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.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Possible operation from Costa Rica

In July, I'll be heading to the Guanacaste area of Costa Rica along with a group of friends (some of them the same as those who I was with when I operated from Grand Cayman as ZF2DK). This is primarily a vacation, and when I initially investigated whether I would be able to operate from there I ran into a few logistical issues and pretty much gave up. However, recently, a couple of those issues were removed, and now it's looking a lot more possible than I'll be operating as TI7/K2DBK. I will post updates here with additional information as things progress, but this will most likely be phone-only and while I'll pick the bands based on conditions while I'm there, most likely I'll be on 15, 17, and 20. I plan to bring my Buddistick that I've used in Cayman and from IOTA NA-034 because it's small and very easy to travel with, my trusty Icom 706MKIIG, and a fairly lightweight switcher power supply. While the place we're staying isn't right on the water, it's got a pretty decent elevation above it and a nice balcony outside my room that I can use to attach the antenna. I believe my best shot for DX will be towards the northeast US, Europe, and Africa, but I think that I'll be able to work towards Asia as well.

As with my previous trip to Grand Cayman, this will be holiday-style operation, meaning that I'll get on when I have free time, probably a few hours a day, most likely in the late afternoon.

I'll be posting more once the plans are a little more firm, but I wanted to give a tentative heads-up.

Incidentally, I'm planning to just take my iPad instead of a laptop for the trip, and I'd like to hear from anyone who has used any logging software (there don't seem to be a lot of choices, but I'd still rather get a personal recommendation) for the iPad. I expect most of my contacts to be DXpedition style, so I'm not looking for any fancy integration, just ease of use. Please either leave a comment or email me if you've got any recommendation.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Now that's service

Saturday afternoon I was going through my QSO logs in preparation for a long-overdue bureau mailing. One of the things I do prior to doing a mailing is that I validate that I still need the card (sometimes I'll get a confirmation for that band/mode from another operator, or sometimes it'll get confirmed via Logbook of The World [LoTW] since I initially flagged it) and I also check to make sure that I'm not sending to a bureau that doesn't exist, or sending via the bureau when I could send direct to a US manager.

In going through the log, I discovered that I had an unconfirmed QSO with Joel, V44KAI on 6m from 2009. That was my only contact with V4 on 6m so I definitely wanted to confirm it. I noticed that I had two other contacts with him (on different bands) which had been confirmed via LoTW, but not the 6m contact. Joel's page explain that because he sometimes encounters QRM/QRN that it's a good idea to contact him before asking his manager, W5TFW. I emailed Joel who replied that some of his older logs were on paper and hadn't been put into electronic form so that they could be uploaded to LoTW.

On Sunday morning I got another email from Joel who told me that he found the (valid) QSO in his logs and had emailed his manager to give him the details so that it could be uploaded to LoTW. I checked and probably within 10 minutes of my seeing that email I found that the matching QSL record was in the LoTW system, confirming V4 on 6m for me.

The reason that I wrote this is because to me this exemplifies the ham radio spirit. Joel is clearly an active ham (try a search for V44KAI on the DX-Summit search page and you'll see what I mean) and as Joel says on his page, his manager obviously keeps busy keeping the records up to date. The fact that both of these guys took the time to quickly respond to my question and do the work necessary to provide me with the confirmation I needed helps remind me that despite some of the less-altruistic hams floating around, there are still plenty of good guys. Thanks to both of them for that reminder.

Edit: I was asked what a "manager" is, so by way of explanation:
A manager is a person who handles someone else's QSLing duties for them. There are all kinds of reasons to have managers, including having the manager in a country with a better mail system to reduce mail theft, or simple because the DX station handles a large volume of cards and can't keep up with it themselves.  

