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Everything ON5ZO / OQ5M has to ventilate about ham radio.

No I’m not reincarnated into a blacksmith. Rather a welding 101 apprentice. That’s right, another trade I want to master. In the end I will be a real Jack of all trades and of course master of none.

All my occasional welding in the past has been done by my dad. He’s a real skilled ironworker. But when the old age came gone were his prey bird eyesight and brain surgeon like steady hand. This frustrates him and making him weld now only confronts him with the situation so I quit asking him to weld. Since then all my projects involving welding either remained on the drawing board or were converted to woodworking projects. Of course this has its limitations on several levels and wood isn’t really cheap either. A few years ago my dad’s stick welding equipment was here for some welding job and after he returned home I decided to give it a go. In the safe environment of complete solitude. I grew up helping him so I’ve seen my share of welds. But I never actually joined metal parts by welding myself.

So when I tried to strike my first arc the electrode of course stuck to the metal. Google told me it might be that the metal is dirty. So I cleaned up the piece with the grinder. No go.  Google told me it might be that the electrode flux had become wet over time. That must be it! My dad’s stock of welding rods might be older than me so to speak so of course it’s not my welding skill – it’s the electrode gone bad. Neglecting the fact that the day before my dad had done some pristine welding with exactly the same material, I ran out to the local DIY depot for a fresh pack of welding rods. Same story of course – exit my welding career.

We’re almost five years later now and I’ve had it with messing around with wood where metal is the way to go. I started a project last summer where I actually tried to drill holes and bolt everything together but that also has practical limitations. No more delays, no more excuses: I will learn how to weld. The plan was to learn myself to weld. By means of a ‘how to’ book. I can’t ask my dad because the two of us together in a teacher-student relationship would lead to World War Three like situations. So I did some online market research and bought a small DC inverter welder. Of course a simple classic AC transformer model is much cheaper but I fell for the anti-stick function on modern inverter welding machines. After all the sticking rod was my main issue with welding. I obtained some scrap metal and the welder came with some sample electrodes. I bought myself an automatic darkening helmet so I was good to go. One summer evening I struck my first arcs and welded two pieces together. Or rather something similar to glueing them together with chewing gum. The welds looked like **** and were so strong that when I picked the parts up, one piece remained on the table. Oh boy those YouTube videos make it look so easy. Practice makes perfect. So more practicing then.

The problem with practicing and learning this yourself is that you need to have the discipline to actually take time out to do so at regular intervals. I experienced that this actually is the problem. So I looked for a beginner’s course in the neighbourhood that suited my schedule and enlisted. So for the last three or four months I’ve been spending one evening each week learning to weld as an absolute beginner. Doing absolute beginner exercises. Over and over again. And with success I might add! No more sticky rods. Nice looking welds on a piece of flat plate. But being a can-barely-walk-yet-wants-to-run type, I want things to go faster. Faster than the teacher. Being a teacher myself I know this is bad but this time I’m the student so screw that. There are projects waiting on my imaginary drawing board and those parts aren’t going to weld themselves!

So lately I’ve been doing some ‘real life’ welding at home. Simple stuff, putting small pieces together. I made myself a sort of welding table to practice the basic welds yet have something to show for it other than a huge block of iron for the recycling bin. This welding table can then serve to put all the future stuff together. It’s not perfect but I think it’s pretty decent for a first project. There clearly is a learning process going on. It’s not my intention to make money out of this. It’s for domestic purposes only. I just want to make strong welds so things don’t fall apart or break and preferably make clean looking welds so I don’t have to be ashamed to tell I was the welder.

I am now up to the point where I can join small pieces together in a flat horizontal position. That’s the easiest weld you come across. My T-joints are a different story. Outside 90° corners are fine most of the time. But my inside corners suck balls. We’re not quite there yet in the beginner’s course so that’s where I’m rushing things on my own. Because every real life project has T-joints! Not only do they look very ugly I don’t think they’re strong enough. I have practiced this many times and by now I sometimes put down a textbook weld for a few centimetres yet for some reason the next part of the weld goes bad. Welding isn’t hard to do once you mastered it. But it takes a lot of practice and nothing but practicing to acquire the minimum skill to make clean and strong welds. But I’m on my way. Just watch me!  J

For the record, I’m a huge fan of this YouTube Channel. There are many others but I really like that one. I’m now up to the point where I know more welding lingo in English than in Dutch!

