Wednesday, May 30, 2012

QSL cards for TI7/K2DBK

When I returned from my operation as TI7/K2DBK in Costa Rica last summer, I didn't receive any QSL cards immediately. I wasn't very surprised by that, as I hadn't worked all that many stations, Costa Rica isn't a particularly rare entity, and I assumed that for the stations outside the US (where it's a little less common), they'd be QSLing via the bureau or Logbook of The World. Since I had no cards that I needed to respond to, I focused my efforts on getting my operation approved for DXCC credit and getting a certificate so that I could upload the contacts to the Logbook of The World. As I wrote (here and here), that turned out to be an interesting challenge, but I was able to get that approval.

I didn't really think about QSL cards after that until a few months ago, when I started receiving QSL requests via the ARRL DX bureau service. As I've written in the past, the bureau is a way to exchange QSL cards which, while inexpensive, can be quite slow, so lag of 6 or 8 months between the operation and the time to receive a card via the bureau isn't terribly unusual. (Sometimes it can be much, much longer. I'm still receiving QSL cards via the bureau for my operation from Grand Cayman in 2007, and others for operations from home back to 2001. The bureau service itself isn't quite that slow, but often folks like myself will discover after a few years that a particular card is needed.) When I first received those bureau cards, I realized that I had to create a QSL card but it wasn't a high priority, as I wasn't planning to send cards out via the bureau for at least a few months.

Things changed about a week ago when I received the first of several directly mailed QSL requests. Although it's common to send a QSL card relatively soon after a contact, particularly if it's sent "direct" (meaning mailed directly to the station, not via the bureau), sometimes stations will not realize until much later that they "need" the confirmation, or, as I've done, sometimes they simply forget at the time of the contact. Regardless of the delay, I have always made it a point to respond to direct QSL cards as soon as possible (normally I'll send out a return card the day after I receive one). Unfortunately, I couldn't do that because I still had the creation of the QSL card for my TI7/K2DBK on the "to do" list. The receipt of the handful of direct requests (all of which were from non-US stations) was the kick that I needed to get going designing my card.

I've always designed and printed my "special" cards myself, because the number of cards that I typically need is usually so small that it's not worth it to have them professionally printed. There are a number of tools that can be used for the actual design, but for me, the hardest part is always coming up with an attractive layout. However, I've come up with sort of a standard that I've used on multiple cards, and I try to follow that now for each new one I create. I've followed that "standard" for the latest card, which is to use a background image shot with one or sometimes two "inserts", along with a QSO information block. I've always used my own photos, not a "stock" photo, as I think it makes the card more personal. I usually include a picture of myself on the cards because I think that makes it even more personal.

When I first started printing the cards, I though that I'd use a gloss "postcard" printer stock (like this from Staples), separate the postcards (they are set up for 4 on a page that have perforations to make separation easy) and just mail them. However, I realized that the size of each card was bigger than the standard QSL card size and I had trouble fitting them in some envelopes. As a result, I wind up using a paper cutter to trim the cards down to about 5.3" x 3.5". Most likely the next time I buy paper stock for my printer I'll just use plain "everyday" inkjet photo paper since it should be a bit less expensive.

With a card designed, I printed off enough copies on my inkjet printer to respond to the direct requests, and I'll be working on responding to the bureau cards next. I think that this particular design worked out really well, and the color of the sand on the beach is light enough so that I can just use a regular pen to fill in the QSO information in the information box and it's quite readable.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Lido Key 2012 Wrap-up, Part 3

You might want to read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series if you haven't already done so.

Originally, my wife Sharon and I were going to spend the full day "playing tourist" together on our last day of the trip, and I hadn't planned on doing any additional radio operations. However, things changed and since Sharon had plans with her Mom, I decided to head back to South Lido Beach for one more day of operating. I got a much earlier start than the previous days, and set up in the same place that I did before, operating from inside the car. I was on the air at just around noon local time, but I got off to a very slow start, with only three contacts in that first half-hour. However, thanks to the magic of the packet cluster network, once I got spotted (initially by N8ZI, thanks!) things got a lot busier, and with more spots there were a lot more stations calling, who in turn spotted me again which brought another wave of stations calling. For that afternoon, ignoring the initial "slow start", I wound working a station about every 2 minutes over the next 2 1/2 hours. Considering that in a few cases (one of which I'll mention specifically) I stopped and chatted for several minutes, I was extremely pleased with that rate.

Unlike the previous days, the final day of operation went very smoothly, with no hitches at all. I operated entirely on 15m, and aside from some fairly deep QSB (fading) that was problematic from time to time, propagation seemed to be very good into central Europe as well as both the northeast and western United States.

One of the more memorable contacts I made was with Budd, W3FF. Budd is the "Budd" in Buddipole, and while we've emailed back and forth on several occasions, this was the first time we'd ever had a contact on the radio. When he first called me I had some trouble hearing him due to the previously mentioned QSB. He'd tried to work me on the previous day while "pedestrian portable" (that's walking around with an HF radio and antenna), but I wasn't able to hear him. For this contact, he was working from his home station, and he had to turn on his amplifier so that I could hear him more clearly. It was fun getting to speak to Budd, and after a while we finished and I went on to work more stations.

After returning home, a little quick analysis of my log showed the I made 119 contacts with 116 different stations (I worked 3 stations twice each) located in 24 different countries. As of the time that I'm writing this, I had 33 of those contacts confirmed via Logbook of The World and another dozen who send me QSL cards directly through the mail, including 3 DX stations. (I won't see any bureau cards for at least another 6 to 12 months). With the help of my son Brett who did the design work, I was able to print out the cards needed to confirm those contacts, making sure to include both the IOTA number and island name as part of the card. (This is a requirement of the IOTA programme and and I wanted to ensure that the folks who got a card for me were able to use it for confirmation of their contact with NA-034.)

All in all, I had a great time operating, and I look forward to doing it again.

Here's the list of countries that I contacted:

Prefix Country name
CT Portugal
DL Federal Republic of Germany
EA Spain
EA6 Balearic Islands
EA8 Canary Islands
ER Moldova
F France
FG Guadeloupe
G England
HA Hungary
HB Switzerland
HC Ecuador
HI Dominican Republic
HR Honduras
I Italy
K United States of America
KP4 Puerto Rico
OE Austria
OK Czech Republic
SM Sweden
SV Greece
UA European Russia
VE Canada
YU Serbia (ex-Yugoslavia)

Lido Key 2012 Wrap-up, Part 2

This is part 2 of this series. You might want to read Part 1 first if you haven't already done so.