Saturday, May 21, 2011

All kidding aside

I recently re-posted a link to my satirical "My first annual pre-post-Dayton writeup" that I wrote a few years ago. The intent of that was the poke fun at all the write-ups that showed up after the annual Dayton Hamvention, which, to me, seemed to all say the same thing. However, I noticed a couple of interesting things this year. First, unsurprisingly, technology has advanced enough so that there are many folks blogging and even tweeting from on-site while attending. Second, I noticed that several of the on-site bloggers have been posting really good writeups, not just the usual "big, smelly crowds" and "Hara Arena stinks" comments. (Well, apparently Hara Arena is still badly in need of repair).

I suspect that many of my readers already follow these blogs, but David, K2DSL has been posting on-site updates from his first time to Dayton  on his blog, and Steve, K9ZW has been posting a series of "Random Notes" on his blog, With Varying Frequency – Amateur Radio Ponderings. I've found those postings to be informative and can recommend them. There are also a number of other bloggers posting about Hamvention that are syndicated at (as is this blog).

Most of the tweets on twitter, while occasionally amusing, haven't been particularly informative, but Jeff, KE9V has been doing a great job of tweeting about some of the new gear that's showing up, particularly the new portable Elecraft KX3.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Dayton pre-post-event writeup, redux

Several years ago, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek blog posting satirizing the usual post-event writeups that are posted after folks attend the annual Dayton Hamvention. I just re-read it and and I think it stands up pretty well, so I thought I'd include a pointer to that, particularly for those of you who are new to reading this blog and might not have seen it the first time around. Click here to read "My first annual pre-post-Dayton writeup".

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Monitoring Solar Cycle 24

Now that solar cycle 24 is definitely underway, it's good to be able to monitor what the sun is doing since as hams, it dramatically affects our ability to communicate. I've used for a long time as a site that I can go to for a quick overview of what's going on, but for more in-depth information I'll stop by (aka Kevin, VE3EN put this site together in 2006 to track the status of the then-upcoming solar cycle 24, and he's kept improving it since then. On that site, there's information about the current solar conditions (flux, sunspots, flares, etc.), historical data (such as the chart I've included in this post), solar images, and a message board where there are some fascinating discussions, many by recognized experts in their field. Kevin's even built a version of his site that's perfect for viewing on mobile devices, so you can view it while on the go.

Kevin's been funding this site primarily on his own since it's inception, although he does have a way to make a donation if you so choose. He's been very low-key about this, but on a recent visit, I saw that he's got an impossible-to-miss banner up on his website asking for help. Apparently his full-time job has been "off-shored" and he's not sure that he'll be able to keep the site available. If you click on that link it will explain the situation more fully. I have no interest in this site other than as a visitor, but if you find it useful, you might want to consider making a donation to help keep the site (and Kevin) going.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

More silly things heard on the radio

This is a follow-on post to my recent post "Weird things heard on the radio". If this keeps up, perhaps I'll make this a series, though I'm not sure that "weird" is quite the right word. Silly is more like it, and I've adjusted the title of this post accordingly.

As I write this at about 18:30 GMT on 23 April,  I am attempting to work 9M2TO from West Malasia on 17m phone. He's got a good-sized pileup and of course, there's the usual guys who can't figure out how to turn their VFO to tune up their amplifier off the frequency. For non-hams who might be reading, this sounds like a high-pitched squeal on the frequency, and is pretty annoying. Aside from it being rude, it's in violation of FCC rules against intentionally interfering with ongoing transmissions. (I'm sure that it's against the rules for amateur radio operators in any country, of course.) That's not the silly part, that's the annoying part.

Here's the silly part: As usual, the DX Cops are present, and one of them said the following: "Hey, don't tune up on the frequency". Some of you will immediately know why this is silly, but I'll elaborate: Under normal circumstances, when you are transmitting you are not receiving. Aside from the fact that the guy who was tuning up likely doesn't care what anyone else thinks, he's not going to hear the guy yelling at him. All it does to yell is to add to the noise, which is as bad as the guy tuning up.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Happy Passover, Morse Code Style

For my friends celebrating Passover, here are the four questions in CW. First the "intro" question:

And the other four questions, a bit faster (so you can get on with the seder):

Text to Morse translation courtesy of Learn CW Online. The first part is at 20 wpm, the main four questions are at 50 wpm. (And no, I can't decode that by ear either.)

