Sunday, December 12, 2010

With a little help from my friends, Part II

You might want to read Part I of this if you haven't done so already. It'll be a lot less confusing that way.

After we got the far-end rope over the correct limb, we tied off one end of the new G5RV and pulled it up in the air a bit just to make sure that we didn't run into any unexpected issues. That went well, so we moved to the near-end tree to attach the other end to that rope, which I'd lowered before David and Matthew arrived. We attached the other end of the G5RV to the rope and I started to pull it up, but the insulator at the end snagged on a branch and we couldn't get the antenna up nearly high enough. We dropped the antenna down to the ground and tried to use the rope itself as a kind of saw to see if we could break off the very small branch that was causing the problem. After about 5 or 10 minutes, we realized that 1) It was getting dark enough that we were having trouble seeing where the rope was going, and 2) The cold wind that had been blowing all afternoon wasn't stopping, and with the lack of sun it had gone from chilly to "ok, we've just about had enough of this" cold. It was time for plan B.

Several years ago, when having some work done on that "near-end" tree, I had the tree service put a pulley with some rope as high as they could up in the tree. I've played with it a few times trying some wire antennas, but hadn't used it at all for the last year or two. I figured that at least temporarily we could attach the remaining end of the G5RV to that rope to get it up into the air. If needed, Matthew could come back another time and try to get a rope over a higher branch with the potato gun, but there wasn't enough light to try that. (The reason why I didn't want to use the pulley permanently was because it wasn't all that high up in the tree, plus I didn't want to lose the use of that for any future experiments.) That worked out pretty well, and David, K2DSL, was nice enough to volunteer to head up to the roof to connect the antenna to the feedline. Next, it was into the shack to see if the antenna would load up (and to warm up!), which it did. I made sure that the tuner would be able to find a match as it had with the old antenna and was able to do so on all bands. By that point, we were all exhausted and cold, so after thanking Matthew and David they left. I did a little cleanup outside and headed in. I made one quick QSO (KP2B on 40m CW) just to make sure that the antenna actually worked, then headed out for dinner with Sharon.

The next morning I figured that I'd see what things actually looked like, and I was disappointed when I realized that the antenna was even lower than I'd thought. The pulley just wasn't very high up in the tree, and my G5RV was nowhere near a "flat-top" installation. I figured that I'd take a look at the other rope to see if I could do anything with it, hoping that perhaps "something" had happened overnight that might allow me to use it instead of the lower-than-expected pulley rope. It seems that I finally got a little break: I got both ends of the old rope and pulled back and forth to see if the resistance caused by that little branch was any less. As soon as I did, I saw a small piece of ice drop off from where the rope was wrapped around the branch, followed by a small piece of a branch. I think that what happened was that the rope rubbing the night before had allowed some sap to get onto the branch, which froze overnight and must have caused the branch to break. As a result, the little branch that was not allowing the insulator to move when pulled up into the tree was no longer in the way.

I dropped down the antenna from the "pulley rope" (which required me to toss the throw bag over the antenna wire, and carefully pull it down) and attached it to the older rope, and pulled it up. It took a little bit of work, but I was able to get it back up to nearly the original height. I spent about another 30 minutes more permanently tying off the ends of the rope, including connecting the ends to bungee cords that I use as shock absorbers before heading inside. I was able to make a few DX contacts on several bands, and in the week since then, I've actually picked up a couple of new countries on 80m (Iceland and Faroe Islands) as well as some new bands or modes for other countries (Congo on 20m phone and CW and 17m RTTY, Gabon on 20m CW, and Dominica on 40m RTTY, among others), so I guess the antenna is working well.

I'm still not very happy with the mechanical connections, and in particular, the connection from the ladderline to the coax feedline. I don't think they are nearly as sturdy as the antenna that I replaced, but I hope that what's there now will work out until the spring. At that point I want to replace some of what I think are the weak points with something sturdier. I may also look into other types of antennas, but for now, I'm very happy to be back on the air.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

With a little help from my friends, Part I

As I wrote about last week, my G5RV antenna came down as the result of a storm. My original plan was to try to repair the existing antenna, but after examining it further, I decided that I'd be better off buying a replacement which is exactly what I did. (I'll look at fixing the old one one of these days.) Matthew, K2NUD, and David, K2DSL, volunteered to come over last Saturday to help me get the antenna up in air, so we planned to meet at my house at around 2:30 which would give me enough time to run out to KJI Electronics to pick up the new antenna. The one that they had in stock from from MFJ and while it didn't seem to be build as sturdily as what I'd had in the air, I figured that getting some copper in the air was better than nothing.
Throw bag

The old antenna was suspended between two trees with the farthest end being at probably 60 or 70 feet in the air. (I'm terrible at estimating height, but I know that it's significantly higher than the roof of my house, which is at about 35 feet or so.) The antenna snapped at the far end, leaving the line suspending it about 50 feet in the air and somewhat tangled in the branches. As a result, it wasn't possible to get to that rope to re-use it, so Matthew came up with a better plan: a potato gun. The link tells you lots about potato guns, but in a nutshell, this is a gun made from PVC pipe that's used to fire a potato. (Why would you do that? Because it's unbelievably fun!) In order to get the potato to do something other than just shoot up in the air (and make a pretty cool sound), we put the throw bag which trailed 100 feet of line on top of the potato which worked like a champ.

The way the potato gun works is that you put the "fuel" (old-fashioned non-environmentally friendly Aqua-Net hairspray) into a chamber and ignite it which forces a potato, previously jammed down the barrel, up and out of the barrel at a pretty high rate of speed. In the picture here, Matthew (green jacket) is holding the gun while I spray in the "fuel" into the combustion chamber. That's David on the left. Somewhere out there I'm sure someone has done some calculations about amount of force that's being generated to launch the potato that far (not to mention the added one-pound throw bag), but physics aside, as I mentioned earlier, it's fun to watch.

It took a few tries, but Matthew managed to get the line over the right branch, which is a lot more difficult than it sounds. Although made somewhat easier by the fact that there are no leaves on the trees at this time of the year, it's still a lot like threading a needle that's about 50 feet away and 75 feet in the air. We came close a couple of times, but Matthew wanted to keep trying to get it exactly right, which I think was an excuse to fire off a few more shots. There's more to the story which I'll talk about in Part II, but here's a video taken by my son Justin during one of the "firings". (If you're reading this in an RSS reader or email and can't see the video, you click here to go directly to the video on YouTube.)

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Tree: 1 G5RV: 0

It was bound to happen sooner or later, but that doesn't really make it feel any better. At the edge of my backyard there is a tree that I was pretty sure had died (given the lack of leaves through the past spring and summer), and I'd planned on having a tree service look at it next  spring. A series of rainstorms with a lot of wind passed through my part of the world yesterday (I'll bet you can guess where this is going). One of the three small trunks from that dead tree snapped off about 8 feet in the air and fortunately fell parallel to my house so the house was OK. Unfortunately, my G5RV antenna passed through the upper branches of the tree and unsurprisingly was unable to withstand the force of the falling tree. The image you see to the right is a piece of one of the wire legs that use to be up in the air. It is, alas, no longer up in the air.

The force of the stress on the wire not only snapped one of the wire legs but also pulled hard enough to break the solder joints at the insulator where the bare wire connects to the ladder line, as you can see in the next photo.  Both ends of the soldered joint were broken, but the non-broken wire leg appears to be OK otherwise and is still attached to the "near end" tree where it was originally attached. The remaining few feet of the other leg appear to have snapped back after breaking and look to be up in the branches of the other supporting tree at probably around 50 feet in the air. I'm hoping that I can get a line over that and pull it down, since that way I can use the existing rope (which is still over a nice high branch) to support the replacement.

