Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A great weekend for portable op's

The setup by the Lake 

This past weekend the weather was great and the propagation seemed to be fair. So that meant it was time to take the Elecraft KX3 along with my bike and hit the trails again. I went out on Saturday and Monday (It was a long weekend up this way) to see if the Ham god's would smile on my QRP signal. On Saturday there was a CW contest in full swing which meant there was contesters with keen ears wanting to make contacts. On Saturday I setup at the same location I blogged about on Friday. The park located where we live was not too busy and I was able to scoop a nice picnic table. I was using the same setup the KX3 and mono band 20m whip mounted on my bike. I heard DL2SAX calling CQ test but I was not able to raise a contact from him. I did make contact with CO2RQ from Cuba who was in the contest. This contact told me my signal was getting out as up to this point I had not made any contacts with this setup. I then hung out at the QRP watering hole calling CQ there did not seem to be much action and I was beginning to wonder if Cuba would be the only contact. Then WL2LG came back to me, Len and I had a very nice QSO my report was 229 and I gave him 559. We had a nice QSO talking about antennas, rigs and weather. For Saturday that was it for my contacts.
A visitor 
On Monday I got out a bit later and the park was very active and finding a picnic table proved to be very challenging. The spot I had been at for the last couple of days was taken. I did find another spot about 15 minutes away from my first spot but again it was on the lake with a nice breeze. I setup and was on 20m in no time calling CQ at the QRP watering hole again. I did hear K4BBH and VE4AK but they did not come back to me when I sent out my call. I did notice on Monday the conditions had changed to the point where an S8 signal in no time was down at the noise floor. I did make one contact for the day with W2KJ, Joe was in North Carolina. He has a good signal that without warning would fade down to the noise floor. The Audio Peak Filter (APF) on the KX3 saved the contact for me as I was able to dig Joes fading signal to readable levels. We both were QRP at 4 watts and both of us were using Elecraft KX3 rigs. My RST was 329 and I gave him 559 and that seem to be it for my contacts for the day. I packed up and when back home satisfied with only one contact considering the conditions and my minimal setup.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Out on the trail with the KX3

The bike all loaded up
I had Friday off and it was a beautiful sunny day so it was time to take my KX3 out on the trail to see how my new bike/ham radio setup works. My goal today was to see how to fit all I needed and find out what I really don't need to take on my bike and to make sure my antenna setup worked. I wanted to have an enjoyable ride and at the same time have all needed to setup for portable operations on the trail. The antenna was my mono band whip antennas from 10m-40m. I have them in a nice nylon roll up canvas bag I found they fit just perfect on the bikes horizontal support frame. I also have 2 canvas carry bags mounted on the rear of the bike that can be removed. While also loading the side bags I came to the conclusion that less is more! I had to trim down on what I was bringing. First off my KX3 was in a Pelican case and the case has to go as it takes up one side bag Since the KX3 is a trail rugged rig and I have a protective face cover ( from GEMS) for my next trip the KX3 is not going in the Pelican case. I also found the binder I use would not even fit in the side bags so that has to be re-thought out as well. The binder I have now is nice as I put a small metal plate in it for my Palm paddle to secure too via it's base magnets.
After loading up the bike the first thing I found out was the kick stand on the bike would not support the bike and the loaded side bags. It turned out to be a fine balancing act when it
Diamond K400 mount
came time for setup making sure the bike did not tip over. Since the bike is brand new and I told the bike store what I was doing he wanted to see if this bike stand would work as it is lower profile. I was told if it was not doable then to come back and a more robust kick stand will be installed free of charge.
Here is a list of the items I am packing:
KX3-on it's own with no Pelican case
Extra battery just in case- The Tracer battery pack
18 gauge counter poise- only for 20m at this time
Pens, paper and 3x5 cards with programming Kx3 instructions
Headphones- I don't use ear buds as my hearing is not that great and any noise around me tunes out CW.
Trunk lip mount base for antenna- Diamond K400 
Miscellaneous items- antenna connectors, adjustable wrench, tire repair kit for bike, hat, sunglasses and so on.
Lets get to the trail adventure..........I was able to bike to one of my pre picked spots down at the Lake where a nice size picnic table was available. The antenna mount setup worked great on the bikes rear rack which I mounted back at the condo in case there was issues. I attached the counter poise via a male female 14 gauge connectors. The rig setup was straight forward as I have done this many times in the past. I fired up the rig  and I wanted to see at this point if the counter poise was sufficient for a decent SWR and it was. BUT after
The setup
the tuning process had finished and my KX3 display returned it returned with an error message "ERR TXG D=114. Never had I seen this error before on my KX3 but then again Murphy is always close by to make things interesting. I was not able to transmit at all so I was dead in the water........and I was even picking up a G4 station calling CQ! I got the Iphone out and Googled the error code and it came back that possibly a TX gain calibration was needed to be done. That was not a big deal as the Elecraft software utility does this automatically but the rig has to be at home to do this. The trail/ham radio outing had come to a grinding halt but that was just fine as I really accomplished what I set out to do and that was see how things packed up, transported and how the rig operated using the bike to mount the antenna on. Back at home I did the TX gain calibration and the same issue persisted. I went online to the Elecraft reflector and was advised that it may be my internal AA batteries were low. They were just charged I thought.........Julie informed me it was about 3 months ago that happened. I
The surprise error code
charged the unit and all is well. So today it's another great day and it's off to the trails again to hopefully make a contact or two.    