Here are some images. No close up of the welds until I’m happy with the way they look.

Square tubing for the scaffolds is 30x30x3. The table / grill is 40x40x4 straight edge with 30x30x3 T irons in between. And some flat stock to keep smaller parts. Two rings on the side to keep a hammer and the welding torch.

I decided not to weld legs to the welding table. In stead I made two scaffolds that can be used for other jobs as well (woodwork, painting, trimming trees… assembling yagis?). It also takes less space in the garage when things can be taken apart and stacked.

The scaffolds will be painted when the WX gets better. It’s useless to paint the welding table top of course. It needs to conduct electricity and the paint will only burn away. I might paint the underside in fire proof BBQ paint and leave a few blank spots to clamp the ground clamp to. I will also make a mounting frame to put my mitre saw on the scaffolds. I used this saw to cut the steel. Thanks to Mike SJ2W for the hint, it has served me well already. Clean cuts! Cleaner than me using an angle grinder and a cutting disk.

Lessons learned so far:

  • Warping of steel when welding is a problem!
  • Don’t use cheap electrodes.
  • Warping of steel when welding is a problem!
  • You can never have enough clamps.
  • Did I say that the steel bends when welding?
  • Very cheap clamps only work to throw at people’s heads. Buy real clamps (28 Euro). Copycat vise grips suck (even if they’re only 7 Euro)!
  • Buy decent electrodes of a known brand. What I saved with the cheap electrodes cost me extra on abrasive disks.

Still tons to be learned. But my first ham radio welding project is about to come together…

Thursday morning I posted this new year’s resolution: ‘A permanent WARC antenna is a priority for 2014.’ Never has such a resolution been executed so fast. In the afternoon of that very same day push came to shove and I made the most of a dry and reasonably wind still afternoon. BTW it has been raining a lot lately and there has been a lot of strong wind too. The antennas up the tower (although it’s cranked down) have been taking quite some beating.

When it comes to a permanent WARC antenna, a two (three?) year old plan hatched. I just took the not-toasted-half of my old WARC rotary dipole, cleaned it up and used the WARC inverted V triband antenna as not-so-elevated radials. The trap limits the power to 500W which suits the KPA500.
There still was the wooden post that held the 40m vertical (2006-2011) so I only needed to adapt and mingle some hardware. I have a huge stock of bolts, nuts, washers, clamps, plastics, aluminium, impregnated wood – I can complete most small projects without running to a hardware store.
I bolted the Fritzel clamps on a pretty thick piece of plexi glass that in turn got mounted on the bolts that kept the 40m vertical… vertical. A quick measurement with the dipole-converted-to-radials suspended low in the trees showed reasonable low SWR though the real resonance dips were below the desired frequencies and out of band. I figured the losses of the stretch of coax to the shack would probably present a lower SWR on the TRX-amp side. This turned out to be true however the amp tripped on 12m. But the concept worked and I heard signals.
So I decided to turn the hastily assembled ‘proof of concept’ setup into a mid-term temporary setup before sunset by rearranging the wire connections at the feed point and straightening the radials. This made resonance shift up, lower the SWR within the band and solve the amp tripping problem.
Since the proof is in the eating, I tried working some stations on the WARC bands. A SV5 on 30, not much heard on 12 (because A=12 and K=3?) and W1AW/4 on 17. I called CQ and RBN showed that only W3LPL picked up my signal on 24.9 MHz. On 17 my CQ was answered by a handful of Americans and a VE7.
Apples-oranges; this is not the best antenna but any antenna beats no antenna. It was cheap because made of surplus parts, did not take long to make and get working, is unobtrusive and has a low wind load. Now let’s see what can be done with it.

Update Saturday January 4th. Pop Quiz! Which is more stupid?

A) Not knowing that a situation might lead to a problem. This ignorance thus leads to completely not taking any precautions to prevent the problem. Blessed are the poor in spirit.

B) Knowing and acknowledging that a situation might lead to a problem. Estimating the odds for the problem to occur pretty high. Nevertheless put your head in the sand by thinking you will get away with it thus completely not taking any precautions to prevent the problem. Hope is a good breakfast, but it is a bad supper (Francis Bacon).

