A few years back (2010?) I stumbled across an unusual amount of Whiskey Sixers. CQP they called this event. Propagation was fine and I was hooked. I marked the event on the calendar for the years to come and with the FB propagation it was a real party. After all, East Coast is easy from here but West Coast is REAL DX. I love the sound of polar flutter in the morning! Or evening for that matter. Last year already was far less productive with the decline of the solar cycle and I more or less had given up for this year.
Then I read the announcement that to celebrate the fiftieth edition of CQP, there would be a commemorative coin. Just work those 1×1 calls, take the letter of the suffix and spell GOLDRUSH. That means only eight contacts would do. Just find and work the right calls et voilà. It was only Saturday I read the fine print. I would need to make 150 QSO in total apart from the goldrush issue. One hundred fifty? That wasn’t in the initial announcement on CQ-Contest! I knew this would be hard and when I took a look at solarham.net the K index was too high to be good and the Bz had gone negative. For a change. Against all odds I started looking for Californians Saturday afternoon.
I can be short about that. There weren’t many. That is: there weren’t many to be heard overhere. And only on 20. The RBN showed huge amounts of the coveted 6 area callsigns but skimmers only as far as PJ2 and KP3 picked them up. Later on there were a few light signals on 15. I wouldn’t call it an opening. Rather a small crack in the reinforced concrete wall that stood between me and that Golden State. Even on 20 the loudest signals didn’t reach S9. I listened to some SSB signals or rather ‘modulated noise’ but I didn’t even try to call. All this in strong contrast with the previous years where I could work plenty of them in both modes. Even on ten meters. My hope was for a better Sunday and maybe a few on 40 in the morning.
Here’s what I wrote in 2010 about CQP and 40m:
On 40m there were some SSB spots for the CQP. Huh? I could hear them, well past my sunrise. I worked 3 and K6IDX said I was loud (S9). He was S9+20 at my place. The thrill of it! K6IDX was the loudest of them all on all bands. The signals! N6O runner up.
N6GQ even sent me a note regarding this 40m magical contact. ‘Loudest EU at that time‘. I was using a low inverted V on 80/40 for that occasion. We all have a dozen contacts we’ll never forget. This is one of mine. Enough flash back, now return to the harsh reality of 2015. I asked my friend K7GK what would be the best time and he queried his 2014 log. Around 06.30z, which translates to 8.30AM. No alarm needed then. But once I got into the shack: NO DX heard there. Only a ZL2 in the Oceania DX SSB but I didn’t bother to call him. Even EU was weak. But not a single W6. And the rest of Sunday was even worse. In the evening I didn’t hear a single W6 on 20 either. So Sunday was even worse than Saturday. I called it a day with 36 CW contacts and GOLDR. Never even heard one of the USHers.
If we extrapolate this kind of propagation to CQ WW in three weeks… Oh boy.
In fact, I did not expect this one at all! Despite the year 2015 being a very calm year when it comes to ham radio, I can check two things off the bucket list. First was ‘win a plaque for Field Day CW’ after a flawless victory last June and now ‘Win a plaque for a real DX contest’.
Today the postwoman’s van stopped and the doorbell rang. I needed to sign off the ticket for a parcel. It was wrapped in a plastic bag covered with exotic stamps. Russia? I have no parcel in the pipeline, nothing ordered… It felt like a wooden plaque. Yeah right, in what Russian contest would I even win a plaque?
RAEM 2014! I did not know there was a plaque for best Benelux score but I seem to have won it anyhow. Booyaa! Thanks to the RAEM people and R4IT for sponsoring it. I really should do this one full time with all gear up. Planned for 2015.
PS selfie NOT intended ☺
After a major QSL campaign about three years ago, it was finally time to wrestle through yet another major batch of incoming QSL cards. In total 1964 QSO got confirmed and replied to, good for yet another 1100 QSL cards. Everybody’s got to make a living. So do QSL printers. The good thing is that I am now fully up to date when it comes to OQ5M incoming ‘buro’ cards. Why did I get so behind? First of all, I hate spending time to process the QSL cards. And then I don’t go to every club meeting so when I finally make it there, there are a few stacks or even a box of cards for me. And if you postpone replying, the pile just grows.
Apart from the major PITA of letting the stack grow, there is a benefit in waiting two or three years. Often people send me a card for a 15m QSO in 2012, a 40m QSO in 2013 and a 10m QSO in 2014. If I reply to all cards the moment they get in, it costs me three cards. When I wait three years, I can confirm the three contacts on a single card. QSL card printers are entitled to a living, but there are limits.