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

This won't take long...famous last words!

The time came when my good old Western Digital 500 GB internal drive packed it in. I had the drive for a good 7 years and but was starting to get bad sector issues. It was time to upgrade to a new hard drive, I purchased the Western digital black drive 1TB. I have upgraded drives in the past so easy peasy right??...........WRONG!

Below is the rather comical (comical now that is) run down of my computer adventure:
  • Installed the new WD hard drive inserted Win7 CD and started the PC. The screen goes blank and PC shuts down!
  • I reboot again and get a message “can’t read boot manager”
  • I reboot again this time a blue screen and the message “ corrupt bios”
  • I now remove the WD drive from PC and boot from the second drive in the PC (my drive for backup’s) with the Win7 CD all booted ok.
  • I now figure the WD is bad but I put the WD drive back in on its own removing the Seagate drive just to make sure. Restart PC and it boots into the Win7 CD without issue.
  • I now add the Seagate drive and restart and the PC screen once again goes blank and the PC shuts down.
  • I Googled it and found out I may be powering both drives from the same daisy chain on the power supply and it can’t handle it. I have to power each drive from a separate daisy chain from the power supply.
  • No problem I thought I will just plug in to a second daisy chain……it was too short!
  • I had to move the drive down 3 bays which meant removing RAM and the video card.
  • With that done the PC starts no problem and low and behold Win7 starts to install on the WD drive.
  • Then all of a sudden part way through install I get a blue screen and a message “memory dump” and this is just an ongoing cycle!
  • I went onto a PC forum site and was told to run a WD diagnostic program and I did and I was told my new drive was defective.
  • Back to the store with bill in hand and a hard drive that is hours old.
  • I was told at store that drive could not be returned as I did not have anti-static bag. I flipped and the exchange was made.
  • Put the new drive in the PC and this time I ran the diagnostic program first (learned my lesson) and the drive passed.
  • It then loaded Win7 without any issues and it was now time to start loading programs.
  • I had loaded about 15 programs and all was going great. I then downloaded Win4K3 64 bit version.
  • I was told I can’t load this version as I am only running Win7 32 bit???? That’s very odd as I know without a doubt I was using the 64 bit version.
  • Then it hit me……I installed my Win7 32 bit version and not the Win7 64 bit version!!!!!!
  • So had to reformat the WD drive and start all over again. I installed Win7 64 bit and all went well with the software install.
  • Finally I wanted to reformate the Seagate drive as it did have some programs on it from before. I wanted to use it to store my backups on.
  • As I went to reformat the Seagate drive I got a message “not an active drive” whatever that means!!!!
  • Back to the PC forum and I was guided on how to make the drive active and format it.
  • So now I have a Seagate 1TB 32mb 7200 drive for backup and storage. The new Western Digital black 1TB 64gb 7200 drive as my main functioning drive.
So how was that for an adventure!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

When you backup it's not all about going in reverse!

