Don’t ask me why but the term ‘weekend warrior’ has been on my mind lately. I think it was the name of a monthly column in some skateboarding magazine I read in the late eighties / early nineties. There you go, a little secret about yours truly. I guess I picked up many things reading American English subculture magazines as an early teenager. And then came underground metal music in my late teens. More exposure to Shakespeare’s language. Or at least the more obscure vocabulary thereof. I digress.
At first you’d think that a weekend warrior is someone who goes to war during the weekend. But when you scratch the surface (hey yet another idiom!) by consulting The Urban Dictionary, you find out that a weekend warrior is in fact “a person who has a boring rat race job, and compensates by being irresponsible during the weekend”. Do we consider contesting irresponsible? On the other hand it is exclusively a weekend activity. Another definition there is “a person who regularily parties on weekends”. My spelling checker suggests it’s ‘regularly’? Contests are as much fun as an enjoyable party. I keep on digressing.
Since the regular bands are my usual hideout during the contests, and since I make more than 20k contest contacts every year, I never hang out on these regular bands when there is no contest. I like the WARC bands for my casual shot of CW DX. I used to have a great antenna there, until it decided to blow (link). Great relative to its size and price. Then I made a triband WARC inverted V. Works fine but not great, and it needs to be on the tower. Which means I have to remove it before a contest and put it back up after a contest. Which is pretty often in my case. In my quest to make a permanent not tower-bound WARC antenna I reused the remaining half of the trapped dipole and installed it as a vertical. Any antenna beats no antenna but this one, although resonating and working into other continents, was close to no antenna. Too close to nothing when benchmarked against my previous WARC antennas. So I needed something better. During spring high band conditions took a plunge and I had given up on Cycle 24. Recent weeks have proven me wrong and in this case I love being wrong. However a few months ago the future didn’t look bright for 10/12m. In fact chances are that this is the last convulsion before the cycle going down for real. You know me as a glass half empty guy by now.
So around Easter I decided to trade the WARC vertical for something better. Preferably monoband 30m as this is my favourite band. It always brings DX regardless of the season and the point in the solar cycle. All this thinking was done while dreaming of a dynamic yagi covering 40 > 6m. This would solve all my problems. At least all my antenna problems. And such an antenna would also break the bank.
I always wanted to make a delta loop and see how it plays so why not for 30? I decided to order a stretch of RG-59 coax for the matching quarter wave transformer, as illustrated in many books and online items. I decided to stick to the medium power amp (500W) for casual DXing. This turns out to be enough power outside of the contests. Some online table showed me that this length of 75 ohm RG-59 could take almost a kW at 10MHz so it should work.
I hear you coming. The plan hatched around Easter you say? And only just now the simple delta loop is finished? More than half a year to join 30m copper wire, a dipole centre assembly and seven meters of small coax? Uhm, yeah – it was an on and off project *blush*.
But last week I had enough of all the non-ham radio stuff that seems to take over my life and I decided to make the best of the current propagation. Get in the chair, call CQ, work some DX. The Weekday Warrior that I am!
About the actual 30m delta loop antenna I can be short. In three words? Classic-textbook-design. One wavelength of copper wire. Fed one quarter wave from the apex for vertical polarization. Fed with one quarter wave 75 ohm coax to match to 50 ohms. Take into account velocity factor 0.66% for this length of transmission line. Trim this transformer to exact length with the antenna analyzer by means of the property of a quarter wave length or half wave length transmission line transformer. All those hours of playing with Smith charts at school really pay off!
