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Everything ON5ZO / OQ5M has to ventilate about ham radio.

One of the first and probably the only ham radio related job I did this summer was to refurbish the 80/160 dual band ground plane antenna. Six weeks later and I can’t remember why on earth I replaced a working antenna. My DRAM will refresh itself as I type this.

When I had my tower installed ten years ago, I was so glad to finally hear and work things above 10MHz that I didn’t bother for the low bands. I had a decent short loaded vertical dipole antenna for 40 so I only missed the fun on 160 and 80. Fun? Who cares about those hard noisy bands? But then I wanted to take the contesting experience to the next level. So I needed to get active on the low bands. An inverted V on 80 with the apex as high as the tower was cranked up. That kinda worked. Everything works when you’re starting out on a band. For 160 I used whatever wire I could squeeze in and fed it with the SG-230 autotuner. Then came QRO and I needed a solution without the 200W max black magic box. Black magic or black box?

Early in 2006 ON4AFU offered me a 80/160 trap with RG-58. He didn’t use it anymore. I think I worked my first US on Top Band with that. Nope, I just checked and my first Whiskey on 160 was K1RX in the ARRL DX CW 2005. On 3830 for this contest I said about the low bands: ‘an inverted L with some radials fed with a SGC-230 coupler for 80/160m.’ There you go. I left the inverted V path earlier than I remembered.

The trapped vertical was a bit of an odd creation. I used my old trusty aluminium push up mast to get to a height of 10 or 11 meter. The rest was horizontal making it a trapped inverted L. I think the radials were laid out temporarily on the ground during the contest. I got away with that because there were no kids yet. Anyway that flimsy trap thing soon broke and I needed to find a solution. I was determined to go vertical on 80. One thing I learned the hard way was that I could not put up two low dipoles for 160 and 80 on the same pulley on the tower. They interacted like hell. Putting these up at right angles was out of the question because the garden is too small. As long as I was running 100W the smarttuner would turn things to 50 ohm on both 80 and 160. So making a vertical for 80 that did not need to use the tower for suspension would free that resource for a 160 dipole. But first things first. Let’s get vertical on 3.5 MHz.

I adapted the trapped inverted L design. First I need to get as high as possible. The aluminium push up mast only takes me to 10m. I had salvaged a piece of the famous DK9SQ fibre glass poles. To combine these I had a Ertalon (nylon?) coupling piece made on the lathe that went into the upper aluminium tube and where the fibre glass section would slide over on the other end of the coupling piece. That took me to 16m. The rest was floating horizontally to a pole on the edge of the garden, making it effectively an inverted L. Now for the radials. The temporary ‘just throw ‘m on the ground’ configuration would most certainly result in an XYL no-no. Which is only normal. I initially sold this as experimental to get spousal approval. So for the first time I made use of elevated radials. I calculated the length of a 80m dipole, and put these two legs in the hedge that borders my garden. That is roughly two and a half meter high. Then I adjusted the L wire until resonance. I had never used such a good antenna on 80. It rocked. I really worked great. So good that my QRO made me an alligator on 80. A problem that still persists to this day.

But this behemoth was a pain to put up. Sometimes literally painful. Squeezed fingers and a sore arm. The fibre glass pole, the L wire and the seven aluminium push up sections. The combined weight! It needed to be pushed up by hand. One hand would hold the bottom section while the other hand would slide out the next section. Then the upper part needed to be held steady while the first hand tightened the collar to hold two sections together. Repeat six times. The higher it gets, the heavier it becomes. All this while standing on a small ladder because the lower tube is two meter long. Really a pain. And when it’s windy and the sections are waving in the wind, the aluminium sections would jam because they would get slightly bent. Yanking it sometimes made the upper section slide back down. Sometimes then the collar would smash my thumb of the hand that held the lower section in place. I can assure you that doing this only was worth the while because it was such a great antenna and because us contesters are just plain nuts. Anyway I used this for a couple of years and worked many real DX on it.

To complete the antenna farm, I bought a set of loading coils for 160 and converted the old 80m inverted V. SWR 2:1 bandwidth was just right to cover most of the DX action. That again was a huge improvement and once again the DXCC counter incremented every contest. I could even do SO2R on both low bands now!

But not only the contest part of the QTH improved. We did a lot of changes and in summer 2009 we would complete the biggest project so far. That is: remove all old cracked concrete the previous owners had poured and dubbed the terrace. It looked like a scale model to demonstrate plate tectonics. We removed six (!) truckloads of reinforced concrete and made a flat and levelled terrace with modern concrete tiles. That summer we also had the roof and the overhang totally redone. In a trendy colour nonetheless. Out with the old, in with the new. Quite a costly endeavour but I’m proud to say the makeover made our house look more modern and less shabby.

Without the XYL even mentioning a word about it, I decided that my new terrace and garden look would not be desecrated with a bulky galvanized support that had moss covered concrete blocks as a base, and a bunch of aluminium tubing and fiber glass fishing poles. That had to go. Yet I did not want to give up the 80m GP antenna with two elevated radials. This thing was just too good. Since the new terrace and ground levelling around it involved redoing a part of the lawn, I decided to use the best of both worlds. That is: have the inverted L with elevated radials. But use the big crank up tower as a suspension point. That would mean that when the tower is all the way up, it would be almost a vertical full size on 3.5MHz. I put a nice thick wooden pole in a corner of the lawn. It’s 10 cm in diameter and sits almost a meter deep anchored in quick cement. The pole blends in with the terrace, the hedge and the scenery. The top is about two and a half meter high, maybe three. That’s where the elevated radials connect to the feed point and the 80m wire goes up.

It was so much easier to pull up a rope to raise the antenna wire to the top of the tower where there is a pulley. No more pushing weights with the aluminium sections. No more strained muscles or smashed finger nails. Also the tower does not swing in the wind. If the wind were so hard it would made the tower swing, I wouldn’t crank it up in the first place. The fibre pole did swing even in a gentle breeze. While swinging the antenna wire would sometimes touch the conducting aluminium sections and cause the amp to trip and the wire’s insulation to melt. One Monday my neighbour asked me why he had seen sparks high up on my antennas the nights before. Later on I made an assembly to prevent that and keep the wire away from the aluminium pole but it only added extra weight to lift. But not anymore!

Somewhere along I bought the notorious MFJ-998. The plan was to use the 80m antenna, lengthen it somewhere halfway between 80 and 160 and use this QRO tuner to get the wire working on these two bands. I tried many things while running this experiment and anxiously altered many parameters in this antenna system to get it all working. I did so many things that I forgot most. What I did try was adding tons of ferrite at the feed point and much more elevated radials. So from the wooden pole there were a dozen of wires between 20m and 50m long running to all corners of the garden. High enough to walk under at all times. This was a bit of a pain as all these radials were always in the way when holding or throwing something in the air. Like a Frisbee. Or a ladder. Every year I needed to get them out of the way to trim the hedge to put them back up afterwards. And of course each and every time someone came to visit us, the same old joke got told: the XYL’s laundry must dry pretty fast with all these clotheslines. Hilarious.

I had so much faith in the electronics of the QRO tuner placed remotely in a cabinet at the feed point and really believed this would solve all my problems. But it never worked as a whole and I retired the QRO autotuner. After so many years and doing so many things, I forgot the details. In the end I seem to remember it turned out to be a water soaked coax at the feed point. Stupid me never checked that and trusted the part of the system that was used and that had been working fine before. But the extra radials stayed and I decided that resonance or at least ‘native 50 ohm’ was the way to go. I’d to the smart tuning from now on.

What if I could ‘dualize’ this proven single band 80m concept for 160 combined with 80? I could parallel a second wire for 160. I would need a second pulley for the 160 wire. I would need to find a way to shorten the 160m L because the garden is not wide enough. I put a second arm with pulley on the top of the tower. I folded the ends of the 160 L back along the wire that came from the tower, making it linear loaded. Used 50cm lengths of electric conduit as spacers. I made a plastic spacer strip to keep both wires apart at the common feed point. In the end it was a crazy system: lots of wires floating above our heads. I had a hard time trying to explain to non-ham visitors that they are not clotheslines. Apart from these there was also the two wires going up the tower, one so long that it had to be folded back. Two pulleys and also two ropes to pull up the wires. Crazy but it worked. It worked well. The only two tradeoffs were sacrificing SO2R on 80/160 as the antennas shared a common coax, and the whole circus of taking the radials out of the trees and putting them back in after the yearly round of shaving the hedge.

Along the way I had made a temporary experimental feed point assembly. But as it happens here at ON5ZO’s, temporary often becomes permanent. Another important factor here is the field day character. For each contest I need to crank up the tower and hoist the low band wires up in the air. But many contests don’t have 160. So why add another load to the tower, why risk another copper wire spaghetti when the band isn’t used in the contest I’m about to enter? I could just leave it coiled up under the wooden pole. But since the end of the wire is still connected to the feed point, this messes up the 80m operation. So I need to disconnect the 160 terminal from the feed point. Each and every contest. Standing on a ladder. First both wire terminals shared a common bolt. Removing 160 would mean the 80 terminal jumped away and needed to be put on again. Where did that washer go? Where did the nut fall? Later on I gave each wire a dedicated bolt. Using a wing nut for the 160 cable shoe so I didn’t need a wrench anymore. All very complex isn’t it? A fixed setup would be so much easier. Just flip the switch, put butt in chair and call CQ TEST. No more field day style. No more wire and rope spaghetti. But better this than no tower at all.

This is how both wires run from a wooden pole to the top of the tower.

This is how both wires run from a wooden pole to the top of the tower. The feedpoint on top of the pole is about three meter high.

So the plan for this summer was:

  • See if there is a way to return to two sets of resonant radials.
  • Make a more beefy feed point assembly. Although my quick ‘n dirty temporary fix was already OK.
  • Provide extra choking with off the shelf QRO balun.
  • Make adding/removing the 160 wire easier.
  • Do something about the pigeons and especially their excrements; pole = no go zone for birds.
  • Test extensively in the three major contests (IARU, EUHFC and WAECW).

Resonant radials.

Plan executed as in the picture. The radials for 160 need to be bent.

Some image

Google Earth view of the QTH with the elevated radials. Amazing how they capture the red and yellow wires from such heights!