For at least the short-term, I am going to try to salvage what's there. Although this has been up in the air for over 10 years (I didn't think it was that long, but I realized that every HF QSO that I've made from my home station starting in August 2000 has been on that antenna) the other parts of the antenna seem to be in fine shape. (And it was certainly working very well until it came down.) The G5RV is, without question, a compromise antenna, but in the 10 years that I've been using it  I've managed to work all states, all zones, and gotten DXCC on all bands from 10m to 80m (I still need a few more confirmations for 30m) and on all three modes, and have worked 300+ DXCC entities using this compromise. Would I like a tower with a nice Steppir on it? Sure, but that's not happening anytime soon, so I'll stick to what I know works. I have another G5RV that a friend gave me before he moved out of the country, and while I need to verify that the wire is the correct length, it's been sitting in my garage out of the elements and the wire legs look like perfect candidates for a "transplant".  The big advantage of repairing what's there is that it will be zero cost and with a little luck, I should be able to get it done over the weekend.

If I can't repair it for whatever reason, then most likely I'll run over to KJI Electronics and pick up a new one and put it up in the same place. I have discussed with some friends the possibility of replacing this with something like an Alpha-Delta DX-CC or possibly even an Alpha-Delta DX-LB Plus (I have the horizontal room, the question is whether I can get it high up enough to function properly), but for now I think I'm going to stick with what I know works.

I hope to have an update with good news soon, stay tuned.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

In contrast

In contrast to my giving up the frequency for a DX station while in the middle of a "run" during a contest (as I recently mentioned), I heard a particularly bad bit of operating on last Sunday while trying to work Bob, VP8LP in the Falkland Islands. I've worked Bob before on several bands but needed a contact from him on 15m. He had an excellent signal and was steadily working stations, the vast majority of which were good operators, standing by when Bob was working another station and not responding when Bob wasn't calling them. (Please see my post about The DX Code of Conduct if you haven't already.) There was, unfortunately, one exception to the "good guys" on the frequency.

As Bob was steadily working the pile, a ham started calling K7NRA on the frequency. After he did this once or twice, assuming that perhaps he was unaware that there was another station on the frequency, I responded to him and said that the frequency was in use and gave my callsign. (The other ham was using his callsign, or what I presume was his, though I neglected to note it. While normally I don't like to "pick on" people in a public forum, what was going on was heard by dozens of other hams, and if I could remember what it was, I'd post it here.) The other ham said "Well, there's supposed to be a special event for K7NRA on this frequency and I'm going to call him, this is his announced frequency".

It was pretty clear that the guy calling wasn't hearing K7NRA, and aside from that fact that he refused to stop interfering with an active frequency, his general technique was awful. He was calling "blind" (meaning he didn't hear the other station), and kept calling "CQ CQ CQ CQ CQ CQ K7NRA", which doesn't actually make a lot of sense. CQ generally means "calling all stations", thus saying "CQ K7NRA" means "calling all stations with a callsign of K7NRA"; by definition there will only be one. There are exceptions to using a "directed CQ", such as when calling "CQ DX" (looking for any DX station) or "CQ NJ" (looking for a station in New Jersey), but proper procedure when calling a particular station is to simply call the station. If I were to call that station, I'd say "K7NRA this is K2DBK" or, if K7NRA was listening for other stations, I would likely just give my callsign only.

Several other stations responded to the caller (some more politely, and some, unfortunately much less so), and he refused to move, insisting that he had "as much right to the frequency as anyone". Unless he had an emergency (which clearly was not the case), what he said was not true. The FCC rules governing the amateur radio service state that nobody can "own" a particular frequency (including by "publishing" use of a particular frequency at a particular time), and further, if any frequency is in use, with the exception of use in an emergency, nobody is required to relinquish the frequency for another station. Thus, the caller was not only wrong, but he was violating the rule that says "No amateur operator shall willfully or maliciously interfere with or cause interference to any radio communication or signal."

The guy would not give up, and continued to attempt to call K7NRA repeatedly. The worst of it was when one station was speaking with Bob, and was showing ham radio to a young Boy Scout for the first time. All the others stations on the frequency patiently stood by while Bob spoke with the youngster, all except the guy calling K7NRA, who simply wouldn't stop. Several hams were telling him (in language that probably violated another part of the FCC rules) exactly what they thought of him, to no avail. While this was happening, it occurred to me what a terrible impression this was making on the young Scout. Is this how we want to entice others into our hobby?

After the contact with the scout was over, Bob, who could hear the guy calling the K7 station, finally said "The station calling CQ, this is VP8LP, please go ahead". That did the trick, the station stopped calling. Bob called several more times with no response, and finally said "well, I guess I've figured out how to shut him up!" and went back to working the pileup.

I would like to say that Bob's comment had a permanent effect, but unfortunately that was not the case. The caller kept coming back, Bob would respond to the "gentleman calling CQ", which would usually shut him up for a while, and so on. This went on for a while, with the occasional argument back and forth between the guy calling K7 and others on the frequency, until finally propagation changed enough that he was no longer heard on the frequency.

After this was over, I did a little research to see what "special event" he was talking about, since an initial check of the spot clusters didn't show any activity for K7NRA. After a little digging I discovered that in fact the Yavapai Amateur Radio Club was, in fact, doing a special event to celebrate the "birthday" of the NRA, as described on their website. The frequency occupied by VP8LP was also one of the frequencies advertised (21.355mHz), but what our caller failed to notice was that the event was scheduled for the 17th of November, not the 14th of November, when this all occurred. This caller was not only wrong from a legal and ethical standpoint, he managed to get a lot of people annoyed at him by trying to work an activity that wasn't even happening. As they say, you can't outlaw stupidity.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

2010 ARRL CW Sweepstakes

Last weekend I spent about 13 hours or so participating in the ARRL CW Sweepstakes contest. The last time I participated in this contest was in 2008, and although I started out slowly, I managed to finish with a final score just a bit higher than the 2008 effort. In 2008, I had 333 QSOs in about 15 1/2 hours with 79 out of the 80 possible multipliers, missing only NT (Northwest Territories in Canada) for a score of 52,614 points. This year, in 13 hours, I had 376 QSOs missing 3 multipliers (Nebraska, which I heard, but couldn't work, South Bay, which I heard once, and didn't work, and Newfoundland/Labrador, which I never heard), giving me a total of 57,904 points. Considering that I had fewer multipliers and a higher score in a shorter amount of time, I was pretty happy.

I didn't try to "run" stations at all for the first day of the contest, there was just too much competition, but later on when things quieted down I was able to get run frequencies on 40m and 80m from time to time and really enjoyed working the stations calling. I did have a couple of things happen while running on 80m that I thought were noteworthy. First, in the middle of my run I got called by W1AW, the Hiram Percy Maxim Memorial station located at ARRL Headquarters. Although I've had contact with W1AW many times (they are not very far from here so are very easy to work on the lower bands), and have even operated from that station myself, it's always fun to make contact with them, and even more special when they call me (rather than the other way around). The other thing that happened was that a bit later I was running on another 80m frequency at the bottom of the band (3.505mhz) and a station called and asked if I would QSY (change frequencies) because a DX station (5R8Z, I believe) was about to come on the air and that was the frequency that he'd announced he'd be moving to. I moved right away, because even though legally, since I was there first I could stay, it was in the "ham spirit" to move so that others could contact that DX station. (Frankly, I would have been very happy to make that contact myself, but I never heard him.) In any case, it was the right thing to do, and I was happy to do it.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A little contesting this weekend

I spent about 10 hours Saturday and Sunday making some contacts in the CQ WW SSB contest. This is one of the biggest contests, where the goal is to work stations, for the most part, outside of your own country. You get two points for working a station on your own continent (if you're in North America, one point elsewhere) and three points for working stations on another continent. There are also multipliers for each different country and CQ Zone that you contact. As with other contests, your score is computed by multiplying the number of points by the multipliers. World-class competition stations typically have scores in the millions or even tens of millions for the high-power multi-operator stations. My score was quite a bit more modest, just a bit under 115,000 points. That beats my score from last year, though I've done better in the past. (Though I've also spent more time in the past.)

This isn't one of my favorite contests specifically because it is so popular. Because it is so popular, there are almost always a lot of stations calling, which makes it harder for a small station like mine to be heard. As a result, stations that I'm hearing very well just can't hear me, and it often took several minutes to work stations that under non-contest conditions could be very easy. In a lot of cases, I'd just give up and move on, sometimes coming back to try to work the stations again later.

