Saturday, April 26, 2008

Not so bad news

Icom called me on Friday to tell me that they'd finished the work on my radio. It was, indeed, shorted final transistors. They've been replaced, and, as I requested, Icom also did a little work to correct a bit of error in the frequency on 6 meters. (It consistently read 200Hz low, so when the display said 50.124.80 Hz it was actually on 50.125.00 Hz). I asked the technician who called how much it was going to cost, and the total, with shipping back to me, will be around $250 or so. I had authorized them to charge significantly more to my credit card if necessary, so I'm happy that it wasn't more. They ship the radio back via ground shipment, and apparently after they finish the actual work on the radio it takes another business day or two to go through their systems to be shipped, so I was told that I should expect delivery to me early the week of May 5. While my 706 has been working just fine, I do miss my "big" radio. I'm looking forward to getting it back.

Earlier this week, I took my son Brett up to look at some colleges in Ithaca and Syracuse New York. I still haven't gotten around to permanently mounting either my VHF/UHF rig or the 706 in the car, but I figured it'd be nice to have a radio along for the drive. Fortunately, the battery in my car is located in the trunk, and it's really easy to get wiring from the trunk into the car, so I just hooked the power
cables directly to the battery, mounted my Diamond K400-3/8C trunk mount on the trunk, used the separation kit for the 706 to put the radio in the back of the car and mounted the head on the dash using the windshield mount that I'd bought a couple of years ago but never used. I'd intended to listen in on the 40m County Hunters Net but although I'd gotten the Hamstick tuned before I left, I had a lot of trouble getting a decent SWR once I started driving. When I initially tuned the "stinger" (the upper, adjustable part of the antenna), the car was parked close to the house, and I think that might have thrown the tuning off. I did pull off into a rest stop shortly after leaving and try to re-tune the antenna, but after spending about 10 minutes, I decided to just give up and get going. I suspect that part of the problem was that the mount may not have been making a good enough ground connection, which I believe becomes more necessary as you go lower in frequency.

For the trip back down (we spent the first night in Ithaca, did the tour there, then headed up to Syracuse, toured there the next day and returned from there), I used a 20m hamstick which tuned up very well. Although I didn't work anything terribly unusual, I did work about 10 stations during the
ride, include a few stations from Italy, a few from Germany, one from Slovenia, and a few others. I got surprisingly good signal reports, and it helped to pass the time. Brett was working on schoolwork part of the time that I was on the radio, but helped log the stations (yes, on paper) which I entered into my main logger when I returned home. This was really the first long (relatively speaking) trip I'd made in a while, and I really did enjoy having the radio to keep my company while Brett was otherwise occupied.

Finally, I got a nice surprise this week from the nice folks at the Northern California Contest Club, who run the California QSO Party. I got a certificate for placing 3rd in New Jersey for the 2007 CQP. I was very pleased to have placed decently, and it was nice of the folks from the NCCC to send out a certificate. I think that the CQP is an excellent example of a well-run QSO Party contest, and doing little things like sending out certificates will definitely act as an incentive to keep me coming back.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Totally off topic

Ok, this posting has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with ham radio.

I just had to point folks to the story that I just got posted on The Consumerist. Here's there article which has all the details, but the short version is that it's a posting about how silly it was for Dell to package a small USB thumb drive in a fairly large box. By the way, the reason I bought a thumb drive from Dell was because they happened to have a really good deal on it; normally Amazon, Egghead, or scores of other places have better prices.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Good News, Bad News

Last week, I worked VK6DXI, located in western Australia, on 40m CW. This was a nice contact for a couple of reasons. First, it meant that I'd worked a new country on 40m for DXCC purposes. That's always nice. But more important to me is that I'd finally worked a "real" zone 29 station.

By way of explanation, CQ Magazine offers an award to amateur stations that have contacted other stations in each of 40 global zones. As you can see from the map, some zones will be more difficult to contact than others, depending on where you are located. I'm located in CQ Zone 5, which covers the eastern seaboard of North America and the Caribbean. Some zones are pretty easy to contact (like Zones 14 and 15, covering much of Europe), but others are a lot harder. From my location, I'd have to say that Zone 29 was just about the hardest, although there's one catch that makes it a bit easier: All the most southern zones actually converge at the South Pole. Because of this, any station worked located at the actual South Pole (not just on Antartica), counts for any of the zones that converge there, including Zone 29.