Once it was on the tower and up in the air, I had to trim the circumference of the loop by half a meter to get resonance in the band. Although the transmission line was cut very precise, the analyzer did not show an impedance of 50 ohm. I forgot the actual values for impedance and reactance but SWR is below 1.5:1 over the whole band as seen in the shack by the amp. My first delta loop! I was eager to try it out after dusk. I launched a few CQ CQ CQ and watched the RBN values appear in the web browser. I was especially looking to the reports coming back to me from the USA. Those looked promising. It’s not a three element yagi twenty meters high but at least it has better RBN figures than the vertical. In a few nights and a few early mornings, I collected some nice DX: USA coast to coast, VK6, JA, YB, HL, CO, 5R, PJ7. When doing real time A/B RX comparisons between the delta loop and the trapped GP, the loop always wins. Both ‘by ear’ as well as measured by the S-meter.
The initial plan was to keep using the vertical for 12/17. But last weekend I had to admit it: this antenna sucks. No more kidding myself. Hardly any skimmer picks me up on 12m. Only three or four and almost never outside of EU. There were plenty of DX cluster spots on 24.9MHz. I heard many but never very loud. And I hardly got heard by the DX. So I decided to kill my darlings. The vertical is gone now. I took it down. Its set of resonating elevated radials, which in turn was my old triband inverted V, got stripped of the 30m wires and was put up as a sloping dipole for 12/17.
Signals on 12m now were louder and some even easier to work too. So this might be the new WARC setup for now. I guess I’ll have to live with the take down / deploy routine before and after a contest. No pain, no gain. *ping* Gain – there pops up the vision of the expensive all band yagi again. Gain on WARC!
Saturday all was cool with this antenna. On Sunday the wind picked up speed and the amp tripped more often than not. I didn’t even need to look outside. I suspected both wires for either band were touching each other when the wind blew. Thus completely ruining resonance in the band. Anecdotical evidence: a few years ago, in my pre-blogging years, I even vulcanized two PVC isolated wires on a homebrew dual band antenna while trying to tune the ACOM amp. Each time I got closer to a match, I got further away from a match. Flabbergasted I quit and took down the experimental antenna to find the two parallel wires glued together where the insulation had molten. They got twisted in the wind during the time I went from outside into the shack. The wires got tangled into each other. Hence no more resonance and no more match. Lesson learned.
Back to the future. I lowered the rope on the pulley and used electrical tape to put some isolating spacers on the wires. This way, constant separation was ensured. Although the wind was pretty strong, the amplifier remained happy after this fix. The WX was sunny and dry and not too chilly. But the forecast predicted a dramatic change. More wind and rain. Towards the end of Sunday some lighting strikes were detected to the west. So before going to bed, I decided to once again unplug the coaxes and lower the 12/17m antenna. Good thing I did because after two hours of sleep, I got awakened by some thunderclaps and saw lightning over the QTH. This sudden thunderstorm even took a nearby town completely off the grid for a quarter of an hour.
Anyone in for a Fritzel trapped vertical for the WARC bands?
What will this year bring? Fantastic high band openings like 2011? Or a genuine storm like 2013 forcing my telescopic tower to stay down? Tuesday before the contest the latter option seemed the most viable.
Hurricane Gonzalo made a U turn and its remainders headed for western EU. The wind was strong but with the tower down it was well within safety and mental peace limits. Tuesday evening we left to the supermarket three miles away from here. When we arrived there the sky turned pitch black. The forecast warned for serious thunderstorms with possible damaging gusts. When we headed home an hour later everything seemed to have moved to the east. Then our oldest son said that a small tree next to the house had been blown over. The XYL applauded his sense of humour. But he persisted: look mom, the tree has fallen. The XYL called me and told me the tree had fallen. Indeed, the small tree next to the house had been blown over. Must have been a heavy wind gust during the thunderstorm when we were away. I ran outside to check the antennas. They were still there. The kids’ slide had been blown away and landed fifteen meters away. Apart from the tree and the slide, everything seemed OK. Wouldn’t that be the pinnacle of irony: great weather during the contest but everything destroyed a few days before. I wouldn’t be the first!
The toppled tree solves a dilemma: to cut or not to cut. It’s been half dead for two seasons. I wanted to do away with it, the XYL wanted to keep it. It’s mostly dead and the wood has dried rendering it stiff and brittle. A lively tree with juices flowing would probably have bent. But the dry wood just tore apart.
