Saturday, March 31, 2007

Even less than last time

I probably wouldn't have even bothered doing an update this week other than I do want to try to update this on a regular basis. Not a whole lot has been going on radio-wise.

I tried contacting some guys with ZF1 (meaning locals) ham licenses but so far haven't heard back from anyone. A little disappointing, but I'm trying to be patient. I also discovered that there were a couple of more general email addresses on the ICTA website (one for general "enquiries" and the other for licensing issues), so I sent an email to both of them today. I'm hoping that I get a response back.

Still no news on the Buddistick, I guess the bags haven't come in yet. Budd said he'd contact me when they did, and from everything I've heard about him, Budd's a man of his word, so I'll just have to wait a bit more.

I've started using a Google Spreadsheet to keep track of the things I have to do as well as the things that I need to take with me on the trip. There are doubtless many other ways of tracking these things, but the nice thing about having it up on Google is that I can get it to from any computer anywhere, so when I have one of those "have to remember to do this" things pop into my head, I can easily update the spreadsheet. You just need to have a Google ID, which of course is free, and you can use this facility. Check it out if you haven't already done so.

Friday, March 23, 2007

No news is ... um .... no news

Well, there hasn't been a lot to write about over the last couple of days for a few reasons, most of which are pretty much related. I really haven't done much radio "stuff" this week in general because I've been unusually busy at work this week. In fact, my usual evening routine of sitting at my computer and answering email, reading blogs, catching up on favorite websites, all while keeping the radio on and the spot cluster up (I use DX4WIN for general DX use, which has a spiffy feature where it will audibly announce an "interesting" spot, like a new country, so I just keep it running in the background) has been pretty disrupted since I've had to do a significant amount of work in the evenings for my "day" job. Well, as I say, if you're busy, it presumably means that you're valued and that's always a good thing.

A couple of things that I have somehow managed to squeeze in are a series of email conversations with Bruce, K0BJ, regarding operating from the Caymans, mostly about some of the locals down there, operating from ZF1A, the Cayman Amateur Radio Society club station. (Sure wish I could find a valid link for them; occasionally I've run across it, but most of the places that have links point to a now-dead link.)

The one other thing is that Bob, K0NR, suggested that I take a look at the ICTA website for information about operating down there. It looks like the ICTA is the Caymanian version of the FCC. I'd emailed one individual a while back, but hadn't heard from him, and apparently he may be quite ill, so I'm going to write to anyone else on that website that I can find who seems like they might have information about Amateur Radio licensing. Interestingly enough, there's a "Radio" tab on the page, which pops out a list of various radio services, but although Amateur Radio is included, it says "(soon)" next to it and doesn't link to anything.

Budd, W3FF, told me that there's been a delay in shipping my Buddistick because they have run out of cases, and were expecting a new batch this week, but apparently they did not arrive. I've still got plenty of time, and as anxious as I am about playing with the antenna, since the weather has finally warmed up, most of the snow has melted resulting in a significant amount of mud all over the place ... so perhaps it's just as well that I wait a bit longer to play with the new radio.

The CQ WPX SSB contest is this weekend, but given the week I've had, I'll probably pass on spending much time in it at all, and maybe just work a new band or a new country, if I happen to see anything.

Hopefully I'll have time to write to the ICTA folks and make some headway on licensing over the weekend.

Monday, March 19, 2007

A little contesting, since I was stuck home anyway

Some of you who know me may be aware that I've had some back issues lately. Nothing too horrible, but things got to the point where it was really getting annoying enough that it was time to have something done about it. I had a small procedure (done at a hospital but as an outpatient, but was probably in and out of the hospital in under 90 minutes) last Saturday, and the one real restriction was that I really needed to limit my physical activity for the next 24 hours. (Shucks, I couldn't shovel out the mess that was left from the storm. Well, I wouldn't have done that anyway, since we actually pay a guy to plow. But I digress.) As it turns out, the chair in my office/shack happens to be extremely comfortable to sit in when my back is bothering me. Well, gee, here I am in my shack, might as well play a little radio while I'm at it.

As it turns out, this was a very busy weekend for contesting, with at least a dozen contests all going on simultaneously. Over the last couple of years, encouraged by Larry, N4VA I've "played around" making a few contacts in the Virginia QSO Party.

In general, the way "QSO Party" contests work is that, like other contests, you want to make contacts with other ham stations based on a certain criteria. Generally, for state QSO party contests, folks outside of the state can work anyone inside the QSO Party state, with "multipliers" being the various counties within the state. (Virginia also has something called "Independent Cities" which also count as "mults".) You usually can only count a multiplier one time, so once you've worked, for instance, Fairfax County, you can work it again, but you can't count it as a multiplier. The rules about whether you can count a mult once only, or once per band vary with the different contests. Anyway, for folks who are inside the state, they can also work the other counties inside the state, but they can also count as mults typically things like other states and other countries (though for some contests, you only get one "mult" regardless of how many different countries you've contacted.) And to really complicate things, sometimes Canada counts as a foreign country, sometimes each province counts as a state. Yeah, it can get confusing. G
enerally your score is the number of contacts you've made times the number of multipliers.

Anyway, for the past few years, Larry has been a "mobile" in the Va QP, which is sort of a third option: Mobiles drive around to different places in the state, operate for a while from there, then move on to another location (another county or independent city, in the case of Virginia), and so on. The idea is that there are areas which would otherwise be unavailable, and (here's the key), it's fun. So for the last couple of years, Larry has driven around, and I'd have a lot of fun "following" his progress, while working maybe a few more stations along the way. Incidentally, in-state vs. out-of-state are considered different "classes" of operating, since in-state operators have the capability to get a lot more multipliers, which is what really helps build your score.

