ON5ZO – OQ5M

More than three months passed since my last CW contest so LZ DX Contest vintage 2018 came just in time. No goals, no targets, no stress. Just one radio. Go with the flow and (try to) have fun.

As is the case with these contests: the first few hours are fast and then it slows down. There is no ten meters and fifteen was an Rf-desert which makes it worse. I tried fifteen meters for as many minutes and logged only a dozen contacts so down to 14 MHz. That made more sense but the rate wasn’t really spectacular. I was having fun though.

Since I wasn’t going to be competitive I unchecked the ‘post score to server’ box in N1MMLogger. But after a while I decided to check cqcontest.net and lo and behold: I was doing fine. To hell with ‘not competitive’. I checked the box and joined the fun. In hindsight this was the best decision I made in this contest. Seeing your real time score makes you take less breaks and work harder. It’s a major motivator and adds fun to this already fun packed game. At least that’s how I see it.

And so the contest progressed and I was on top of the game. At least among those who posted their scores. I had to be realistic: 65% of what I log is worth 1 point (EU). RT9S works the same stations but gets 3 points credit because for him it’s another continent. So don’t compare to RT9S. Then suddenly D41CV joins the game. Other continent and ‘callsign gain’. So my target is being above UC7A, DL6KVA and SP1NY. The other posters didn’t seem to move as much as these stations.

At a given point I even turned on the second radio! I took down the 10-15-20 vertical a few years ago so I can only do SO2R with the antennas for 40 and 80 and the yagi. Which is no problem given where we are in the sunspot cycle. I run either 40m and 20m and look for QSO on the other band. I even did ‘alternating CQ’ on two bands. Fun stuff in such a modest contest. It keeps you busy, increases the rate and the live score board is a motivator.

As the evening made way for the night things were getting slow. I was well ahead of SP1NY which had become ‘the guy to beat’. Around 0utc (1AM local) I decided to take a break and get some sleep. I had the easy mults on 80 (USA and VE) and there isn’t much to do when EU goes to bed. The usual American suspects were already logged. My guess was that SP1NY would also go to bed or won’t log that many goodies. And if so: who cares (is what I tried to tell myself).

I set the alarm for 5utc (6AM) but woke up twenty minutes earlier. I immediately took a look at the live score. Still ahead of the game (i.e. SP1NY). Yes! D41CV and RT9S either went QRT or didn’t post their score. And so I found myself on top of the game. I knew this was just a snapshot so I took one:

Snapshot!

Later on RT9A and D41CV updated their scores and I was even out of the top five! I stayed on 40 and 80 as long as possible with both radios, even running both bands. And then the same routine on 40/20. I checked ten meters. The RBN picked up a few LZ but I didn’t hear a thing. Fifteen was poor too. I tried running and got answered by a few Far East calls: HS, YB and even a JA and a VK.

Then suddenly SP1NY took a big leap forward. I was well ahead in QSO numbers but in half an hour he accumulated almost twenty extra multipliers. HUH? Where did that come from? My guess is that he was in the skip zone on 15 and I wasn’t. Everything over 2500km from here was loud. Everything under 2000km was inaudible. Let’s see:

Warsaw – Sofia = 1100km on a pure N-S path   versus   Brussels – Sofia  = 1800 from here SE (111°).

I couldn’t work a thing under 2000km. Many red spots and unworked LZ stations but I could not hear them. Maybe my antenna is too high on 15m for this range? Must be as the UA and UA9 were loud and even those JA, HS, YB and VK were not weak… Bummer!

A few hours to go and I hoped that 15m would open up a bit for the more local stuff especially LZ. It more or less happened but it wasn’t a big success. I did manage to jump over SP1NY again. I tried 10m again in a pathetic effort to work more multipliers. A Dutchman, a German and a Belgian. Not even easy! Then fifteen again: a slow run and calling everything I could on 40m.

I wanted to know how many ‘second radio QSO’ I made but the above table doesn’t tell the story anymore because I also made run QSO and not only S&P. I forgot and just realized that all QSO on 80m were made with radio #2 which means with the small 500W amp. I left the Big Amp (1200W) on 40. The last hour I settled on 20m and stayed there. It seemed the most sane thing to do.

I’m happy with the result and what’s even better: I had a good time. I can’t wait to have 15 and 10 back though. And a second antenna for those bands.

The link to the construction details of this antenna:

http://users.skynet.be/on4bai/VDIPHAT/4BAIVHAT_bis.htm

If you did a google query for such a specific antenna, that is the link that’ll probably drew your attention.