When I woke up for the second day of my operation, for some reason I had a feeling that I hadn't remembered to pack up all my equipment the day before. I was sure that I had the radio, the antenna, and the mast, but I didn't remember actually packing the tent stakes and guy lines. I was hoping that I'd forgotten and done that anyway, but I headed to the car to check the equipment, and found that I had indeed forgotten those small but important items. I did have some spare line with me, so the only thing I'd need to do is to figure out how to anchor that line, possibly with some rocks. I decided that I'd head to where I'd set up and figure out if maybe the missing items were still there. If not, I'd try to find a local store that sold what I needed.

When I arrived at the location where I'd set up the day before, I discovered the good news and the bad news: The good news was that the line and carabiners were lying on the ground. The bad news was that the bright-yellow tents stakes were gone. I took the line and carabiners and decided to have lunch while I mulled my options.

As I've done in the past, I headed to my favorite place for lunch, The Old Salty Dog, located just a few minutes away. As I was waiting for my blackened Grouper "Firecracker Wrap", I used my iPhone to try to find a place that sold camping supplies. There was nothing at all nearby, with the closest place, a Wal-Mart, being over 10 miles away. I live in northern New Jersey and I'm used to traffic, but Sarasota County in the middle of the day during tourist season is awful. I figured that the amount of time that it would have taken to get the stakes and back just wasn't worth the effort, so I tried to figure out an alternative. Thinking about how I'd set up on the first day, out in the direct sunlight, I realized that ideally I'd be able to set up where I could get a little shade. There was a section of the park where I'd set up on the previous trips that was shaded, but with the park being much busier than in the past, I couldn't use that location. I then figured out that I could use a couple of bungee cords that I had with me to lash the mast to a fence that bordered the parking lot. I found a suitable location in the lot, with the only drawback being that there was no shade and no place to sit. (This second location is marked in green on the map in my first post of this series.)

Although not as nice as sitting outside, I figured that I could set up the radio and logging computer inside the car, and with the doors open to help get a little air circulating through the car, it was pretty warm, but tolerable. To stay out of the sun, I wound up sitting in the back seat which also let me stretch out a bit. There was room for the radio on the console between the front seats, and by setting up the iPad (used for logging) and the keyboard carefully, I was able to log relatively easily while operating.

With the logistics out of the way, I decided to concentrate on 15m since the propagation seemed to be cooperating and the antenna was tuning up nicely on that band. Things started off fairly slowly, but after about an hour of operating I got spotted on the packet cluster by a few stations in Europe, and that brought in a lot more callers. Most of the time, the stations were far enough in between that I had a chance to chat a little bit with folks, but occasionally, usually after getting spotted, I'd have 3 or 4 stations call in at once. While hardly a pileup by most standards, I really enjoy working hard to pull individual callsigns out to work the stations. What was particularly enjoyable for me was being able to help out stations who needed NA-034 either for an "all-time" new IOTA entity, or to increase their scores for the IOTA Marathon event sponsored by Radio Society of Great Britain.

Unfortunately, because of the time spent trying to figure out how to set things up, (and of course the all-important lunch), I only wound up being on the air for about 90 minutes that day. I made about 35 contacts during that time, so for a lightweight, low-power operation I was very happy.

Click here for Part 3.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Lido Key 2012 Wrap-up, Part 1

I'm back from my short trip to Florida where I operated from Lido Key, located just to the west of Sarasota, in west central Florida. I was very pleased with the operation this time, despite a minor glitch after the first day (which I'll talk about later). I wound up operating from the same general area that I did on my last trip, which is from South Lido Park at the very southern tip of Lido Key. As with each trip, I learned things that I hope will help make things better for the next time, but fortunately, unlike my last trip, I didn't run into any significant issues that had a major impact on my ability to operate. (If you're interested, you can read the whole saga of my last trip starting with this post; there are links to the rest of the series at the end of that one.)

View K2DBK @ South Lido Park in a larger map
As with past operations from NA-034, my radio activities took place in the afternoon which allowed me time to spend some time with my wife's family in the mornings and evenings as well as giving me some time to have lunch at my favorite restaurant in the area, The Old Salty Dog, before setting up for the afternoon.

As I mentioned during my preparations a few weeks ago, the idea was to operate using the Buddipole on top of the 8-foot shock-corded mast, using some tent stakes, line, and some small S carabiners to guy the mast. As long as the wind wasn't too strong, I felt that the setup should work just fine, and it did. The setup here was very similar to what I'd done in the past, but I wound up having to drag the picnic table over to where it was close enough to the car so that I could run the power cables to the battery. On the first day, I wound up having a very late breakfast so I decided to skip lunch and headed right for South Lido Park. The first difference from previous years was that although it was almost the exact same days as previously, this year, there were a lot more people in the park, which meant it was a lot harder to get to my "favorite" operating position. On the map here, I've put a red marker on the spot, which is just off the south end of the parking lot.

There was a reason why there were more people this year: It was quite a bit warmer than in the past. In fact, the weather was absolutely beautiful, with temperatures in the mid-80s under a beautiful blue sky with just a few clouds on the horizon.That warm weather led to my first small problem: As with my trip to Costa Rica, I was using my iPad with the Hamlog logging software to log my contacts. (Just a quick side note about Hamlog, Nick, N3WG, has done some great upgrades to recently, including the ability to save your log to a cloud server. Very slick stuff.) The one big difference is that when in Costa Rica, even when it wasn't raining, I was usually operating in the shade, not in direct sunlight. When operating from the table you see in the picture, I was in direct sunlight. After a few minutes of having the iPad set up, it shut itself down due to the heat. What I wound up doing was to use the backpack bag from my radio to shield the iPad which kept the temperature down to a point were it was no longer shutting off. Lesson learned for next time.

I initially set up to operate on 21.260Mhz and although I did make a contact with Vasily, ER4DX in Moldova who was CQing a bit above that frequency, I wasn't getting any "takers" so I decided to switch to the main IOTA frequency of 14.260Mhz. I started calling CQ there and after a few minutes, George, KC2GLG, who had read my previous posting about the IOTA activation, heard me and answered. We had a nice chat, and I then moved on and worked about a dozen other stations that day.

I did have a bit of an issue with the antenna on 20m, though I was able to work some DX (Sweden and the UK). With the configuration I was using, it was very tough to get a good SWR and I seemed to be getting some RF back into the radio. Scott, NE1RD, wrote me and suggested that I set up for 20m in a vertical configuration, but unfortunately I didn't have time to test that configuration before I left home. Even though I had Scott's excellent Buddipole In The Field [PDF] book with me on my iPad which has a cookbook section to help set things like this up, by the time I decided to try this I was hot, tired, and it was getting late so I decided to call it quits for the day. So that takeaway lesson from that was "try everything before you leave".