There were many JA’s in the boxes. To be precise: 277 JA contacts, that’s over 25% of my cards going out. Two for 80m contacts and yet another for 160m. I remember one evening many years ago (2009?) when I worked a dozen Japanese stations in a row on Top Band. One must look for good things in the bad situation of a sleeping sun. One JA wrote a note on his card to me: “you have gd ears like a elephant”, he notes using 100W and a vertical on 15 CW. I don’t know if ears like an elephant is a compliment? 100W and a vertical? I don’t need big ears for that. I worked K3WWP numerous times and he’s QRP with mostly indoor antennas. I even remember guys sending they’re at mW levels.
There were a total of thirteen of my own cards returning from the DARC QSL bureau, stamped ‘SK’. So these OM must have passed away (-RIP-) between them sending their card to me and my reply card getting there. That is another drawback of the slacking QSLer that I am.
And finally a mystery has been solved. For years there has been a post-it on my shack table. I wrote the info on it for two contacts with HS0ZJF/8, using my ON5ZO callsign. HS0ZJF is my expat friend ON4AFU. The mystery lies in the fact that after all the time that passed I did not remember in what year I made these contacts. And I didn’t bother to ask AFU. So I couldn’t enter them in DX4WIN. What I should have done right away, I give you that. So now there was a card in the box confirming these two contacts. As it turns out, the post-it has been sticking in my eyesight for over five years. I think it must have been a case of ON4AFU texting me from HS0 that he was on the air, me running upstairs to make a contact without booting the shack PC and just scribble something on a piece of paper. No need to write down 2010, the day and month will do, I’ll put this in DX4WIN right away. Not so! This scenario must have happened twice because both QSO were on different dates.
But now I am up to date. For OQ5M. There is another shoe box for OQ5ZO/OO5ZO/ON5ZO and ON5ZO/P. OQ5ZO, that’s 2001. OO5ZO, that’s 2005. Oh my, more than a decade. A few times I thought: this paper QSL practice really is an archaic remainder of the past. But in the same thought it dawned on me that ham radio and CW really is an archaic remainder of the past as well.
Surely I remember my first cards coming in. Every card was a treasure. And when the first order of 1000 of my own cards came in, I already had a backlog of 800 or so contacts waiting to be QSL’ed. It took me quite a while because I wrote them all by hand. Eight hundred cards at once, handwritten. Oh boy what a dedicated fool I was. As soon as I started contesting and still wanted to send out cards for all contacts (hey, everything was new in one way or another), the high volume of outgoing cards forced me to print labels. And then rubberstamp the label with red ink, just like the pros. I made 18000+ CW contacts as OO5ZO in 2005, and I got smarter. I only sent out cards myself to non-EU stations. Replies to those cards are still coming in, so waiting three years to reply seems reasonable, no?
And what do I do with all these cards? Well, check this out. A third identical container is now already half full. Imagine I need to pull out a card for a 80m QSO with Texas made in 2004… Viva LotW and eQSL.
As it turns out I didn’t do as much ham radio as I planned to do. The weather was only a minor limiting factor this summer. Space weather and its impact on ionospheric propagation was more of a problem. Or rather the lack thereof. That makes DXing a bit of a drag.
My biggest concern was finishing the log checking for this year’s UBA DX contests (SUCCESS!). Furthermore I worked on a few construction projects (see the sneak preview post), finished some jobs that got started already last year. I tried to relax a bit (FAIL!) and read a few page-turners by McNab. We also held quite a few BBQ Grill Parties with lots of friends. I think this summer was a record year for BBQ’ing since we moved in here in 2003. Hail to the grill baby! To paraphrase my friend Duke.
As a family of four we did our share of daytrips to visit some of the landmarks in our own region. Maybe I don’t get to be as active on the air as before, I can assure you that ham radio is on my mind more than ever!
Look at this beauty:
It’s a thirty meter high watchtower just 30 km from here. I learned about this construction by accident on someone’s website. Public access, local government property. So I just had to go there and climb the beast. Race you to the top! Well, it was a slow race because my kids needed some supervision on the stairs.
There was a little garden at the base and the municipality provided a picnic table so we headed for a local store to run errands and had lunch al fresco while my head started spinning. Not from vertigo but from wild plans. FIELDDAY! A publicly accessible structure, 30m high, with room for dipole legs in all directions and a nice flat lawn to put a tent on. And no neighbors to hear the generator roar. Honestly I was so excited it took me thirty hours (!!!) to realize… that you cannot use existing structures like this for field day antenna supports. DUH! The love for this tower soon cooled down. With the platform being at 133 meter ASL, this would be a kickass VHF location. Just keep it in mind.