B is worse and I’m guilty. In the first degree. I knew what was coming. The vertical is made of half a dipole. Dipoles hang horizontally thus dipole traps and tubes have drain holes facing down. When you put this assembly straight up vertically, the drain holes are facing to the side thus exposed to wind and rain. Furthermore the lack of drain hole facing down prevents any accumulated H²O from dripping away. Keeping the inside of the trap dry is impossible. I knew this. I acknowledged it. But I thought I would get away with it because he trap is covered (sort of) by a tree and the holes are pretty small. Enter extreme WX phenomena.

Yesterday evening the SWR on all three bands had risen dramatically. I blamed the weather. The wind will have blown the radials out of the trees thus messing up resonance. Not so. The wires were where I had put them earlier. Of course the trap will be soaked and I did not get away with neglecting the exposed drain holes.
This afternoon I went outside and shook the tube. Water was spilling through both holes which means the trap is soaked. Stupid me! I took it down, emptied the trap, blew it dry and then taped all joints and the drain holes. I drilled a few 3.5 mm holes in the plastic sealing cap on the side pointing to the ground. So the trap can breathe and moist can escape from underneath. SWR now once again OK. But for how long? Traps suck.

Here are some pictures. Not my best exposures but you get the idea.

Don’t worry – this site isn’t going to morph into a meteorological blog. But you know by now that stinking WX bothers me a lot and quite frankly it’s been smelling putrid lately. Strong winds and even stronger winds. With lots of rain but that doesn’t bother me as much as the wind does.

Yesterday between 4PM and 5PM I was heading home from visiting a friend about thirty kilometres away. I left there with the car’s temperature meter displaying 12.5 °C outside. Which is ridiculous of course this time of the year.

Soon the sky turned pitch black and at regular intervals pale white. Lightning! Lots of lightning. And rain. So much rain traffic slowed down to a halt (except for some crazy MFers). This sudden thunderstorm followed me on my way home and half an hour later the temperature showed 5.0 °C. More than seven degrees lower in less than thirty minutes. In the mean time it started hailing. It sounded like a bulldozer was pouring marbles over my car and the impact at 50 km/hr was deafening. When it stopped there was a carpet of little white marbles stretched out over several kilometres. Radio news started reporting severe damage over the whole country. I was glad to see all my antennas survived. I think my QTH dodged the bullet.

What I really wanted to show is the above. It fascinates me. I compiled a few graphs from an online weather stations about 10 km from here. You can clearly see the sharp drop in temperature coinciding with a peak in the wind gust speed.
Again: no worries, there’s ham stuff in the pipeline!

The end of the year usually means looking back. I don’t want to do much looking back though. Two thousand thirteen was a crappy year. At least in my perception. And on a relative level of course. No one I care about has died. All my pets are doing fine. No one I know lost his job and everyone is in good health or at least doesn’t know he or she is ill. There were plenty of fun moments for sure but the overall impression 2013 left was: things can be better and some things need to change. Drastically. I limit myself here to ham radio related matters so let’s just say that 2013 was a tipping point in my life where I hit several brick walls, also in ham radio and the way I give meaning to the hobby. So let’s see if we can change all that for the better in 2014.

My biggest mistake over the last three years might have been trapping myself in a bigger-faster-louder spiral. In all aspects of life. I’m not a glass half full or half empty type. I make sure the glass is full and then drink it bottoms up. Just like a bipolar transistor or a ferrite core, you reach saturation and when going beyond a certain point, things break. In contesting that meant that trying to put down a big score was more important than enjoying the contest. WRTC selection had a big part in that. And granted: not making it there after all that might bug me more than I’d like to admit. For a brief moment I thought of applying as a referee. Looking at the list of refs I know more people there than on the competitor’s list. But staying awake for 24 hours straight while just listening and not actively doing something seems impossible to me. So exit WRTC 2014. It was a good race though. I now know what my stations is (not) capable of and I learned to squeeze every drop out of it.

I have also neglected casual DXing. That is something that I very much enjoy. But since I spend so much time on the regular bands in the contests, I like to hang out on the WARC bands. I have no interest in working all those fellows yet again on 10/15/20 on a weekday. And since I traded the blown WARC dipole for a 40m rotary dipole, I have no permanent WARC antenna anymore. So I always need to hang it up and take it down. And I don’t always have the enthusiasm to do that. Not to mention WX. A permanent WARC antenna is a priority for 2014.