Partway into the contest, I came up with a technique that made things a little less frustrating: I intentionally made my station "hard of hearing". Normally, although I've got a very modest antenna (my G5RV), my radio is quite good at pulling in relatively weak stations. However, in this case, there was little point in trying to work very weak stations because they weren't going to hear me. What I did was to turn off any pre-amplification (kind of like a "hearing aid") for all bands, and on some bands (particularly 40m and 80m), I put in 8db or more of attenuation. (Kind of like putting in earplugs.) There were still plenty of stations to hear, and with my self-imposed handicap, I found that I was a lot more likely to work these stations.

This technique isn't something that I'd normally recommend, but for this particular contest, it kept me from wasting time on stations that I really had no chance of working.

Here's my score breakdown for the contest. One interesting thing is that this is one of a very few contests where I've actually worked stations on all six possible HF bands.

        Band    QSOs     Pts  Cty   ZN
         1.8       2       2    2    2
         3.5      22      50   17   11
           7      62     172   39   12
          14      87     223   45   18
          21      45     113   25   16
          28       8      22    7    3
       Total     226     582  135   62
 My total score was 114, 654 points, which, as always, is subject to adjustment for any errors that I (probably) made.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A meta-post

This is a short meta-post. That is, it's a post about my posts. Actually, it's a post about some responses that I've been getting to my posts. In my recent post about how the pileups for some of the PJ stations were huge, Bill, W9VA, who was the operator at PJ2T at the time that I posted the image of my bandscope, comments about what it was like on the other end of the pileup.

On my soapbox post about how people don't seem to listen, I got a bunch of comments. Most of them were agreements with my thoughts (including a rather astonishing anecdote from Ed, N4EMG). There was also a comment from Jeremy, KB7QOA, who mentions that he hasn't jumped into the piles because he hasn't learned how to operate split on his radio. David, K2DSL, responded with detailed instructions, which really demonstrates the ham spirit.

As an aside, the reason why I'm mentioning these comments is because Blogger, the platform that I use for blogging, doesn't support an easy way for folks to see comments that have been posted after they've read an entry, and I wanted to make sure that my readers had the opportunity to see them. If you've commented recently, or even not so recently, and I didn't mention it, please don't take it personally. I do read and usually reply to most comments here and they are greatly appreciated.

Thanks for everyone for contributing.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

C'mon people, listen!

A lot has been written recently (including by me) about the general conduct of hams on the airwaves. Over the last few days, I've seen something that has just been so absurd that I had to vent here. 

I've discussed operating in pileups before, and how it's important to listen to the operator's instructions to understand where they are listening. It's frustrating when an operator doesn't listen and calls right on top of the DX station instead of on his split frequency. While there's really no excuse, the occasional call or two can be understood by operators who just send 5NN TU (on CW) or just "Thanks" on phone without giving the split often. The same can be said for those operators who don't ID often.

What I cannot understand, and to me what's totally inexcusable was the behavior that I've seen on RTTY in the pileups for the folks operating from the new PJ entities recently. The vast majority of operators at the DX end seem to be really top-notch operators and are doing their best to control the pileup. They leave nothing to chance when, at the end of a contact, they send something like "K2DBK TU DE PJ7E UP 2-4". You know who the station is, and you know that they are listening for your transmission 2-4 up. In spite of this, operators repeatedly (and I don't mean once or twice, but dozens of times) continue to call on the operators transmit frequency, not where he's listening.

I believe in Heinlein's Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. I don't believe that most of these operators are calling just to QRM (create noise) on the DX station. For one thing, they are all using their callsigns, so we know who they are. (There is a chance that they are using someone else's callsign to intentionally make them look bad, but I don't think that's the case.) I think that either they don't have a good enough copy on on the DX station to be able to understand that he's listening on a different frequency, or they don't understand what "UP" means. In the former case, they shouldn't be calling at all. If you don't have a good enough copy on a station to receive what they are sending, how on earth are you going to know if you've worked them? If it's the latter, and you don't know that "UP" means that the operator is working stations using split operation, then ask someone what it means, don't just ignore it.

Incidentally, I want to mention that I've looked up a number of callsigns that are guilty of this behavior. There is a mix of stations, but a significant number of stations seem to be US Amateur Extra class, and, as best I can tell, they have been Extras for quite some time. This isn't a case of "no-coders" not knowing how to operate. It may well be that RTTY, which has increased in popularity recently, is new to these operators, but like any mode you need to learn how to use it.

When in doubt, refer to the DX Code of Conduct

Friday, October 15, 2010

P5? Nope, PJ

Now that the PJ operations have been underway for a while, you'd think that the pileups would have started to die down a bit. In some cases they have, but I was kind of surprised to see how big some of them remained. I guess it varies depending on band, propagation, and where you're located, but this morning I saw PJ2T spotted on 17m CW and I figured I'd give him a call. He nice and loud, but he had a huge pileup. This is what my bandscope looked like.

By way of explanation, what you're seeing is that I was tuned to 18.07201 MHz, which was where PJ2T was transmitting. I was set to call him split on 18.073Mhz. The big pile of green and light blue on the scale represents the other stations that are calling him. The scope was configured so that each white vertical line represents 10KHz of space. What you can see is that the callers for PJ2T were spread out over around 20Khz of space. Those of you who are DXers will appreciate how big that is, but normally for a "routine" DX operation you might see callers spread out to 2, 3, or maybe 5KHz. It's only when a really "rare one" comes on that you typically see something like this. (Hence my reference to P5, North Korea, in the subject.) Oh, and keep in mind that these are only the callers that my radio can hear. Imagine what it must sound like on his end? I do want to say that the operator is doing a terrific job.

As a reminder, I've been collecting web sites and other internet presence information for the PJ DX operations on a special page here.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Some info for the current PJ operations

I've started collecting a list of the websites for the ongoing operations from the new DXCC entities in PJ (Netherland Antilles). I originally intended to do this for myself (so that I could make sure that my contacts were in the logs), but realized that it'd be useful for others. (I apologize if this has been done already, I couldn't find a simple list myself.) The list as it stands is definitely incomplete and I'll be adding to it as I find other websites. I've set it up as a separate page here on my blog which you can get to by clicking  Websites for 10/10/10 Operations from PJ2-7 from the list of pages at the top of my blog (or by just clicking that link).

At the time that I'm writing this, at least two of the sites have live video streams, most have online logs that seem to be updated very frequently, and one (PJ4D) even has a real-time log. It's fun listening to the op (either via the video stream or over the air) and watching the calls scroll up the screen. 

Please let me know either by email or a comment to this of any additions or corrections and I'll be happy to publish them.

Monday, October 04, 2010

One worked, one confirmed

Yesterday I worked Kouichi, JI1FGX/DU9 operating from Mindanao Islands in the Philippines. I'd worked a DU back in 2002 but unfortunately have been unable to get a confirmation from him. His US manager hasn't received logs from him in years, and as a result can't confirm my contact. Kouichi was the first DU contact since then, and I was very happy to discover that he has an active manager in Japan, so my chances of getting a confirmation from him are excellent.

Along the same lines, today I received a QSL card back from the 3C9B DXpedition to Equatorial Guinea that I'd worked in June of this year. That confirms my 295th country in mixed mode and 218th confirmed on CW. (I see that I have about 35 countries on CW that I haven't confirmed yet, I guess I'd better start getting some cards sent out.)

My numbers will change in about a week when the reorganization of the Netherlands Antilles results in a probable deletion of 2 entities and the addition of 4 or 5, but I'm very happy to be so close to 300.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Plenty of new DX entities coming

Because of the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles as single political entity effective 10/10/10 (one of those dates that you don't have to worry about whether that is in "American" or "rest of the world" format), the status of some existing DXCC entities will change. The details of this have been discussed elsewhere and the ARRL has said that there will be new entities formed for DXCC award purposes. All of those locations are in the Caribbean, and all are easy to work from the US, particularly from the east coast where I'm located. Because of the way that the DXCC program works, anyone who wants to keep their DXCC totals up will need to work all the "new" entities in order for them to count for award credit. To help out all those who will be interested in contacting these new entities (and there will be a lot of us), DXpeditions have been planned to activate all of those islands starting on the 10/10/10 date. I hope that everyone keeps in mind the DX Code of Conduct that I wrote about last week. It's going to be tempting for everyone to try to force their way into the pileups, but it's important to realize that: A) The operators working the DXpeditions are experienced and in all likelyhood they will work you and B) Even if you aren't able to work those DXpeditions, all the islands have regular activity and they'll be on the air again soon.