Click here for Part 2.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

2012 Virginia QSO Party

I've written about the Virginia QSO Party a number of times in the past, so I'm going to keep this posting relatively short. I needed to spend some time getting my gear together for my trip to Florida later this week (where I plan to activate IOTA NA-034), but that left time for some contesting. There were a number of contests this weekend, but I decided to jump into the Virginia QSO Party (VaQP) as I've always had a lot of fun. I'm going to re-post my "soapbox" comments from my posting to the 3830 contest scores list. (That's an email list where folks post their "claimed" scores after a contest. It's not authoritative, but it gives you a quick chance to see how well you did as compared with other a lot fast than the official scores.)

Here's what I wrote:
The VaQP is one of my favorite state QSO parties,and I'm glad that I had time to participate this year after missing the last couple of years. Given my location in northern NJ, the only bands that are usable are 40 & 80 (I've made a couple of contacts in the past on 160, but I don't really have an antenna and it's usually not worth the effort). This year, I had plans that kept me out Saturday evening so I didn't get on to 75/80 at all. Late Sunday afternoon I tuned around for a bit on 80m but decided that instead of trying to work just the couple of stations that I could hear, I'd stick with 40 and submit as SOSB/40 (mixed mode).

I like this contest for a few different reasons: First, there's enough activity to keep things going, but not so much that it's a fight for a little-pistol station like me to have to work to make contacts. I could work everyone I could hear, and I appreciate the nice signal reports that I got from many stations. (Just 100w into a G5RV at about 35' here.) Second, this is one of the few contests where I can get on and actually hold a run frequency for pretty much as long as I'd like. That's not something that I get in the big DX contests! Third, this has got to be one of the friendliest bunch of of folks in any contest. When I had a small pileup going (for "rare" NJ!) I would move pretty quickly, but most times I had plenty of time to just throw in a quick word or two, and it was nice hearing when I was a new mult, or just having someone thank me for getting on to help give out points. It's things like that the remind me why I like this contest so much.

Thanks to the organizers for putting this on, and I look forward to working everyone next year.
(SOSB/40 means that I operated as a single operator on just one band, which was 40m). That pretty much sums it up.  I spent a total of around 7.5 hours between Saturday and Sunday in this contest, and it really just flew by. Here's my score summary (which is very short, since I only used 40m this time):

 Band  CW Qs  Ph Qs  Dig Qs
   40:   26    154       
Total:   26    154      0  Mults = 70  Total Score = 16,950

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Trip #4 to Lido Key, IOTA NA-034

In just over a week, I'll be heading down to Florida to visit family, and, as I've done on previous trips, I plan to be operating from Lido Key, IOTA # NA-034 from March 21 to 23. My current plans are to be on the air during my local afternoon between around 1700 - 2200 GMT, on 14.260 or 21.260 (the standard IOTA frequencies), phone only. This is very much a "holiday style" operation, so those operating times may vary, and depending on band conditions, I might set up elsewhere.

For this trip, I'll be taking my Buddipole and using it on top of the same 8-foot mast that I used last summer in Costa Rica. When I was in Costa Rica, I was able to bungee cord the mast to the railing of the balcony, but since I'm not sure that I'll be able to do the same with the picnic tables at the park where I'm planning to operate, I figured out how to guy the mast using some lightweight tent stakes, some line, and some small carabiners that I picked up at a local outdoor store. The folks who sell the Buddipole do make a guying kit, but I thought it would be nice to see if I could make something myself.

As I've learned, I always try out any new setup before I travel, leaving at least a little less chance for last minute problems. Yesterday afternoon, I set up everything in the backyard as a test. What I did was to run some line through the holes on the Versatee  to use as an attachment point. I then used 3 lengths of line and made a taut-line hitch on one end of each which I to put onto the tent stake. On the other end, I connected a very small S carabiner which I used to clip onto the lines on the Versatee. This was a lot easier than trying to tie line-to-line.

Because I learned the hard way that it's pretty easy to break a whip if the antenna isn't supported properly, I first made sure that I could connect the Versatee to the mast (without the arms or whips), attach the lines to that, then stand it up and tension the guys so that the mast seemed stable. I realized that I needed to keep the guy lines probably a bit closer than I would have liked to the mast or I wouldn't be able to reach the hitch knots to adjust them. While I could have used adjustable knots to connect to the carabiners, in use those would be at the top of the mast and would be unreachable. As it turned out, it worked out pretty well the way I set it up. I had to first roughly estimate the 120 degree separation between the stakes around the mast, and I got lucky on my first try.

After seeing that this seemed to be pretty stable once I put some tension on the guy lines, I took it down and screwed in the antenna arms, coils, and whips, though I left the whips fully collapsed. I raised it back up, tightened up the guys (actually I just had to tighten one guy because of the way I'd lowered things), and it still seemed pretty stable, so I lowered everything once again, extended the whips (I'd already connected the wander leads to the proper location on the coils) and raised everything up. (If you're viewing this on my blog page, you can click on the pictures to see a bit more detail, which is particularly helpful for the one showing the antenna fully deployed).

I connected the feedline to my radio (I'd brought my Icom 706MkIIG and a small power supply outside) and the built-in SWR meter in the'706 showed good SWR over the phone portion of 15 meters. I tuned around to see if I could find a station to work and I came across was Pedro, EC8AUZ. We had a nice little chat and he told me that my setup was working well, which was all that I could ask for.

At only 8 feet above ground, I know that the pattern for the antenna is going to be distorted. As I was set up with the broad side of the antenna roughly aligned Northeast/Southwest, it was good to know that I could make a 3500 mile contact due east with that setup.

I still have a few things to do before leaving, but it looks like I should be all set as far as the antenna goes. I hope to work some of you while I'm in Florida. If you're in the Sarasota area, drop me and email and maybe we can get together for a bit while I'm there.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mike Adams, WA2MWT, SK

A good friend of mine passed away last week after a short illness. Mike Adams, WA2MWT, was a good friend and mentor, but just saying that doesn't do Mike justice. You can (and should) read his obituary, or this nice article about him from the local paper  to get an idea of what kind of person Mike was, but I wanted to take a few minutes to share some of my personal memories of Mike.

I first met Mike about 12 years ago, right after I was first licensed as KC2FZT. I was encouraged by Joyce, KA2ANF, to attend a meeting of the local ham radio club, the 10-70 Repeater Association, but other than Joyce (who was one of the VEs who administered my exam), I really didn't know anyone at the meeting. I wandered into the meeting and sat down, feeling a bit like a lost sheep, when Mike came up to me, introduced himself, and asked me to join him and a few others sitting together at a table near the back of the room. Mike helped "translate" some of what was going on and introduced me to others at the table, and generally made me feel welcome. Mike and I seemed to hit it off immediately. Actually, Mike seemed to hit it off with everyone immediately. To paraphrase my son Justin, KC2MCS, "Nobody ever had a bad thing to say about Mike. Everyone just liked him."

