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