I put a temporary dipole centre piece on the pole. Cut two lengths of wire to form a dipole for 3535 resonance. Theory says these will need to be shorter if they’re close to the ground. Shiver me timbers! I had to cut them way shorter for the antenna analyser to show resonance on the desired frequency. But I achieved resonance. Then add the next set for 160. Again I had to cut a big deal off. I didn’t take notes and seven weeks is too long ago but I think it was 70% of the normal theoretical length or even shorter. Radials are between two and three meters high. For 160 I achieved a dip around 1835 but not really a low SWR. And the second set of radials (160) did not affect the first pair’s (80) resonance.

I did a quick test with the tower raised. The WX was superb. Of course, no where near a contest. The length of the old wire for 80 was still spot on and the antenna analyser showed a perfect dip around the desired frequency. The SWR graph and X and Z values were about the same across the CW portion as in the old setup so it should work.

For 160 the wire was too short now. My initial plan was to lengthen the linear loading at the end of the L. But then I needed to alter the loading assembly I made. Why not just cut the vertical wire and add some extra there? I think I added a good two meter of wire. I used one of the handy dandy gimmicks found plenty @ON5ZO: a piece of plexi (acrylic) strip, 4 cm by 20 cm or so with four holes sized the diameter of the antenna wire. I use these as end insulators, parallel dipole spreaders and now also as cable splices. The cable goes through one hole over the other side back into the other hole and makes a strain relief that doesn’t let loose and doesn’t harm the insulation. The strip itself never breaks, never bends and is weather resistant. Just don’t cut it with an angle grinder with a thin cutting disk. The stuff melts into a blob. The hacksaw is the way to go. Better is the sheet metal cutting press if you have access.

Cable splice

Cable splice

To join the wires I used some electric cable splice connectors. The manufacturer did a demo at work a few months ago and I got a few free samples. I bet the sales rep will never think of this application for his product. Unless he is a ham. The splice itself and the connecting block is covered with quite a few layers of electrical tape around the plexi strip.

Cable splice. More down to earth view.

Cable splice. More down to earth view.

I had now achieved resonance on both 80 and 160. The SWR curve was what was to be expected. Less broad on 160 than before so I assume this means less losses? I just maintain a simple blog and don’t write low band antenna books so I’m not an expert. Fact is that this is the best I can do for Top Band and it is what it is. If it’s as good as the previous version, I’m happy. If better then I’m happier. If worse then I can always go back to the ‘many radials of random length’ setup.

Feed point assembly

I decided to add extra choking. There is already a huge amount of ferrite cores over the coax at the feed point terminal. A few years ago, when I had problems getting the system to work, I had Peter of DX-wire.de make me a ridiculously long custom Teflon coax choke with tons of ferrites. But I wanted more. Since spare time is scarce I have to make choices. So no homebrew balun. A few years ago I traded my dollar bills for a BalunDesigns.com choke. Great stuff but this time I didn’t want to spend more on shipping and custom duties than what the actual balun costs. So I decided to buy a ON7FU balun. If ON4HIL / OT2A is happy with ON7FU stuff, I probably will be too.

Feed point assembly

Feed point assembly

The balun is one thing, but I wanted the wires not to connect directly to the balun case for mechanical stability. And I needed to observe the 160-quick-disconnect rule. So I connected the radials to a 5 mm thick aluminum angle stock. And the 80/160 wires to another. Both were joined with a piece of kitchen cutting board plastic. The hot and cold terminals so to speak were connected to both aluminum angle profiles by means of 20 mm wide aluminum strips. I could have used a wire but this looked nicer. I don’t know if low inductance connections matter at these low frequencies? But this will probably be low inductance. All nuts and bolts are stainless and on each connection the proverbial liberal amount of Penetrox is used.

Feed point assembly

Feed point assembly. By now the PL coax plug has been wrapped in many layers of self amalganating tape. The two upper wires are the radiating elements, the four lower black wires are the radials.

I used two bolts, one for 80 and one for 160. If I want to disconnect the 160 wire, I only have to loosen one nut. I used a second counter nut on the 80 terminal as this one is not supposed to get disconnected. For strain relied as the wire is pulled up towards the top of the mast, I simply turn the wires two times through the cutout hole that is the top of the cutting board. This way the 160 wire comes off in a breeze too. I had to perform this action between EUHFC which includes 160 and WAE which is without Top Band. I just need the ladder and a wrench size 10. It takes only a few minutes. With the recent garden makeover the ground there is levelled and compacted so the ladder doesn’t sink in the soil anymore. Added bonus for the field day style antenna czar.

Muttley Do Something!

Stop that pigeon! Yankee Doodle Pigeon likes my big wooden pole. Result: a layer of excrements on the antenna feed point and on the ground. Trees enough. Even overhead electrical lines. Go sh!t there pigeons! So I added a little extra and since then I haven’t seen a single pigeon landing on my pole.

No sane pigeon will land of my pole anymore!

No sane pigeon will land on my pole anymore!

Test extensively

The last part of the plan has proven a bit problematic. So far I used the antenna in the IARU and EUHFC contests. I can’t tell if the antenna worked, and what’s more if it outperformed my old setup. Or not? Low band conditions were poor. QRN, static and noise were omnipresent in full force. And it’s not the time of the year for low band operations. Using it in WAE could have told me something more. That’s a DX only contest and I’ve come to know what (not) to expect in this contest during August summer doldrums. But as you might know my participation in this one was limited to 100 Q on twenty and fifteen meters. So I’ll have to wait until the contests in October for less summer QRN. Maybe that’ll tell me something more.

Bonus

While I was at it, I made a solution for a problem. I hope a picture really tells more than a thousand words.

How one of both antenna wires are pulled tro the top of the tower.

How one of both antenna wires are pulled tro the top of the tower.

Picture above. Now the thousand words.

So on top of the tower there is an arm with a pulley. That pulley is used to hoist another pulley (small auxiliary pulley) with a rope. Why the aux pulley and not just pull of the L wire itself? Because ON5ZO is not a ‘set and forget’ station. Each contest means putting the whole shebang back up. No matter how you attach that wire to the rope on a crank up tower, it’s always going to get stuck somewhere and jam. Maybe the vertical part of the L is too long and slack wire needs to be pulled to the horizontal side? Or vice versa. But with the second pulley to guide the antenna wire, it can just slide along in all directions you want to pull it. That works just fine.

How the wire coils up and jams the auxiliary pulley

How the wire coils up and jams the auxiliary pulley

But cranking the tower up and down means the lifting rope gets twisted around its own axis as you coil the rope up to keep it nicely waiting for the next contest. And when I pull the auxiliary pulley up, the rope untwists itself again by turning the other way round. This means that the aux pulley also twists around its own axis. And this movement in turn tangles up the blue L wire. When it’s tangled up around the pulley, it can no longer slide freely in either direction. That means I need to lower the pulley, straighten the antenna wire and repeat until it works. The first time the auxiliary pulley jammed and I didn’t know why. You can’t see the wire coiling up twenty one meters high. Maybe I should hop on the drone bandwagon and film my stuff in the air? After a dozen times I more or less know how to handle it to minimize the effect. But it would be nice to have a way to just lift the pulley by pulling the rope and not having to worry about the wire tangling up.

Maybe by now you understand a little better that ‘setting up for the contest’ for me really is a matter of keeping an eye on many things each and every contest weekend. Long live the ARRL 10m contest! No low band wires needed.

The solution of course is to make sure that the aux pulley does not rotate when the rope that hoists it rotates. I did this (see picture) with two eye bolts and a scrap piece of Ertalon. I didn’t even care to debur it. The picture shows the auxiliary pulley which carries the 160m L wire. The new drill press I recently bought made it easy to drill a hole straight through. The bolt with the hook is tightened against the white block. The other eyebolt can turn freely in the plastic block. This gets attached to the hoisting rope. When this rope (un)twists, the bolt turns idle in the plastic block but the bolt holding the pulley for the wire doesn’t rotate. So the wire doesn’t get coiled up anymore. Used three times already (test + IARU + EUHFC) and it really is a perfect solution to a problem that has bothered me quite a lot.

Anti-coiling-up assembly. Patent not pending. Feel free to duplicate.

Anti-coiling-up assembly. Patent not pending. Feel free to duplicate.

Note: I know that there are small pulleys with an eye that rotates 360° relative to the pulley’s wheel. You can just buy these. Heck I have one or two of these in use somewhere on the auxiliary poles and towers that hold the ends of the low band wires. But I just wanted to use the pulley I had in stock.

Congratulations if you made it to the end of this text and read it all. Even if diagonally. 73!

I bought a new computer. That could suffice for a posting. But you know me. Never shy of things to tell. For the archives.

When we moved here in spring 2003 I decided to do justice to the new shack with a new PC. I left the old vintage 1998 Win98 machine at my parent’s place. It was a Big Tower case and I wanted something compact to put on the operating table. On top of the table you say? Yes but it soon took a plunge below the desk. It’s a long time ago so I don’t really remember the details but I did a performance comparison between the then current Intel and AMD CPUs. For equal specs the AMD was way cheaper. We just bought a house and I needed to build a station so I bought the cheap AMD. The vendor said the AMD CPU was just fine. I used Win XP for the first time too. My employer at that time still had NT Workstations. Soon I had problems with the PC freezing. The vendor said AMD was notorious for heat problems so he advised me to buy a supplemental fan and put it in the case. That indeed solved the problem. Why did he tell me the thing would run fine when he comes up with the heat issue and the fan solution right away? It made my PC noisier than a vacuum cleaner. Hence I put it below the desk. And lost faith in the vendor.

A few years later the computer started freezing again. Not really the problem you want to run into during a contest. Google told me that many main boards made in a specific era developed bad electrolytic capacitors over time. Poor quality components, Made in YouKnowWhere. Sure enough the caps on my PCB suffered the symptoms described. The top looked like a dull cracked dome in stead of a flat shiny surface. I bought a set of replacement caps. These did not come cheap I remember. I replaced the bad caps. Soldering a complex PCB like a PC main board didn’t quite appeal to me. But I had accumulated a lot of soldering experience in my previous life as an electronics service techie. Even on multilayer boards from fancy RF T&M equipment I could settle the loan for the house with. Or  at least half of it. So I reckoned there was nothing lost except the caps if the experiment didn’t succeed. The soldering job was only partially a success. The PC still worked but it also froze sometimes so I ended up doing an upgrade: new MB, CPU and RAM and put that in the same case. And moved from XP Home to Pro.