After that the wind calmed down and the forecast gave green light for semi-field day setups to go up in the air.
I got home from work early in the afternoon. Very tired, which is negative for the contest. I had to pick up the kids from school at 3.30PM. Two possible things to do: either crank up the tower and put up the 80/160 wire, or take a nap. Tower works can be done with the kids at home. Some couch time is harder, and a nap next to impossible with those two rascals. So I watched some Discovery (or was it National Geographic?) and dozed off. A few minutes later one of the cats decided she wanted out and jumped on my legs. A power nap was the most I squeezed out.
Later on before dinner I cranked up the tower, hoisted the low band wires, readjusted the 80m wire to 75m and it seemed I was done and ready for the contest. I was hoping for a 2011 repeat where 10 and 15 were just heavenly. That hurt activity on 160 but who cares when you’re having a ball on Ten! Then I remembered my QSY with K1DG from 80 to 160. I was sceptical to grant him the QSY but he argued that we could at least try and then BINGO – it worked! These are the things you remember and make it all worth the while.
After dinner I checked the antennas with the amplifier and made a few contacts. All seemed ok. Now let’s hope for some propagation.
Annual tradition (except for F’ing 2013): have some pre-contest SSB fun on the bands. With the antenna to USA and Ten seemingly open I worked some DX. Mostly USA, quite some VE. Only East Coast but maybe it’s too early for the west. A bunch of LU and PY too and much to my surprise a ZS1. Quite some contesters around to. NQ4I, WA1Z, K1ZR, K3OO who asked what I will be doing this weekend. Maybe my sarcasm was inappropriate but I replied I would be knitting a sweater. ‘In between QSO then?’ he clarified. Sure Rick, SOAB (A) HP as usual. Then K1DG called in and he brought up the 160 QSO too. Apparently he remembered that his persuasion paid off.
Later in the afternoon (1500 to 1600 UTC) I worked some more DX on 28MHz. There were a bunch of Californians in there that were loud enough to have some expectations for the higher bands. Once again there was a ZS in the pack too and a few LU and PY. Now it’s time for some rest and time with the XYL. Fingers crossed for the weekend!
Well, it’s Monday now… I’m not going to repeat myself here writing yet another contest write up. Just some random thoughts.
First off special report to ON5MF: WX here was great. I’d settle for this all year round. There was a bit of everything but not too much of anything.
BTW I totally understand YO9IRF.
This morning I took down the tower and wire antennas in shorts and T-shirt. Last days of October! Anyway unless you’re on the driveway, it’s almost impossible to see there was a contest station here last weekend. The pop-up craze now infiltrates contesting.
No targets set, no goals, no stress, no SO2R, just for fun. I’ve tried to be competitive before but it doesn’t make me more happy compared to how I approached it this time. My setup and my location can’t win a real DX contest plaque. It didn’t even take me to WRTC 2014. I hate to bring that up again but that’s the way it is. So why go all the way for a few extra points? After all, I’m only competing against myself and the stack of ‘country winner’ papers is already growing thick. And no one is waiting to see how I did. No fan base, no sponsors.
Here’s a shocker: NOISE!
Saturday early evening when moving down from 15 to 20, I discovered that the 20m band was infested with an annoying noise. I could hear most stations, it wasn’t that the bands were wiped out. Bands – plural! It was far less on 40m. Maybe the thick mush of running stations was stronger? I have never encountered this. Last operation was three weeks ago, and then two days ago. But that was in daylight on a week day. It was also present on 80 and less on 160. It was next to impossible to work with this annoying buzz. Now what? What has changed? Nothing in here that I know of. Maybe it’s the street lights that switched on a while ago? When they switch on, I have some QRN for a few seconds. Merely seconds, just when the lights are ignited. I heard that on 15m while I saw the lights come on through the window. But the noise itself wasn’t present on 15. I never heard something like this. Show stopper! I can’t do something on 40 because of the nature of SSB on 40 (QRM & splatter). And on 80 this noise is also really bad. Furthermore I squeezed the most out of 80 yesterday already because I avoided 40 the first night. But I really need to run USA on 20m now.