On yet another sunny hot day we decided to visit the open air museum of Bokrijk.
Some people might say: “hey look, what a nice medieval windmill they managed to preserve and put on display here”. Guess what my first thought was? Geez, a full size single loop quad antenna for 80! Let me count the steps between the blades to see if 160 is possible too? I can’t help it. This antenna business has been messing with my mind for too long.
Maybe I should just forget about all this ham radio nerdiness. A day to the north sea shore will do me good. Now you should know that ever since I read the stuff K2KW wrote about Team Vertical (“we’re just using some verticals on the beach mon“), I can’t just look at the sea. I don’t even see the sea. I see a giant reflecting plane that turns a simple vertical into a DX magnet working better than a yagi on a high tower. I can’t help it. Salt water… low take off… ON5ZO QRZ dididah didahdahdit. What is that you say honey?
And then once we got off the little commuting boat that took us across the harbor channel (for free nonetheless!), seeing this doesn’t help either. Light house weekend anyone? It’s got a ILHW reference.
It was a good summer holiday. Only way too short. And again with some unfinished jobs waiting for next year…
I stay clear of those (so called) social media but I do take a peek once in a while at some of the ham radio accounts that are open for non-members. Today I noticed that Frank ON9CC / OT6M had a nice graph from his Clublog account, titled ‘QSO by year’. I generated the same image for my account.
What do I see?
First off: it seems I failed to upload some contacts to Clublog because my own count is higher. And ARRL LotW shows a DXCC count of 285. What gives?
And I dind’t know I have been doing so much phone ? That’s only the major SSB contests. I do UBA SSB (moral duty), WPX and CQ WW SSB and if time and WX permits I crank up the tower for the ARRL DX SSB part.
I got on HF by the end of 2000. I had no knowledge of operating practice and had only a short and low inverted V and the TS-850’s autotuner. Somehow I still managed to work 70 countries in just under two months. Among those SY2A, one of the two or three DXCC entities that I snatched on SSB but not on CW. I wonder what the others are.
I discovered contesting in 2001 and 2002. There was plenty of activity on 28 MHz, a band for which I had a 3 el yagi at about 9m high.
In 2003 I had a lot of work to do in our new house and had no real antennas here. Low horizontal wires and automatic antenna couplers were used on the scarce free time. The dust settled in 2004 and with limited antennas but with considerable free time, I doubled the QSO count.
The difference between 2004 and 2005? A crank up tower to hold up better and higher low band wires, a big 10-15-20 yagi and a WARC dipole. That’s going from 8k to 18k. Oh wait, this is another major factor: 2005 was the year that the OO pfx was released for the first time and I made 17600 CW QSO as OO5ZO. Anyway the difference between crappy antennas and a tower to support real antennas is dramatic. Adding a 10 dB amp is NOT (January 2006).
I think 2008 and 2009 were two years that I had more to do for my job so I didn’t have so much time off. And early 2010 marked the birth of our first son. But then there was just no stopping me as the propagation peaked and the rates in the contests were mad. At least for a small station in Belgium. There was a small dip in 2013 because I missed two major contests due to storms and not wanting to crank up the tower.
Last year (2014) was the best so far. With my 5000 claimed QSO in CQ WW CW. I don’t think any single op has done this from Belgium in a contest? Yes I am damn proud of that ☺
I already know now that 2015 won’t show spectacular QSO totals. I also know the reason why but still I’m surprised to see I made 10k contest contacts already even with missing much of the major contests earlier this year.
High QSO numbers result in thousands of QSL cards coming in. But that’s something I will moan about very soon, when those boxes of incoming QSL are processed (what a waste of time!) and my wallet is a few hundred euro lighter.
Sneak preview of a new small tilt over mast. The mast itself needs another section (or two?). Just testing the concept. Still VERY MUCH under construction. It’s a ‘just for fun’ project; for the heck of it and to get better welding skills.
I need more holidays, early retirement and a few extra lives. Maybe then projects like this will progress faster.
Filmed with old classic cell phone, vintage 2010. Shabby image quality, no HD.
My online Purveyor to the Royal Shack of PC hardware just put one of these on display.
With a name like DXRacer, this might be a useful addition to the shack. For those long weekends when we race the DX for 48 hours straight.
