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Everything ON5ZO / OQ5M has to ventilate about ham radio.

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:

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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.

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I swear I did not add the flags – the quad loop was there when I got there.

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?

2015_Image3

Salt water… SALT WATER!

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.

Lighthouse Lange Nelle - Oostende

Lighthouse Lange Nelle – Oostende

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.

clublogStats

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.

DXracer

www.dxracer.net

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.

zipNmail1

Simple UI. Server and emailaddress to send to as well as the file. Last used values are stored in INI file. You can also edit the email body. I use this to paste the N1MM+ score summary into so I can use that from wherever I am to post to 3830.

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.

This one shows the content of the BAT file. You can edit it from withing the program. Not much use once it works. Oh now I remember: if the file name/path changes, the BAT file that runs the ZIP process needs to change too.

This one shows the content of the BAT file. You can edit it from within the program. Not much use once it works. Oh now I remember: if the file name/path changes, the BAT file that runs the ZIP process needs to change too. One quickly forgets the reason for some program code and functionality.

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.

EUHFC-OQ5M

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.

Just a small contesting event that I like to play in. With the ITU zone as the exchange, it kinda feels like a ‘light’ version of last week’s IARU contest minus the DX and minus the HQ stations. With the focus on the Russian field day style competitors. The contest starts a little too late and stops too early to work them on 40. I could have worked them in the last hour if it weren’t for terrible QRN. See the image: a curtain of thunderstorms between me and UA.

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Lightning QRN anyone? July 18, 2015 – 14.30 UTC
www.lightningmaps.org

Here’s something that becomes very popular when you work M/S stations, what I call the ‘interlock waiting game’. That’s the few seconds you have to wait for the M/S station to give you the report because another radio is transmitting and the one that has to answer you needs to wait for the message to be sent by that other radio. That’s what you get when you do a full blown M/M with a single TX signal at the time. And I hate having to wait. P33W scores very bad in that department. There are others but that one always does it. A few seconds of idling time when running seems like forever and in a big contest it’s long enough for a rude operator to just jump in the gap and start sending CQ. From WPX CW on I just CQ again and wipe the call if the answer doesn’t come in due time and I suspect that the station is playing the interlock waiting game with me.

Fieldday CW 2015 is in the pocket. Third time with OT1A is indeed a charm. So I’m excluding 2014.

2015FDCW

Shocking obeservations:

  • My last LotW upload was December 31.
  • The year is over half way and so far I have made ZERO contacts on the WARC bands. Not ‘few’. Not ‘almost none’. But the absolute value of ZERO.

So it was time to grab the bull by the horns and fire up ye olde shack again. The plan was to set up on Friday and relax on Saturday before the contest. Yeah right. A friend asked to help him in a heavy construction project on Friday. Double trouble: bye bye plan and it would certainly cause some body aches the day after during the contest. I have been distracted from ham radio duties so much over the last year… The job was done sooner than anticipated so I wanted to set up in the afternoon before an invited friend would arrive for a BBQ party. I powered up the winch to crank up the tower when he texted me he was already on his way. That’s almost one hour sooner than planned so setting up the tower and antennas would be done on Saturday after all.

Sure enough my body felt Friday’s physical effort and as a result I woke up around 5AM with a cramp in my leg. I knew I would not fall asleep again soon so I booted the shack PC and powered up the TRX. Say what? K=5 overnight? Oh boy this will be a dull contest. Let’s make the most of it anyway. Since everyone and everything worked along the set up procedure outside was done in under an hour.  I took a nap before the start of the contest and was ready to go.

Conditions indeed were not the best but things didn’t go too bad. I maintained an average rate of just over 100/hr. With intense use of the second radio and the simple triband vertical. The latter antenna works great when the propagation is great too but this time it was barely making me heard. Better than nothing. Second radio share: 2151 QSO of which 253 with radio 2 = 11.8%.

At a given point, just like last year, someone insisted giving me 001. PSE ITU ZN ITU ZN PSE ITU ZN @24WPM to match the caller’s speed. Then he proceeded to give me his CQ zone. *sigh* Log what is sent? Yes but what if he changes his cabrillo before submitting?

One hour into the contest I developed a head ache. I never have headaches. It distracted me. Not so much the pain itself but wondering what the cause was, never having had a headache before. It got so bad I took off the headphones for some relief. When my fingers touched the left part of my head, I felt a sore spot. That was it! During WPX CW I broke one of the hinging suspension brackets of the (expensive!) headphones. Since I use these tight fitting cans to suppress the amp’s noise, I don’t want to go back to my open spare model that doesn’t block ambient QRM. I fixed the bracket with a liberal amount of plastic tape and it held during WPX. But because I fixed the ear shell with the tape, it doesn’t follow the curve of the skull anymore. So the protruding remains of the plastic brackets were pushing against my head. In fact pretty hard but I didn’t notice at first. I tried to bend the taped assembly a bit but it always comes back to its painful position. I can still finger point the spot now more than two days after the contest. For the rest of the contest I tried adjusting the bracket and the layers of tape but I needed to repeat it every hour. I wonder why that wasn’t a problem in WPX CW? Now what? Buy one again?

The night was slow but it could have been worse. I didn’t actually sleep but ‘lost it’ for a quarter of an hour on two occasions. Tired, warm in the shack, slow rates. Together with a few I/O breaks I lost a good hour of operating time.

iaru2015-1

I had a close eye on the online score board. SN7Q was out of my league but I traded places often with OH1F and UC7A. All these guys seem to have more, bigger and higher antennas than yours truly. I had to let OH1F go in the last half hour. He must have found a source of new multipliers. The RBN map showed him spraying his signal to Asia / far east and USA / Caribbean at the same time. Since I only have one antenna, it was either direction for me. I was very tired and was relieved when the final bell rang. I slept for two hours straight.

Here’s what I’m going to do:

  • Upload about 8000 contact contacts from 2015 to eQSL and LotW
  • Reinstall the WARC dipole and try to make a few contacts every day.

Today (Tuesday) the bands were either closed or everyone at the beach. I worked a 4S7 on 17 CW though.