Happy Passover!

The player embedded here requires HTML 5, which means you'll need a pretty recent browser. If you don't have one, you can right-click and save the intro and the questions.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Follow-up from Brian, KP2HC

Last night, Brian, KP2HC, left a comment on my original post about the passing of his wife Ann, KP2YL. Because many of you might not see it otherwise, I wanted to provide a direct link to that original post where you can now read Brian's remarks: Ann, KP2YL, SK. I was very touched that Brian posted such a wonderful message about Ann, and I wanted to make sure that as many people saw it as possible. Please spread the word so that others might see it.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Ann, KP2YL, SK

I very rarely post "news" items, but I received the following email from Steve, KF2TI via the DX-News reflector and wanted to repost it here. I'd met Ann and Brian several times at NJDXA meetings and of course had worked Ann many, many times. She will be missed.

One of the greatest things about being in The 3 Steve's ARC was going to ST Croix to visit our dear friends, Brian (KP2HC) and Ann (The Queen of DX) KP2YL and to use their station and actually be DX.  Not only were we busy working stations, but I got over my fear of flying..something Ann never let me forget
Many a time, while working HUGE pile-ups on 80M, I could throw my call out and she would spend a few minutes with me on the air, then right back to the pile-ups.
Ann and Brian are responsible for many new band countries for St Croix for so many
It is with that in mind that I pass along the sad news that Ann, passed away quietly, in the company of her friend and husband, on the island that they both loved, this morning
Brian has asked that you keep Ann and him in your thoughts and to give him some time before you email or call.
I speak for the all 3 Steve's when I say that a small part of us passed this day as well
As it is said, may her memory be a blessing

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Weird things heard on the radio

As I was sitting next to my radio this afternoon, I had tuned to a frequency on 12 meters sideband where I'd seen a spot for a station in Madagascar (5R). I need 5R on 12m so I was listening to see if the station would build (grow in strength) to the point where I could attempt a contact. While waiting for that to happen, I heard another US station call him, giving his callsign properly. Although I couldn't hear the 5R station, what I did hear was this (callsign changed mostly because I don't remember exactly what it was, and to protect the not-so-innocent): "5R8UI, did you come back to my-callsign question mark?". The US station literally said the words "question mark"!

Ok, while I can understand that had this happened on CW, the operation would have sent the code for "question mark", but given that this was a voice contact, wouldn't you think that the tone of voice and the fact that the sentence was actually a question would have been sufficient?

There's been a lot written about the overuse of the CW Q-signals when using a voice mode, and while you can debate some of those (saying "My QTH is River Vale" rather than saying "I live in River Vale"), it just struck me as pretty funny to hear someone actually say the words "question mark".

By way of explanation, the reason the Q-codes were invented was to provide a shorthand way to send information over telegraph lines and later wireless. It does make sense in particular on CW, where the operators at both ends of the conversation might not both be fluent in a common language. So on CW, it does make sense to say "QTH River Vale New Jersey" rather than spelling it out. It becomes, along with some other abbreviations, it's own common language.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Your help is needed to help avoid losing our 420-440Mhz band

A bill has been recently introduced which could result in amateurs losing their currently allocated frequencies on the 70cm band (420-440Mhz). The ARRL is asking that folks write to their legislators to oppose the bill in it's current form. The FCC is proposing to auction off certain spectrum for commercial use to replace the spectrum given up in the 700Mhz band (formerly used for analog TV) to help make up for the loss of commercial revenue in those bands. The spectrum slated for auction is supposed to be existing Public Safety spectrum (since the 700Mhz block went to Public Safety), but the Amateur allocations appear to have been incorrectly bundled in with those from Public Safety. You can read more about this issue at the ARRL website here and you can read how to help here. Please note that they strongly recommend sending letters to their legislative consultants who will hand-deliver them to Congress due to extensive delays in postal mail screening to members of Congress.