I like the mouse tray option, not for the mouse but for the paddles of course ☺
Not cheap though. Anyone uses this in the shack? Would this really offer more comfort than a normal chair? I had a pretty sore butt last weekend. :o(
You can also apply for sponsorship. Now wouldn’t that be something? ON5ZO’s buttocks proudly sponsored by… And when the mult bell rings, a word from our sponsor.
During a contest the XYL often asks if all goes well and whether I’m having fun. When the answer is a sigh and a short ‘no’, she wonders why I keep going on. Why do I keep going on? Only a true contester knows. Conditions were not too good. The sun threw some mud up. And throughout the whole weekend the lightning detection website displayed a string of yellow dots from Sicily to Finland. Need I say more? There was no thunderstorm in my area this time, but the static crashes made it hard on the ears. Add to that the QRM of the occasional tractor or combined harvester that passes under the open shack window, and you have the recipe for summer fun in WAE CW. I checked my archives (this bloggy thing here) and QRM/QRN often come up.
Against common sense I decided to sleep the first night. Friday was a steamy hot day and we went to visit Brussels as tourists in our own country. The result was me being tired from the sightseeing under a boiling hot sun and the atmosphere exploding to the east of me because of the heat. And A/K indexes that weren’t really appealing. So I started with nine out of twelve hours rest.
Operator and equipment did a good job. The days of practicing for QTC are long gone by. For myself, the key is to keep my mind to it and not let it wander. Was that an S or an H? Was it a 2 or a 3? No, don’t think – just type. I knew I wasn’t going to improve my old record. Things were slow, signals were weak. WAECW is by no means a rate contest, and the ratio EU/DX is skewed towards EU. But for the nice DX to come out, there needs to be an incentive in the form of good propagation. Nevertheless, there WAS DX although the S meter was pretty lazy.
There was deep QSB on the signals. A caller would be S9. Great, let’s ask for QTC. Then six seconds later when he sends his report, he drops down into the noise, barely audible. If sigs go up and down so fast, it’s not smart to exchange QTC because you would need to ask for many repeats. This would often result in chaos as the request for a repeat might go down in the QSB too.
Along the way N1MM+ started acting up. I could feel it slowing down as the log grew. At a given point the delay was cramping my style. When running, the DX was gone by the time my PC sent ‘QTC?’ and when S&P the DX took the next caller. A couple of guys and myself tested the latest version before the contest but you look for scoring and procedural bugs, not for speed with a heavy log. The dev team is almost always on call and I sent my database to one of the database wizards. It seems they have found the culprit piece of code already. They also posted a procedure as a temporary workaround. I followed their advice and soon the logger was following my keystrokes again. Off to the slow races.
The rate was so low and the static crashes so loud that I decided to take a nap Sunday morning. The plan was to be back before sunrise but of course I slept longer. I found eighty meters empty to my surprise. I ran a bit but there weren’t many callers. Those who did call were either weak or pounded on by relentless static. Strangely enough there was little activity on forty too. Bummer!
Towards the end of the contest, the M/S guys and big gunners were jumping on each and every packet spot, and some of these guys really seem to think they will die a sudden death if they don’t work the DX in under 20 seconds! A classic returning problem.
In the end it wasn’t my best score, but given the fact that I was not going for a score and with the propagation disturbed and all the lightning crashes, it turned out not to be too bad:
900 Q, 1300 QTC, 590 total mult score for 1.298 megapoints.
The only question on my mind is: will this be enough for country winner? My guess is that OR2F will have taken things far more seriously and strategically, like not missing the first night and not taking more off time than the twelve hours. And probably begged for more QTC.
For years I have wanted to do the SSB part seriously too but something always comes up that weekend. It isn’t any different this year. Oh well, in WAE it’s CW that counts. As in any other ham radio event for that matter!
I started this project and this description December 28 of last year. It was completed a few days later yet nothing has happened with either the compiled code nor this posting. Changing jobs soon after and the workload that went along with that move just pushed stuff like this far into the background. Why would I be messing about with my contest log database when I don’t even have the time to actually do a contest? A related post on the N1MM+ reflector today made me pick it up again. It seems the code is 100% functional. However there are some weird things in it and I don’t remember why ☺ ☺
I have a PC in the shack that I use exclusively for logging. It runs only N1MMLogger+ and a browser. And of course the microHAM USB stuff and Elecraft software tools to access the rigs and amp. All other computer jobs and internet access is done with my laptop in the living room. That includes keeping track of logs, TQSL / LotW, eQSL, submitting logs to the contest sponsors, backup logs to my web space etc. This means that after every contest I need to copy my log database from the shack PC to the laptop in the living room. For years since the Win XP era I used a shared folder for this. Even the arrival of a Vista laptop didn’t stop the fun. It took some more studying to get it done with Win7. What homegroup? I don’t need no stinking homegroup putting all my files on display. I just want to expose this particular folder over the LAN! I didn’t bother to search for a solution on the Win7 side in the shack. The folder was already exposed on the Vista machine so it was one way traffic from the shack to the laptop.
