Sunday, June 07, 2009

Gearing Up For Field Day

As I start to write this, the American Radio Relay League's (ARRL) Field Day event is a little less than three weeks away. I always look forward to participating. This year is no different. Whether I get on the radio a little or a lot, I will enjoy the time spent with fellow amateur radio operators.

Field Day is two things. It is a demonstration of ham radio operator's abilities to set up their stations and make contacts in abnormal situations or less than ideal conditions, and is also a contest. Although those are the two main aspects of Field Day it also can serve the purpose of introducing the public to amateur radio.

For me, Field Day can also serve as an excuse to buy more equipment for my station. I haven't closely studied a calendar, but typically Field Day occurs six weeks after the Dayton Hamvention. It is around those two events where quite a bit of my amateur radio equipment purchases occur. This year there were several things that I purchased, or will purchase before Field Day arrives. For this year the main thing to purchase was a set of W3NQN bandpass filters. Based on some of my experience from last year's Field Day, I can tell you that transmissions from one station can get into another radio. One of the main station's at last year's Field Day was the 40-meter station. Rob, KB8UEY, was making contacts on his Kenwood TS-120S while Brad, W8NCI, was logging for him. I was on my Yaesu FT-897D trying to make contacts on 15-meters and I discovered that 15 and 10-meters were somewhat open. However, every time Rob keyed up on 40-meters, I wouldn't be able to copy stations on 15-meters. Hopefully the W3NQN filters will take care of that. They are rated to 200 watts, and we typically never run more than 100 watts. They also present about 0.3 dB of insertion loss, so hopefully each station that uses one (and I hope they all do) will see little if any impact to their ability to copy stations, while stations on higher bands will be able to copy their own contacts. The whole issue arises in the first place because no transmitter is perfect and specifically no stage in a radio transmitter is perfectly linear. If it were, there would be no 3rd-order, 5th-order, 7th-order and so on products created in the radio. It is these "harmonics" and general front end overload that cause the problems [note: if I am incorrect please let me know.] Another item that I plan to purchase before Field Day is the Byonics Micro-Trak All-in-One. This is an APRS tracker. It features a microcontroller functioning as a TNC, a 10-watt transmitter, and a high-sensitivity GPS receiver in a watertight Pelican case. Although someone else will likely be demonstrating a complete APRS station, I'll be able to transmit my position to the APRS network.

The other things that I am buying before Field Day mainly pertain to my sleeping arrangements. I enjoy staying at Field Day for the entire duration. That way I can stay up late, then get some sleep, and wake up early the next day, and thereby maximize the time I spend at the Field Day location. It has been several years (four, I think), since I slept in a tent. For the past two year's I have slept in a sleeping bag on the concrete floor of the picnic shelter that we use. It's not impossible to sleep that way, but it is not terribly fun either. Before that I slept in my car. That's not fun either because it is cramped, the seat doesn't fully recline, and the mercury-vapor (or high-pressure sodium) lights from the parking lot next to the shelter are bright. The last tent that I used belonged to a friend, but it is a huge family tent and definitely takes two people to set it up. I'm planning to get a smaller tent that hopefully I can set up on my own, or with just a little help.

There are always things that I can't purchase in time because I haven't saved up for them. This year I will not be able to get a new hard drive for my laptop in time to try some of the digital modes during Field Day. I will also miss the opportunity to try another radio at Field Day. I've made the decision to trade my Yaesu FT-897D for an Icom IC-7000. Of course, both radios meet the criteria for being small radios, but the IC-7000 seems like it would be better suited to the digital modes that I enjoy on HF with its IF-DSP filtering. I am also trading up on my sound card interface, but I will be making that purchase after Field Day. I have decided to buy the MicroHAM Micro Keyer II (MK2) after I saw them at the Dayton Hamvention. The MK2 acts as a complete hub for audio and CAT control. I will sell my two Tigertronics SignaLink USBs. They are great performers, but the MK2 should simplify my station somewhat, and doesn't rely on VOX circuitry to key up the radio. By next year, I should have a complete digital (and phone) station running at Field Day with the computer running the sound card modes and also performing logging. I also want to add a straight key to my station. I'm currently looking at the Vibroplex Straight Key Deluxe.

I also have a few preparations before Field Day. I try to work off of a checklist, and right now as of three weeks out, that checklist is still growing. I've spent the past couple of evenings working on the video that I shot at last year's Field Day. Yes, 49 weeks later. Basically, my delay was due to forgetting to work on them and prepare them for Youtube, but also in trying to find suitable encoding parameters for Field Day. My previous attempts resulting in terrible videos. I am now pleased with the results, and I will be sure to save my encoding parameters in a preset in Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0. I will have more to say about the videos in an upcoming post. As I have been preparing the 2008 Field Day videos, I have noticed that the white balance could be much improved. It's much easier to correct the color balance up front rather than trying to correct it in "post". I decided not to worry about it for the 2008 videos, but this year I will take my Lastolite EZYbalance foldup gray/white card over to Field Day and white-balance each scene. I also realized that I am running low on MiniDV tapes for my Sony DCR-VX2000 camcorder and will pick up some in the next three weeks. Finally, I will be taking along my pocket Olympus digital recorder or my Edirol R-09HR recorder in order to record the ARRL Bulletin. I'll have to see if there is any Field Day rule that prohibits recording, but if there is not the digital recorder will allow me to record the Bulletin, and play it back as often as necessary to achieve 100% copy. It's worth 100 points.

So, I will keep working on my checklist, and will slowly pack the items that need to go to Field Day. Of course, after that weekend has come and gone, I will post a blog entry about my experiences and lessons learned, and I will try to quickly get my photos and videos posted.