Apologies to those of you outside the US who are reading this US-specific posting.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

2011 ARRL DX CW Contest

This past weekend was the ARRL DX CW Contest, one of the biggest contests in all of radiosport. The object of this contest is for stations in the US and Canada to contact stations anywhere else. (In this particular contest, there is no credit for US & Canadian stations to work either country). Contestants may use 6 different bands, 10m, 15m, 20m, 40m, 80m, and 160m. As you might have guessed from the name, this is a CW (morse code) only contest. I've done this contest a few times in the past years, and as I've become more comfortable with using CW, I've participated more. The band conditions for this year looked to be pretty good, with the sun finally starting to wake up from the very long trough between solar cycles 23 and 24. The solar flux remained over 100 for the entire contest, and the sunspot number was over 100 as well for a time, then dropped back to around 79. (This will all be gibberish for non-hams, but for contesters and DXers, this is great news.) I figured that I'd try to spend a reasonable amount of time operating this year, and I wound up spending 17 hours (out of the 48 possible) in front of the radio.

I usually try to set some kind of goal to keep me going, though as I've admitted in the past, I tend to do it on the fly; I'll see where I am at some given point and decide "ok, I can make another 30 contacts before turning in for the night" or "I think I can beat last year's score". I really did a lot of "on-the-fly" this year, though I decided after about 3 or 4 hours of operating that I wanted to be sure to beat my score from last year. Last year I wound up with a score of around 160,000 points after deductions for errors, and based on the early going I figured I'd be able to beat that. Not only did I beat it, but I actually doubled it (before error deductions, of course).

Band  QSOs  Mults
  160:    5     5
   80:   53    36
   40:  189    67
   20:  172    68
   15:   81    47
   10:   25    19
Total:  525   242  Total Score = 381,150
I should note that this year I entered in the new Single Operator All-Band Assisted Low Power Category (previously any assistance required you to be considered High Power), so comparing this to last year might not be 100% accurate, but I'm still pleased with my showing. I used the packet clusters to help find DX for me, and using the N1MM contesting program, I could easily move from station to station with a couple of keystrokes (or mouse clicks). There was enough activity and the band conditions were good enough that I didn't have to tune for stations which, while perhaps a bit more "pure" (to some) in terms of the contest, dramatically slows things down in a busy contest like this, where I have to find a station, listen to get a callsign and then decide if I need to work that station. (I should say that I always use the packet cluster spots as a guide, since they are notorious for incorrectly identifying stations. If you log the wrong station callsign, it's not only bad for you but also for the station that you contacted.)

The nice thing about the good band conditions were that for the most part, once I could hear a station I had little trouble working them. For some of the big stations that attract a lot of callers, it could be difficult, but I've learned that those guys will be around for the whole contest and it's easier to just move off and work someone else, then come back when things are quieter. This is in contrast to a year or two ago when conditions were so bad that even when the other station heard me, or heard "something", it could take several tries until we were able to both get the correct information that makes up the contact. This time for the most part once the station started a contact with me, we were able to complete it relatively easily. The most significant exception to this was with one station (who I'll put in here when I can figure out who it was ) who spent almost 4 minutes working with me late at night on 80m to complete the contact. (A normal contact takes anywhere from 15 to 30 seconds, tops.)

Although I didn't work any "all-time" new countries, I did pick up a few new band-countries: PJ2, V4, XE, and OM on 160, EU on 80, and J5 on 10. (Interestingly, as I was writing this on Sunday evening, the J5, which is Guinea-Bissau, was spotted on 80m and I was able to work him there as well, post-contest.) I was a little surprised that I only worked 87 different countries given the number of overall contacts that I made, but part of that is accounted for by the fact that I worked many, many stations on 2, 3, 4, 5, and even 6 different bands. (I worked PJ2T and V48M on all six, and I believe that's the first time I've ever worked any station on all six contest bands.)

