching over to 20m around 2000 UTC proved to be more fruitful. The conditions on 20m were much better and I was able to work my 5 watts into Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Bermuda as well as all through the U.S.
Part time summery
The P3 in action
Contacts          31
Sections            8
Multi                 4
Total points    372
My setup for the contest was as mentioned the MFJ 1788 loop antenna, The Elecraft K3 the rig has the 8 pole inrad filters 500,400 and 250 which I installed. These filters work great in contest conditions when signal are very close to each other. The Elecraft P3 Pan-adapter   , my new Elecraft K-pod which allowed me to have VFO control right beside my keyboard and as well programed macros.  My key is the Begali contour a very smooth key and  makes CW even more of a pleasure to send. The Win4K3 rig control software, N1MM+ contest software and finally MRP4064 CW decoding program for when the CW is at 40+.
software was

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Powering the K-Pod via its RJ12 cable.

The 2 resistor through hole and SMT
 Once I received my K-Pod I wanted to get it up and operating to see how it worked. One of the things that had to be done was to power up the K-Pod. This can be done one of two ways either via a separate power cable or with a small mod to the Elecraft K3 you can power the K-pod with the RJ12 inter connecting cable. The fasted way at the time was to power it via my power supply. In time I would do the mode so only one small cable would run between the Elecraft  K3 and the K-pod.......Well that time had come and the mod was to be done.  Elecraft gave you a choice of resistors
Front panel removed 
for the mod, an SMT as mentioned already or a through hole resistor. I chose the SMT as the leads from the though hole resistor had to be maneuvered around other SMT resistors. This method seemed to be asking for a short to a neighbouring SMT. It was time to replace a small (and I mean small) SMT resistor in my Elecraft K3. The resistor is supplied by Elecraft along with very detailed
Now that is small!!
instructions. The first step was to remove the front control board from the K3, this would get me access to the area the SMT  resistor was to be installed. With the front panel off and in front of me my next step was to identify R82 in the lower left corner. I located the resistor and the job on a scale of 1-10  was about a 7 for me. So It was now time to heat up the Weller soldering station and get to work. Now having said that I do want to make it clear that I am never really thrilled about placing a soldering iron anywhere close to my rig! Elecraft does offer there services for this if you want to ship them your radio......BUT.....I have done other modes to the Elecraft K3 in the past and without issue. Fortunately the old SMT resistor did not have to be removed, the new one could be mounted on top of it. After some very deep breaths the deed was done and it was time for the smoke test! With the K-pod connected to the K3 I powered up the radio and low and behold the K-pod was alive and well. 
The deed was done not pretty but it works fine. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

A review of the Elecraft K-Pod

When I first opened the box I noticed it was packed very well and as I held the K-Pod for the first time I noticed it had some weight to it. The K-Pod is built very solid and would not move around on the radio desk as you used it. There is a tilt stand that places the K-Pod at a very nice operating angle, this stand can be removed if you would rather have the K-Pod sit flat on your desk. The VFO is very smooth and the user is able to adjust the drag if need be but I was very happy with the VFO right out of the box. There are 8 buttons on the K-Pod that can be programmed with macros, each button has a tap and hold function you therefore have 16 macros. Macros are a great way to have a one button push (or hold) to control a commonly used button on the K3. Also Macros can be used to preform a multi task function. For example I have programmed a CW Split macro that puts the K3 in CW mode, sets VFO A and B to the same frequency, moves VFO B up 2 kHz, sets the filter to 400 Hz, clear both the RIT and XIT and locks VFO A on frequency. All this is done with the push of one button. The instruction manual gives you many Macros to choose from. You can program your own and try them out using the K3 utility program on your PC. On Elecraft's website you can download free of charge their programers reference to learn more about macros and programming them.
There is a rocker switch that will allow you to smoothly switch from VFO A (LED D1 lights up) to B (LED D2 lights up) and then to RIT/RXT (LED D3 lights up) adjustments. The manual says that LED4 is user programable and you can actually control the on/off function of D1, D2 and D3 as well.
On the top of the K-Pod there are 4 connection ports:

  1.  Auxiliary outputs that the manual says can be used for an external antenna switch, amplifier and so on.
  2. DATA connector is used to connect an RJ12 cable (supplied) to the K3. 
  3. USB connector (USB cable is supplied) is used to interface the K-Pod with your PC for firmware updates and for what Elecraft calls "future" PC control. 
  4. Power connector (cable supplies) can be used to supply the needed DC to the K-Pod and I say "can be used" because via a simple mod
    (parts supplied) to the K3 and K3S  you can power the K-Pod via the DATA cable.
This was a nice addition to my K3 as for me it's handy to have the VFO control right beside the key. For contests I am able to program the first 3 (or more if needed) macro buttons for contest macros. The K-Pod worked right out of the box once powered up and connected to the K3 you had immediate VFO control, A/B VFO switching and RIT/XIT as well. It was then time to learn about macro programming.
There were just some minor issues I have:

  1. The provided USB cable provided is 3 feet which I found a bit to short, even with the front USB ports on my PC 3 feet was still very tight fit. 
  2. On first start up D4 on the K-Pod constantly stayed on. This was not normal and to correct this issue a Bata firmware had to be downloaded to the K3 or K3S if you have that model. I'm not to keen on loading Bata firmware as there could be some bugs with the software. 
  3. I have been spoiled by Elecraft and how easy it was to upgrade their products with new firmware. With your rig or P3 connected to your PC via a USB cable and a couple of mouse clicks using the Elecraft utility software you were good to go. For some reason the firmware update procedure for the K-Pod is much different.
A. All cables have to be disconnected from the K-Pod
B. Connect the USB cable to your PC
C. While holding F1 and F4 on the K-Pod plug in the other end of the USB cable to the K-Pod.
D. You now start the K-Pod utility program and update it's firmware.
 4. I found having the power cable and the RJ12 cable coming from the K-Pod a bit cumbersome. One of the main reasons for me doing the modification to the K3 so the K-Pod is powered via the RJ12 cable.