As I found out, Mike was the Emergency Management Coordinator for the Borough of Ramsey, New Jersey, a town about 15 minutes away from where I lived. He was also a regular Net Control Station not only for the local NTS traffic net (NJVN/Late), but he also filled in on several other local area nets. I thought it might be interesting to get involved with NTS, but I didn't really know how to get started and, like many other new hams, I was very "mic shy". (As Mike explained to me, it's "mic shy", not "mike shy".) Mike invited me to stop by the Ramsey Office of Emergency Management (OEM) headquarters (better known as the Emergency Operations Center, or EOC) and he'd show me how traffic handling was done.  (Traffic, in this context, has nothing to do with cars and roads, but rather with handling radiogram messages. While for the most part what's done is for practice, it is a function of the Amateur Radio Service that has proven to be invaluable when other forms of communications are not functioning.) Mike patiently coached a very nervous me through my first NJVN/L check-in at the EOC, and kept on helping me until I was comfortable enough to eventually act as Net Control myself. Mike had a great way to put me at ease when I was nervous. In what became a running joke between us, he'd say "Don't worry, we've all been there."

Mike also introduced me to other public service aspects of ham radio. He got me involved with supporting numerous public service events, including bike tours and foot races. His encouragement helped me to decide to volunteer one year to support the NY City Marathon as a radio operator, which was an amazing experience.

Mike got me involved with Skywarn and ARES ®  and while I'm not as involved with either of those organizations as I was in the past, I glad that Mike gave me the push that I needed. He also encouraged me to become a member of the Ramsey OEM, which is a little unusual since I don't live in Ramsey. Of course, I'm not the only one from out of town. Mike explained that one of the reasons why he recruited people from out of town was because that way there would always be someone unaffected by something that happened in the town available to provide assistance. Mike strongly believe that unless you were comfortable that you and your family were safe that you wouldn't be able to effectively serve others. To that end, he made sure that we always remembered to "look out for number one". It was that attitude that made me want to help, and I was honored a when I was made a Life Member of the Ramsey OEM a few years ago.

I will miss taking car trips with Mike out to Upton to attend the annual Skywarn coordinators meeting, the trip up to Newington to visit ARRL Headquarters, working with him during the Ramsey Run, the MS-100, and countless other public service events, and I will miss just sitting around the EOC talking with him. I will miss Mike's sage advice, his wit, and his friendship.

Goodbye my friend.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Just for fun

It's been over two months since I last posted, and I realized that part of the reason for that is that I've been waiting for something "important enough" to write about. Along the same lines, I've skipped operating in a couple of contests recently where I'd done so in the past because I didn't have enough time to put in more than a couple of hours in the chair. I decided to fix both of those things recently.

Last weekend was one of the "big" contests, the CW version of the ARRL DX contest. In this contest, DX stations work US & Canadian stations, and vice-versa. (As opposed to contests where anybody works anybody, or are primarily US/Canada only.) This is a 48 hour contest, and while I've never operated for that entire period, I do usually try to spend time operating both during the day and in the evening to take advantage of different types of propagation at the different times of day. Last weekend, I didn't have time to do that, but I did have a few hours on Sunday afternoon. I decided to spend the afternoon working whatever stations I could. When I operate in a contest, I like to have some kind of goal for myself. For this contest, I knew that I wasn't going to beat my own personal best, so I decided that I'd do nothing but work multipliers for my first 100 QSOs.

Generally, this is kind of silly thing to do, especially for person who works in "Search & Pounce" mode, where you're trying to just make contacts. Multipliers have additional value, and there are all kinds of strategies on working multipliers versus just working stations, but most of those apply to bigger stations who know they'll be competitive. In any case, I decided that it would be fun to do, and that's exactly what I did. Once I hit 100 QSOs I started working any other station that I found, but I still managed to work 141 multipliers out of 169 contacts.

My final score was only a bit over 71,000 points, which in this contest, is very low, but I did have a good time doing it, and that's the point. Hopefully, this will get me "back in the saddle" for both contesting and working on my blog.

For anyone interested, here's my claimed score:
         Band    QSOs    Pts  Cty
           7      35     105   22
          14      66     198   58
          21      56     168   49
          28      12      36   12
       Total     169     507  141
       Score : 71,487

Monday, December 12, 2011

Post-post Thanksgiving Leftover Leftovers

As I mentioned in my last posting, I've still got a few items leftover from Thanksgiving. Unlike the leftover turkey and trimmings, these didn't have to be tossed out after a couple of weeks, so they are still relatively fresh.

Going back to the CQ WorldWide DX Contest, I did have a few more comments to make. First I really learned to make use of the attenuator on my radio. When conditions are good, stations that are slightly off frequency can make it hard to hear the stations that you're trying to work. By using the attenuator, it brings down the level of those signals so that I can more clearly hear the station that I'm trying to work. The station I'm trying to work is weaker too, but usually they drop less than the off-frequency station and it makes it possible to better copy what they are sending. This isn't something that I alone have just magically discovered, it's just been a while since conditions were good enough that off-frequency stations were so strong that I needed to get them dropped down.

And now, time to jump on my soapbox to talk about two things. The first of these I haven't seen mentioned much recently in blogs or the contesting lists, but I noticed a number of times where a stations was calling CQ at a relatively slow speed (for a contest), perhaps 18 to 20 words per minute. I was always taught that you should always answer a station no faster than the station is calling, with the idea that you should only call CQ at a speed at which you are comfortable receiving. Why then do stations respond to those "slow" (which is a relative term here) CQs at 30, 35, or even 40 words per minute? I heard this a number of times, and while in some cases the slower station seemed to have no trouble copying the other station, in most other cases the slower station had to repeatedly ask for "fills" (meaning they couldn't copy the exchange being sent.) If the other stations were too impatient to wait, they should find another station to work. When I work a CW contest, I have the ability to easily adjust my sending speed (I send using the computer, and it's very easy to adjust my speed up and down in real time) and I have a hard time believing that some of these speed demons can't do the same.

The second soapbox item is one that has been talked about a lot recently, which is regarding stations that do not ID frequently. For those readers who aren't familiar with this, here's the background: The FCC (and their equivalent in other countries) require stations to identify at certain intervals. In the US, you're required to ID every 10 minutes and under certain other circumstances. Some operators, especially the "big gun" stations who have big signals and many stations calling them, try to shave off a small amount of time on each contact by not IDing after every contact. While a second or so might not seem like much, these are stations that might work 200+ stations in an hour, so assuming there are enough stations to keep them busy (which for those stations may actually be the case), there can, in theory, be enough time saved by not regularly IDing to be able to make more contacts in that time period. As an example, let's say you can work one station in 20 seconds, or three per minute, which gives you a rate of 180 per hour. If you can shave two seconds off each contact, you can now work 3.33 per minute which translates into 200 per hour. That can add up over the course of a contest, under the right circumstances.