The different DXpedtions agreed on a bandplan to minimize the interference between themselves. My recommendation is that you print out a copy of this document (PDF file) and keep it at your operating location. By following the bandplan, you'll have a much better chance of working the station that you think you're working. 

Be patient, you'll work them, these are not difficult islands to get to and it's not worth getting into an on-air fight in an attempt to work them. Be courteous and you should have a good shot. Good luck.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The DX Code Of Conduct

It's been several years (about 2 1/2) since I last editorialized about DX behavior in this blog. I try not to get on my soapbox too often, but I think I can write again on that same subject now that some time has passed.

Actually, I'll let someone else do most of the work for me this time, after a bit of an introduction. In response to the increasingly poor standard of operating practice being heard on the bands, particularly when working DX, the First Class CW Operators Club formulated a draft DX Code of Conduct that they are trying to publicize. You can follow the links on their website, but they've also created a website at that has a number of useful resources (as well as the code itself, of course). I recommend that you visit their website and click around to learn more.

DX Code of Conduct
  • I will listen, and listen, and then listen again before calling.
  • I will only call if I can copy the DX station properly.
  • I will not trust the cluster and will be sure of the DX station's call sign before calling.
  • I will not interfere with the DX station nor anyone calling and will never tune up on the DX frequency or in the QSX slot.
  • I will wait for the DX station to end a contact before I call.
  • I will always send my full call sign.
  • I will call and then listen for a reasonable interval. I will not call continuously.
  • I will not transmit when the DX operator calls another call sign, not mine.
  • I will not transmit when the DX operator queries a call sign not like mine.
  • I will not transmit when the DX station calls other geographic areas than mine.
  • When the DX operator calls me, I will not repeat my call sign unless I think he has copied it incorrectly.
  • I will be thankful if and when I do make a contact.
  • I will respect my fellow hams and conduct myself so as to earn their respect.

    Sunday, September 12, 2010

    2010 September VHF Contest - Yuck!

    This is going to be pretty short, because there's not a whole lot to say. I had a few hours of free time this weekend to work in the ARRL September VHF QSO Party contest. I'm not really sure where the name "QSO Party" comes from, but this was one of the most boring parties that I've even been to. (For those of you who are unfamiliar, this is just another contest, hence my question about the name.) Typically band conditions for VHF contests aren't terrific in September, but usually there are a reasonable number of people to work. This year wasn't typical.

    As with most of my contesting efforts, I participate on a part-time basis. I had a few hours Saturday afternoon and more hours Sunday afternoon. I think that my total operating time was around 6 hours, and for those 6 hours, I managed an average of about 7 1/2 QSOs per hour, for a grand total of 45 contacts. That was just plain awful. I only worked 6 meters, and had a total of 10 grids for the contest. Most of the folks who I spoke with were having similar results.

    I generally like the VHF contests, particularly on 6m, because you never know when the band might open up and you'll suddenly be able to work across the country. This year, the farthest contact that I had was in FM18 in Virginia to the south, and FM43 in Maine to the north. Usually there will be an opening down to the south or southwest, and typically I'll pick up a few grids in Florida, but not this year.

    A lot of that six hours was spent with either the voice or CW keyer sending my CQs while I occupied myself otherwise. (Sharon's glad, because it gave me a chance to finally upgrade her computer from an ancient version of Eudora to the current version of Thunderbird. But I digress...)

    The only consolation that I have is that it seems that the folks in my area were all in the same boat, but I can't say that this was one of the more fun contests in recent memory.

    Here's my score summary:

            Band  Mode  QSOs    Pts   Grd
              50  CW       3      3     1
              50  USB     42      42    9
           Total  Both    45      45   10
    Score: 450
     450 points? Seriously? Ouch. I miss 2006. (Ok, those were earlier in the summer, but they sure were a lot more fun.)

    Tuesday, September 07, 2010

    You should be ashamed of yourself

    The title of this entry is a phrase that I recall hearing numerous times, probably from a grandparent, when I was growing up. It was usually in response to me doing something that I shouldn't have done, and it was a form of punishment that relied on my own sense of guilt for doing something that I knew was wrong. 

    As adults, we learn about things as we go through life, and part of what we learn is to distinguish between things that are right and things that are wrong. We also learn that life is complex, and that sometimes the distinction between right and wrong isn't very clear. The philosophical implications of that ambiguity are beyond me and something better left to the professionals (such as my uncle and cousin, both of whom have chaired the philosophy department at a major university). However, there are some fairly well-defined things that we all agree are wrong. One thing that we all know is wrong is cheating. Cheating can be defined as "Acting dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage, especially in a game or examination". 

    Recently, the sponsors of the CQ World Wide DX contests have begun to do something that should have been done long ago. They are publicly identifying and punishing those who cheat in their contests. A recent article on the Radio-Sport blog discusses how a number of well-known contesters have been either disqualified or moved into different categories because they were caught cheating. In a very few cases, the operators involved accidentally broke the rules, but it appears now that the majority of them knew what they were doing was wrong, and didn't expect to get caught. In the past, when such things happened, they weren't well-publicized, and often the only way anyone ever found out was by noticing that a well-known station was missing from the final results. Even then, the contest sponsor would not comment on the reason for the disqualification. It just "happened".

    From the information published in the Radio-Sport blog, it would appear that most amateurs are pleased with CQ's new policy of naming and publicly punishing the offenders. I am certainly among them, and I'd like to congratulate CQ for this new policy.  Just like in "real life", if you cheat and get caught, you will have to suffer the consequences. CQ has done a good job of shaming those involved in cheating, which I think is warranted. In ham radio contests, we aren't competing for multi-million dollar prizes, we're competing for the right to be proud of our accomplishments. If you cheat, removing that pride is pretty much all that can be done.

    I would like to encourage the ARRL and other contest sponsors to follow CQ's lead. The technology exists today to catch cheaters, and it should be used wherever possible to do so. Quietly disqualifying someone is a disservice and an insult to the vast majority of operators who contest honestly and with integrity.

    Monday, August 30, 2010

    2010 SCC RTTY Contest

    It seems that I've been doing more RTTY contesting lately, and on Saturday, I spent about 8 1/2 hours participating in the SCC (Slovenia Contest Club) RTTY Championship contest. This was a 24 hour contest, running from 8AM Saturday to 8AM Sunday (local time), and it's one of the contests where anybody can work anybody. I like those, because even if propagation isn't cooperating, I can usually work someone in the US. This is a good thing, because propagation wasn't all that great, and as it turns out, just about 50% of my contacts were with US stations.

    There are some interesting scoring rules in this contest that I haven't seen before. In many DX contests, you get more points for working DX which favors certain parts of the world where there are literally dozens of countries in an area the size of the US. However, for this contest the rules are set up so that within "big" counties (like the US, Canada, Australia, Japan, Argentina, and others) you get extra points for working stations within that country but who are in different call areas, provinces, or oblasts. I wish that some of the other DX contests would use this system which seems to level the playing field a bit. One other scoring rule that is fun is that the multipliers are the year that you were first licensed. I worked a few stations who were first licensed in 2010 (all of which were, I believe, specially issued callsigns), but it was fun working stations who were licensed in the 1940s and even in the 1930s. I worked a couple of stations who were licensed in the 40s, but both of them turned out to be using club callsigns, which of course were issued when the club was originally founded. (Still quite impressive to be sure). The oldest non-club call that I worked was Charles, W0HW, who was first licensed in 1937. According to the information on, he was born in 1922, so Charles, who is now 88 (and obviously still active on the air) got his first license at age 15. I'm sure he's got a lot of interesting stories to tell.