The bigger-faster-louder spiral has also led me to belief that I can only have fun in a contest when the tower is cranked up to the max. And when the tower is down, it’s no use switching on the transceiver. As a result, if time or WX keep me away from once again playing ‘fieldday’, I just don’t make any contacts. I did so in the past though, where I entered numerous contests and made a few hundred QSO left and right with the antennas nested at about ten meters high. That is still a full wave on ten meters and a half wave on twenty! I regained this awareness and experienced it live last weekend in the RAEM contest.

Trivia Time!

In the ARRL Ten Meter Contest a few weeks ago I worked QSO # 200 000. That’s in a thirteen year time span.

200000_QSO

200 000 QSO and counting…

Numbers! Speak for themselves.

2013_band

Breakdown by band

2013_mode

Breakdown by mode

I didn't expect this: more days in the shack than in 2012???

I didn’t expect this: more days in the shack than in 2012???

History according to ClubLog. Only from 2006 on (start of OQ5M callsign).

2013_timeline

I think I prefer CW over any other mode…

And a small ClubLog DXCC comparison between OT1A and myself:

clOT1AvsOQ5M

That’s 160 to 6 from left to right, total DXCC and band slots.

A ham radio blog entry about… not doing ham radio.

Forget about photovoltaic cells. Wind generators are the way to go. What’s up with the weather here? Much too warm for the season which means wind and rain coming from over the Atlantic through the Channel. It happens once in a while and some years more than others. And always much to my dismay. But this fall and early winter have been terrible. Remember the CQ WW SSB weekend and the following Monday?

Ever since we moved in here in spring 2003, I remember playing Low Band Hero during the last weeks of December. Or pursue those fluttery West Coast signals on 30m. I participate in some winter contests like 9ACW, Stew Perry and RAEM. During this period the tower is up at least two thirds and loaded with low band wire antennas. But not this year.

We had a calm period after CQ WW CW that ended just before (of course before and not after!) the weekend of the ARRL 10m contest. That calm period was very cold with WX coming from the NE. That is the way to go here, even in summer. It’s always dry and sunny with no strong winds when the weather moves in from the east or north-east. Hot in summer, cold in winter. But almost always dry and sunny. When the weather comes from the opposite direction, from the Atlantic over France, it’s always bad weather. Rain and wind. And thunderstorms in summer. Only in summer? No – there was a short burst of thunder and lightning last week.

So now there is a continuous 5 Bft wind which is my comfort limit but with plenty of 6 Bft periods and strong gusts. And major storms. The coming night yet another strong storm will move along the North Sea shore producing 80 km/h or stronger wind gusts inland. More at the sea side. That’s exactly what kept and keeps me from cranking up the tower. The forecast predicted more of the same for the coming week so I’m very unhappy with this situation.

Last Saturday I did not start in the 9ACW contest. Although I usually do to some degree but not only was the wind blowing too hard, the XYL had bought tickets to go see a show with the kids. I specifically asked to go on a weekday when se booked the tickets a while ago because the weekends are reserved for ham radio. But ‘for some reason’ the tickets we received in the mail showed Saturday 21st. It’s good that the weather spoiled my plans anyhow, otherwise I would have been very unamused. Now I was just plain unamused.

Correlation between wind gust speed and the barometric pressure. Quite some depression.

Correlation between wind gust speed and the barometric pressure. Quite some depression.

Actually we’re Tuesday now and I was typing the above yesterday morning (Monday 23rd) and then went off to run some errands. When I returned the wind had considerably gained speed. I replaced some of the children’s toys and shut the garage door in ‘storm mode’. The updated forecast predicted winds around 100 km/h or more locally. I tried to go to bed around 2230 local time and woke up every two hours because of the noises the wind made. I heard some sounds I don’t remember having heard before so I guess it’s safe to say it was mayhem outside. It was much worse than the previous storms earlier this fall. Those seemed to focus on the coastal areas whereas this one hit us right between the eyes. I got out of bed a few times and went to look through the window but all antennas seemed fine. Although things were shaking heavily. Alas when checking the antennas in daylight this morning I immediately noticed the 40m rotary dipole had shifted a bit on the mast compared to the yagi. Not much but too much to leave it alone. Fixing this in essence is no biggie but a real PITA as I need to tilt over the tower to fix this and even then the antenna is a bit high to reach comfortably. I won’t be doing this any time soon since the forecast predicts more of the same turbulent weather by the end of the week and after the weekend. I guess I’ll take the opportunity for a general inspection and some maintenance when I address this situation. I think it’s safe to say that with the current WX and what’s heading our way later this week, this marks the end of 2013 in ham radio for me. Not my best year (number crunching season is just around the corner) and certainly not the year with the highest fun factor. The latter has to change in 2014.