Of course, you need to ID occasionally to fulfill the legal requirements as well as letting the stations listening know who you are. (Yes, some stations can and do just assume that the spot on the packet cluster is correct. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. I want to hear a callsign myself before I work a station.) While I personally will ID after every contact on those rare occasions when I'm "running" stations, I think it's OK to do it every 3rd or 4th contact, which means that the listening station have to wait no more than a minute or so to figure out the ID of the station. The problem is that some of these big gun stations have a seemingly endless stream of callers (many of whom are calling because of the aforementioned packet cluster spot) and they don't ID for many minutes at a time. I've read their arguments which I won't rehash here (if you're interested, you can check out the archives of the CQ-Contest mailing list) but to me, they are just being selfish. From their perspective, they have plenty of folks trying to work them, and it's just too bad for those of us who are waiting before calling. Often, I'll just give up after listening for a short period of time, but I risk missing a valuable multipler if it turns out that the running station was something that I needed.

I don't know what the right solution to this problem is, since the big guns aren't going to change their operating processes just because I think that it would be nice to do so. Some contests require the station ID as part of the contest exchange (though sometimes they omit it there as well; I wonder if they will get disqualified if the contest sponsors discovers that?) which solves the issue, but since even minor changes to the contest rules seems to be upsetting to much of the contest community, I can't see an ID requirement being added to any of the existing contests.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Post-Thanksgiving Leftovers

As most folks know, we had the Thanksgiving holiday here in the US last week. It's a tradition to not only eat turkey with "all the fixin's" but also have have some leftovers for a few days after that. I've got the same for my blog mostly with respect to things that were still around after Thanksgiving. So, in no particular order:

I did my usual "playing around" in the big CQ World Wide DX contest this past weekend. This is one of the "main events" in the ham radio contesting world, and while I didn't really have time for more than just a few hours of making contacts, I did note a few interesting/amusing/annoying things. In this contest, you get points for working stations in other countries (not your own) with what's called a "multiplier" based on the country and something called a zone. (The term "DX" refers to a station from another country.) Without going into too much detail, it's relevant to know that there are 3 zones within the US. Your score is calculated by multiplying your points (number of contacts with stations outside your country) by the zone and country multipliers. You are allowed to work stations in your own country for the multiplier value, you just get zero points for doing so. It's important to note that while you can get the 3 zone multipliers that are available for the US by working stations in Canada, if you want the country multiplier credit for working the US you must work a station in the US. Since it's a zero-point contact, what I try to do is to find a US station that's not busy and work them, since I don't want to take them away from working their DX. Most operators understand this and have no problem with it, but on at least one occasion I called a US station who was CQing (repeatedly) with no responses only to have him respond "SRI ONLY DX". In other words, he was telling me that he would not make a contact with me.

As noted, I only work US stations when they aren't busy which was the case here. A complete contact with both stations exchanging information during a CW contest (which this was) takes around 20 seconds or less. So instead of helping me out by just completing the contact, he probably saved maybe 10 seconds by sending that other information. So much for good sportsmanship. (For what it's worth, I noted his call and will avoid making contact with that station in the future, even in contests where non-DX contacts "count".)

Also during the contest, I was working stations on 20 meters just calling stations and tuning up the band to find the next station. It's not unusual, while doing this, to have another station that is doing the same as you are, and depending on what band you are on and the propagation conditions, you'll sometimes be able to hear the other station. Sometimes, you wind up moving with that other station (sometimes more than one) and working the next station up the band either just before or just after that station repeatedly. Normally this isn't a big deal, but I got stuck behind the equivalent of tractor-trailer truck on small road doing 20mph below the speed limit:

There was a station that would usually call the DX station before me and work him first. No problem. However, unlike the normal orderly contact sequence (which for this contest is very simple: a signal report, normally 599, then your zone, which is 5 for me, meaning my half of the exchange is send in CW as "TU 5NN 5", with "TU" meaning Thank You, acknowledging that I got the contact information from the other station) he'd send something like "TU 5NN 4 4 4 TU DE (his callsign) (his callsign) (his callsign) 73". You might send your callsign if you think the DX station didn't get it, but the accepted way of doing it is prior to the other information and only if you think the other station might not have gotten it correctly. What wound up happening is that the DX station (who is normally working stations very quickly; remember that I mentioned it normally takes 20 seconds or less to complete a full contact) would hear the "TU 5NN 4 4" then assume that the other guy was through sending and send his "TU QRZ?" (meaning he got your info and is moving on), only to realize the guy was still sending. In one case I heard the DX start to send his final sequence 3 times "TU ...  TU ... TU" before the other guy finished.

The problem with doing this is that you slow everyone down, and while it's not against the rules to do this, it's another example of poor sportsmanship. The station doing this had to know that he was slowing everyone down. (And before everyone jumps on me, this was definitely not a new contester, so it wasn't a case of "not knowing better".) I'm not sure why he was doing this, but finally I just gave up and jumped far enough up the band so that he was no longer "in front of me" anymore. (In fact, I went way up the band and started tuning down, meaning that while I might cross paths once more, it would be in opposite directions.

I've got a few more leftovers to go, but I think I'll just put them back in the 'fridge for next time.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Powerline noise problem, resolved

As I mentioned in my previous post, I'd been having a problem with powerline noise recently. The noise started to improve after about 2 weeks, with it disappearing for periods but then returning, until gradually it stopped entirely around a week ago.

As I mentioned, I had reported the issue after about a week to the local power company and while it took a while (just under two weeks), I got a message yesterday from a technician who had been dispatched to check out the problem. He said that he was at my house at the time (I was at work) and wasn't hearing any unusual noise but asked me to call him to discuss the problem. When I first listened to his message it sounded like he had just listened with his ears (not with any kind of equipment) and my first thought was that I'd have to go through and re-explain the situation to him. I didn't have a chance to call him back until today, but when I spoke to him I discovered that he did understand the issue and worked in the department that deals with, among other things, RFI and TVI problems.

He asked me whether I'd had issues like this in the past (I haven't) and I talked about how the noise seemed to start right after the power was restored to some nearby houses after the freak snowstorm in October. He said that what may have happened is that in situations like this, when they initially restore power they'll do so in a temporary manner just to get people hooked up then come back later and and do a more permanent job. His thought was that the temporary fix was noisy, but as they went back to "clean up", they may have found and corrected the issues. So while I don't know exactly what caused the problem, the good news is that the problem is gone.