But even this one grew old and slow. XP SP3 and new software became more demanding. By then the XYL had retired her old PC and settled for a laptop. It was a low end AMD. I must say that the heat problem got solved for the AMD products. It was a relatively beefy system for its price. I ran a piece of diagnostics software on both my Intel Dual Core and the AMD and it turned out the AMD system had a better chance of running Win7. Or at least all drivers were available for this system to run the old hardware with the new software. If I combined the RAM of both machines to 6MB it was even worth to migrate to 64 bit. And so I did. I put in a DVD writer/reader since most install disks are DVD nowadays and not the old CD-ROM. I also mounted a solid state HDD in it to see what the buzz was all about. I think the MB was too old to really make the most of the new fast SATA interface. Later on I bought a dedicated graphics adapter so I could hook up two screens. This system has worked fine in my shack for almost three years. But this system is vintage 2007 so in some cases it had a rough time and I don’t want to run out of resources in a contest.

This old system had also developed a nasty problem. The CMOS battery needed a replacement. At first I didn’t notice but the computer started acting strange. Like Chrome reporting invalid certificates for sites I visited the day before. Google revealed that it could be caused by invalid dates. Sure enough, my clock showed the wrong date and time. Luckily I wasn’t doing a contest. Since the clock didn’t synch right away on booting, I absolutely had to do that before logging real contacts. On a few occasions when testing some things, I realized I kept forgetting to synch the clock. It would synch itself over NTP when the PC was running but that took a while. So I put an ASCII file on the desktop “don’t forget to adjust clock” and put a shortcut to that in the Startup folder. That way I would see my note to self each time the PC booted up. Soon after it got worse. The computer wouldn’t boot anymore because the date was invalid. Each time I had to dig into the BIOS and adjust the date and time. Cumbersome.

So I bought a new computer. My first plan was to do an upgrade again. Motherboard, CPU and RAM. But as the PC really does a nice job for simple light work, I wanted to give it a second life somewhere. The MB/CPU/RAM combo alone would just be accumulating dust for a few years to end up in the recycle bin. So I bought everything but hard disk and graphics card. These two parts I would move from the old PC. That one would return to on board VGA and some old SATA HDD I have here. I was looking for an i5 CPU but settled on an AMD 8 core CPU and 8 MB of fast RAM. Since I only run N1MMLogger and peripheral stuff plus a browser in the shack, I figured this would be enough for a while. One reviewer who bought the processor mentioned it comes with a noisy CPU cooler. For a moment I was browsing the online seller’s CPU cooler section looking for the quietest model available. But then it hit me: two amps and two switched mode power supplies have forced me to buy the most isolated and sealed headphones on the market. What harm can a little noisy CPU cooler do?

When the box got here I was in for a surprise: new cases have the power supply placed at the bottom. I had never seen this. Won’t this suck all particles and dust from the floor straight into the PSU? Also the new modern power supplies look a lot different than the ones I remember from twenty (twenty five?) years ago. On the other hand documentation both in print supplied with the parts and online is so much better nowadays. I started putting the components together and soon I concluded that I had bought a cheap low budget case. Actually that was not the conclusion, that was a fact right from the start. The real conclusion was that once again you get what you pay for. Soon the system was ready but since there was no on board VGA, I could not test it. I needed to remove the graphics card from the shack PC that was about to be retired.

That was a bit of a problem. Recuperating parts and especially formatting the SSD would mean there is no way back. What if it didn’t work? That was the week leading up to the EUHFC contest. Can’t risk ending up without a PC the day before a nice contest. So I decided to wait till after the WAECW contest ten days later. But as summer 2014 has offered us a lot of rainy days, I made the best of such a drowned day and went for it. The PC was now ready. I hooked it up to the two screens and hit the start button. Nothing happened. Really nothing. Not a LED blinking, not a fan moving. Even no sparks nor smoke.

Since absolutely nothing happened and you have to start troubleshooting somewhere, I took a look at the header on the main board where the power and reset buttons from the front panel connect to. I couldn’t see those anymore because they’re clogged by the graphics card. That’s what you get with a cheap case. Everything crammed together in a tight space. So out with the video adapter. I took my magnetic LED torch for some ‘enlightenment’ and found at least some metal in the case. I removed all wires and reconnected them. It’s not easy, these little things that should slide over a small pin, in the dark. My big hands blocked the light and my fat fingers had troubles connecting things in the right place. When I thought I was good, I plugged the video card back in and hooked it all up for another test.

This time the fan started buzzing right away. So I might have pulled a wire loose when installing the graphics adapter. When I crawled from underneath the desk I already saw things appear on the screen. Everything from there went as planned. Downloading all drivers, updates, patches and necessary software was good for 2.8 GB that day alone. My daily average is 500MB.

So I bought a new computer. Its maiden trip was my brief excursion in WAECW last weekend. That worked. CW always works. Strangely enough SSB voice keying seems to work too right away. I disabled all on board sound devices. I never listen to music or watch movies in the shack. I exclusively use the MK2R+ USB sound devices for SSB and digital modes. Now I still need to spend countless frustrating hours to get RTTY to work. Some people refer to that as RTTY Stress.

Rather: NO WAE CW 2014.

I was going to start with the expression ‘You can’t win ‘m all‘. Which is inappropriate because I haven’t won any DX contest. Apart from the UBA DX contest. But no DX-DX contest. Sometimes you have to let it slide. No matter how bad you want something. There are these days or contest weekends when the stars are not aligned.

The week leading up to WAE CW this year was incredibly hectic. And without going into detail: emotionally loaded. Both in a good way and in a bad way. And of course the forecast was not helping by using phrases like ‘warnings for parts of Benelux mainly for tornadoes, large hail severe wind gusts and excessive precipitation’, or ‘parts of Benelux and Germany mainly for severe wind gusts’. That was for Friday night to Saturday. One might argue that forecasts are what they are but I must say that the sources I usually consult have been pretty darn spot on over the last eight months. I have always lived by the adage that it’s better to be safe than to be sorry. So I decided to keep the tower where it was: cranked up one level. And sleep the first night to let the bad WX move on. A good night sleep is well spent off time.

Saturday morning I took my time to get into contesting mode but it was only the ‘light’ version thereof. I finally made it into the shack by 6AM UTC. Forty was empty but I had some pretty good US signals on the 20m band. KU7T, one of the N1MMLogger dev team was my first QSO and good for 9 QTC right away. Woohoo still got this QTC thing mastered with no training. Regular contester and WAE specialist N3RS was next with ten QTC.

I played for about two hours but then the fun was gone. Why? Well: what to think of the following lingo for Sunday? ‘Tornados may be produced from embedded mesocyclones in a linear system or from discrete supercells ahead of the line. An isolated strong tornado may occur’. Don’t ask me what an embedded mesocyclone is. But I do know a tornado. The simpler yet official WX pages (not some panic spreading bozo) talked about bad weather and strong winds and possibly thunderstorms. They had it right for Friday evening. There were two local events with lots of damage caused by extreme and sudden wind phenomena. Tornado or not, it was predicted and it did occur. Granted it was hundred kilometre away but still. The warning was general. So the forecast for Sunday combined with the mood I was in, made me decide to quit. I went outside to work on a construction project. That helped me to unwind just a little bit. Later in the afternoon I played for two more hours on a very disappointing 15m band. Last QSO was K7RL at 1658 UTC and good for another batch of ten QTC. But the band was miserable. At least I got the impression.

By this time I had established four things:

  1. The latest update for the new N1MMLogger soon to be published made for a working QTC interface. I owed it to N2AMG to test it after all the hard work he successfully did.
  2. The sun offered us what seemed to me a sneak preview of what’s to come. Forget 10 and be glad to work at least something on 15.
  3. My brand new shack PC seems to work.
  4. I was not in the mood for contesting.
  5. Maybe a fifth thing but that’s off the record: It might be time to have my eyes checked and wear glasses to look at computer screens. OFF THE RECORD. Totally.

Before sunset I took the tower down and disconnected all coax and other cables. It was a calm night (of course!) and rather a nice morning (of course!). But as Sunday morning turned into noon the weather quickly deteriorated. The wind picked up speed and gained in force and in the late afternoon it was so windy I was glad the tower was down. Not that it would have suffered damage but I wouldn’t have been comfortable with it. Apart from the strong wind at my QTH, there were severe thunderstorms over the country again. And Sunday evening another outbreak of what the media call a tornado but what weather experts describe as something else. Tomato – tomato.

Even as I type this two days later thunder is roaring over my head. For the second time today. I just heard on the radio that a huge festival tent blew away 100 km east from me during a sudden gusty storm burst. I think I’ll have to migrate this into a WX blog.

I want to make an entry for the records but I don’t have much time and quite frankly my mind is not really into typing stories. And hardly into ham radio. Too much going on with two kids and summer holidays. I’ve become the victim of my own success as a dad. These two rascals just want to be with me and do things with me. And on list of chores is piling up: too much to do or at least that should be done. And no enthusiasm to do many of these things. Thou shalt procrastinate! Roger that. Now about the contest.

As usual the nice weather of the days leading up to a contest weekend has to come to a violent end on Friday before this contest. And thus predicted the forecasts: violent thunderstorms on Friday night and possibly on Saturday. Misery loves company: the predicted thunderstorms were said to be accompanied by strong gales. Just what I need.

BTW typing these two first paragraphs took me 90 minutes. Two minutes typing, 88 minutes of looking up things and replying to emails. Actually just one email. Summer laziness. Short attention span. Plenty of ideas and plans each needing background information or research. Where was I? Oh yes, thunderstorms.

Usually I setup on Friday. Even better: usually the setup is already half done since I play DX during weekdays. Some WARC. Some nightly or sunrise fun on 10.1 MHz. Unfortunately not this summer. Quite frankly I’m a bit bored with it all. Have you seen the solar values drop dramatically? Besides there is tons of other stuff to do. Or just do nothing at all for a change. I’m learning how to do that. And with the continuous threat of lightning over the past six weeks, and the occasional thunderstorm effectively breaking out, all my wires and cables are disconnected. So besides the IARU contest I haven’t made a single QSO. Where was I? Oh yes, thunderstorms.