Other than this: The K3 came in from the Italian repair centre last week. UPS tracking said ‘ETA: late in the afternoon’. I don’t know by which clock they live but lunchtime / noon is not late in the afternoon for me. Luckily I had just got home from work. I unboxed the rig yesterday and did a quick test. All seems fine.

Merry Christmas ho ho ho!

Fifteen minutes of fame? In fact it’s only a minute. Courtesy of Bas PE4BAS who was so kind to record and throw the result on YouTube. So that’s how I sound 400-500 kilometers away from here. Too close for my antenna at two wavelengths high. And 90° off. Thank you OM Bas!

I haven’t been doing much ham radio since CQ WW CW. The closest to a radio I got was to box and ship the faulty K3 to the repair shop. It should return the following week.

Awaiting the decline of cycle 24 I wanted to play in the ARRL 10 Meter Contest once more. Wild plans of auxiliary antenna mast and second antennas for power splitting in two directions or covering multiple take off angles stayed nothing but plans. Once again. I really should take care of this once and for all. I have all the hardware needed (mast, antennas, stackmatch etc) and I have it all in mind. But it’s always something else that needs attention first – some contest in the first place. And truth be told: I lacked the real estate to properly and safely do it. Until now with the extension of our lot half a year ago. But turning this jungle into a civilized garden took priority over planting antennas. The proverbial 24/7 just isn’t enough to execute all my plans! Anyway back to reality.

On Friday the weather was nice and there was no bad WX announced so I cranked up the tower and connected the main amplifier to the remaining K3. Normally, the big amp is driven by the broken K3 that is away for repair. The other K3 sits on the right driving the small amplifier. I decided not to move the rig nor the amp but just ‘cross connect’ with a longer stretch of coax, put the two PTT cables together with an RCA joint piece (the one on the amp and the one on the K3). And move coax B to position A so I could let the band decoder do its job.

All that worked but for some reason the amp tripped quite a lot… I narrowed it down to the K3’s output power being very unstable for some reason. Output power peaks triggering the amplifier’s ‘driven too high’ protection. I never saw that before. Not with the absent K3 on this amp, nor with this K3 on the small amp. I hope that when I restore the SO2R setup, the situation will return to normal. Although I’d really would like to know what’s going on there. I hope this rig won’t be needing repair too! First shipping the amp to Italy last summer, now one of both transceivers. Repair is costly but it’s always 80 Euro extra for round trip shipping.

I slept late on Saturday. After all this one is just for fun. No real targets, no pressure, just maximize fun. That means lotsa QSO and some juicy runs. I got into the shack after 0800 utc. There you go: K index rose to 4 overnight. You could tell. Soon a JA1 called and when I got his call he faded away so I had to bail out because I couldn’t copy the serial number. Other than that I had a nice run with some nice DX mults. Soon after a copyable JA called and I was glad. A BY and a VU2 back to back. 9M2 or 9M6 or both, can’t tell right now (not on the logging PC). I did some SSB before lunch and when I got back after lunch I started logging some Americans. The amp kept tripping, more so in SSB than in CW. In CW it’s mostly when I start running. Once I launched a few CQ, it’s over. On SSB the power glitches more when the transmissions are longer. Weird.

In the morning in CW my motto was ‘glad there’s the Russians’, in the afternoon on phone, it was ‘glad we have tons of Yanks!’. The band was good up to 1700 utc. After that things went downhill and only two or three Californians were worked. No OR/WA. I’m pretty low on WAS mults. Pretty low on every mult. I quit around 1830 when the band was dead. K rose to 3 again in the last hour so that might explain the sudden drop out of signals.