ON4BAI disappeared from the ham radio scene almost a decade and a half ago. Since you don’t find an email address to contact him, your second go to was probably me. Understandable.

Once or twice a year someone sends me an email about this antenna project. I decided to make my life simple and just refer to this here from now on. So read along.

About this antenna:

I guess that for ON4BAI it was an exercise in engineering, calculating and building. The object was to figure out a way to make a relatively small antenna work on a relatively large wavelength with relatively acceptable efficiency.

The process is:

  1. Determine how high you are willing to go above the ground compared to full size (i.e. no loading).
  2. Determine how much space you want to sacrifice for the capacitance spokes.
  3. Add loading coils at feed point for more loading when capacitance spokes are not big enough.
  4. Figure out hairpin to match all this to 50Ω as lossless as possible.

As a result: no it is not multi band. Everything is calculated for a single frequency. Bandwidth is not too wide either.

My opinion (nutshell)

  • If you want an engineering challenge and a complex antenna, this is the way to go.
  • If you want a SIMPLE and LIGHT antenna that works EQUALLY WELL or better, there are other options.

Elaborating on the subject…

At my first employer I got to know ham radio because of some co-workers that were either hams or studying for their test. That tickled my interest. Later on I started working for another company early 1999. One of my co-workers there was ON4BAI. He was very passionate about the hobby and his enthusiasm was contagious. I too passed the test and he was my elmer when I took my first steps in ham radio.

More ON5ZO history?

10 years as a licensed ham: from ON1DRS to ON5ZO

ON4BAI preferred the technical side of the hobby: designing and building. My XYL and I just bought a house and this OM was in need of some antennas. So Kurt designed and built this antenna and we put it in my garden. I used it from Spring 2003 to somewhere early 2006. I was very grateful for that as it brought me a good antenna for a nice band.

For some reason we never got the SWR acceptable: 3:1 if memory serves me well. It seemed OK at his place but not at mine. Ground conductivity? Interaction with my sheet metal garage a few meters away? I used the TS-850’s internal ATU to ‘fix’ this. I was running 100W only so no problem. It brought me DX so why bother.

My second problem with this antenna was actually that it took up quite some real estate and made lawn mowing difficult. Not only the capacity spokes were a danger to get poked in the eye. This antenna needs guying. The center is quite heavy: mounting plate, coils, balun and a coax attached.

Early 2006 I bought an amplifier which could not handle this antenna because we couldn’t get it matched to 50 ohm. This was more serious than the lawn mowing issue so I decided to take it down. I replaced it with a simple wire vertical on a fiber glass pole with two elevated radials in gull-wing configuration. This worked equally well but was much simpler to build and took almost no space. I put the fiber glass mast against the hedge and used the trees to suspend both radials in. Later on I replaced the fiber glass pole with the copper wire by some tapered aluminum tubes.

External images <here>  and  <here>.

In summer 2006 I decided that maybe there was a better option when I had the telescopic tower cranked up. For WAECW 2006 I suspended a full size wire vertical dipole slightly sloping away from the 21m high tower. While not a three element yagi this antenna seemed even better than the ground plane. But yet again a simple, cheap and lightweight high efficiency antenna that didn’t take up real estate. Clearly a winner again.

Later on a made an A/B relay switch and put up two of these. One towards USA and one towards JA with respect to the tower. They were not phased but I always thought of being able to ‘sense’ a subtle better performance in the favored direction. No measurements or tests to back up that hunch though.

I used this setup on 40m with much success until 2011. Then I installed a coil loaded rotary dipole which sits at 23m AGL when the tower is cranked up all the way. This is a KILLER antenna and can’t be beaten for its size, weight and simplicity.

Unlike Dan KB6NU my first project was successful.  Must be a case of Beginner’s Luck.

After summer I started a new job. I’m still teaching though. But new school, new subjects: mostly back to classic electronics and new stuff like Arduino. And my first hands on experience with 3D printing. And a link with ham radio to boot!

To keep my classroom tidy I was looking for a cable rack. Teenage students wouldn’t mind turning a few dozen test leads into a pile of spaghetti but I hate that. Furthermore when the cables are nicely arranged I immediately can look for test leads gone MIA and summon the troops to recover the missing items.

I was looking for a fast DYI solution with either wood or metal since I know how to obtain and work with these materials. But Google suggested another solution. From an amateur radio operator nonetheless! WA0UWH made a nice cable rack with a 3D printer. And he was so kind as to make the design available online.