    As with a lot of my contesting, I tend to fit it into the "space available" on a weekend. For this contest, I didn't get started until around 3:30PM (local time), at which point I configured my contest logging program for this contest and got on the air. I listened briefly on 15m but since I only heard one very weak signal, I decided to start off on 20m. For about the first half hour, I ran in Search & Pounce (S&P) mode, working just under 20 stations. As I was tuning, I found an open frequency right at the lower end of the 20m RTTY sub-band (14.084Mhz), and I figured that I'd try to see if I could switch to Run mode. As I've mentioned previously, being able to run stations really improves you rate and it's also a lot more fun. It's usually difficult for a low-power station like mine to hold a run frequency for long (because usually a higher-power station will just sort of take over, despite the fact that it's poor operating practice, at best, so do so; it's arguably illegal as well), but I was thrilled to be able to stay on that same frequency for around 4 hours. I can't say that I had huge numbers of stations calling me the entire time, but there were periods where I was working about 2 stations per minute continuously for several minutes. For this contest, it seems that 2 per minute was about the maximum achievable because the rate of information exchanged is fixed (a characteristic of RTTY), and the amount of information that had to be exchanged was of a certain length. Unlike a CW or Phone contest, you simply can't go much faster. (Yes, there are some shortcuts, but they don't make that much difference, especially when you don't have a continuous pileup.) I was very pleased to be able to continue my run for that amount of time.

    I took a break and went out to dinner with Sharon (who, as usual, was being very understanding about the contest), and got back to the radio at around 9:30PM, worked a few stations on 20m, then moved down to 40m. The conditions on 40m seemed to be surprisingly good, and I was able to work a good number of European stations first running S&P and then later when I had a run frequency. (That run wasn't nearly as good as the 20m run, but it was still quite productive). After a while, I seemed to have run out of stations on 40m, so I moved down to 80m to see what I could find. During the summer, 80m isn't great for DX because it's noisy due to the thunderstorms that are common during that time of the year. After a while, including a period where I had a rather unsuccessful attempt and running station (plenty of frequencies were available, but apparently nobody could hear me), I moved back to 40m again. Somewhat to my surprise, the propagation had improved, and by that time, some of the early-risers in Europe were awake to work the night-owls in North America. (It was around 1AM at that point.) I continued to work stations on 40m, but at 2AM, I finally threw in the towel and finished up with 207 (non-duplicate) QSOs in the log. As it turns out, I was up for over an hour after that acting as the family "IT guy", fixing a problem with Sharon's BlackBerry. Needless to say, I didn't get up early enough to put a few more QSOs in the log the next morning, so that was my final total.

    Here's my detailed score summary for the contest:

    Band    QSOs    Pts  Sec
     3.5      29      57   25
       7      67     168   42
      14     111     268   50

    Total     207     493  117

                Score : 57,681
    This was my first effort in this contest, so I don't have anything to compare it to, but I was very happy with the results.

    Friday, August 20, 2010

    So that's what it sounds like

    While most of you reading this are hams, I have a number of readers who aren't and who probably haven't heard what things sound like on the radio. There are also some hams who aren't active on the HF bands for any number of reasons who might not have had an opportunity to listen to DX. DX, meaning "distance", is what hams use to refer to a "far away" contact. The definition of "DX" varies, but in this case I'm talking about a contact with a ham in a foreign country. What I'd like to do is present a short (42 second) clip of a DX station and explain what's being heard.

    First, I'll note that what you'll hear is typical of a DX station making brief contacts. There's not a lot of chat back and forth, but the goal here is to make as many contacts as possible. Second, I picked this clip (recorded earlier today) because the station I was listening to happened to have an exceptionally strong signal and conditions were very good. (For those of you interested, the DX station was using a 2KW amplifier into a 6 element cubical quad. My station is an Icom 756 Pro II with a G5RV antenna up about 10 m in the backyard. I worked him a few minutes before this recording was made.)

    With that said, here's the link to the audio file that I'll be describing: (you may need to right-click and save that to your computer, or you may just be able to click on it to play, depending on how your computer is set up.)

    I'll give a start time in seconds for each description to help you follow along, here's what you're hearing:

    :00 - "Q R Zed stateside, Radio LimaThree Alpha" - QRZ (hams pronounce the letter "Z" like "Zed" because it's so similar to other letters like C, etc.) is a sort of shorthand for "Who is calling me?". He uses the term "stateside" because he's just interested in making contacts with stations in the United States (though often that really includes Canada and Mexico as well.)  Radio Lima Three Alpha are the radio phonetics for the callsign RL3A, who is the DX station that I referred to earlier. I'll explain more about him later, but what's happening here is that he's saying "This is RL3A and I'm ready for another contact".

    :03 - At this point various stations are giving their callsigns phonetically (kind of like kids raising their hands in class and saying "pick me, pick me!"). Because of the way radio propagation works, you can't hear everyone calling him, but you can hear Whiskey Alpha Eight Lima Oscar Whiskey (WA8LOW) along with what sounds like a bunch of other people calling all at once. (In fact, that's exactly what's happening).

    :07 - "Victor Echo United, what's the prefix?" Although we heard WA8LOW, RL3A has heard part of a callsign that ends in VUE and he's asking for the beginning of it.

    :10 - First a bit of just noise, then "Roger, roger, Victor Echo Three Victor Echo United fifty-nine, QSL?" The noise (most of which I've edited out) is where VE3VEU is giving his complete callsign to RL3A. The reason you can't hear VE3VEU is because of propagation. That's a station in Canada and his signal is probably passing right over me, but was mostly likely very strong as heard by RL3A. RL3A acknowledges that he's heard the complete callsign and gives him a standard signal report, 59. The report is given using the RST (Readability, Signal, Tone) system, but in many cases a simple 59 report is used where the exact value of the report isn't important. QSL is a shorthand way of saying "Did you get the information that I sent you?"

    :16 - More noise while VE3VUE is talking, then at about :21 "Seventy Three Bill, good luck Q R Zed Radio Lima Three Alpha" Seventy-Three (73) is another ham radio "code" which means "best regards" and is a common way to say "so long" at the end of a contact. If you've been keeping track, you've figured out that the next part is RL3A asking "who wants to be next?"

    :25 - More stations calling, then "Whiskey Delta Eight Japan Papa something fifty-nine, over". This is pretty much the same as the previous contact, but in this case RL3A sent the 59 signal report right away. He's got most of WD8JP's call but thinks he might be missing a letter. "Over", as you might expect, just means that he's telling the other station to go ahead and talk.

    :34 - I cut quite a bit of the noise out here since it was rather long, and then we hear "QSL John, I am Dima, Delta Italy Mike Alpha and the QTH Moscow. Thank you John for the QSO 73 good luck".  In this case, RL3A is using QSL to acknowledge that he has heard the information sent (it can be used either as a question, as in the clip started at :10, or as an answer). Obviously the WD8 station operator has said his name is John (and it turns out that the complete station call was in fact WD8JP, that's why RL3A didn't respond with the full callsign again, since he had received it correctly the first time), and RL3A's name is Dima, which he spells phonetically. You have probably guessed that QTH is a shorthand for "location", and Dima is located in Moscow. He then closes out the contact with the usual "so long" and after that (though not recorded), he repeated the "loop" of working stations.

    I hope you've found this informative, if a bit lengthy. If for some reason you have a problem downloading the MP3 file (it's a bit over 500k bytes in size), please let me know and I'll help you out.

    Sunday, July 25, 2010

    2010 IOTA Contest

    I operated a contest yesterday that I'd only ever done before as as DX, The RSGB IOTA contest. In this contest, any station can work any other station, but if you work an island (as defined by the organizers [note that the link goes to a PDF file]) it is worth more points (15, instead of 3 for a non-island contact) and each island you work counts as a multiplier, increasing your score. The contest has some interesting rules regarding hours of operations (you can submit as a "12 hour" or "24 hour" contestant) and some categories that are different from many other contests. (e.g., "Island DXpedition"). I decided that I'd try to operate in the 12-hour, low-power assisted  mixed category as "world" station. That means that my operating time was 12 hours or less, I used 100 watts to transmit, I used the packet cluster to help locate stations, operated both phone and CW, and I was not located on a island.