Just my luck: on Thursday I developed a severe cold. Clogged nose yet snot running. It makes for an uncomfortable feeling especially when you want to do SSB. But given that I’m only in it for the fun, I decided to stick to mixed mode. I probably sound very nasal but by blowing my nose once in a while, I could cope with the cold. One time I blew my nose so hard my ears popped. Result: RX -50dB. I could hear less with the popped ears. It took me a few minutes to regain a few dB and almost a full hour for it to go away completely.

My major concern was that in the late afternoon the weather forecasts predicted heavy gusts for the coming night. Those bloody WX amateurs! They predict nice and calm WX making me believe things will be quiet then when my tower is up they predict relatively strong winds. You know me by now: objectively spoken these gusts aren’t a real threat to my free standing thus unguyed telescopic tower or antennas. But still it worries me since I don’t trust Murphy and I always think that what man has built, can and will fail. Metal fatigue, weak welds, loose nuts on vibrating bolts – the ingredients of the cataclysm a techno-pessimist like me can imagine.

So while watching a movie on TV with the XYL, I had one eye on the utility cables outside. They started swinging more and more. Then the window blinds to the south started rattling. The XYL called it a day and went to bed and I decided to check the WX current reports. The local WX stations clearly showed the wind picking up speed with some gusts around 40km/h. Again: shouldn’t be a problem for the ratings. I took the dog out for a whizz and saw the top section of the tower waving in strong gusts with the wind howling through the tower’s lattice. I know I shouldn’t be focusing on this but in a way it reassures me all is fine yet it scares me too. So here I am three hours later at 2 AM local. Giving you the story of Day 1 of the contest. I should go to bed and get on Ten earlier than yesterday…

Sunday! I managed to get some sleep although the wind was audible. We sleep under the roof (strongly isolated though) and the house is out in the open. The AC power cable and TV coax hang from a pole across the street and is suspended to the façade of the house just under the roof’s ridge. When this cable combo swings in the wind, the tensioning block hits the roof which makes a knocking sound. So rattling window stores, the howling wind and the bumping cable are the root cause of me not sleeping tight when the wind blows. Even at moderate wind speeds these effects are noticeable. And when the tower is cranked up, there’s the worrying factor to boot. But still I slept for about five hours. Then my oldest son woke up and so did I. However I was not in a hurry to get in the shack so I got there late again. I almost doubled the QSO number on Sunday. From a good 600 to 1150. By 1730 utc the band was completely dead. Things were slow on Sunday.

I expected much more of this contest given the SFI current numbers. Yes there was DX. In both modes. And we could expect that the bands would close pretty soon after sunset. No sustained high rates, even the effect of a packet spot was minimal. I don’t get it. I did more S&P than I normally do.

Maybe my antenna is too small? Too high or too low? Two wavelengths might be too high when the band is open yet not high enough for high angle lobes? Who knows. Maybe my expectations are simply too high? No, I’m not quite happy with this one. The short lived rate bursts were fun but other than that it was a drag for me. I must admit I wasn’t really in the mood for contesting because the things I have on my mind but I hoped the contest would change the mood. A shot of contest a day keeps the doctor away. Maybe this weekend’s dose was a tad too light?

It’s not easy writing about a contest, especially if you enter many and have been reporting for years. But I’ll try.

I was eager to get on the bands. It has been a while (WAE CW) and skipping WW SSB was hell. Since I put up and tested everything last week for the LZDX contest, I was all set to go. Of course the usual hectic (little kids!) and stressful (work!) life prevented me from resting and relaxing before the contest. I feared that this would be my enemy since WX was said and turned out to be calm. Even Murphy’s attempt to ruin one of my rigs botched and I managed to use the cripple K3 as my main running rig. Murphy managed to sneak his little cousin in but that was no biggie. See later.
I don’t like the start of contests. Looking for a QRG. Fearing that the slow first minutes may last during the contest. Frantic operators all over the bands. But this time I was on point after a short nap on the couch. Brush teeth for minty fresh taste and off I went. Target was 4000 QSO, no goal for mults and score.

Adding the 500W ‘low power amp’ really is a good move for SO2R. No more waiting. I can even run now in CW with 500W and use the Little Big Power amp (driven to 1200W tops) to slice my way through the pile ups. While I like the 10/15/20 vertical for the second radio and it really works well for its size and footprint, I think that some extra firepower might come in handy. It’s never enough for a contester!