The other good news is that he gave me his contact information and told me that if the problem returns that I should call him directly, at which point he'd come right out (instead of me having to wait a couple of weeks) to investigate.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Powerline noise issue

Despite the fact that I live pretty close to some power transmission lines as well as the regular above-ground residential service, I've been pretty lucky in that I've never had much of an issue with powerline noise. Unfortunately, that changed just about a week ago. It might be coincidence, but there there were about 4 or 5 houses around a block away from here that lost power due to the October snowstorm that didn't get it back until last Friday, which is when I started getting S7-S9 powerline noise on all the HF bands, 2m, and, to a lesser extent, 70cm. Given that there were still others in the area without any power (we were very fortunate in that we never lost power at our house), I figured I'd wait until the local power company indicated that they'd finished restoring power to everyone before calling to report it. (Powerline QRN is bad, but it doesn't come close to not having lights or heat.)  In the meantime, I put my main HF rig (Icom 756 Pro II) on a battery and turned off the main breaker to the house to eliminate any possibility that it was something in the house, but with that done, there was no change to the noise signature.

On Wednesday, the QRN was gone for a few hours in the middle of the day, and I figured that maybe they'd found and fixed the problem on their own, but it was back by the afternoon. Yesterday, the power company officially announced that all customers were back in service, so I figured that I'd give them a call today to see what they'd say.

The automated voice response system had no way to understand "RFI" so it thought I was reporting an outage, and because that's not the case, I finally got through to a human ... who seemed equally baffled. I explained that I was an amateur radio operator and that I was hearing electrical noise that I hadn't heard until about a week ago. He put me on hold for about 10 minutes and when he came out he said they'd be dispatching a crew.

While the recommendations for a situation like this are to try to narrow it down to a small area or even a single pole, in additional to not really having the right kind of DFing equipment for this, I'm home tending to one of my kids who is recovering from minor surgery, so I didn't want to spend the time walking or driving around. I am crossing my fingers that PSE&G (my power company) will take this seriously enough to send out a properly equipped crew and find the problem. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed.

Here's a short video that I took showing what the powerline noise looks like:

Sunday, October 02, 2011

TI7/K2DBK officially approved, Part 2

Please read Part 1 for the beginning of the story and some background.

Based on the information that I'd previously described, I sent an email to the Logbook of The World (LoTW) desk at the ARRL in mid-June briefly explaining what I'd learned and asking what would be needed for them to issue a certificate so that I could upload my contacts. (Briefly, each contact is "signed" using a digital certificate to ensure that it's valid. The ARRL issues a certificate to an operator when it is satisfied that the contacts were made legally.) I got a quick response back which referred me to the ARRL's Reciprocal Operating page which gives the requirements needed to operate from different locations around the world.  The information provided for that page links to OH2MCN's terrific site that has details for hundreds of countries. The information on his site is largely provided by hams who have operated from those locations, but sometimes it's not always completely up to date. (As an example, you can see my contribution to the entry for the Cayman Islands, which in turn has been updated since I wrote to Veke.)  Unfortunately, the information for Costa Rica did not include the updated details regarding SUTEL (and still doesn't as of the time that I'm writing this.) I responded back to both the LoTW desk and the DXCC desk (since the DXCC desk is ultimately responsible for determining if an operation is "legal"), but did not hear back from them prior to leaving for Costa Rica.

After I returned, I electronically requested a certificate for my operation. As with most operations from other that a home country, I was advised that I needed to contact the ARRL with the required supporting documentation. I sent another note to the DXCC desk in early August again explaining the situation but after a couple of weeks of no response, I sent a note to Joyce, KA2ANF, my Division Director who did whatever magic Division Directors do and got me a reply form the DXCC desk. Unfortunately, the reply was substantially the same as the initial responses that I'd gotten back (referring me to the Reciprocal Operation page) and didn't address the changes in the licensing authority. It said that even though their information was outdated, that I'd need a license or some other documentation from the local licensing authority.

At this point, it occurred to me that many of the people who I'd emailed or spoken to had operated recently from Costa Rica, certainly within the last two years, and several had been issued LoTW certificates. Since there was precedent, I figured that the best way to find out how they had gotten their certificates was to ask, so I gathered up a list of email addresses, and sent out an email, that said in part:

...I noticed that you have recently uploaded contacts from a Costa Rica operation to LoTW, and I was wondering if you'd recently obtained a certificate without a paper license, or if you had a previously-issued license that was used to obtain your certificate. To be honest, I'm hoping that you might fall into the first category meaning that there is precedent for my certificate to be issued under the same conditions.
Over the next couple of days, I got back responses from pretty much everyone I wrote to (and some that I didn't; my note got passed on to a few others who I hadn't originally written) and the story from each of them was the same: No, SUTEL wasn't issuing licenses but it was OK to operate from Costa Rica as long as you were in the country legally and had an appropriate US license. N0KE, AA8HH, N0SXX, and K4VAC (which is a club) all confirmed that they'd been issued LoTW certificates based on the "new" information about licensing. Better still, I received information from several hams that included emails between themselves, the ARRL, and in some cases, between Keko, TI5KD, the president of the Radio Club de Costa Rica where the licensing information was explained and accepted as valid by the ARRL.

I wrote another note to the DXCC desk and provided this information, and waited. After another couple of weeks, I sent a reminder note (I know those guys are busy, and my issue certainly wasn't a big one) and got a response back. They'd started to investigate, and would be getting back to me. I felt that at least they were finally reading what I'd written and there was hope. Just a few hours later, and I got back another email telling me that my operation was accepted and a LoTW certificate would be issued shortly. (It was.)

I'd like to thank everyone that I mentioned here for their help in getting through all this. In particular, Keko, TI5KD  was very patient in explaining the situation and helping me to be confident that I would eventually get through the red tape.

On a final note, I realized that in the spirit of "giving back" to the ham community, the best thing that I could do would be to get the information on OH2MCN's site updated, so I'll be writing to him shortly with the details that I've provided here (though in a more concise form).

Saturday, September 24, 2011

TI7/K2DBK officially approved, Part 1

It was a lot more difficult than I'd expected, but I finally received official approval from the ARRL's DXCC desk for my TI7/K2DBK operation earlier this year. I've been holding off writing about it until I had resolution, one way or another, hence the delay in writing this.The issue had to do with the licensing authority in Costa Rica. Here's the story as I understand it.

A couple of years ago, the organization responsible for issuing all radio licenses in Costa Rica was reorganized. That organization, SUTEL, apparently revised the laws regarding all radio services in Costa Rica, but somehow they neglected to revise the rules pertaining to amateur radio. In fact, they didn't include rules about amateur radio at all after the rules revision. As a result, they had no way to issue or renew any amateur licenses, regardless of whether those licenses were for residents of Costa Rica or for visitors. As I understand it, this was an oversight, not an intentional removal of the amateur service from Costa Rica.  Previously, for a US amateur to operate from Costa Rica, you'd have to fill out some forms and pay a nominal fee at the SUTEL offices in the capital city of San José and you'd walk out with your license. Unfortunately, after the laws were revised, there simply wasn't a way to get a license.