This is what the full WA0UWS model looks like.

 

Since we also teach the basics of 3D design and printing to our students, we have everything available to edit WA0UWS’s design and have it 3D-printed. The original design was too wide to fit onto our printer’s bed so we removed a few of the branches making it narrower. We did not scale it down, we sliced away some of the fingers. My colleague showed me how stuff works and soon after I had the 3D printer going.

I now have a bunch of cable racks I can put up on the wall to keep the different types and colors nicely separated and untangled. Yay! To keep the number of holes in the wall to a bare minimum I screwed a length of plywood to the wall. I painted it white first to blend with the painted wall. Then I screwed the cable racks to the wood. Four screws in a brick wall is far less than 5×3 screws.

The finished product.

The finished product.

The finished product.

A quick search engine query reveals a lot of 3D designs for ham radio gizmos are ready to download and get 3D-printed.

I have a lot to learn (see also my Arduino affair). But just like when I got back into programming twelve years ago, this new knowledge can also be used in DYI projects. Read: HAM RADIO!

Arduino – I finally cracked

Status 04/11: I processed all cards in my possession for OQ5M and ON5ZO/P. I still have a bunch of cards for ON5ZO that need to be addressed. These are mainly for older QSO’s that I sent out cards for already.

There still is a very old shoe box full of ON5ZO cards. I wrote on top of the box: “ON5ZO cards – checked OK’. So I will take a few sample cards to see if I really already processed them. I surely hope so.

The last batch of QSL cards showed a big stack of QSL cards from WRTC 2014 (MA, USA).

Many cards for WRTC 2014 contacts

Many cards for WRTC 2014 contacts

I now need to send out about 700 cards for OQ5M. I decided to print labels and stick them on paper cards. That way I can get rid of the stock of cards I had printed in 2006. I don’t like them too much and the picture doesn’t reflect my actual antennas anymore. Good riddance!

The good thing of waiting a few years to reply to incoming QSL cards is that you can answer three different cards confirming each one QSO with only one card.

Old skool QSLing is not for the impatient. After being OQ5ZO (late 2001) I sent out a QSL card for ALL contacts. Rookie mistake. I made a QSO with a W6  station on 20/11/2001. I sent my card on 12/02/2002. I marked the contact as confirmed on 03/11/2018. That’s seventeen years after the contact. Oh my. OQ5ZO – my first encounter with calling CQ and running high rate (to my standards back then). Has that really been s-e-v-e-n-t-e-e-n years already? Time flies too fast, really!

Sometimes people make the QSL process more complicated than needed. There’s this JA station I have worked seven times on 15 CW. I confirmed four of those in 2015. Yet still there is another card for the same band/mode.

Or what to think of the station sending me a card with ‘PSE QSL’. So I sent my card. Then a few years later I receive another card for the same contact saying ‘TNX QSL’. A case of confirming the confirmation.

And so the QSL saga comes to an end. For now at least. ON4BHQ warns me that he has a considerable amount of buro cards waiting for me already – again…

Stop sending me QSL cards! Stop sending me SWL cards!

For years I’ve been haunted by the view of shoe boxes full of unanswered incoming buro cards. Hiding them from view doesn’t help. The mere thought alone that they’re there… I have a love-hate relationship with QSL cards. Actually all the love is gone (so sing a lonely song… was the phrase that sprung to mind). Right now I just hate those paper things. And instead of processing them I’m going to write about them. Because that seems a more satisfying waste of time. And because lamenting is another hobby of mine.

At first I QSLed each and every contact. Just like you probably. My first 1000 cards were hand written. Crazy: a whole weekend of writing QSL cards! The second batch was labeled. Sticking 2000 labels in a row is no fun either.

Just like any fresh DXer I was enchanted by those cards dripping in. My first USA card! Oh look: the first card from Japan. One night at a club meeting somewhere in 2001-2002, I was proud to hold my very first QSL card from the land of the rising sun. I believe it was ON5YR who grinned: ‘wait until you have a shoe box full of JA cards…’. Today is that day.

This DXer grew into a contester. I couldn’t care less about the commercial DXCC program. Although I still like to work DX. A lot. The magic of radio ever ceases to amaze me.

Then my activities moved to 99% contesting with a high volume of contacts being logged (statistics). That generated huge numbers of incoming QSL. At the same time we bought a house, had to run a household, then there were kids. Free time became scarce and inversely proportional with the stack of unprocessed QSL cards.