Technical time out. I switched off most things in the shack. Against common sense but you never know. I even asked the XYL to switch off the TV set. I interrupted the dish washer’s run. I even cut the circuit to the water heater next to the shack. All to no avail. It would be convenient to find the problem in my own house. The noise is as bad on the yagi 360° around as it is on the vertical aux antenna. It’s not loud, it’s constant and it doesn’t sound like what I’d expect from TVI/RFI/EMC QRM. Actually I don’t even know what to expect when it comes to sounds of interference.
There are a few options:
- It could be in my house but I just ruled that out for 90%. Furthermore there is no new device that wasn’t here before. For the record: RF-wise I scrutinize most devices that need to function in my house. I even searched for a baby monitor that was not 27MHz. It’s on 800MHz or so. Same with wireless keyboard and mouse: expensive 2.4GHz technology compared to cheap CB band stuff.
- Something is wrong with the street lights or some utility device on the poles outside. I can track that down and get the company to fix it. Should be easy.
- One of the neighbours has put a satanic device into service. Who knows what El Cheapo electronic devices are out there. Hunting it down might be easy. Getting the problem actually solved is something else. Not on a technical level. Everything from ferrite to a sledge hammer is available in my toolbox. But on the level of a human interaction. Dear neighbour, your brand new TV has go to go – NOW!
- Wild guess: could this noise be caused by recent and on going solar events? Both 15m and 10m went downhill pretty fast this afternoon hence my planned QSY to 20. But I am by no means an expert on propagation and solar induced noise. I only know what band is open to where at what time. Flares, CME, black outs, magnetometer – stuff unknown to me.
Looking for a possible QRM source including a pathetic short excursion to check some utility poles took a bite out of my operating time. Even worse: prime time for 20! I bit the bullet and worked some audible stations on a closing 15m band and even on 20. But the noise there drove me crazy. Ran some 80/160. Then I decided to sleep for three hours hoping the noise would disappear by itself.
During WW SSB I always sleep when the clock moves from summer to winter time. The reason is superstition about problems with the PC clock that adjusts itself and the impact of the QSO’s timestamp in the log. When I got back in the shack I discovered the noise was still there. Especially on 14 MHz and 3.5 MHz like before. I monitored the street lights and when they switched off after sunrise, it was my impression that the noise was gone. But later on I thought it returned in broad daylight. Or not? Bottom line is that when the street lights switched on again on Sunday evening, the noise stayed away. I need to keep an eye and ear on this. I already consulted some web sites that have sounds of QRM to link a sound to a particular source.
In the past I did many SB efforts in the SSB parts of the major contests. I started doing all band operations in WW SSB to make the most of the WRTC qualification process. I hate to bring that up again but that’s the way it is. We all know how that ended. Turns out that in the end my submitted scores were all for CW contests. CW is the only real mode (especially for smaller stations)! I might get flamed again just like six years ago.
SSB… My best band in CQ WW CW is probably 40. But in WW SSB it’s hell. HELL! I remember my first days in the contesting business when we had to do it between 7040 and 7100. Even with the extra 100kHz now it’s impossible to find a running QRG. The band is open but the DX is sandwiched between two layers of EU.
To me that is the real technical advantage CW has (apart from being more fun): you can filter out almost all crap. Something to consider in the age of durability: you can squeeze a few CW stations in the SSB spectrum. And in LZ9W’s case, you can fit 20 CW stations in the bandwidth: 20 * 0.6 kHz = 12 kHz = about the spectrum from left to right that stations uses. Funny thing: I googled ‘lz9w modulation’ and even my postings showed up in the results. I seem to remember that callsign is dropped once in a while after a phone contest.