So I decided not to set up on Friday and wait until the latest forecast on Saturday. If some event forces you off the air in this twelve hour fast contest, it’s over. So I figured all or nothing. In stead of the usual field day activities outside, I went shopping for parts so I could work on a useful ham project while skipping the contest. I called the company and their answering machine said ‘warehouse open until half past four’. I hooked up the trailer and off I went. Once there they had put a paper on the gate: ‘annual leave until Monday the 3rd’. Why don’t they put that on their answering machine! Over one hour and 40km round trip wasted. And I hate driving. Especially with the trailer.

Friday midnight: Why can’t it always be like this? Perfect WX. No wind. No clouds. Lots of stars. Warm. Calm. All I heard was the monotonous roaring of the harvesters and the occasional tractor passing by while bringing a few tons of wheat to the mill. Heavenly scenes of the countryside at night.

Saturday morning – still undecided. There was a breeze with the occasional stronger puff but nothing bad. There were clouds but not of the dangerous looking type. There were showers to the left and the right according to the online radars but my place was dry. I played outside with the kids observing the skies. The morning forecasts talked about lighting and gales during showers but when and where? I decided to wait. OT1A texted me that he was ready to roll the contest. I replied I had put things on hold. Then he told me forecasts like this were BS. He didn’t actually use the word BS but his arguments made sense. Fair enough. I decided to go for it. It was two hours before the contest. I first did the ground work like laying out ropes and low band wires. Then it was time for lunch. The XYL did a great job preparing a cauliflower dish straight out of our own garden. Not the dish, but the vegetable. Then I raced out to crank up the tower and raise the two wires. Then connect all coax and control cables. When all goes to plan and when I can follow the script it all goes pretty fast by now. Then go upstairs and fire up the shack PC. A quick test: all antennas fine, SWR as expected. Forty minutes to go. Shower! Empty all internal human waste containers; a twelve hour span is doable without these kind of breaks. Take a bottle of water with me. Note to self: don’t drink it all or you will need a break after all. Land in the chair. Two minutes to go. Close browser windows. Set amp to 15. Bring the beta of the new N1MMLogger to the front. WHERE IS THAT F*ING SECOND ENTRY WINDOW? Seriously, where is it? Hey it’s contest time!!! Move some windows. It’s not there. Try opening it with the menu. Nope, no second entry window. Stop program. Restart. Nope, no second entry window. Hey it’s contest time!!! Try alt+tab? Nope. Hide / show program by clicking on its task bar item? Hey there I saw a glimpse of the window I need. It’s in the upper left corner under bandmap A. It should be in the lower right corner! I drag the window to fill the gap it left, adjusted the size accordingly and… GO! CQ Contest!

I knew propagation was only so-so and that the lighting across EU would rear its ugly QRN head. But it was even worse. I didn’t even try ten and had a slow start on fifteen. Signals were weak. My goal was 1200 Q. That has become more or less my standard: keep the rate over 100/hr. Crazy enough I seemed to manage just fine. As the hours passed I averaged 100/hr. One hour less but the next would make up for that. I looked up how I did last year. This will be hard to beat. Knowing that the low bands are problematic in this contest each year, it might be even worse with the QRN and the propagation. And this in turn might scare some people so participation would suffer. Nevertheless I kept moving on and the rate showed 100/hr.

There were thunderstorms all the time but just not in my area. ON6NL was right in it, and so he reported on 3830. Later on there was another front coming in from over France but it took the North Sea route. So once again, just like in IARU, I dodged the thunderstorms. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t affect me indirectly. QRN! Oh boy. It was doable on 40. It was a problem on 80. It killed me on 160. All those crashes. And just like in IARU I still have no way of telling whether the redesigned 80/160 antenna works better or worse. Very atypical low band situation.

Contradicting my expectations I managed to work 300 multipliers. And 1214 QSO. I didn’t think I would make it given the propagation. I actually thought I made a good appearance. I believe I was #6 in 2013. But two days later I have already been kicked out of the top ten on 3830. I looked up some of the big scorers and most have higher towers and bigger antennas. Maybe this isn’t a great location to shine in EUHFC? Who knows, who cares. It was fun!

Closing note: apart from the window issue, the brand new N1MMLogger performed GREAT. Just like in IARU. Many people have done many things to make this work and I’m glad and even honoured to be a small part in the big machine.
That has made me think (while learning to do nothing, can’t switch of the thinking yet): shouldn’t every active ham do at least one voluntarily thing for the ham radio community? To give something back. What do you do?

Why didn’t anyone think of this? :idea:
Forget all previous plans to engage modern day youth in contesting. Follow the example set here (Dutch text, read English Google translation here).

This project will breathe new life into the sport, it is a clear promotion for our beautiful sport to the big. audience. Pigeon racing ham radio contesting is gaining a new dimension.

Added bonus: cheaters will now be extra motivated and effectively have something to gain.   ;-) ;-)

Wow, how long has it been that I could do a contest during the whole period with the full setup and put down a good result? It seems like ages. But it’s probably only since RDXC in March. Just to say that I really needed a success experience.

I’m not going to bring up the storms last autumn and winter again, and not talk about June’s field day tropical heat followed by thunderstorm drama. But it seemed I couldn’t catch a break for this one too. The forecast for this weekend mentioned thunderstorms. I closely monitored the forecasts. Friday through Sunday: thunderstorms. Wouldn’t happen if it wasn’t a contest weekend. As the week progressed it seemed my region would dodge the thunderstorms. Or at least the worst and most intense ones.

Last Monday was a nice day so I finished the new version of the 80/160 antenna. More on that in a next episode. Then it started raining. Everything between drizzle and intense showers for days on end. Not a single ray of sunlight seen. It was in the news today: a total of zero minutes of sunshine over a five day stretch. A record according to the national weather institute. So I decided to put my plans on hold until the very last minute. That’s Saturday 8 UTC, four hours before the contest starts. Updated forecasts mentioned isolated lightning during showers, no real storms and mostly over the eastern part. I live south to central. No strong winds.

Could it be that I am too afraid of this? I always hesitate to crank up the tower when they predict lightning. But what about those with fixed towers? Even higher than mine. Maybe I should think this over and assess the real threat. Chance of lightning is not the same as certainty of 80-100 km/hr winds. And an unguyed crank up tower is not the same as a free standing or guyed fixed tower when it comes to wind.

Anyway screw the WX and cross fingers. I want to contest! So I went outside to crank up the tower and put up the 80/160 wires. It was gray, misty and it was very damp. No real rain but still I got a bit wet. It felt and looked like a warmer version of WW SSB season. Or even WW CW. I remember WW SSB weekends when I was preparing in shorts and T-shirt under a blue sky. Just to say that summer on the calendar is not always summer outside. Setting up is a breeze after having done this so many times a year for a decade already.

The contest started and I began on 15. Ten meters was dead. I kept looking and trying but the sun decided to take out the highest frequency. I could keep the rates sustained over 100/hr with 15 and 20 alone. Twenty was still great when the sun set but I decided to put it on hold. I turned the antennas away from USA to Japan and hoped to work some Asian multipliers on their sunrise. That worked but soon the rate dropped and I wasn’t working five pointers but EU. Antenna back to 300° and run like crazy. For three hours. Twenty was open ‘fo sho’.

Then I decided it was time for the lower bands. Forty was OK but eighty? Oh boy. QRN and noise, static crashes. Maybe I should not use this contest to evaluate the new 80/160 antenna. I could not get a run going on 80 and had troubles copying. Most QRO Americans were quite hard to copy but the few WRTC callers were a pain. Sorry guys. I assume you were hearing my kW into GP but I had a problem hearing your 100W into low dipole through the QRN and noise. QRN and static crashes, I wonder where those comes from? Let me tell you.

In the mean time the online lighting detector I was keeping my eye on showed dots coming ashore from the north sea. Members of a WX group I follow (as a lurker) were reporting heavy thunder and lighting and intense showers in coastal villages. While the shower loaded with lightning still hovered over the North Sea I hoped it would stay there but it travelled inland. This was cramping my style! I had a hard time to focus as I wanted to keep a close eye on the track of dots representing strikes in order to shut down and unplug things when it reached my QTH. I was alone at home so I couldn’t ask the XYL to take a look outside. All thunderstorms arrive from the side of the shack where I don’t have a window. The following two to three hours the front moved inland to the east but stayed well north of me. I guess about 40-50 kilometres minimum. I was relieved and decided to celebrate by stirring the mult-casserole on 160. Shocker! Apart from static and a handful of HQ stations: no one there. Ouch. Then the lightning detector started painting dots on the map about 15 kilometres from here, leaving a short trail on a collision course with me. Gimme a break will ya! I was going strong and might improve my personal best so would a sudden lightning storm knock me out again? Twenty minutes later the dots disappeared. My excursion on Top Band had to end here too. With sunrise around the corner I decided to take a short break. I had made it through the night with good rates, I was having fun and I wasn’t tired. Wow! It seems I’m getting into shape again.

I hadn’t eaten a thing since the evening before. I was hungry. I didn’t even take a snack during the night. I only drank some H²O so right now I could eat a horse. I went downstairs and let out cat #2. Cat #1 is exiled from inside during the nights anyway because she always wakes me up. And while awake during a contest, she comes to annoy me. Like bumping into the Morse paddles. I ate a few slices of bread with cheese. Not much and nothing heavy. Yet I would soon regret this. About twenty minutes later my energy dipped and I felt very tired. I was good half an hour earlier, but hungry. Now I was fed but tired. Must be a blood sugar level thing? Not my area of expertise. The dip in energy is reflected in a dip in the rate. See 0300 utc in the graph.

IARU2014_rates

Sunrise. A short run on 160 was a waste of time. No one there. Then 80. Useless. So I started running 40 and S&P 20 with the second radio. That small 500W amp for the other radio really does what I bought I for. Things were slow and this combined with being tired is a show stopper. See the 0500 hour bar. I even had a twelve minute black out in the operating chair. I stretched my legs, got rid of some body fluids, took a deep breath and attacked twenty meters while looking for goodies on forty. With only a dozen contacts on ten, I was glad to hear the band… well not open but less closed. The rate took a leap but it the burst was short lived. A good run followed on 15 with a slow hour where I didn’t know where to go as no one answered my CQ and I worked everything that was CQing. I was listening on radio 2 on ten meters and heard a W3 calling a EU HQ. HUH? That W3 was loud with my antenna pointing to central Russia. I knew what to do. Turn antenna to USA and hope that my signals are picked up there. See the last bar in the graph. It worked. A lot of WRTC stations started scanning ten meters too as I worked a few dozen in the last period.