By using that rule, I'd actually worked all 40 zones a while ago which would qualify me for the Worked All Zones (WAZ) award previously mentioned. I'd never gotten around to submitting the required cards for the award, kind of thinking that I'd like to finally work that 40th zone "for real". In fact, just a couple of days before working VK6DXI, I'd commented to a friend at a club meeting about how that zone was still something that I was trying to contact. So when I heard the station on the air, with surprisingly good conditions, I called him and finally was able to make a contact with him. I sent for his QSL card the next day.

Here's the bad news: Instead of using my Icom 756 Pro II to make the contact, I had to use my Icom 706 MkIIG, sending CW without computer assistance (I freely admit that my CW "fist" is terrible) and struggling a bit to hear the VK6 station without the benefit of the terrific DSP filtering on the 756. Why, you may ask? Gee, thanks for asking ...

A day or so before that contact, I'd come home after work and was tuning around trying to find some interesting DX to work. There was YO22NATO on 40m CW, so I figured I'd give him a call. As soon as the first dit was sent, the fan on the 756 came on at high speed, and stayed on. I'd rarely heard the fan at high speed (if I heard it at all, it was after operating RTTY for a relatively extended period), but certainly never after having the radio sitting in receive all day. (The radio had been on since the morning; I'll sometimes turn it on before work and I just don't bother to turn it off.)

I felt around toward the rear of the radio to see if it felt hot, and indeed it did. Normally, after sitting in receive, the radio might be a little warm, but not hot. However, this time it was hot. I actually did make the contact with the YO22 station to see if the meters on the radio indicated if it was putting out full power. The meters did indicate that, but later, after looking at the schematic [PDF] and with some help from a 756 theory of operation manual [PDF], I realized that the power meter was basically feeding off the drive circuit, not the power amplifier. That meant that without an external power meter, I couldn't really tell if the radio was putting out 100w or whatever the drive power is, which would be quite a bit less.

Then things got really weird. I turned off the radio, but not the power supply, and realized that the radio, while turned off, was drawing around 4.5 amps from the power supply. That is most definitely not normal. I tried disconnecting the fan on the theory that maybe somehow the problem was there, but that didn't have any effect.

I posted a question to the 756 Pro users reflector, and most comments seemed to indicate that it was likely to be something wrong with the power transistors. The suggestion was to send the radio to Icom for repair. I sent a note to Icom explaining the symptoms, and the technician who responded said he thought that most likely it was a shorted final power transistor, which would explain the heat and the power draw when powered off, and recommended that I send the radio in for repair.

So I've got the radio all packed up, double-boxed as instructed, and it'll go off to Icom tomorrow. Here's hoping that the repairs don't cost as much as the radio.

One final unrelated note: Next month is the annual Dayton Hamvention®. I still haven't had a chance to go, but I've read plenty about it, given that it's arguable the largest hamfest in the world. If you find you have a chance to go, Scot, K9JY has posted a "Preparing for Dayton" entry to his blog that has a bunch of great tips. If you haven't seen it already, be sure to check it out, even if you aren't going.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Cayman (ZF) license renewal

Those of you who followed along with my blog entries on my trip to the Cayman Islands last year may recall that one of my suggestions to anyone going there in the future was to make sure to start the licensing process early.

Late last week, I received a letter form the ICTA, who are the Cayman Islands licensing authority
, informing me that my ZF2DK license was due to expire next month. The letter said that to renew my license, I needed to submit a form from their website along with payment authorization. The problem was that the link in the email didn't work, so I sent a note to the licensing folks at the ICTA asking what to do.

Unlike the previous several week delay between emails, I got a response back the very next day
from David Archbold, who is the managing director of the ICTA. David apologized for the confusion, explaining that they are in the process of revising their amateur radio rules and the form had been pulled off their website. He instructed me to send a copy of my current license along with a payment authorization form (attached to his email) back to the licensing folks, and that I'd be all set.

I emailed the required information over the weekend, and yesterday afternoon I received an image of my new license from the licensing folks, along with a note explaining that hard copy would follow.

Kudos to the ICTA for improving their process!