Rates were good and I progressed to plan throughout the first night. Except nothing to work on Top Band. Loads of fun while Saturday passed. Around midnight thus halfway the contest I reached 2000 contacts. I was a bit tired but better than anticipated. Things slowed down so I took the decision to take a short nap before I would totally crash. I slept for about two hours, then took care of my I/O and started again. But a few hours later I was about to crash anyway. I felt misty and light headed. I decided not to fight it. I leaned back in the chair, rested my head on my chest and off I went. Luckily I didn’t sleep too long. My last logged QSO was exactly one hour ago. But the little nap in the chair did wonders. Back to the races!
In the mean time I lost control over the PC! WTF? It was good one hour ago. Mouse works, keyboard not. Oh sh…. I bought a 2.4 GHz wireless desktop kit because RFI plagued my P/S2 and USB stuff. All problems solved since moving to 2.4 gig wireless. I decided not to change the batteries before the contest because I have a few fresh spares within reach in the drawer under the operating desk. NOT! It’s all AAA while I need AA types. [{#@{[|@{|@]. Rechargeable batteries not charged! NOW WHAT? Take batteries from kid’s toys? I went downstairs and ploughed through the ‘various rubbish’ drawer. I found two AA’s of different brands. Usually we dispose run out batteries in a dedicated recycling bag so these should still be OK. I put them in the keyboard, but still no go. Run the synching procedure between wireless device and USB stick in the PC. No go! I decided to restart the PC. Success! I lost about twenty minutes but the adrenaline rush and walking through the cold stairway sharpened my attention. Here ends Murphy’s little cousin’s attempt to topple the operator.
Strangely enough I was good on Sunday and not as tired as the previous years. When ON4BHQ woke up on Sunday and checked in to see how I was doing, he feared that 4k QSO was aimed too high. I think he was right. At that time. But things sped up and the usual high band openings to NA provided good rates. Thank you American Contest Legions! With extensive use of radio #2 I even managed to work extra mults and ‘threepointers’. By 2200utc I passed the 4000 Q mark and went downstairs to empty my bladder. I needed relief but told myself ‘not before 4k’. Because I achieved my only preset goal, I could rest from the chase and take time out for some multipliers. Thanks to ON3DI for following my progress on the Russian online scoreboard and texting me cheering messages.

About this online scoreboard: GREAT! I only watched the SOAB category and only the pure score in points (no breakdown). From the first hours, the pecking order was set. Positions changed now and then but everyone in the top 20 roughly held the same position give or take a few places. I was glad to be on top of the second tier. I don’t have the location nor the means to be a Top Gun. For ease of mind, let’s assume I am an ace driver but drive a robust family car in an F1 race. I might just carjack a real F1 speedster one day! If you’re seriously entering a contest, this score board is a real motivator. At least it is for me.

About packet pile ups: hate ‘m! I always am assisted but in the last years I have learned to leave the green double mult spots alone. At least for a while. What are some guys thinking? Some UTxy (forgot the actual 2×1 Ukrainian callsign) station heard yesterday for a late double mult: firing salvos of five times his call, pause two seconds, then fire the same salvo again. And again. And again. Say what? When does he ever listen? QSY 100 Hz and smart timing is usually enough for a family car to outsmart a dragster. The later in the contest, the worse it gets. M/x mult hunters are bored and hungry for action. When a new one pops up, they fire op ye olde callsign chaingun and shoot a few rounds. Blindly. As a crafty marksman I make more clean cuts then their artillery. Enough metaphors.

About my broken K3: who needs a front panel anyway? I should try to send it in for repair this week.

Since I’m a glass-half-emty kinda guy: how will we ever survive the years without 10m and working a single W6/7 on 15m calls for champaign? I even remember recent years where openings on twenty to the West Coast were short lived. Let’s make the most of it while it lasts. Hopefully we can do this over in three weeks in the ARRL 10m test.

CQ Contest!

Big signals from ON5ZO. So they say. The East Coasters. At least on ten and eighty meters.

Last week I managed to get the station fully ready for SOAB / SO2R even with the RX loop hooked up. Apotheosis was cranking up the tower on Friday and make a few rapid contacts here and there to see if everything works. It did. Some W3 sent a note about me being loud on 28 MHz in the afternoon. In the evening the same thing on 3.5 MHz from a W1. Good! I was ready for the dress rehearsal called LZDX before The Big One CQ WW CW.