IARU2014_bands

Here’s a primer: I made over 2400 contacts in 24 hour. I always wanted to do this in either IARU or RDXC but always came short year after year. Today I pulled it off. Imagine if ten were open and the low bands would allow for reception?

Funny thing. I was running and looking for stuff to work on the other radio. I came across K7GM in my right ear but I noted I already worked him on that band. At the same time K7GM called me in my left ear.

What’s up with guys sending the weirdest numbers for their ITU zones? And insisting on doing so. Not even their CQ zone, just some number. Maybe a serial?

Numbers! 255 QSO on radio #2, that’s only 10%. Usually it’s 15-18%. Maybe because the runs on 15/20 were good and 80/160 were empty?

I made 128 contacts with WRTC stations. Worked 55 of the 59 teams at least once. I wonder who’s behind the 1×1 calls.

A couple of years ago, OT1A introduced me to the Pareto principle. Since then I have often applied this to the many obscure things I encounter while processing and checking the UBA DX contest logs. I think the ratio is even more skewed. 95% of my time is needed to fix 5% of the tampered logs or write extra code to handle these exceptions. I have ranted about this before.

I came across a LZ1 who had a NIL for a QSO with a RK9. In order to perform a cross check, my log checking software showed me a part of the RK9 log centred around the time the contact supposedly took place.

The RK9 log in my database showed:

QSO: 3500 CW 2014-02-22 2225 RK9### 599 004 SP*** 599 221
QSO: 3500 CW 2014-02-22 2227 RK9### 599 006 SF*** 599 396

Where is QSO #5 with LZ1? So I opened the submitted Cabrillo file and behold:

QSO: 3500 CW 2014-02-22 2225 RK9### 599 004 SP*** 599 221
QSO: 3500 CW 2014-O2-22 2226 RK9### 599 005 LZ1** 599 513
QSO: 3500 CW 2014-02-22 2227 RK9### 599 006 SF*** 599 396

What’s wrong with the line of QSO #5 in the Cabrillo file? I know. Do you see it? And more importantly: how on earth can this happen as long as you don’t mess with your log file? The RK9 log was made with TR4W. I can hardly imagine this logger randomly mutilates Cabrillo files?

I have made my code check the dates, and if it isn’t a valid date / time within the contest period, the contact is ditched and marked as ‘outside of the contest period’. I said it before and I’ll say it again: a few years ago there was actually a February 31 as the QSO date!!! However I seem to have assumed that dates would be numerical so my checking is actually too strict. Hence the code skipped the QSO.

I had already put in some code to handle serial numbers like ‘TNA’ for 091 which actually occur in the Cabrillo log files. Question is: is it my job to trap and fix messed up files, so in the end the guy who doesn’t even submit standard Cabrillo gets credit? Or does a corrupt log or a part thereof lead to decreased score? By all means a messed up log should not lead to loss of points in the other guy’s log.

I wonder how much of these things occur in all the logs combined. Not much, if any since I would have noticed this earlier. Most of the time, so except for this QSO, an automatically generated NIL is either a traceble busted call that gets flagged by the human checker (me) after the ‘robot’ checked the contacts that can be verified, or a true NIL. It just isn’t there.

Or it can be a cross band contact because one of both parties logged the contact on the wrong band. Yes that still happens in 2014. Then I need to compare both logs around the time the contact took place and see who is right and who is wrong. A human intervention is needed (me again). In most cases, by comparing the contacts, it’s clear who is right and who is wrong. Except when the contact is the running guy’s last contact before QSYing to another band that happens to be the band the S&P guy logged the contact on. Again the rule is: if a contact is not 100% proven bad, it counts. But this really is a 99.99% – 0.01% Pareto situation.

My field day antenna tinkering made me realize I have something with antenna tuners. ATU. Antenna couplers. Or remote automatic matching systems. Potato – potato. Tomato – tomato. That doesn’t work when you type it. But you know about what devices I’m talking. It’s the deus ex machina for people with antenna problems. It magically deals with weird impedances, one size fits all antennas, non-resonance – everything that does not present 50Ω to the transmitter or amplifier.

My first HF rig, the notorious TS-850, had an ATU on board. I’m surprised the tune button didn’t get worn out. I had an inverted V dipole cut for twenty meters. That’s the general advice offered to the newbie on HF: twenty is the place to be. Running barefoot with a 25-30 meter stretch of RG-58, and then hit ‘tune’ to get me some contacts on the other bands. Cycle 23 peaked and it worked above 10 MHz. It made the finals happy on 40 but it didn’t bring me much joy. The ATU even found a match on 80 but even a little RF power there turned on the hifi stereo and made the cassette deck play. Cassettes, go figure! That was a scary surprise the first time it happened. On Top Band the ATU didn’t find a match. But the rig’s ATU made the DXCC counter tick on the higher bands.

The more I got into basic DXing (I had yet to get introduced to contesting), the more I learned. I think I read every related website available back then, so to speak. I learned that manual external tuners not only have a matching network but more than often they also have a 1-to-3 switch on board. Since I managed to convince my dad to run another length of RG-58 through the house and between the roof tiles, that would be a nice solution for me: dipole, the 30m vertical I also managed to desecrate the parental lawn with and the homebrew dummy load.

A local ham offered such a tuner. The Kenwood AT-230. I bought it. I used it. It served me well when I was living at my parents. I already wrote a story about this tuner two years ago. It was a nice thing but I sold it a few years ago. At the same price I bought it! I didn’t need a manual tuner here anymore and it was just sitting on a shelf.

I didn’t need a manual tuner anymore  because I bought an SGC SG-230. Somewhere in 2002 I guess, from a UK supplier. Again after much online reading. That thing was and still is pretty expensive so I doubted a long time. But I worked for a living and was still living with my parents then so spending money didn’t really hurt. That thing worked great too (eHam review to testify) and I still have fond memories of WAE CW 2002. Yes I got bitten by the contesting bug by then. I made a temporary 40m delta loop fed with this antenna coupler. Sunrise brought me ZL6QH there, totally impossible before from my parental peanut station. And a bunch of Californians. Those few real DX stations answering my 100W CQ on such a hard band as 40m (little did I know how easy 40 really is) with a simple wire, it was amazing. I still remember the feeling. But contesting is like a drug addiction: you always need to crank up the dose for the kick to remain as intense. A dozen years later, if I don’t work a 120 QSO/hr west coast pile up at sunrise, I’m not happy. So to speak.

Then I moved to here. My own personal contesting ranch. I built my station around a tower and swore by resonant antennas. The SGC coupler was still used to work my first DXCC on 160. Even USA. Again: getting out of EU on 1.8 MHz was a milestone. I even recall a brief experiment with an 80m delta loop here in WAE CW 2005. Fed with the ladder line I now use for field day. But that thing was too big for my taste. And I didn’t get to give it a real test. Now that I looked it up and read it (3830 report), I remember that T-storm. You see, I have always been plagued by the weather.

But then I changed my contesting style to QRO and the SG-230 was useless. We used it in 2006 for the OT1A/P field day activity. It sat in a box for years until I decided to sell it a few years ago. I effectively sold both the AT-230 and the SG-230. Both have served me very well and are really good devices. But they weren’t used anymore. I had always said that a SGC coupler that would take full QRO with the same ease would be a commercial hit. I’d buy one right away if it wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg. In other words: unlike the system that was already available (link).

Then we did some work in the garden and on the terrace and I changed my 80/160m setup. It was time for a big performance jump to increase my contesting fun. Junky needs a bigger shot. I had come up with the plan to make myself such a QRO tuning device that would make a ground plane look like 50Ω on the two lowest bands. To make it easy, I started looking for a manual QRO tuner. High power rolling inductors and high voltage vacuum capacitors are expensive so why not just buy a tuner and motorize the dials? Then a Palstar 1500W tuner presented itself. I didn’t waste any time and bought it. It was a beauty. But:

“Of course soon after the purchase, when sobering up from the rush of having made the deal of the century, it dawned on me. I make many plans yet execute few. I envisioned the tuner packed in the box for a few years and then I’d finally decide to sell it. So I put it for sale online right away.”

I believe this is its new home since then. My gosh, 2008? Tempus fugit indeed!

I’m not sure about the dates anymore but in Autumn 2009 I gave it another go for the low bands and bought an MFJ-998. Yet another tuner! It handles 1500W according to the specs. It wasn’t cheap but not too expensive either. If this black box handled my low band matching needs, the investment was justified. There was no ‘remote outdoor’ unit available like they have now. So I hacked my way through the tuner and ‘remoted’ the tune button. That way the tuner was only inline with the 80/160 GP antenna, out of the shack and close to the feed point in a weatherproof cabinet. Still I could switch it on or off from the shack and had remote access to the tune button. Straight out of the box, I drilled a hole through the enclosure to bring my remote cable inside. Warranty void if buyer drills holes? I had mixed feelings about this one. It can find a match near resonance but it can’t handle really tough stuff. It was nice to use my CW tuned 80m antenna in the SSB part without fiddling with the wires. But it couldn’t get this thing to work on 160. So in the end this one too got an early retirement. I decided that the best match was resonance so I redesigned the antenna with two resonant wires, the 160 part being linear loaded. Once again I was able to find a buyer and cut the losses. But yet another tuner that cost me some money.

Since then everything was quiet on the tuner front. I settled for matched antennas. But one day someone offered an AT-230 for sale. Like the one I bought. Like the one I sold. The ad said ‘like new’. Do I need one? No. But I had some regrets about having sold it. It was purely a case of nostalgia. The price was the same as the one I bought a decade ago and as much as I sold mine for. So buying this one would financially restore the balance to the 2001 situation and would put one AT-230 back on the shelf. It has been there for almost two years, only to sense some RF last week in my attempted field day.