This year, Larry had other plans for the weekend, so he didn't operate mobile (though he did spend some time operating the contest from his home station), but after having "played" in the VaQP previously, I thought it might be fun to see how well I could do. So, I sat back in my nice comfy chair, put an ice pack on my back, and starting making some contacts in the contest. Because of the distance between NJ and Va, for the most part, you're fairly limited in which bands you can use. Generally, 40 meters works well during the day whereas 75/80 meters works after the sun sets. (There's 160 meters too, but my antenna for that band is very poor, though I did get to make a contact there.) It's sort of an interesting challenge, since the phone (voice) part of the 40m band is "shared" by European commercial shortwave broadcast stations, which, because they are running a lot more power than hams, tend to wipe out communications. The challenge when trying to operate 40m phone in the afternoon when the Europeans come in is to find an open spot and/or hope that the guy on the other end has a really strong signal (and vice-versa). Of course, the other thing you can do is to operate CW (what hams call Morse Code). Contrary to some of the recent discussions, there is still plenty of CW use, and I did make about 30% of all my contacts on CW.

When it gets a little later, you can then go and start operating on 75 and 80 meters, but while the sun is still up, with the exception of some relatively nearby very strong stations that just won't work.

I wound up probably spending around 9 hours or so "in the chair" on Saturday, and I really did have a lot of fun. I spent less time on Sunday because I was feeling better and could move around, but more importantly, it was Brett's birthday and was spending time with him setting up his new computer. Overall, it looks like I had about 56 different "mults" out of a total of 134 possible, so I was pretty happy with that. I made around 140 or so separate contacts, so I guess I did ok, considering the limitations that I have.

Again, as I've noted, I think that it's important that ham radio be fun. The emergency perspective of ham radio is absolutely, positively of vital importance, but in my perspective, you've got to be able to just plain have fun and relax and "play radio" now and then.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

It looks like I might actually get to be DX!

We're still working out some of the final details, but it looks like Sharon and I, along with two of the three couples who went to the Outer Banks with us a couple of summers ago, will be spending a week on vacation in Grand Cayman. Cayman is not particularly rare as DX entities go, but I know that anytime I hear someone on with a ZF prefix on the air there is generally a pretty good-sized pileup, so I figured that if I can operate a little radio now and then, it should be a lot of fun. Fortunately, the couples that we're going with already know about "that radio thing" that I do so I don't have to explain the whole thing to them.

Aside from the actual trip logistics (which are relatively trivial, compared to going to really rare places; Cayman is an extremely civilized place with direct air flights from the US, modern electrical and telecommunications facilities, etc.), what I'm working on now is starting to get the licensing paperwork taken care of and figuring out what gear to take.

As for the paperwork, I emailed the folks who are in charge there around a week ago, and while I haven't heard anything back yet, I know that things move a bit slower in the islands, so I can be patient.

From an equipment standpoint, I'm going to bring my Icom 706 MkIIG along with a relatively lightweight switching power supply that I picked up a few years ago (same one I took to the Outer Banks.) That was the easy part, trying to figure out what to do about antennas was a little more difficult, since I don't have a lot of details about the place we'll be staying yet. I was originally thinking of bringing a G5RV (either full-sized or "shorty"), but that means that I'd need to bring a tuner, and it also means that I need to be able to string it up. Bringing along a dipole or two cut for specific bands generally solves the tuning problem, but still presents the "how do you get it up in the air?" problem.

After a little research, I've decided to purchase and take a Buddistick which is sort of the baby brother (vertical only) of W3FF's Buddipole. The Buddipole has some advantages over the 'stick in terms of flexibility of use, but the stick, with accessories, breaks down into a bag that's just over a foot long, making it pretty easy to travel with. I've had a couple of emails back and forth with Budd, W3FF, who founded the company (his son Chris now runs it), and he gave me a couple of great tips for configuration. I'm anxiously awaiting the arriving of the antenna so that I can start to play with it a bit. It does need per-band adjustment, but I'll bring my Autek VA1 antenna analyzer with me (which is also very small) which should make any adjustments a snap.

That's about it for now, hopefully I'll be able to get the licensing process started soon, since I expect that will take a while to get through. Just a quick addendum: The site that I used for info about the licensing process is OH2MCN's Worldwide Licensing Website, which has an amazing amount of information about getting licensed pretty much anywhere in the world.

BTW, if anyone reading this has any comments/suggestions/whatever, particularly about operating from Cayman, but about this kind of "lightweight vacation style" operating, please do let me know!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Let's get going with this again

Well, I see it's been quite a while since I've done any updates here. I'll try to see if I can get update more than once every couple of years. I have to admit that I've gotten a bit inspired about doing this after again after spending a while reading Scott, NE1RD's "100 Pound Dxpedition" blog which talks about (among other things) his recent trip to Monserrat. Thanks Scott.

First off, I'm going to just make this a quick entry (more coming separately) to say that my "regular" ham radio site is now at (domain registration is cheap!) which at least I find easier to get to.

I've got some exciting news about a trip coming up, but I'm going to leave that for a separate posting, since last time I started a post and meant to finish it because I had "just a little more to add" it sat there for six months.

More coming soon ...