Observation: in a fierce packet pile up, LZ9W was calling with a pristine signal. I had to wait my turn and that’s enough time for me to develop a theory. Two in fact. The first is: LZ9W calls the DX with a high antenna that shoots over EU i.s.o. the stack they use for running. Hence the signal is weaker here than the running stack. But then again: the difference is not only the spectrum issue, it sounds cleaner better too. That leads to my theory #2: the running station has an ‘elbow room’ function enabled. Could anyone be so devious? Yet another issue CW takes care of.
Don’t you just love this? Green stuff that turns grey! It happened a few times.
I said it before and I say it again: keep running and the mults will come. There were a couple of times I quit a pile up because I couldn’t stand the mess and a while later the DX comes to work ME. That is the best thing in contesting for me. And of course a few fast rate hours.
Packet pile ups
Especially later in the contest when the M/x mult hunters are looking for action to beat boredom. It becomes a shootout where they seemingly want to establish who’s got the biggest. They call and call and when they stop it’s another one that starts calling. What to do when common sense and highbrow operating fail?
The dotnetified N1MM Plus logger did a great job. Together with the new PC I guess we’re good for another decade. In the age of SDR, I’d just like the option that when you remove a spot from the bandmap, that the station would actually disappear from the air too. I’d be forced offline and off the grid as a self defence measure, but boy those QRM’ers would fly!
It was a fun contest. Conditions were almost too good. Finding no spot to run on the bands hurt my score. Or rather it took away some of the running fun, since score was not important this time. On ten meters there seemed two contests going on. One between 28200 and 28800 and one between 28800 and 29150. There were MANY stations active. People from below seemed never to make it to the top and vice versa. I like to go high in the band and stay clear. We have more than a megahertz of contesting real estate there. Compare that to the 200 kHz we have on 20 (14150-14350). And 150 kHz on 40 which explains the mayhem there. Spectrum is never a problem in CW.
Although I had no expectations, I secretly aimed for 3000 contacts. I almost made 3600 which is my second best in this contest. But the score is a few hundred k points lower than 2011 because of lesser mults and possibly less three point stations.
It was fun to work many friends all over the globe. Some in disguise of a M/x operation. It’s always encouraging to get a heads up from a familiar callsign. And K1DG provided me the USA mult on 160 with yet another ‘six bander’. Fingers crossed for the CW part!
Dear Santa or his deputy closer to home.
I have been a good boy this year. I have been talking into a headset that I saved from the trash bin fourteen years ago (although I retrofitted it with a Heil HC4 mic capsule). It almost falls apart now. My socks may not be big enough but I’m sure my mom will knit a giant sock to fit this gizmo.
I have always refrained from buying a new headset because I think they cost too much and look too flimsy. Furthermore I need a pair of headphones that keep the shack noise out. This new model really seems to fit the bill. It looks firm and meaty and as the manufacturer says ‘ideal for use in high ambient noise environments’.
So dear Santa or his deputy closer to home, please think of me when you start filling socks. You can just leave the box under the tree if you’re allergic to wool. I just hope you’re not allergic to pine trees too.
Almost four weeks since my last attempt to write something. A lot has happened. Too much I daresay. But hardly anything worth mentioning in a ham radio blog. A day is over in the blink of an eye. Monday morning Friday seems far away yet before you know it, it’s weekend. And it’s almost half October already.
A few weeks ago I did some SAC CW. Just some random hours off and on. It’s a fun contest and I like Scandinavia so why not?
The weekend after that I visited Belgium’s biggest ham fair and once again I wondered why upon returning home. We all buy our stuff online and I have enough junk already I could hold my own flea market. I’ve been visiting ham radio fairs since 2000 and I always see the same old junk return. Just take it to the recycling park and get it over with! I bought two spools of quality electric tape. The kind that doesn’t dissolve when exposed to rain and UV. And some long and wide cable ties. Of course I met a few familiar faces but less than other years. Met a few readers of my writings here. So we need to keep the crowd coming back for more HI.