Once in a while I would force myself to work my way through a batch of incoming cards. A few evenings in a row for a few hours. But the satisfaction is gone. A pure sense of duty. The cost of these stupid cards is only one factor and not even my biggest beef. It’s the hours of free hobby time that it takes. And for what? Haven’t you worked Belgium before? Sure you have because it’s already the THIRD card you sent me for 40 SSB or 20 CW! So I have sent you at least two cards before. And admit it: my card I sent you is somewhere in a carton box or plastic container among thousands of other cards that you haven’t touched after letting it slide into the box…

Sometimes I consider to stop replying to paper buro cards alltogether. Not that I prefer direct QSL cards, but the volume is much lower. In recent years, after making a note on my QRZ.com space, people would send me an email requesting a buro card. I then mark that contact in my log to be QSLed. But it still takes a long time until I think I have enough contacts flagged to send out through GlobalQSL. Sure: I can use GlobalQSL for a single card too, but I’m just too lazy for that.

I remember a decade ago, maybe longer, when Scott W4PA was an active blogger. One day he told the world that he took all of his QSL cards to the recycling bin. I was shocked. I guess he had reached the stage where I am now. But he had the balls to do it. Actually I don’t want to throw away the QSL cards I have. I just want to stop the flow of new ones coming in.

My main problem is that I feel the duty to reply because QSL cards are a deeply rooted tradition in our hobby. I like (some) traditions and I like the classic old school ham radio where operating skills and good manners are key. And not replying to a QSL card is just rude.

Yesterday I processed a 5cm stack of cards. That’s just a small fraction of what’s waiting, a drop on the proverbial hot plate. Every other card I asked myself: why? Then I had visions of hams all over the world, growling at me:

So we’re good enough to call you and increment your sacred rate meter but you don’t even reply to our card?

Then my Nightmare on HF Street scenario continued:

Don’t think we’re ever gonna call you again the next contest! That’ll teach ya.

And so I dutifully plough my way through a handful of cards, knowing there’s hundred handfuls more waiting. That’s just here in my house. And then there’s ON4BHQ who always tells me that he has another stack of incoming cards he took home from a meeting I didn’t attend. And one year and a half ago, I got a phone call from the guy who used to be the QSL manager for the club I used to go to before moving to here. He did a big cleanup himself after a house makeover and found a shoe box full of incoming QSL cards just for me. I guess those cards have been at his place for almost five years now. So it’ll probably be for contacts from a decade ago. I think I’m going to just throw these into my own plastic container (one of three already – remember?).

So I really would like to know how to stop the buro QSL volcano from erupting without offending anyone and more importantly: without much time spent on my side.

  • Ignore incoming cards?
  • Just do what I do now: let the pile grow and spend many hours every so many years trying to come clean with my ham radio conscience?
  • Could OQRS be an option?
  • What else?

I came up with an idea: what if I process a bunch of cards every day? Not too much, just a few – say 15 minutes tops? Could I clean the table by the end of 2018?

Philosophical contemplation:

Those FT8 people having their PC suck the ether dry and log every mW or µV of RF 24/7, do they send out paper QSL for each and every QSO? If so the QSL printing business has a bright future ahead.

Anecdote – true story. During the early 2000’s there was an SWL in my club who sat down behind the packet cluster screen and just handwritten copied the cluster data onto his SWL card. No RX, no antenna needed. That’s a fact. The following needs to be confirmed: I seem to remember he got one of his alleged SWL cards back, with a note: ‘Station not worked, just spotted on the cluster’. Karma’s a bitch.

This guy is what I always think of when I get SWL cards. BTW the number of SWL cards seems to be on the rise?

Finally a non-exhaustive list of things that drive me mad when processing incoming QSL cards simply because it lowers the processing rate (yes this too is about rate):

  • NIL!
  • Timestamp way off (say by a few years?).
  • The call says JA1*** but my log says JA1***/8.
  • No callsign on the backside so I need to flip the card.
  • QSL card for several calls with a checkbox, but no box is checked.
  • Send a QSL for a QSO from 2005 when my log says I already sent you my card in 2006. Why?
  • For US cards: state is in fine print or county not indicated. Yes I keep track of that. But why?

Bottom line: Stop sending me QSL cards! I’m on LotW, eQSL and Clublog. I like my communications’ mode antiquated but my QSLing 21st century style. A case of having the cake and eating it too.

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