    Unlike many other contests which typically start either in the evening or mid-afternoon for me, this one started at 8AM local (Eastern Daylight Time), and, not being a "morning person", I didn't get on the air until around 11:30 AM, and was a little disappointed to find out that the band conditions didn't seem to be as good as I'd hoped. I started off on 20m phone and made a handful of contacts in the first 20 minutes. I realized that if 15m was open, if I wanted to work anyone outside the US it would have to be early in the afternoon. I switched over to 15m and found ... nothing. Well, almost nothing. I did manage to work two stations in about 10 minutes, one on phone and one on CW. Clearly 15m was not going to be a productive band.

    I moved back to 20m and worked stations steadily, thought not terribly quickly using Search & Pounce to find stations. I worked a few dozen stations on phone, then another dozen or so on CW and moved back to phone. After another hour of S&P, I was lucky enough to find a clear frequency to call CQ to try to "run" stations. (During most contests, it's pretty tough to find and keep a frequency, especially for a small station like mine.) I called CQ for a couple of minutes and got one reply from a station in Poland, then about a minute later got a reply from my friend David, K2DSL, who is located nearby. We chatted briefly, then I moved on to work other stations. All of a sudden, a number of stations all started calling me. It turned out that David had "spotted" me on the packet cluster. When that happens many stations will tune to the spot frequency to work whoever is there. For someone like me being spotted is terrific because it significantly increases the rate at which  I can work stations. Prior to being spotted, I'd operated for around 4 hours and had made around 100 contacts, for a rate of around 25/hr. One hour after being spotted I'd worked an additional 65 stations, almost tripling my rate. I finally gave up the frequency after about 90 minutes, making 75 QSOs during that time which comes to around 50/hr. (The final 20 minutes or so of that period was considerably slower). In any case I had a great time and it was a lot of fun being the person that was being called, rather than having to hunt.

    After time out for dinner (we were out with friends), I got back on the air at around 11:30PM. The only band that was open at the time was 40m, and because of atmospheric noise due to all the thunderstorms in and around the east coast, the band was very noisy. It was very slow going making contacts, and I suspect that some of the ones that I made then will turn out to be incorrect, since I had a particularly difficult time getting the details of the contest exchange. (For this contest, you gave a serial number, starting at one, and, if located on an island, the island identifier). I gave up after about 90 minutes, with a total of 210 contacts in my log. I thought that it was a pretty decent effort for the seven hours that I operated. Here's my score summary:

            Band  Mode  QSOs     Pts  Sec
               7  CW      10     138    9
               7  LSB     22     246   13
              14  CW      45     399   13
              14  USB    130     990   27
              21  CW       2      18    1
              21  USB      1       3    0
           Total  Both   210    1794   63

                Score : 113,022

    Friday, July 09, 2010

    Facebook and the ARRL

    Earlier today, fellow blogger and Cornbread Road podcaster Jeff, KE9V posted an article on his blog entitled "Screw You Newington". Please take a minute to read that if you haven't already.

    While I don't entirely agree with Jeff's comments (and I commented there saying so), I do feel that the ARRL has possibly made a serious mistake in the way they've gone about starting up their presence on Facebook. As I promised Jeff, I've written an email to my ARRL Division Director (Frank, N2FF) and Vice- Directory (Joyce, KA2ANF) explaining my concerns. I have slightly edited what I wrote to them (removing some personal things) and I am posting it here, sort of as an "open letter". Unless they explicitly give permission, I won't be posting their response, but I felt that posting this would give my view of things.

    Hi Frank and Joyce,

    I hope you've been keeping cool and the DX has been flowing for you.

    Recently, the ARRL posted an article on their website about their presence on Facebook. In general, I think this is an excellent idea, as social media, like it or not, is here to stay and is an important part of having public visibility. I think it's a great way to show that the ARRL is active and recognizes that things like Facebook have value to many people. A Facebook presence should help the League acquire new members who may not be aware of the fine work that they do.

    However, I do have one concern. The following is quoted from the article:

    Thanks to Herman May, KE5HYW, the ARRL has its own Facebook page. Check out the page to see a lot of features you won’t find anywhere else, such as pictures from ARRL events and interactive status updates. [emphasis mine]

    I have shared with both of you my disappointment in the current ARRL website, but I think that the worst thing that the League can do is to start posting "exclusive" content elsewhere. While I understand that intent is to provide another outlet for content, asking members to visit a second site doesn't seem to be a good idea to me. If the ARRL wants to keep users coming back to their website (which is typically the goal of any website), the exclusive content should be there, and there alone. I think it's perfectly fine to have some overlap between the sites, but the website should be the primary site.

    I also think that the League will run into issues with members who aren't willing to join Facebook (they've gotten a lot of bad press lately, some of it deserved, some not, for their privacy issues), and I am sure there will be complaints from users who are being "forced" to join Facebook to view the content.

    With that said, I have looked at what's up on Facebook now, and aside from some user-posted pictures, most of the content appear to be cross-posted from the ARRL news feed along with minimal status updates like today's "Who did you have your first QSO with"? If that's really the main thrust of what's going to be available there, then perhaps this isn't really a significant issue, but I am aware of several fellow hams who are taking the information published in the article at face value and assume they'll be missing out on something if they don't join Facebook.

    In closing, I hope that you take this note in the spirit in which it's intended, which is to provide constructive criticism of something that I think the ARRL could be doing better.

    Monday, July 05, 2010


    As I mentioned previously, Ed, VP9GE helped me to get a license to operate from Bermuda (VP9) for my vacation last week. Since this was all pretty last minute, the exact plans to get on the air were pretty much non-existent, but Ed suggested that I contact him on the repeater when I got down to Bermuda and work out the details that way. I decided to bring along my Icom W32a HT (a full-featured 5w transceiver) as well as my little Icom Q7a HT, which is very small, runs off two AA batteries, but only puts out 500mw (1/2 w).  I haven't used the W32a much recently, and although I've tried to keep the batteries (I have 2 battery packs, one stop and one an extended capacity version) topped off, I think they may have simply reached the end of their life and don't seem to hold a charge very well. Still, I figured that I might be able to get enough power out of them to make contact with Ed.

    I didn't mention previously that we were taking a cruise to Bermuda, and because of the location of the ship (we were docked in "Dockyard" it was very difficult to reliably hit the repeater. The first day there, we decided to take the high-speed ferry to Hamilton (the capital city) and I took the small Q7a with me, hoping that there would be good-enough coverage there. As it turns out, that did work out quite well, and I was able to contact Ed via the repeater, using my K2DBK/VP9 callsign. Ed is constantly running around (he runs some guest apartments on the island) and had a number of runs to the airport and meetings over the next couple of days, but we agreed to try to contact each other again at around noon the next day.

    Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get in to the repeater the next day, as we were doing some sightseeing in St. Georges, and apparently the repeater doesn't have good enough coverage there to pick up my little 1/2 watt signal. I didn't know it at the time, but I was close enough that I could have worked Ed simplex, but I never tried.

    So although I did manage to operate at least once as K2DBK/VP9, I wasn't able to get on HF or 6 meters. Still, it was fun doing that, and if I ever get back to Bermuda, I'll try to plan a bit more in advance and hopefully get on the lower bands.

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010

    Fun with Larry & Coleman

    Sharon & I spent last weekend visiting my friends Larry, N4VA, and Coleman, K4RZ who live in Virginia. Last year we visited them during the same weekend and I went with Larry & Coleman to W3LPL's open house, which I wrote about when first attended in 2005. Sharon came with me last year as well and she visited with some friends who lived in the area while we visited the big aluminum farm. This trip has become an annual thing for us, and what happens is that I take off the day from work on Friday and drive down, arriving (hopefully) just before rush hour hits the DC area. We have a great barbecue dinner with some friends (mostly non-hams but also with Fred, K3ZO, who is fairly well-known in ham circles), go to W3LPL's Saturday and head home Sunday, with the space in between (when not eating or otherwise having a great time) gets filled with "playing radio", propagation permitting.

    When we arrived on Friday, 6 meters was cooperating, and literally just as I walked in Larry had picked up Dennis, 5J0BV who was operating from San Andres Island (which is located to the east of Nicaragua but considered to be a "department" of Columbia). Dennis had a good signal but when I tried to work him with Larry's paddle, I had a really tough time sending my callsign correctly. I make no secret of the fact that I normally send "computer assisted" CW from a keyboard, but given that I'd just gotten out of the car from the 5 hour drive, I was having a really tough time trying to use the paddles. (By the way, I'll say that I had no trouble decoding what Dennis was sending by ear, I just could not get my fingers to cooperate.) Larry finally gave me a bit of an assist, and I was able to count this as a "new one" on 6 meters. Very shortly thereafter, Dennis switched to sideband and I was easily able to complete a contact there as well, even having a bit of time to chat and apologizing for the mess I'd made with the CW contact.