I didn't know any of this earlier this year when I decided to operate from Costa Rica. My concern was that you had to physically go to the SUTEL office in San Jose to get your license.

View TI7/K2DBK in a larger map
The location where we stay in Costa Rica is in the northwest portion of the country near the city of Liberia, and it's a pretty significant drive to San Jose.  (The green marker is where I was staying, the blue is San Jose.)  Although Costa Rica isn't a very large country, a multi-hour drive through a country where I didn't speak the language (and where were weren't planning to rent a car) just didn't seem very appealing. What I thought I would do is to post to a couple of the DX lists to ask if perhaps there was a way to get a license online, or perhaps to see if there was someone in Costa Rica who could do the paperwork for me in advance, and mail it to me either at home or where we were staying. I got back multiple responses, both from US hams who'd recently operated from there as well as a couple of hams who live in Costa Rica, all of whom told me about the situation with SUTEL.

Among those responses were a couple that said that based on conversations between the ARRL and the Radio Club de Costa Rica  there was a working agreement in place so that for amateurs from countries that had reciprocal operating agreements in place with Costa Rica (the US does), that as long as the visiting amateur is in the country legally (a copy of a passport stamp can be used to prove this) and they held an appropriate US license (I hold an Amateur Extra class license). they can operate legally from Costa Rica. The only other requirement is to use the appropriate regional prefix, which for my operation was TI7, indicating the Guanacaste region. Based on that, I operated as I've previously described, and assumed that I'd have no trouble having my operation officially approved for DXCC credit (for others, of course) and getting a Logbook of The World certificate, necessary to upload my QSOs to that system. As I said, it turned out to be a bit more of a challenge than I'd expected.

To be part 2

Sunday, July 31, 2011

TI7/K2DBK Post-event wrapup, part 2

This is part 2 of the series, click here to read part 1 

It's been another crazy week at work and at home and I'd hoped to have another entry or two posted by now, but I just haven't had the time. I've finally found a few minutes, so I'd like to focus on things from a DX perspective and talk a bit about QSLing.

As I've previously noted, the weather kept the total number of contacts far lower than I'd hoped, with the total number of contacts ending up at 87 for the week (including one duplicate who I helped out with an antenna check). It looks like I worked 22 different countries though I believe that one of those will be a busted call: I logged a caller with a "DX" prefix which would correspond to the Philippines but at the time I was working into Europe and I suspect that it's actually a "DL" call. In terms of "best DX", I worked into European Russia (UA) and Ukraine (UT) a few times, with the majority of the countries being in central Europe such as Spain, Italy, France, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, and others in that area. I worked relatively few US states, though I don't have good statistics on the because I didn't get the state from all the operators that I worked. Most of the stateside contacts tended to be in the US Southwest although I did work up into Virginia and farther up the US East Coast for a few contacts.

As I mentioned in my last post, I did manage to get a full-blown pileup going a few times, and I can really understand how addicting this can be. I'd love to be able to operate from a "real" DXpedition, or even from a "primarily radio" vacation somewhere, but for now my vacation time is limited so I tend to squeeze in radio when I can. I hope that at some point over the next year or two I can get creative and find time away for a "radio" vacation.

Regarding QSLing, I got a question this week from a station asking me about whether the contacts would be uploaded to Logbook of The World. As regular readers of this blog know, I'm a big fan of LoTW, and would love to make the contacts available there. However, I'm having some issues getting a LoTW certificate issued and it's not clear when (or if) that issue will be resolved. (This only applies to my operating from TI7.) In the meantime, if you need a card, please QSL via my home call the "old fashioned" way with a paper card. Because of the relatively few contacts made, I'm not going to have a bunch of card commercially printed but I will design and print a card specifically for this operation. My QSL information is always kept up to date at my entry on

If you want to check to see if you're in my TI7 log, I've uploaded that to the Clublog website which you can search here. If you think you worked me and you can't find your entry in the online log, please drop me a note and I'll check for you as it's entirely possible that I busted a call or two.

Friday, July 22, 2011

TI7/K2DBK Post-event wrapup, part 1

It's been a very busy week for me both at work and at home following my vacation, so it's taken me a while to find the time to start writing this. I'd hoped to provide a few more updates while I was in Costa Rica but I never found the time so I'll do my best to try to remember what happened. I'm going to try write a number of shorter postings so hopefully I can get them all out over the next couple of days.

In my last posting, I'd talked about how it had been rainy all week. That weather continued, but I finally did figure out a way to get on the air for more than 10 minutes at a time.

The problem was that my initial setup was on part of the outdoor deck with everything exposed to the elements. I would have been happy to bring the feedline inside, but the air conditioning system in the house we were staying at has sensors such that you can't leave the sliding doors open even a little without the system shutting down. Considering the temperature and humidity, that wasn't a realistic option, so I had to operate outside and hope for the best. In the picture, you can see the antenna in the background and I've got the power supply sitting on the chair with the radio on a little table. As long as it was dry, this worked out fine. Unfortunately, it didn't stay dry long enough for me to spend any significant time on the air.

On Friday afternoon, the weather was once again uncooperative, and I was starting to think that I'd wind up leaving Costa Rica with only about 5 QSOs. However, Sharon pointed out that the deck next to the common area of the house had a pretty big overhang, and I realized that even with some of the really torrential downpours we'd had that area had stayed dry. I moved down to that location and set up the antenna there, configured for 15m, and brought out the rest of the gear to the new location.

Sure enough, after a few minutes of respite the skies opened up again, but although the antenna was getting wet, the radio, power supply, and my iPad (used for logging) were dry. (As you can see from the photo, I did have a towel ready, just in case.) I got on 15m at just about 21:00Z and called CQ and was answered by a station in Brazil. Being in Costa Rica, that wasn't quite the DX that I was hoping for, but very shortly after that I got spotted on the DX Clusters and started getting a lot of calls from Europe. All told, I was on the air for about 40 minutes (we had plans and I had to get ready) and worked 33 stations that day. (I'll have some details about the countries I worked in a future posting.) Although I've worked from a DX location before (as ZF2DK), this was the first time that I ever had what I would consider to be a full-blow pileup. I think that I did fairly well in managing things, managing to at least get enough of a partial call so that I could respond back with "the station ending in xyz only please" on almost every call. I don't have enough experience yet to be able to pull full callsigns out of a pileup every time, but I know that's something that comes with experience. By the second day of running stations, I could tell that I was doing better.