I ended my April 18th postsaying “I would blog about a follow up regarding my hard drive backup adventure”, so here it is….. For my backup program I decided on Acronis 2016 as it’s very user definable and from what I have seen on the internet user friendly as well. In the past I have download some free programs (can’t remember the program names off the top of my head) that had been very confusing and frustrating. In the end I just removed them from the PC and never really got around to setting up any other backup program. Oh and the answer is a huge YES when asked have if I had ever been caught with a PC meltdown and no backup! Funny thing………..just before I installed Acronis 2016 on my PC my Western Digital 7 year old drive gave up the ghost! You know what they said…..”Timing is everything” and this time my timing was wayyyyyyy off. This post is just about the backup program and not the hard drive melt down adventure, I will save that for my next post. . Here are some of the questions I asked myself regarding a backup:
  1. Why even bother with a backup, it’s not a business computer, I have no crucial financial documents, I don’t store any pictures on my PC………let me stop here and say “have you EVER had to re-install you amateur radio software?” I just did and have done in the past, all I can say is “it can be a real pain in the ass”. You find a new respect for….
  • Getting your software to seamlessly work with your rig again.
  • Hoping your Eqsl, LOTW or Clublog is up to date so you don’t lose contacts.
  • Sending out emails to get passwords so downloaded programs I paid for will work again.
  • All your software’s niffy macros you worked so hard to tweak are now gone.
  • Revisiting the virtual comport software program that worked well and now you have to figure it out again….the problem being you forgot how you got it to work great last time.
Shall I go on……………?
  1. So answering a loud and clear “YES” to the above question it’s time to check out the backup programs out there. I found lots of them and as stated earlier I wanted to avoid at all costs complicated ones. I chose Acronis 2016 and there are lots out there that I imagine are better or just as good but this is the one I chose. For me Acronis was easy to understand, walked you through your backup in detail and it worked!
  2. Where was I going to back up too……….my new hard drive is partitioned but it makes no sense to back up on the same drive that could end up failing? I have a second drive in my PC (Seagate 1TB) and that was my choice.
  3. Step 3 just seemed too easy and the more reading I did the more it was driven home……backup to more than one place and preferably 3 places! I ended up choosing my network Western digital 3TB external drive and a Western Digital passport USB drive. Oh and just for the record I have no connection to Western Digital…..:) From my readings one choice should be a “cloud” type storage. For me it was just too pricey and I have these drives at home and ready to use.
I now have all programs installed and running the way I want them too. Before a backup was done I ran a virus scan, Malware scan, file cleaner and defragged the drive. The backup has been done on my PC and I configured it the following way:
  1. I did a full backup of the drive including system reserve portion. This backup will always be kept as is, this way I have a copy of the drive just after a clean install of the OS and all programs.
  2. I have scheduled an incremental backup for once per month as I don’t change too much on my PC over the course of a month so I felt this length of time should be fine. I use Log40m and configured it to auto upload my QSO’s to club log, Eqsl and LOTW so I will not have uto be concerned with updating my log file it will be store in 3 places online.
  3. Each time a back is done the program will perform a “validation” of the backup. Having said this I have found when a failed validation has happened and I run it again the backup will then pass? Not too sure what’s up with that and may need more investigation.
  4. The PC is set to shut down once the backup is completed, this way I can leave and go to work.
  5. I receive an email once the backup is done along with a report.
  6. I did have the software set to repeat the backup if the validation fails but I found the software can get into a “loop” of backing up all day if a continued failed validation persists.
Well that’s it for me with regards to my backup blog post, I am happy that I do have a reliable backup system in place. If you are like me and do not have a backup in place I hope I gave you some food for thought.