For this field day experiment I decided I needed a ‘smart tuner’. I evaluated all other options yet settled for an automatic antenna coupler. Yes I had one like this, maybe the best in its class. Yes I sold it because I didn’t use it anymore and thought that resonant antennas would be the way to go on field day. The SG-230 is still available but it costs a lot. But there is its brother that comes without weatherproof enclosure. The SG-239. It’s said to be the naked ‘230. You probably won’t believe it, but once I bought TWO of these at once. It must have been 2005 or 2006. My guess is 2005 because in January 2006 I bought an amp and took the QRO route in contesting. So why still buy 200W thingies then? I know because it’s the only two years I visited the notorious Friedrichshafen ham fair: 2005 and 2006. A major German dealer offered them at a bargain price. I think it was 230 Euro or so. Maybe less because I seem to remember I asked for a discount if I bought two. Back home I managed to sell one right away. No profit taken, as a close ham friend bought it. I bought a plastic food container with rubber seal to put the other one in. I remember I drilled the holes and put bolts with wingnuts through them as the wire terminals. I vaguely remember someone picking it up in the plastic container. So I must have sold it before the enclosure got finished. Geez, I really start a lot of projects and finish only few. And I have this buy-sell thing with tuners!

Anyway, field day. Smart tuner. Price difference between SG-230 and SG-239 is about 200 Euro. For a piece of plastic? I had a fitting enclosure in my huge stock of parts. Something I bought a long time ago for who remembers what project. Possibly a K9AY RX loop. It had some holes but I put aluminum blank panels inside, fixed with pop rivets. I sealed these from the outside with silicone. Make sure you have ‘neutral’ silicone because the rancid smelling vinegar based silicone is very aggressive to metals. Don’t ask me how I know. It makes brass turn green overnight.

So with the regained AT-230 and the new SG-239, I once again have two tuners. A classic manual tuned device and a remote automatic antenna coupler. Of the latter I still say: too bad SGC doesn’t make a real QRO model. The SG-230 and SG-239 are great tuners, and I trust them more than the MFJ-998 that I have used myself with mixed success. The reviews of the MFJ-998RT outdoor model aren’t unanimously positive either. All the rest is just very expensive. Quite frankly right now I don’t have the need for such a device either.

Me thinks I should leave tuners alone for now.

Isn’t it strange that things you plan and think over months in advance can take a total different direction when it’s time to execute these plans? There are two things you can’t take into account: Murphy and the weather…

Months of planning make for a lot of typing and reading…

Normally I can’t do Region 1 CW Field day because of a yearly returning event at work. Once every so many years it falls on a different weekend. Usually it’s the WPX CW weekend so that’s even worse. When I learned that I was able to do CW FD this year, I immediately contacted OT1A to see if he wanted to try it again. We came in second in 2006 and 2011. It’s not a contest, but it is a contest. Unfortunately he had a family event this weekend. I had always wanted to carry out an experiment, being a ‘one man field day’ so now was the time to do it. Just to see what can be done as one man alone. So over the past months, my plans were hatching.

Location?

Not too far from home. Preferably at home. With the expansion of the garden last year, this was possible. Room enough if you adjust the setup to the available space. Since I would be using many improvised and ‘prototypish’ things, at home would be the best since all my parts and tools are only a few footsteps away.

Shelter?

We don’t really own a tent. I’m not a tent guy. I’m not a camper. I’d pay big bucks for a clean toilet. And a clean shower. And my own comfortable bed!

I thought some things over. Easiest would be to use the garage. Which in my case is a metal sheet construction apart from the house. But the rules don’t allow that. What about operating outdoors on the terrace, out in the open? That would be my preferred way to tackle this item. I’m not afraid of having cold. Just add some layers of clothing. But what with rain? See my intro: you can’t predict the weather. Not longer than one or two days ahead at least.

I talked this over with the XYL. She’s an adventurous outdoor type. Opposites attract right? She wanted to buy a tent. Her idea: the kids will love it and we can use it to go camping. Oh boy; please honey: remember my toilet-shower-bed fetish? I found a tent for a mere 100 euro that fits four persons and that’s high enough for me to stand up straight in. My loving wife was so kind to set it up for me yesterday morning. Thank you dear. The process went pretty smooth and I think this tent is all we need. In fact for field day purposes, it’s perfect. I just wonder how on earth we’re going to fit all parts back into the carrying bag. It now only has the ground cloth (not used) and the empty bag that stores the pegs, and it’s full already! I guess this job will need a pair of patient female hands to straighten and fold the tent.

Generator?

I don’t own a generator but I have one on permanent loan. I offered to store the generator. It’s still property of my wife’s family but it has been here for a few years now. I provided a basic maintenance for our 2011 field day but it hadn’t been serviced since forever. At OT1A’s place after running for twenty hours straight, there was oil spilling from the air filter. That can’t be good. So after that I decided to have it serviced by a professional maintenance tech. There was a slight glitch however.

Since I don’t own the generator, sometimes people come to use it. Last year someone came to pick it up because my wife’s uncle had offered him to use this generator. I told him about the air filter / oil problem and that it wasn’t a good idea to use the generator before this got fixed. This guy told me he knew someone who knows how to work on these things and he said he’d arrange for some maintenance. So I thought I could delete this from the to do list. In February this year, when my field day plans ripened, I rang the alarm: the generator didn’t make it back yet after almost a full year. It took a few phone calls and a few strings had to be pulled but in the end the generator came back. The guy said he didn’t use it in the end because he got to use a bigger one so he didn’t get it taken care of. Behold: yet another item on the to do list pops up!

I took the machine to the service shop a good month ago. I explained the problem and asked to call me before buying expensive parts. After all, it isn’t my machine and I’m not going to pay hundreds of euro for an old machine. With nothing heard after a few weeks, I called them. After all, no use continuing the preparations when I wasn’t going to have the generator available. I was told that the special air filter was put in back order by their supplier, but the machine would be ready early last week. That is, a few days before field day weekend. They’d call me to pick it up when it was done.

Again I didn’t hear a thing so last Thursday I paid them a visit after work. Apparently it got fixed a few days earlier but they didn’t bother to call me. They changed the spark plug, cleaned the carburetor, put in new oil and a new air filter. The bill was almost a bargain with more than half of the invoice being labour.

So the generator issue got solved. In fact, and this might seem strange, it would have been very comfortable for me if it hadn’t been ready. That way I could bail out of field day without having to make the decision myself. Why? Read on!

Mast?

Another hot issue. Are there any other when it comes to field day? I’m not too keen on fiber glass thingies. I’ve used my share of those over the past decade but they’re so brittle and collapse easily. And don’t quite support other things than verticals. In 2001 a coworker of mine made three aluminum push-up masts and I took one over. It’s made of seven telescopic tubes with a ten centimeter long slit cut in the top. We put a collar there that is to be tightened when you have pushed the smaller section up. The total useful height is about twelve meter. This has worked for me in the past but there are a few hurdles to overcome. First of all, you need a small ladder or a scaffold to stand on as the biggest section at the bottom is two meters high. Then, as you move along and push up section after section, things get heavy to hold in one hand while tightening the bolt with the other hand. And of course if you leave this thing unguyed, it bounces in the wind. And sometimes it collapses under weight when the collars aren’t tight enough. It has served me very well yet I was glad to retire it a few years ago.

We used this system as described in 2006 as OT1A/P in the CW field day. In 2011 the mast collapsed under its own weight while pushing it up. We tried assembling it horizontally while it was on the ground. My plan was to walk it up. Both dipoles (80/160 and 40 with coaxes) were attached but it turned out to be too heavy to get it straight. This resulted in the top bending back to the ground as I walked it up, forming a giant arc above and behind me. Furthermore the base would always moving around. In the end we settled for the proven system and relied on some luck: the ladder and brute force method.

This however got me thinking: wouldn’t it be nice if I could make a heavy base to keep the bottom pipe in place and have it pivot as I walk it up? The top load could be replaced by a pulley and get things up once this mast is vertical. That way it wouldn’t bend over backwards. I bought a 10 mm thick plate measuring 40×40 centimeter. Last summer I drilled some holes, bolted on some 90° angle iron and put a bolt through those as well as through the bottom section tube. One summer evening I secured this plate, walked the darn thing up and realized this is not quite what it should be. This won’t work when the top section is actually loaded with an antenna. The plan was to put up a 6m yagi there and have it up when I’m home and when there should be things to work on 6m. “So you have a 6m yagi” you ask? Yes it has been on the garage roof since that same evening, assembled but it has yet to make it’s maiden QSO. As with many of my bold plans and ambitious projects, the work is stopped and the parts were stored ‘for future use’.

Mast tilt over system

The test with the heavy base plate and the pivoting are the fundamentals of something that I have been thinking about for a long time. That is: make me a simple mobile and portable setup that fits on my small trailer and that can be deployed by one man, yours truly. It’s with this in mind that I decided to learn to weld. However putting together two pieces of metal is one thing, but making a rock solid construction is another. I wouldn’t want the pivot block welds to break while the mast is half way up. Somewhere in December I went to buy metal to make myself a welding table.

I also salvaged some leftovers from the scrap container including a two meter stretch of wide U-shaped channel. This was ideal to weld to the base plate I already had. I practiced and practiced my inside corner welds but with field day approaching, it was time to actually make it happen.

In short, it’s a U-shaped channel iron welded on a base plate. I used some gusset plates to make it more stable. I bolted a small hand winch to the straight channel and welded some blocks on the base plate to put the pivot bolt through. On top of the U channel there is an assembly that has a wheel to guide the cable. I already wrote one year ago: “Ertalon wheel with groove to guide stainless steel cable. For use in telescopic and tilt-over installations.” There you go. The bottom plate has some angles bolted to it too. Not welded to keep the /P factor high so that it fits on the trailer lying down. These angles widen the base for extra stability. I drilled a 14.25 mm hole through the outer corners facing ground. Through this I hammer a 14 mm thick rod into the ground, in a slight angle. Hence the 0.25 extra space. I learned that rod doesn’t always have an 100% round and exact diameter. When these rods are in place through the four corners, it’s pretty solid. I could also replace the four bars into the ground by four heavy concrete blocks on the ground. If it needs to come on concrete in stead of in the grass. I still have these blocks from the old ground mounted support I used in the past. Another salvage action. But at 50 kg each they’re pretty heavy.

In short: this thing works great in my one man show. I won’t win any prizes with it in a welding contest. There clearly is a learning process to be seen in this prototype welding project. The second part of a symmetrical left-right assembly always looks better. Live and learn.