The elevated radials are in place. One is hung in a very temporary location. It looks dreadful and ruins the view. It hits you right in the eye and it’s within reach of people, even my kids. Strange that the XYL hasn’t enquired yet about whether this is a joke. I’m afraid that one will have to go after winter. The radial, not the XYL! It’s in a ‘no go zone’ for now because I just planted a row of small tress there so it’s very muddy. BTW I dug some holes half a meter deep (20”) to put the trees in, and when I returned from emptying the wheelbarrow there was about two centimetres (0.8”) of water in it. Then I used my ground drill to make a smaller deeper hole to put a support pole in and when I retracted the drill, the hole was full of water right away. That’s how wet it is. In contrast to this summer when the bottom was so hard and dry I couldn’t even get my shovel through it. It just bounced!

In our series ‘you might be a contester if…’. If you miss some ATNO (plural!) and just don’t care. The plan was to give K9W a shout now that the tower was up. Turns out they were QRT already. Oh well. T33 and XR0 new ones too but I just can’t stand the mess. I said it before and I’ll say it again: code of conduct my ass! The BIG PICTURE Of Expedition Operating And The Direct Relationship To Anti-Social Pileup Behavior is looking underexposed. Pun intended! More and more I find myself moving away from these disgusting LIDfests. This is a case of loving the game but hating the players. To hell with DXCC. I just move up or down and call CQ and be glad to work a bunch of K / JA / VK… My time is too precious for frustration in what should be fun. BTW: my guess is that these ‘bully lids’ as K6VVA calls ‘m just don’t read code of conduct manifests. Come to think of it, it’s one of the issues he points out in his presentation.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming. CQ Contest! LZDX once again proved big fun. You know I love these medium 24 hour everyone-works-everyone contests. Rates averaged +100 during the first hours but of course that changed after sunset. Too bad there wasn’t more competition on the Russian online score board. It was fun catching up with UC7A and being caught again. That ended around midnight when he seemed to have gone to bed and updates stopped coming in.

Technically SO2R worked and I have mastered the basic stuff by now. The short fixed report lends itself to this. Not that I’m actually a pro and sometimes it even blows up in my face when one of the stations on either radio does something that breaks the routine. Or me hitting the wrong button. But it’s fun and it keeps you busy. SO2R can boost the rate from slow to acceptable. I even had the guts to use duelling CQ. A new challenge. The second amp really helps. Those 400-500 Watts make a huge difference. And it always amazes me how well the elevated trapped vertical for 10/15/20 works. Even for DX.

I went to bed around 23.30 utc and was back on by 0800. The low bands were slow and I didn’t want to miss sleep. The counter showed 1000 contacts. Sunday morning was pretty slow. I ended the contest with 1400 QSO.

I don’t want to jinx CQ WW CW but so far, so good…

Last Friday there was 100 000 000 Euro to be won with the Euro Millions EU lottery. I’m not a regular lottery player. We just jump the bandwagon when there is a crazy amount to be won. Like one hundred million Euro… That‘s four billion old Belgian Franks. Mind boggling! So I asked the XYL to buy us a cheap ticket. Cheap because just for fun and cut losses. A ticket with a lottery computer generated number combination. No magic numbers like birthdays or so.

Sometimes I dream of an auto-tune amplifier. Or a new one-yagi-with-gain-on-seven bands (40 > 6). With enough saving and patience, these dreams are well within reach. But one hundred million Euro… My imagination went berserk and I said: “I just buy me a three point island in the Caribbean!”

Well you actually can buy an island it seems. Here is a site that offers dreams for sale. Some are actually real bargains. If you have 100 000 000 in your back pocket that is.

The site says:

As private islands are available in a wide variety of sizes, styles, locations and price points, determining exactly what type of property is best suited to your needs may seem like an intimidating undertaking.

You bet! What island offers best take off to EU? Fixed monobanders or stacked tribanders? Will the beverages work on my hilltop location?

If I understand the system, it seems that we won just enough to cover the cost of the ticket. Losses cut indeed! But if you ever work me as V35ZO or C65ZO two contests in a row, you know who hit the jackpot!

PS I’m not even remotely tickled by the thought of remote operations. I want the Real DX Feel. Or get washed / blown away by Belgian autumn WX.