    After  dinner 6 meters continued to be open to the west, and I had a good time watching Larry pick up a bunch of new grid squares. Grid squares, like "countries" can be used to earn credit towards certain operating awards, the most popular being VUCC for grid squares and DXCC for countries. For both of these awards there are rules about where you have to be to gain credit, and those rules say that while you can get credit for any DXCC entity while working anywhere within the same entity/country (in other words, I can get DXCC credit regardless of where in the US I'm located), for the VUCC award you can only count new grids that you work from your home grid. (There is actually a little leeway, I'll leave reading the rules as an exercise for the reader.) As a result, although my contact with 5J0BV counted for DXCC, it, along with the other grids that Larry was working that evening, don't count for me for the VUCC award.

    More to come ...

    Monday, June 21, 2010

    Now I've got too much to write about

    It's been quite a while since I wrote last, mostly because I didn't have all that much that I felt was interesting. There were a few bits here and there, but none worth writing about. All of a sudden, I have a lot to write about. 

    I'll start with a couple of relatively quick things here, and try to get another update out in a couple of days with more.

    First, I may be on the air at some point next Wednesday, Thursday and/or Friday as K2DBK/VP9 from Bermuda.  I'm going to be there on vacation and while I hadn't planned on getting on the air, through a series of events I wound up connecting with Ed, VP9GE. If you've worked VP9 on 6m, chances are that you've worked Ed.  This was all very last minute, but I'm trying to arrange at least an "eyeball QSO" (that's a face-to-face meeting for any non-hams out there) with Ed while I'm in town, and Ed's already said that he's going to try to get me a license to operate from there. I don't know how much I'll know before leaving, but hopefully if I make it on the air I'll get spotted on the packet clusters, and if possible I'll try to post here, on my page at, and even on (@k2dbk).

    The other quick thing that I wanted to post about was that fellow blogger Jeff, KE9V, has started a new podcast called "Cornbread Road". As Jeff describes it, it's a "different kind of podcast", and here's what his "About" page says: 
    Deep in the Heartland a small group of ham radio enthusiasts enjoy an idyllic existence of wide open spaces, no antenna restrictions, low-noise levels, dark skies, and good fellowship. But things aren’t exactly as they seem on Cornbread Road. Unexplained lights in the night skies, satellite signals masked from the ether, strange late night visitors to this small farming community…
    Cornbread Road is a ham radio mystery delivered in tiny audio giblets.
    I listened to the first episode during my ride into work this morning and I really enjoyed it.

    Sunday, May 02, 2010

    Sometimes three strikes is a good thing

    For those of you outside the US who might not be familiar with baseball, there's a common saying that says "three strikes and you're out". This refers to the fact that you are allowed to "miss" a pitch three times before you are no longer allowed to bat. (For you purists, given that this isn't a baseball blog, I'm going to ignore foul balls, etc.) Taken figuratively, the expression is often used to mean that you only get so many tries at something before you have to stop. In my case, I had the opposite happen over the last week.

    About a week ago I wrote about how I'd contacted my first new DXCC entity of 2010, BX5AA in Taiwan. Strike one. Earlier this week, I wrote about my second new DXCC this year, VR2XMT. Strike two. Now I'm very happy to be able to write about strike three.

    On Friday morning, I was again working from home, this time because I had some reports to complete that had to be done by the end of the day. It's often easier to do these kinds of things from home since I get disturbed less often. (And yes, I actually got everything done.) P29TL, Tom had been spotted quite a bit recently on 20m, and while I'd heard him a bit earlier in the morning, he wasn't really coming in strong enough to work. On top of that, given the location (Papua, New Guinea) the folks on the west coast had a much better path to him and were apparently working him easily. As with my contact with VR2XMT a few days earlier, I turned down the volume on the radio while I worked on my reports, until I realized that I could hear Tom more clearly and there were fewer folks calling him. In fact, the folks that were working him seemed to be mostly on the east coast, meaning that the band conditions had changed. Sure enough, I called him a few time (he was using upper sideband on 20m), and after a while he replied to my call and gave me a 5x5 signal report (I gave him 5x7). Strike three!

    Fortunately, in the DXing game, I'm not limited to just three strikes, so I'm looking forward to working some more "new ones" this year. It just goes to show that even though over the last couple of weeks the conditions have taken a dip, it's still possible to make some really good contacts. (For reference, PNG is around 9,000 miles from my location.)

    Tuesday, April 27, 2010

    Today's silver lining

    Today's bad news is that the toothache that I'd had for about a week hadn't gone away this morning, and after my dentist took a look yesterday and tried one thing to fix it that didn't work, this morning I made an appointment with an endodontist to see if I needed to have a root canal on that tooth. The folks in his office were nice and managed to get me a late-morning appointment, which meant that I'd work from home in the morning (the endodontist's office is only about 10 minutes from home, so going all the way to work in Secaucus and coming back made no sense) then head to the appointment. (The other bad news is that I did indeed have the root canal procedure done. The procedure itself wasn't so bad, but now that the anesthetic has worn off it's pretty uncomfortable.)

    As usual,  when I work from home I usually leave that packet cluster up and running, and this morning was no exception. I saw a spot for Charlie, VR2XMT in Hong Kong on 20m, which is another entity that I still needed to work. I've heard Charlie before and even tried working him but hadn't had any success. While working on some emails for work on my laptop, I tuned to the spot frequency and heard Charlie's very strong signal. I called him several times but wasn't able to get through, so I turned down the volume a bit and kept listening while working. After a while it seemed that there weren't as many callers, and in fact it got to the point where there seemed to be nobody calling at all, so I gave my callsign a few times in response to Charlie's "CQ", and he responded to "the station ending in Echo Bravo Kilo". I figured that he might have been calling me so I called phonetically a few more times and sure enough, he was calling me. We exchanged 5x5 signal reports, I thanked him, and I had a new one in the log!

    Unfortunately, Charlie doesn't participate in Logbook of the World, but since this is an all-time new entity I would have been sending for a paper QSL card anyway, which I will get in the mail very soon. It's always great to work a new DXCC entity, and it was especially great to have worked my 2nd new one this year within less than a week of working the previous one.


    Saturday, April 24, 2010

    My first new entity for 2010

    Yesterday morning, I got a nice surprise. I was working from home in the morning and chatting on the computer with Larry, N4VA. He was also at home and told me that Jimmy, BX5AA was coming in very strong on 20 meters. Jimmy is located in Taiwan, and that's a DXCC entity that I'd never worked before, so I was anxious to try to make a contact. I tuned to the frequency and at first, I only heard a very weak station, which I assumed was Jimmy, and figured that I wasn't going to have a chance to work him. It wasn't surprising that he'd be louder to Larry, since he's got a beam on his tower instead of just a G5RV (wire) up in the air.

    However, it turns out that I was hearing a local station that Jimmy was working, and when it was Jimmy's turn to transmit I heard him very well. (I had heard him and tried to work him in the past, but the signals were much weaker.) Although he had a pretty good pileup, he heard part of my callsign (the "BK" part always seems to get through), and he asked just for the "Bravo Kilo" station. It took a few tries, but he was patient and eventually he got the complete and correct callsign, and gave me a 5x5 signal report. (I gave him a 5x9). That was that, and he moved on to working other stations.

    I noticed on his website that he uses Logbook of The World, so that night I uploaded my contact with him, and to my surprise I found that he'd already uploaded his contacts and there was a confirmed QSL record generated. The time from contact to confirmation was probably under 12 hours. Not bad for a station from Taiwan!

    I'll be sending for a paper card anyway, as while I think LoTW is fantastic, there's nothing like having an old-fashioned QSL card to look at.