However it is very stable and strong and probably overkill for the current application. Mission accomplished: the mast can be raised by one man, without any effort or risk, even with the light loading of a dipole and some guy wires. And it disassembles into smaller parts that fit on my small trailer. There is the future option of putting another section between the U-channel and the cable guide assembly. That way I can attach the cable and ‘grab’ the mast higher up from the base, should there ever be the need for a longer or heavier loaded mast to be erected.

Of course, if I could do it again, it would turn out better looking. But I’m quite proud that I pulled this one off all by myself. The welding and even the lathe machined wheel.

Keep in mind that I had a higher education in RF electronics and before that in languages and economy / bookkeeping in secondary school. I always knew that welding is the key to nice homebrewed stuff but this is the proof of my thesis. Once again my mitre saw (SJ2W tip) proved to be key to nice angled cutting of all iron parts up to 5 mm thickness. Amazing how that blade cuts through metal. I also retired my dad’s drill press and bought me a professional model that has no problem with 10mm diameter or more through 10mm flat stock or more.

I also welded some heavy duty rings on some leftover T-irons I recycled from the old fencing. I can jam these into the ground and hook up the guy wires with a carabiner through this ring. That solves the guying issue. I used ratchet rope spanners so tighten and loosen the guy ropes easily. And to say I bought a pack of small tent pegs to achieve this in 2011. Even a gentle breeze pulled these out of the ground. What was I thinking? Anyway the guying system passed the test in a real live gusty situation. Yes the WX plays a role in this one too. Read along!

Antennas?

In 2006 we used a 40m dipole and some random length dipole for 80/160 fed with homebrew ladder line and a SGC SG-230 antenna coupler. This worked great but by 2011 I had sold the coupler and we settled for resonant dipoles. One for 40 and a parallel dipole for 80/160 with loading coils in the 160m antenna. This worked but you need more room for this than I have available. To stick to my ‘keep it simple’ philosophy, I decided to use the ladder line with dipole option. For that I needed to buy… another antenna coupler. I have this thing with tuners – enough stuff for a future story. Furthermore I learned that this is what G3TXF/ G3WVG use for their field day setup (link & link). Since my savings account costs me more than what the bank pays in interest, I bought a new tuner. Or ‘automatic antenna coupler’ to be precise. I put it in an old plastic enclosure that I bought years ago who knows for what abandoned project. I covered up the holes with aluminum blind panels.

I measured the longest stretch I could span within the garden limits and oriented N-S for maximum E/W coverage. Most FD contacts are G (G, GW, GM, GI…) and DL on the other side. That length turns out to be about 24m for each leg. For quick feedpoint assembly, cut of a piece of decommissioned kitchen cutting board. I didn’t put that hot frying pan on top of that board on purpose. But I knew I had to keep it in my huge stock of parts after replacing it. The pancakes were delicious that day, and the molten plastic came right off of the bottom of the pan once it got solidified after cooling. But the cutting board was wasted.

By now I got the antenna covered, I got the mast covered, and both could be raised and lowered without any hassle nor much muscle. Much to the amusement of my oldest son who strongly believes that it should be down on the grass and not up in the air. We agreed to disagree on that one.

That dreaded weather!

Of course my ham radio plans are dominated by the weather. More so than ever for the last eight months. Numerous contests had to be cancelled due to storm, lighting or both at the same time. Global climate change? It never happened this frequently in my thirteen years in contesting. So I kept my eye on the forecasts. Two weeks ago they predicted rain for this weekend. Two weeks is way too long for a predictable forecast. I know that. Then it was sunny weather, no wind, no rain, not too hot. Nice. Then the predicted temperatures rose. Then it was 30° C or more. Hold your horses please! Then rain to boot. As the FD weekend came closer, it was tropically hot which of course inevitably results in severe thunderstorms.

Three days before Saturday, it was clear that is was going to be very hot on Saturday resulting in severe thunderstorms, with another round of thunder and lightning on Sunday. Mostly western Belgium on Saturday. And eastern Belgium on Sunday. I consider myself in central Belgium. Which is relative in a country that measures only 250 km across.

Now what? Cancel my operations or take my chances? I have spent hours and hours over the last weeks getting ready. We even bought a tent for this! Remember I would have found it convenient if the generator wasn’t ready for FD? This is why: I then could blame the repair shop for my cancellation and I would not have to decide myself. But no, it was ready to use.

I decided to participate after all and rely on the thunderstorms passing a few miles to the left or the right. Should they occur. But reliable forecasts warned for severe weather all weekend long. Possibly on Friday too. So I made an emergency procedure in my head that I drilled over and over again should a sudden T-storm pop up.

  1. Turn off rig
  2. unscrew coax
  3. close laptop
  4. run to generator and stop it
  5. run deeper into the garden and loosen back dipole leg and guy wire
  6. run back to the centre of the garden and lower mast
  7. take shelter, curse, and cross fingers

I was going to put a big plastic crate with cover next to the table in the tent. Should the wind during the thunderstorm blow hard with the risk of the tent getting blown away, I could put the K3 and the laptop and the power supply quickly in that box and seal it.

Field Day Weekend is here!

Finally something about the actual field day activities  :o)

On Friday it was time to put the pieces of the puzzle together. In the afternoon I still had some engineering and constructing to do. I found another piece of small aluminum tubing that I could use to gain about two meters in height. I attached the cutting board assembly there and provided a set of holes to run the wires of the dipole and the ladder line through. These holes are used to weave the wires through and act as strain relief. As the wire tensions it braces itself against the piece of plastic. The drill press once again got a workout. It sure is handy to drill straight through a pipe! In the late afternoon everything was ready and I had assembled all the parts. The sun was shining and it was warm but not too hot.

The rules say that you can’t assemble the station before 1500 utc but with all the fiddling I had done to finish the construction, it was even later. So I set everything up that had to do with the antennas. No generator yet and no tent. When I pulled up the northern dipole leg, it touched one of the yagi elements on the tower. I went into the shack to turn the yagi for more clearance but the wire was still too high and got jammed into the yagi element. Turn antenna back again, run outside, loosen leg, run upstairs to move the yagi. Got interrupted by a crying youngest who can’t sleep because he needs a new diaper. Can’t you drop the load before we put you to sleep? And where is that wife when you need one? Quickly handle that situation before he wakes up the oldest. Then he asks for another bottle! I’ve got a FD to prepare kiddo! While he takes his time to drink the bottle, I start bringing smaller parts from the shack to the living room. After all I need to test some CW and CAT stuff. My stone age version of WinKey (vintage 2002?), two USB-to-Serial devices, one K3, a dummy load… The plan is to test that this evening after sunset (which is almost now). I put the youngest back in bed and hope the empty diaper – full stomach combination will send him off to dreamland soon. The XYL gets home and I hand over the parental control to her.

I run or rather stroll outside to finish the antenna business, feed the tuner from the 230V grid and connect it straight to the rig in the shack bypassing all switching that has been disconnected because of the continuous lightning alert as of lately. The antenna and tuner work on the three lowest bands (40-80-160). Hooray.

By now my body odor attracts flies so a shower is appropriate. After that I decide to test the setup consisting of K3 + winkey + Vista + N1MMLoggerPlus interconnected on RS-232 level by USB devices. Plenty of unknowns in this equation! There was a bug in the FD code and a small problem with WinKey but a quick N1MM signature fix made it all work. Time to go to bed. Plenty of work to do on Saturday. Forecasts don’t look to good on the lighting front.

Saturday morning. Watch WX forecast. Problems predicted mainly out west late afternoon / early evening. Possibly here too at night. Oh well. I still need to do a ton of things. To start I take all my jerry cans and go fill them with fuel for the generator, good for 25 liters. That should be OK because I just filled the generator’s tank to the brim. That’s about 5 liters. Then it’s time to take out the generator itself. Afterwards I assisted the XYL who was so kind to set up the tent. She’s done that before, that’s clear. Unlike the tent n00b that I am. Once this is done I can route power and coax cables into the tent. Install the table. Look for a comfortable garden chair. Honey, can you dig out the pillow that fits this chair? Thank you dear. It’s getting hot outside!

Once I hauled everything from inside to the tent and connected it, I discovered that it is very hot in the tent, and that I can’t see a darn thing on the screen as the sunlight is too bright. I come up with the idea of putting the laptop in a carton box with the open side facing me. I can use the flaps to ban the light from the screen. That works great but the laptop needs to go deeper for more darkening. To achieve this, I need to cut away some of the carton so the box slides over the protruding USB connectors. While doing all this there is a steady stream of sweat dripping off my face. It’s hot outside but this tent is a real sauna!

I mark where to cut the box to let the USB plugs pass. Up to now, my field day experience has been a success. Let’s cut. Make sure you don’t hit the cable. Uh oh, what’s this then? A USB cable with no connector attached. #§@%#$!!! Did I really cut the USB keyboard cable in half? Oh yes I did. #§@%#$!!! Now what? Use the laptop keyboard itself. Impossible when it sits in a box. I run upstairs but my stock of keyboards only has old PS/2 models. Only one thing to do: rush to the nearest computer store and buy a USB keyboard. Where is the nearest computer store anyway? I always buy online… It’s 1500 local time and there are two hours to go before the start. I decide I can’t go into the outside world without a shower first. Then I hope my memory serves me right. There is a computer store two villages away from here. But is this guy (still) open now? And will he have a USB keyboard? And a simple cheap model, not a fancy expensive one. Problem: beggars can’t be choosers. Note to self: next time operate from the airco cooled car! There it is. There are people inside so it must be open. Do you have a simple USB keyboard? The store owner looks around but he nor I spot wired external keyboards. Why not a wireless model, he asks. RFI and horror stories come to mind but I just emphasize I like wired stuff. No, no USB keyboards on the shelves. DRAT. Then he says he’ll take a look in the back. He disappears and I keep looking at my watch and thinking where to try next. Then he comes back with a USB keyboard. Success! Is it AZERTY? ‘Let me see’, he says ‘the picture on the box shows QWERTY’. QWERTY does not help me. I’m conditioned to AZERTY and I can’t type blind. Lucky me: it’s USB and it’s AZERTY. He scans the barcode to give me a price quote. Drum roll! Fourteen euro. I’m sure I can find way cheaper especially online but now is not the time to do so. I swipe my card and off I go.