Part 2 of this series continues here.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Rainy season in Costa Rica

Unfortunately, Mother Nature has not been cooperating. I'm writing this from Costa Rica and we've have a lot of rain here. I was able to get on the air very briefly after arriving on Sunday, making a single contact on 20m mostly just to make sure that the gear was working. I got a little bit of RF into the radio (which I'd seen while testing at home) but the ferrites that I'd brought cleared that up.

The next time I was about to get on the air was Tuesday afternoon, also relatively briefly. I set up for 15m and the antenna behaved very well there, easily tuning the whole band. I worked a few stations in the US southeast (Georgia & Florida) and a relative local in Venezuala. But as the title of this post indicates, rainy season has started here and it's been raining a lot since then.

Obviously a Buddipole will work in the rain, but the way things are set up here it's not practical to leave the antenna up and run out in a near-monsoon to make an adjustment to a whip. Of course, trying to do that when there's lightning around, which there has been, was an even worse idea.

Wednesday was pretty much a complete rainout, though my friends and I were able to go out on the water and jet ski for a couple of hours. (No, I did not attempt to operation TI7/K2DBK/MM). Did I mention that it rained constantly during that whole time?

Today (Thursday) started off looking bad again, raining for most of the early morning, but it did clear up for the majority of our day which included a sightseeing tour to the Rincon de la Vieja volcano. Right at the end of that trip it starting pouring yet again, and while there was a very brief respite after we got back to our residence here, it's been raining steadily ever since along with a lot of lightning. Needless to say, no radio.

The weather forecast for the next couple of days calls for more of the same, although our touring plans are done and since we'll be around more I hope that if we get a break from the rain for a few hours I'll be able to get on the air.

I am disappointed that I haven't been able to get on the air more, but I'm trying to stay positive and see if I can get on the air for at least a few more hours before it's time for us to leave.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Quick update on TI7/K2DBK

I just wanted to post a very quick update regarding my TI7/K2DBK operation that's coming up in a few days. I see that my announcement to the various DX Publicity sources that I've collected has done the job, as I've been mentioned in most of the major DX announcement lists. As mentioned, this is a "holiday-style" operation which means that operating will take place when I'm at the QTH where I'm staying (as opposed to sightseeing, etc.)  and not otherwise occupied with other important things, like working on my suntan, swimming, or consuming the occasional "adult beverage". (Come to think of it, I could do at least some of those while operating, but I think I'll skip trying to operate from the swimming pool.)

Although I wasn't home to take advantage, I noted that 6m was open today and if that happens again while I'm there, I'll try to get on the air on that band. However, unless there's some indication of a band opening I probably won't spend much time just CQing since the lower bands should be more productive overall.

I had intended to post several updates this week, but as luck would have it this was an extremely busy week at work and I got home significantly later than usual and just haven't had the time to update. I may post a few updates from Costa Rica when I'm there at which point I may have a better idea of when I'll actually be on the air.

Until then, I've got to get back to packing.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Planning for Costa Rica

The possible operation to Costa Rica that I mentioned a few weeks ago is now on. I'll be operating from the north-west part of the country near the city of Liberia from the 10th to the 17th of July 2011. You can see the approximate location in this map although the aerial photos were taken before the house were built. (No, we're not sleeping on a golf course.) We're going as guests of our good friends Barry and Stephanie who took us along to Grand Cayman in 2007 when I operated as ZF2DK.  (For those of you who haven't been reading this blog that long, that link goes to a whole pile of blog posts about my trip there.) This time, I'll be operating as TI7/K2DBK, with the TI7 indicating that I'll be operating from the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica.

As I mentioned previously, the location is wonderful, overlooking the water from a house that's basically built onto the side of a cliff. The location where I plan to mount the antenna is a 2nd story balcony (which is actually more like 3 stories high) and the ground falls away very rapidly so the antenna height will effectively be more than high enough to get into the free-space radiation zone. (I hope.)

Although I initially planned to bring my Buddistick antenna, which is a muti-band vertical, I decided to upgrade to it's "big brother" the Buddipole, which is a multi-band dipole that's easier to tune and has some directivity and more gain. (I actually decided to go with the mini-Buddipole, which is the same size antenna but breaks down smaller for traveling.) I also picked up an 8' shock-corded mast which collapses down to just 11". I'll secure that to the balcony railing with some bungee cords and I'll be all set.

I did a little testing of the antenna this past Sunday during Field Day and made contacts on 10m, 15m, and 20m just to do a "smoke test" of the setup. Unfortunately, at the time I started testing the band conditions weren't very good for DX so all my contacts were domestic, but I had no trouble working a few west coast stations. I think that with the added height plus the fact that I'll be DX I should do just fine from Costa Rica. What's that expression? Being DX adds how many dB to your signal strength? (For anyone who doesn't get that joke, drop me a note and I'll explain.)

I haven't had as much time to prepare for this trip as I did for my trip to Cayman, but fortunately since then I've made a few more trips to Florida and pretty much have the gear situation down, though obviously I can't run to Radio Shack if I discover that I've forgotten an adapter when I'm in Costa Rica. I did send out a note to some of the DX publicity contacts that I collected when I went to Cayman and I've started to see my operation show up in a few of the DX bulletins. The next thing I'll be doing is to start going through the checklist I developed previously to make sure that I have all the equipment that I need before the trip. I'll be doing that during this week and will probably do a bit more antenna testing over the upcoming July 4 holiday weekend.

One other thing that I did over the weekend was to test the software that I found for the iPad to see how suitable it was for use. I found a program called HamLog and while it's not nearly as full featured as my regular DX logger (DX4Win) I think it will work out well enough. There were a couple of issues when logging Field Day contacts, since it's not really set up too well when there is a piece of info (other than time, date, and callsign) that changes each contact, but as DX I expect (or at least hope) that I'll be able to just sit on a single frequency and only have to change the callsign for each contact I log. (The program logs the time of each QSO and can be set up so that all other fields, such as the frequency, signal report, and mode stay the same for each QSO). I'm pretty confident that this will work, but I know that I can always fall back to paper logging if necessary.

I'll be posting more updates over the coming days, stay tuned.

Monday, June 06, 2011

2010 ARRL June VHF QSO Party (yes, 2010)

When I came home today, I found a large envelope from the ARRL waiting for me in the mail, and opened it up to find this:

It turns out that I won the 6m category for the 2010 ARRL June VHF contest and I didn't even know it! It may be a little difficult to read, but the fine print towards the center left says "Winner 50 MHz". That was definitely a nice surprise.

The 2011 ARRL June VHF QSO Party (link goes to the rules for the contest) is coming up this weekend, the 11th - 13th of June. I have some family coming in from out of town and some other commitments so I probably won't be spending as much time on the air as I did last year, but I will try to get on the air and operate as much as I can.