Then there was CQP. I like working USA, especially the West coast flavour. Nothing wrong with the others but W6 is real DX regardless the band. Should I participate this year? These days I find that cranking up the tower is such a hassle. But it’s a prerequisite for making the most of a W6 party. It’s also Oceania DX CW contest that weekend. So my plan was to crank up the tower and suspend the 80m GP that still needs a real DX workout. W6 and VK/ZL – should be good. Makes it worth cranking the tower up.
But then I learned that I was wrong. It’s not the CW part but the SSB leg first of the Oceania DX contest. That attenuates the fun to hassle ratio quite a few dB. Furthermore that weekend seems to be the last with very nice WX. I’d better use the time to mow the lawn pretty short as it might be the last dry day in a long while. So I wasn’t too keen on cranking up the tower and play radio. I could have done the lawn on Friday but I was lazy and decided not to. Anyway WX was nice for both lawn mowing as well as cranking up telescopic towers. No wind, no lightning. The weather forecast talked about rain Saturday late in the afternoon or during the night. On Saturday morning I delayed the tower works and ran some errands. Then we did the lawn after all. We mowed it pretty short. If the weather turns dry again in a few weeks it won’t be too long. And if it doesn’t it’s short enough to hibernate.
So I found myself in a dubious state of mind I have been much in lately. Wanting to contest, not wanting to crank up the tower. A result of the autumn/winter/spring storms of late 2013 and early 2014. And the thunderstorms of spring and summer. The XYL says it’s because I have been there and done that and that the formula might get worn out after a decade of doing each and every contest. And that in turn might make playing with the kids more fun than some silly contest. That’s true. There’s always a silly contest but there’s only one ‘baby’s first step’ or one ‘look dad I can ride my bike all alone’.
So after the lawn was done I told the XYL: “WX is dry and calm, I’m going to crank up the tower”. And she replied: “sure, why not, they didn’t forecast any lightning, just some rain tonight”. The sky was blue, it was well above 20°C and there wasn’t even a gentle breeze. The worst of the last five weeks had been better than the best of August.
I swear that what comes is 100% the truth and not exaggerated. As soon as I powered up the winch and prepared the ropes for the pulleys, the wind started blowing. Not hard but enough for me to need to look out for tangling ropes. The XYL who was enjoying the sun, established that ‘they’ must do this intentionally. Some of you may think that I have this obsession with what to me is bad weather. But all too often the WX is good to do something but it turns south as soon as I prepare. Need to paint something? No wind and blue sky. Open up the can of paint, prepare the parts to paint and there you go: a drizzle. Another classic example? We came here in spring 2003. We had planned one and only one grill party as a house warming party. It was a record breaking long hot dry summer. What more can you ask for? It only rained one Saturday that summer and of course it was when we held our BBQ. If ‘they’ like to torment me with something silly as some painting or a BBQ, what would you expect when I’m working on the antennas the day before a contest? Come to think of it: when we installed the tower and the yagi ten years ago, the four of us got soaking wet and cold in the afternoon where it was a sunny dry morning.
Anyway the tower was up and I folded back a length of the 80m wire to resonate it on 75m. Might as well try that antenna in the OC DX SSB. Shocker: WW SSB is only three weeks away so I really needed to see if all was OK. It had been more than two months since I did something with the tower. EUHFC I think it was. I needed to tweak the wire still a bit to get it to 3700. Might as well answer ON4BHQ’s call for mass participation in a local 80 SSB contest Sunday morning. When all was done it was time for a shower and evening dinner. It was 6PM local time. I gave in to the urge to take a peek at the weather reports. WTF? LIGHTNING 50km away from here! They didn’t mention lightning, only rain. ‘They’ really want to promote stamp collecting. The showers with lightning moved NE. I hoped they move more N then E! People in the coastal areas reported really heavy wind gusts when the showers moved over. Weather 1 – Forecast 0. I put my chips on the wrong bet.