I did have a small visit from Murphy of course: We've had a couple of very windy days here, and Sharon commented that she thought she hear my antenna (it's actually where the ladder line connects to the coaxial feed line) hitting the roof. (That particular portion of the roof is over the room where the TV is.) Sunday morning I took a look outside and realize that my G5RV had dropped about 10 feet from where it should be, the result of the winds blowing. I have it connected via bungee cords in such a way that they'll take up some slack, but after a while it will drop a bit from the constant "pulling". Fortunately, it was easy to fix and just required a quick trip up the ladder to both ends of the antenna to pull it back up and things were back to normal.

So, now that I've completed this blog entry, that wraps up my post-contest activities, having submitted my log to the ARRL, uploaded my contacts to Logbook of the World, eqsl, and Clublog, and submitted my score to the 3830 contesting reflector.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Oh, so that's where you were

Some of you may have noticed that I haven't published anything here for a bit over a month. I was also pretty much absent from several of the other "social web" places that I frequent (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and in fact got a couple of private notes asking if everything was OK. (Thanks to those who asked for your concern.) The short version is that everything is just fine. Here's the longer version:

Around a week after I published my last update, I managed to come down with a kidney stone just about a year after the last time I had one. I'll skip the details, but suffice it to say that I wasn't very comfortable for a while and blogging, ham radio, and pretty much everything else not essential to feeling better got put aside. Complicating things was the fact that along with Sharon, Justin, and Brett, I was supposed to leave for vacation on the evening of December 25th, and the doctor was pretty adamant that I shouldn't be traveling unless I had passed the stone. Fortunately, it did pass just a couple of days before that, and given everything we had to do before leaving I never had time to do an update.

The trip itself was something we'd planned for a long, long time, figuring that with the kids getting older (they are both in college), it would become increasingly difficult for all of us to get away. Our trip started in Barcelona where we spend three days sightseeing followed by a twelve-day Mediterranean cruise with stops in Palermo, Athens, Rhodes, Alexandria/Cairo, and Malta. I'm not going to go into detail here about the trip, but I did want to post a couple of pictures that are on topic for this blog.

First, as we were driving from Cairo to the pyramids in Giza, I looked out the window of the bus and saw this antenna. Actually, although I didn't notice it at the time, in addition to the beam that's right in the middle of the picture, there's also what appears to be a wire dipole just to the right of that. Unfortunately, I don't know specifically where this picture was taken other than we were in Cairo at the time, so I don't know who that might belong to. (Any Egyptian hams reading this?)

I know exactly who the next antenna belongs to: The Malta Amateur Radio League.  I know this because just a second or two before I took this picture, we passed a big sign that said "Malta Amateur Radio League". Unfortunately, we were on a bus driving from the city of Mdina to the capital city of Valleta, so I couldn't stop to get a picture of the sign, but I did get a picture of the antenna on the roof of their building. I apologize for the lousy picture but I'm glad that I was able to even get this shot before we had completely driven past. We only had six hours in Malta, so I didn't have a chance to try to get back to the MARL shack to see if there was anyone around, but I can say that Malta was absolutely beautiful and I hope to get back there some day for a longer visit.

I guess I should mention that I didn't do any ham radio while we were away at all. We had a very tight schedule almost everywhere other than some very relaxing days at sea, and given the difficulties of transporting gear with me (in addition to everything else we brought), licensing, and the fact that unfortunately Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines explicitly prohibits the use of ham radio on board the ship, I decided that it didn't make much sense to try to operate. As a result, it was just over a month between the last HF contact I made in December (before I was ill), and the next one that I made in January after I returned.