The keyboard works and the box over the laptop helps a lot. Rejoice! There were still a lot of details to fix and by the time the actual FD began, I started the generator and started logging. Things were very slow, even for a field day. I was soaking wet, must have been 40° or so in the tent. Soon my headphone’s ear pads were wet too. Many CQs were broadcast, few contacts were logged. Around 1630 utc I got a surprise visit. Mobile UBA official ON6HI paid me a visit. I was one stop on his FD visit tour. Since I was operating alone I wasn’t a great host but in between contacts we managed to do some talking. After he left, things went on slowly and it was still very hot.

I had it coming. Around 1800 utc I thought I heard thunder. Or was it the generator? Or my imagination? Nope, there it is again. Thunder. I left the tent and looked up. The sky was changing its look and some thunder was heard. Better safe than sorry. Switch off the rig and the generator. Unplug coaxes. Threatening clouds were coming in. Now lightning too. And it started raining, a light drizzle. Then more rain and then dry again. Time is ticking! More thunder and lighting. A shower! Dry again. Dark clouds moving fast below slow moving white clouds. Weird. Then a tick. More ticks. Hail! We got lucky, not much hail and not too big. Then another shower this time with wind gusts. Let’s hope the tent is waterproof and it can stand this wind. I didn’t execute the electronics-in-sealed-box emergency plan. It didn’t look that bad at first. But things can turn around pretty fast in this extreme weather. The mast didn’t move in the gusts so the guying is OK. Granted, it wasn’t tornado material but still.

Then the thunderstorm moved over just like it had come. While the last thunderclaps faded I went inside to check my WX forecast and radar websites. Wow, the west of Belgium got hit by a ‘ginormous’ hail storm with hail like golf balls. About the same region as the January 25 storm during the UBA SSB contest. And apparently there was some other brutal hail storm to the east of me too.

By this time the weather had returned to calm and I resumed my operation. The good thing was that it was cooler now. But still warm enough in the tent. And still not much rate. After three hours the counter showed 126… After the thunderstorm things remained slow. Positive note: it was getting cool! The storm blew the heat away. Even inside the tent the temperature got bearable. In anticipation of a chilly night I went inside to trade T-shirt and shorts for long trousers and a sweater. A quick glimpse on the WX sites: oh my, horror stories about destructive thunderstorms all over the place. Hail as big as golf balls everywhere. And more rubbish announced…

Around 2300 utc I started seeing the occasional flash. Since it was pretty low on the horizon and right above the roof of the house I figured at first it was fireworks held in the same village I went to buy the keyboard earlier. After all this weekend was their yearly fair. After another few flashes it dawned on me. That village is not there, it’s more to the west. I went outside and looked up to the sky. I did not like what the moonlight showed me. Huge cauliflower shaped clouds lit by lightning. Not again? Time to evaluate.

  • Am I having fun? Not by far. There is no rate whatsoever: 289 QSO in 7 hours of operating. That’s an average of 40/hr during prime time.
  • I’m tired and am fighting to stay awake with two to three minutes of unanswered CQing.
  • The sound of the generator is driving me crazy but it is the best place to minimize engine noise for the neighbors.
  • Normally there is someone to talk to during a field day. That makes the slow rate bearable. Now I only feed the frustration myself.
  • I’m a bit worried about the continuous threat for thunderstorms. Suppose I need to shut down yet another couple of times? What’s the fun in that, let alone the danger?
  • The thought of having to spend a whole Sunday in this warm tent, with the risk of yet another round of thunderstorms and possibly hardly any contacts? Not tempting.
  • Let’s face it: with any other contest like this run from the shack, I’d just flip the switch and go to bed.

And that’s what I did: switched off the generator. Then I brought all electronics inside the house. Lower mast and put it on the lawn. Put rain cover over generator. Then go to bed. My boys will be glad to have a normal father’s day with daddy present at the breakfast table and not doing something silly in a tent outside.

In retrospect…

I’m not prone to regretting decisions. I evaluate, pick an option and don’t look back. Although there wasn’t any thunderstorm anymore between the time I threw the towel and the time field day ended, I don’t regret my decision to quit. I was taking everything out of the tent on Sunday morning and it was hot already. I know from experience that Sunday is very slow, slower than Saturday evening. That wasn’t an appealing thought. Conclusion: I wasn’t really motivated on an operational level. I’m spoiled because of the rates I usually achieve. I know, apples and oranges and FD is not WW CW. So I learned that the social aspect of FD is not to be neglected. Either it’s a single operator contest with some rate, or a FD with company.

On the other hand, logistical and technical I’m quite happy. I now have a complete /P setup that can be handled by one man. I have no clue what I’m going to do with it. Should the urge arise for another field day and the schedule allows for it, things should now be much easier to set up. Note to Ken OT1A: the things we have struggled with should now be the least of our concerns.

I know that the XYL reads along (perhaps she gave up after the first paragraph?) but I’m going to say it anyway. I like the way Nigel G3TXF and his friends handle things. Rent a big van to move the FD stuff and use it as a shack. I’d see myself doing this for say an IOTA contest or so. Or a 50 MHz contest on a hilltop location, but what are the odds of making any contacts on that band? But it’s good to know that logistically I’m covered. And it was fun to build and put it together.

Finally

A lot of text here. Most of it got typed overnight from Sunday to Monday. The dog was getting crazy because of the weather. I didn’t hear thunder but there was a lot of ‘heat lightning’. Dogs hear and feel that much better. So I took him inside. In the mean time the west and east of Belgium got hit by severe hailstorms again with a lot of damage on houses and cars. Farmers seeing their greenhouses and crops ruined in a few minutes. That’s the second time in two nights. And that’s only a level 2 warning (Estofex). For today (Monday) a level 3 warning was issued for Northern France and the Benelux. Let’s hope the crunched numbers were exaggerated by the weather models and predictions turn out to be overrated.

The stars were not really aligned for this one. Bummer as it is a nice contest for people like me with stations like mine. First of all there were the national elections. As the voting is mandatory in Belgium, going out to vote would have to be fitted inside a break on Sunday morning. Luckily WPX is a 36/48 contest and it’s not CQ WW. Also there was this annual event at work that coincided with the contest. So from Sunday before lunch to early evening local time, I would have to go to work. Also mandatory. In theory this could all be squeezed into the twelve hour off time. The same situation occurred in 2011. I did SB40 and pulled two all-nighters before leaving for work on Sunday. Not a good idea.

This year I wanted to sleep and be fit. I was already sort of running on empty. The last few weeks have been busy and the energy level is low. I didn’t want to go ‘into the red’. So I decided not to be competitive and just try to maximize the fun during the hours I was able to be in the shack.

I didn’t bother to crank the tower up to its highest level and settled for two thirds. Saturday morning it struck me that ten meters was quite… silent. Check WWV… There you go! A=19. Soon after I went to 15 and that was better. But it wasn’t good. It reminded me of the dark years between the current and previous cycle. Pure ‘propagationalistic’ horror!

In the early evening I had a ball on 20 after we put the kids to sleep. Well past midnight I went to 40 which seemed OK but I needed to go to bed since the voting and go-to-work routine made for an early rise. Between casting my vote and leaving for work I played some more but there was nothing spectacular.

I was glad to arrive home on Sunday evening and although exhausted I found fifteen meters quite hot. After that I still had four hours to go to the end of the contest. My plan was to split these between 20 and 40. Whichever band provided the best rate.

I was rounding off my 15m activity when KH7XX called in. That was nice! DX and a prefix multiplier. This late (2007 utc) and under still disturbed conditions. I hit the button to send my serial number to him and then –POP– the lights went out, the screens turned black and the fan noise died out. PANIC! Did I do that? Now what? What will KH7XX think? The street lights went dim too so it’s not just here. UH-OH: the amp is hot and the fans aren’t blowing. Wait, I can put an external fan on top of the vent hole to provide some forced cooling. Good thinking – with no power available. So I just blew into the vent hole. That must have been a silly sight. I was hoping that power would return real soon and that the sudden outage did not cause damage. After all I was transmitting when the power failed. Who knows what relay routed what signal to what fried semiconductor.

I went outside and enjoyed the fading twilight without light pollution. After almost an hour we decided to go to bed. That is: the XYL went to sleep and I was just lying on the bed with my cloths still on hoping that power would return soon so I could run some more. One hour later I jumped up. Apparently I fell asleep. Still no power. Darn. I doze off again and got awakened by the sound of electronic devices coming back to life. Aha – power’s back. With less than an hour to go I decided to go into the shack. Mostly to check if all was still working fine. As it turned out it was so I ran some on forty. Nothing spectacular. This three hour power cut cost me 250 Q at least. So I ended with 1379 contacts on four bands (no 80/160).

During the few hours I got on, I noticed more than ever that no cluster spot means no rate. You’d think that the RBN would have eliminated that and that a CQ would have the same effect as a genuine classic cluster spot but it doesn’t seem to work that way. I think that 99% of the ‘packet’ users still solely rely on the classic Telnet packets. I say Telnet because the VHF/UHF and TNC combo has become obsolete by now. That said I use RBN only for comparing signals, not to find stations. On the other hand, it’s obvious that the M/x stations make intensive use of the skimmers. A first CQ on a new band triggers a short pile up of a dozen M/x mult-stations calling me. That it’s waiting for a packet spot to get some rate.

A related issue was the kind operator who put me on the cluster as OY5M. I tried to counter the flood of dupes by sending my call three times, very slow and emphasizing the Q by pausing around it. That chased away some of the spot clickers. Some were persistent, one even re-spotting me as a Faroerian. It has happened to me before but I guess by now everyone would know it’s OQ5M  :o)

I used the new N1MMLogger Plus Beta and was very happy with the performance. It behaves like the classic version. It just got a new look adapted to new UI technologies. And a couple of new features, like the built-in graph feature here:

OQ5M_nice_graph

New graph feature in N1MMLogger Plus

I’m sure once the latest issues are resolved, the graph will reflect non-active periods (off time) too. But of course this is a detail in the big picture. Several B-testers used the program last weekend and no one has gotten into troubles so all you N1MMLogger fans out there, rest assured: this helluva contest logger is still the best out there!

I wonder how many digits the number would count, if you calculate the sum of all the hours the coding bunch put in over the last year and multiply that by the average hourly wage of a professional commercial programmer. Please note that (some of?) the programmers are professionals using their skills for us to enjoy. Thanks for that!