This way of doing things causes another problem. Both machines need to run at the same time. After a contest I usually want to go to bed or rest in any other way ASAP. So I shut down the shack. The day after I boot the shack PC, go downstairs to do the log business and just forget that the shack PC is still on. Since I almost never go into the shack and the new PC is rather quiet, I sometimes just forget that this machine is still running. As result of this and to bypass the folder sharing woes I just zipped and mailed my database to myself. That way I could shut down the computer in the shack right away and get hold of the database in the living room or even the day after at work. Sharing the folder on Win7 or Win8.1 probably isn’t hard but I don’t feel like investing time in that right now. It’s not very rewarding to me.
So why not just automate the ZIP and mail process? This is a very simple program to write and one click would zip and mail the file straight into my inbox. I already know how to send mails and attachments. I’m sure ZIPing a file won’t be hard either. And I like writing this dumb little tools.
Google told me that the .Net Framework version 4.5 comes with a ZipArchive class. But it was nowhere to be found in my Visual Studio 2010. Of course: it’s only accessible from VS2012 on. But I didn’t want to upgrade yet. On the other hand, the compressing algorithm that is used by 7-ZIP is much stronger. It reduces the original database to a much smaller file than the compressing method that comes with windows. So I thought of a way to use 7-ZIP in my own program. The use of the DLL seemed the way to go but in the end I opted for the command line interface. That took some trial and error to get it to work. I made a batch file and if you know what a batch file is, you’re probably older than 20. Much trial and more error. It didn’t work. Some old post on some forum gave me a clue. If a file path includes a space, you need to put it between double quotes. The folder called ‘N1MM Logger+’ contains a space. Adding quotes solved the problem. Now it was just a matter of running the batch file from my program which is very easy.
At first I decided not to add a GUI and hardcode all filenames and email addresses. After all it will only run for me on my own machine. If a parameter changes it’s a matter of changing the code and then recompile. But in the end I decided to add a basic interface that allows me to paste the score summary in a textbox and then put it in the email body. That way I can post to 3830 from the office PC at work the day after during my lunch break. I also made a very basic INI file that remembers the last used values. And of course if I provide a way to change the files, I also need to update the batch file. So I added code that writes a new batch file based on the current file before it is executed.
There was still one pitfall. My code launches the batch file and the actual archiving of the database takes a few seconds. However the next line in my code is to send the ZIP file. So I added a waiting loop that exits as soon as the archiving is done. I could have used the FileSystemWatcher but
And this is where the draft of this post abruptly came to an end. Why didn’t I use the FileSystemWatcher class? My guess is that it probably acted too fast or so. That it detected the creating of the ZIP file to be sent before it was actually finished. Oh well, it works and I might as well finally put it on the shack PC and start using it.
Just a short note for the archives.
It seems that either the 10 and 15 meters band are in a temporary but deep lull or the current solar cycle indeed has seen the best of its days. Ten meter did not produce anything substantial and none of the QSO there showed a deflection on the S-meter. Except for the Italians and a dozen of EA. Fifteen meters wasn’t great either. We’ve been spoiled the last couple of years.
I had my fun with the online scoreboard. At first. I managed to keep a top three spot and took top position a few times. Then a couple of players joined in and the others shifted a gear higher. That somehow turned the initial fun into a mild frustration. But still top 8. I just can’t keep up with multiple big towers and huge antennas. And when propagation is flakey the southern EUs have a definite edge. BTW I know that the online real time scores mean squat since not many people have adopted it.
Target was 1200 QSO for a nice average 100/hr. I just fell short. The lack of ten meters and the QRM on 160/80 that popped up again. With the limited band changes per hour, SO2R is not really an option. But I took the most of it and used a couple of them each hour to log some additional contacts.
By looking at the EUHFC website, it seems that both my QSO and mult numbers are approximately what I produce every time. All in all as always a very enjoyable contest. And it was fun to see my buddy OT1A back once again.
Probably Country Winner in CW HP just like 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011 and so on (hehe) and maybe a top 5 in zone 14? On the EU scale it will be a lousy performance. I repeat: I just can’t keep up with multiple big towers and huge antennas.