CQP. I heard and worked quite a few Californians. Not on ten meters. The ones I heard cq’ed in my face. On 15 and 20, the signals were down. Granted it was too early for them to go to 20 but I think this was a good showing of the downward trend Cycle 24 takes compared to the magnificent 2011. Then the wind picked up speed. I needed to close the shack window. My notes and amp tuning cheat sheets were flying off the desk. I don’t have an FT-5000 paperweight like ON5MF ☺. Then it started raining so I took a break. I couldn’t hear a thing with the rain static. Then the rain became a shower. Luckily the lightning detection only showed strikes enough to the west. I decided to take a break and watch some TV with the XYL. I didn’t hear much of the Oceanians either.
Later on I worked some more W6 before going to bed. Even on ten meters. But only two and after much trying and repeating. Off to bed and up again for my sunrise. I had hoped for some action from VK/ZL at my sunrise. After all I really badly want to work some DX on the new 80m antenna as a proof it works. Nada. Not even on 40. I worked four W6 on 40 CW though. But not loud and nothing heard on SSB. I have worked them easily there with a lesser antenna. So propagation wasn’t like it was then. Second time I made that note to myself. Question is: was it exceptionally well that year, was it exceptionally poor this year, or is it just Cycle 24 that slowly fades away? There were plenty of spots on 20 for VK/ZL but they were not too loud and of course the EU madhouse was calling or rather shouting and yelling so I decided to completely forget about OC DX. CW 4 EVER ☺
I participated in the local SSB contest on 80 (75m). Just to boost the club’s score. It ain’t fun. I S&P a few times for 30-40 QSO. The counter showed 91 contacts in CQP. Since I wasn’t enjoying myself and I would be another seven hours or more before the W6 would come through again, I decided to lower the tower and quit. With so much on the agenda and to do list, it’s hard to justify wasting a Sunday for a few QSO.
Technically I am ready for WW SSB. But what will propagation bring us? I don’t like SSB. It was fun in 2011 with the extreme good conditions on the higher bands. And the stupid idea that I might get qualified for WRTC 2014 made me do a serious all band effort. 2011 was GREAT for both CQ WW that year. I might do one more all band effort for fun with no targets set. But then it’ll be SB something again. But not SB40. And with everyone on 20 as it’s the only band that’s more or less open?
I hope to report more radio activity soon. I really want to fill my log and work some DX. But I guess I’m stuck in that phase of life where it just doesn’t work out to play radio.
Wednesday September 8, 1999 I took an early train to Brussels. Nervously among blaring white collar commuters. Almost anxiously looking for the offices of the Belgian telecoms regulator. I was prepared but you never know. The reason for my visit to the capital was my first ham radio licensing test. Not that I intended to become an active ham. And what is a DXer anyway? Just like contesting, I had no clue it existed let alone what it was. Passing the test was my only purpose.
I was young and stupid me felt like he had to prove something. A few of my (ex) co-workers at that time were hams. Or they just had a license and a callsign. Since I graduated in the RF branch of electronics, it seemed only natural I passed this test. Only to boast that I had passed that test. And passing I did. This test granted me a VHF license (50 MHz and above). A few weeks later I made my first local contact on VHF as ON1DRS. It was November 6,1999 at 6PM local time. I still have the Word doc I used as a logbook. I set up the TR-9130 on my parent’s veranda because I had yet to convince my dad to drill holes through the wall and run a coax inside. The contacts themselves didn’t mean much as it was local chit chat. But I do remember the feeling and the vibe. I was talking to people. Wireless. With my own means. And a homebrewed 2m GP mounted on a tripod. I was hooked.
I made eighty QSO as ON1DRS before the TR-9130 completely died in June 2000. I just waited a few months for the next Morse code exam to start using the TS-850 on HF. Passing was important because there were only two sessions each year then. Also the theoretical exam was held only twice a year. Not passing meant waiting at least another six months.