    Saturday, April 17, 2010

    The new ARRL website is disappointing

    I'm going to stray a bit from my normal topics to discuss the newly updated ARRL website which after several attempts finally went live this week. My overall response was one of disappointment. I am well aware that any it's often difficult to get pretty much anything right in Information Technology  the first time. (In fact, I was commenting to one of my colleagues at work that if you think you've gotten something right on the first try, you have overlooked something). My fellow bloggers Dan, KB6NU and David, K2DSL have written posts describing some of the flaws, and I suggest you read them for the details.

    David in particular enumerated a lot of the different issues, and while I'm not going to add anything to his list, I will mention that in particular, the two things that are particularly annoying are the fact that it seems that even with the "favorites" feature, nearly everything requires a lot more clicks to get to (which is one of the main things you don't want to do if you want people to keep visiting your site) and that you no longer remain logged in for very long. (It looks like they may have adjusted this value since David wrote his blog, but in any case, it should allow you to remain logged in for at least a few weeks minimum; this isn't a banking site.)

    I want to make clear that I am a big fan of the ARRL, and that I really appreciate the advocacy they provide for our hobby. I know that an undertaking of this magnitude must have been quite difficult, but I think that they should have allowed ARRL members "preview" access much earlier in the process. (Yes, I'm aware that there was an article in QST, but static images are not the same as actually using the site.) I suspect that the reason for not doing so was a concern over the flood of input that they may would have received, but when you are developing something that is supposed to provide service to your members, you need to take their feedback into account.

    I sincerely hope that the ARRL will listen to those of us who have been sending in feedback and will be able to make the changes to make the website at least as useful as it was before the changes. I also hope that we, the members, don't hear that "it's too far along in the process to change things".

    Monday, April 05, 2010

    The NA-034 operation that almost wasn't: Epilogue

    Well, I was wrong. Or was I?

    When I got home after my NA-034 operation, I wanted to try to understand what happened. I was sure that I'd operated solely off a car battery in the past and as long as I was connected directly to the battery I hadn't had any problems. Based on some testing that I did, I discovered that I may have been mistaken. The short version is that I discovered that by using the battery in my car without the engine running, I was able to reproduce the "strange noise in headset" that I recently wrote about, and that by running the car engine, that problem went away. There's a bit more to it though. Read on if you're interested.

    I needed to have some way to measure the voltage from the battery and the amount of current that it was drawing while the radio was transmitting. While I could do this with a couple of meters when I was home, based on some recommendations that I got from W3FF, K8EAB, and NE1RD, I picked up a Super Whattmeter from Astroflight for around $50 plus shipping. These devices are used by folks who fly electric model airplanes because you really don't want your battery to die when it's up in the air. As it turns out, they are well-suited for monitoring your power when operating portable. Of course, they work fine too in the home shack, though my power supply has meters so it's not needed. The picture here shows it hooked up that way for testing, and you can see that the Astron supply is supplying 13.8v.

    As a side note, I started using quick-disconnect connectors made by Workman Electronic quite a number of years ago, before Anderson Powerpoles became popular. I was looking for some kind of quick disconnect power connector and found patch cables similar to the ones in the picture at a hamfest. I typically cut them in half and crimp them onto whatever I need to, be it battery clamps, the power cord for a radio, and so on. The good part is that I've been able to find them surplus at hamfests (though I've seen from a number of places online that they are now discontinued) but the bad news is that they don't match what most other folks use. I keep meaning to make myself a set of adapters to connect to Powerpoles.

    I crimped a set of the quick disconnects onto the Whattmeter and did a test with the power supply and radio in the shack to ensure that the meter was working and found that it worked perfectly. The shack power supply was putting out just over 13.8 volts with the Icom 756 Pro II drawing around 3 amps while receiving. (Interestingly, this is about 0.6A below what the ARRL reported in their testing, but I've had some repair work done on the radio and it's possible that some of the newer components draw less than the originals.) The next step was to reproduce what I'd set up while in Florida.

    As luck would have it, the weather was beautiful this weekend, and as we had no plans on Sunday, I took the 706, the Buddistick, the Whattmeter, the antenna analyzer, and a length of coax outside. I set up the Buddistick on the front lawn (I just had it on the mini-tripod sitting on the lawn, though I did put the radial over a couple of plastic lawn chairs to keep it off the ground) which while not optimal for DX, took me all of 5 minutes to set up with a good match to the radio, as verified by the antenna analyzer. I connected the radio to the antenna then connected the power cables to the car battery, with the Whattmeter in-line. My thoughts were to do a few tests with the engine off, fully expecting that I wouldn't have any issues, then turn the engine on to see what kind of difference it made. I found an empty frequency on 20m and started testing. As soon as I transmitted, without looking at the meter, I knew that, to my surprise, I'd reproduced the problem: That nasty noise in the headphones was back.

    What I figured I'd do was to collect data using various levels of transmit power to see the effect on the voltage and current draw. The meter itself also shows power in watts, though of course that's trivial to calculate if you already have current and voltage. (From Ohm's law, P=I×E). I quickly discovered that the car battery wasn't able to supply sufficient voltage unless I was transmitting with about 10 watts or less. The specification for the 706 MkIIG is that it requires 13.8vdc ± 15% meaning the minimum allowable voltage is 11.73vdc. With the car engine turned off, I measured 11.68v with the radio drawing 5.79A when transmitting using 10w. At 40w (the next step I measured; when I was in Florida I was able to "get away" with 40w when testing with KH6ITY), I measured 11.52v while drawing 8.23A.  At 60w transmit power and up, the voltage dropped to about 11.4v but the radio was simply unable to draw the current needed.

    With the car running, it was a completely different situation. Even at full transmit power (100w), the voltage supplied to the radio was 13.24volts at 14.77A. (I'm not sure why my current draw measurement at that power was different from the specifications for the radio, which were also pretty close to what the ARRL measured). I took the results and plotted it out in transmit power vs. watts consumed for both the case with the engine on and the engine off, and it's pretty clear that with the engine off, the battery simply isn't able to supply the required power. (You may need to click on that chart to have it display in a readable size. If you're reading this via email and that doesn't work for you, go to the web version of this post at and it should work from there.)

    You can see from the chart that not only couldn't the battery supply sufficient power for the transmit needs, it was only able to supply less as the radio tried to use more, presumably because the battery simply couldn't "keep up". So all my empirical testing seemed to prove that with the setup that I was using, I simply couldn't operation at full power using just a car battery with the engine running. 

    However, similar to bees who simply don't know that they can't fly, so they do, apparently my radio didn't know that it didn't have enough power to operate, at least during my 2004 and 2006 operations from NA-034, so it worked just fine. During those operations I know that I did not have the car running, yet I had no issues with power. The key for me know will be to find out what has changed. I am using the same power cables and the same radio (the antenna was different, but that shouldn't matter), yet something has changed. The next thing I am going to do is to see if perhaps there is a problem with the power cables that may have occurred over the years. 

    Although I attempted to measure the resistance in the power cables and came up with a measured 0.1 Ohms, my meter is probably fairly inaccurate at such low resistance, so I did a calculation instead assuming that I've got all 12 AWG wire in place. (Part of it is actually 10AWG, but I'm using 12 to account for any losses due to connectors and splices.) Using a 12v supply with a load of 15A (matching what I saw when the engine was running) and a length of 20 feet, the voltage drop calculator that I used shows an estimated voltage drop of around 8%. Allowing a bit of wiggle room for the length, it appears that the voltage drop would be somewhere between around 6% and 10% which corresponds to a voltage at the load (radio) of between 11.3v and 10.8v. Even the highest end of that range is too low for the radio to operate properly. Dropping the transmit power to 40w results in the voltage to the radio of about 11.5v which is a bit below spec but probably would allow operation, with some minor distortion. That seems to match what I had experienced.

    The other factor that I haven't played around with much is temperature, and I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader. At this point, I think the best thing to do is to shorten the power cable as much as I reasonably can, replacing the section that is currently 12AWG wire with 10AWG wire. I suspect that will help ensure sufficient current flow while minimizing voltage drop.

    I would be very interested in any feedback from anyone who can shed a bit more light on these issues, as I know that there are other factors that may come into play, such as the battery chemistry and perhaps other parts of the car's electrical system.