It took a while to ramp up my ham career. One year later I did my Morse code exam and got HF privileges. That boosted the radio activity. The rest is history.
I knew I had written about this before. I had to look it up but it makes sense I posted this 5 years ago: 10 years as a licensed ham: from ON1DRS to ON5ZO
Five years, fifteen years. Time flies. And it has achieved a scary speed by now!
On the side, something to file under miscellaneous. During two of my three years studying electronics, the RF classes were taught by a licensed ham radio operator. But he never told us about the hobby. Imagine that. Graduated cum laude as an RF technician not even knowing people did this for a hobby. I had to find out he’s a ham after graduating and getting into the local ham scene.
Looking back, I feel this is a missed chance. Year after year he had at least twenty and maybe more possible hams. I can’t remember how many graduated in the RF class on average. But it was popular at the time. Young men and even the odd woman, in their early twenties who had picked RF and telecommunications voluntarily as their specialization in electronics. So I guess it’s safe to assume they had at least a minor interest in RF. I know I had.
Last week my summer holidays came to an end. Summer by calendar, not by weather. July was mediocre but still FB compared to a cold and wet August. I’ve been working on a simple antenna project for three weeks now. Basically it’s just a wire (teaser for future item here). An afternoon project, maybe less if all goes to plan. But each time I gear up to take it outside, it’s either raining cats and dogs, or there’s thunder roaring. Very predictable but this week, the first week of the new school year, has been warm, dry and calm. So I thought: why not hang up the wire and see if it works on Friday afternoon? You guessed it: chance of showers and even a local thunderclap *sigh*. Two weeks ago I did three small walks with the dog on one day. Each time I left with a dry blue-ish sky and returned wet after twenty minutes.
Looking back I haven’t done much. Still I didn’t sleep or slack but I didn’t do much work. Mostly playing or walking with the kids. Sometimes voluntarily, sometimes under light pressure. I spent most if not all of my spare time from March to end of June working in the garden. I’m very happy with the result. My plan was to do nothing but ham radio in summer. And lots of BBQ. I did three grill parties in July and one the first week of August. Apart from that it was more hot tea and steaming stew weather. Ham related I only did the 80/160 antenna and three contests. Three? Two and a quarter. Both IARU and EUHFC were done in style but for WAECW I didn’t had the courage this year. When working my ass off in spring after being forced to skip many contest due to hard winds and storm, I vowed to be on the air almost daily during my holidays. To make a bunch of contacts here and there. I ended up logging ZERO contacts apart from the three contests. Culprit was of course the WX with almost constant ‘chance of lightning’ so I didn’t even bother to connect the coaxes. Why do so if you only need to unscrew or unplug everything a few hours later. Or in the middle of the night.
I also did a small construction project for a fellow ham. Per his request I won’t elaborate about it. It involved heavy metal, a winch and a hinge. And some drilling and welding. Quite satisfactory indeed.
I’d almost forget I used to actually be an active contester. To my surprise I ended quite high in the WPX SSB this year. Second place in the tribander class. Of course I am no match for stacked long boom monobanders and power splitters in three dieactions at once. But there you go: in my own little league and with no particular effort, I ended up #2. I didn’t even remember I participated in that contest. I claimed 1300 QSO and got credit for 1293. That’s 99.46% accuracy in a serial number contest.
And recently the YODX guys sent me an electronic certificate for their 2013 contest. Courtesy dictates that I’d be on this year too. With the tower nested and the tribander only at eight meters, I made 348 contacts. It always amazes me that with the tower low you can still have some fun (even with the big amp off and 500W out of the small amp). But nothing beats the antenna high up, the low band wires in place and calm WX with magnificent propagation. Let’s see what fall brings?
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.
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).
Plan executed as in the picture. The radials for 160 need to be bent.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
While I was at it, I made a solution for a problem. I hope a picture really tells more than a thousand words.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- My brand new shack PC seems to work.
- I was not in the mood for contesting.
- 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?