In the meantime…

I haven’t reported here much lately. There is nothing to report. At least nothing to stop the presses or no film at eleven, to throw in another idiom. Some ham-related things have happened though…

But first let’s talk about something that did NOT happen. At least not for me. Being the ARRL 10 Meter Contest. I love ten meters and I really like this contest. In fact I have sucked up every nanovolt of RF that made it to my antenna  in this contest during the looooong and deeeeep SFI-dip between cycles 23 and 24. And I had a blast last year when we got some leftovers of the magnificent propagation in both CQ WW contests. But this year the SFI dropped below 100 again right before the contest and there were no meaningful spots on 28MHz prior to the contest so I dedicated the weekend to the family and reading a book (this one). A couple of times I checked the cluster and mostly saw EU-EU spots and a bunch of usual LU and PY suspects. So I continued honouring the expression ‘page turner’ and didn’t feel like I was missing a lot of contest fun which 3830 confirmed after the weekend.

In the meantime I received an email from someone who seems to be reading this. Or at least the items about my quest for a solid state amp. He offered me a pristine Elecraft KPA500. He bought it to go on an expedition where he actually used it but soon after that he got hold of a bigger amp at a good price so the KPA500 sat in a box, unused. We negotiated the price. I knew it wasn’t going to come for free and I didn’t want to rip the OM off either. In fact in the end I only saved about 250-300 Euros. I took the owner’s word for granted that with 230V it puts out 600W (600 feels much better than 500) and I could wait forever for Acom to finally deliver their long awaited solid state amp. Furthermore my bad experience with the local Acom dealer/service centre has a day/night contrast with the smooth business I have done with Elecraft. So I bit the bait and since last week I have the KPA500 in the shack.

Of course I want to link the amp to the K3 and since my time is scarce and I have soldered too much stupid interface cables in my previous life as a technician (my ex-co-workers-who-are-now-still-good-friends still call me The Cable Guy ten years after), I decide to order the interface cable. Now was the time to order my set of replacement knobs for both my early batch K3’s. It’s not a biggie, these cracked buttons and I knew that one day I’d order something again so I asked if they could join the free replacement knobs to my ordered cable. I was promptly taken care of and the spare knobs were sent apart from the cable. The knobs arrived way before the cable. The cable turns out to be expensive. I paid as much shipping as the cable costs. But that was predicable and my own free choice. Then there was another bill to be paid when the cable arrived. Belgium’s finest red tape mongrels called customs decided to tax me on the parcel. A little box with little or no value! They charge 10 Euros to handle it (‘formalities’ as they call it) and then they add an amount of VAT but I can not figure out what amount they charged 21% on. Is this the organized and legalized version of the random customs bribe in a corrupt banana republic? I called the Belgian post helpdesk and the fellow there couldn’t help me of course. He advised me not to accept the parcel next time when I had a complaint. Hello? If I don’t accept, I don’t get the box so I can’t see the documents so I don’t know what’s wrong. And then the parcel is returned to sender. Long live UPS, they get it right with no hassle and no surprise fees. The government-owned corporation civil ‘servant’ mentality is still deeply rooted in the Belgian postal services! I have visions of office floors filled with white collar and tie type managers with university degrees, overpaid and utterly useless, justifying their existence by issuing memos with catch 22 procedures. Just like Belgian trains that are never on time. And other (if not most) government agencies. Oh boy how I hate these incompetent people appointed by incompetent politicians or greedy gimme mo’ bonus CEOs. But I digress.

So last weekend there was the 9A contest. I wanted to set up the antennas on Friday but of course it was a typical day of Belgian winter. You might associate winter with negative temperatures, snow and ice. But not in Belgium. Winter here means slightly colder than a bad summer day, buckets of rain pouring down and of course the strong wind and gusts. So I skipped Friday and was confident that the predicted lower wind speeds would make my life easier on Saturday morning. OT1A is right when he says that “in Belgium they are not able to perform a good weather forecast for some days, and certainly not for a complete week”.

So it was field day again with all the ropes swinging in the wind, becoming tangled like a plate of al dente spaghetti and the tower section moving back and forth. I decided to raise the tower only to 2/3 of its height. The strong winds have less to no impact and this is still workable, although it hurts performance on 80/160. The 9ACW contest was fun. Conditions weren’t the best but certainly not shabby. I even worked a few (4? 5?) Americans on Top Band. With the tower only cranked up to fifteen meters!

I was glad to hear my friend ON4AFU (a/k/a XU7AFU a/k/a HS0ZJF) going at it again. On Sunday after the contest he called me and told me he had a good time too. He reminded me he still has two contest plaques for me he picked up at the annual UBA meeting last May. See how local plaques loose their attraction when you have a dozen? He lives only fifteen kilometers away and in the town where I work. I agreed to visit him this week, which is what I did yesterday. We had a good chat about the hobby and everything related. Now I have to find room for two more plaques.

UBA Contest plaques 2011
UBA Contest plaques 2011. Thank you UBA! The SSB part was done low power, barefoot because the ACOM amp was being repaired – or so I thought or so they wanted me to believe. There you go: 100W works (but is not as much fun of course). For the CW part I had a new QRO toy.

In fact, my quest for a real DX plaque was the main reason for me to do 9ACW. I discovered that there is a plaque for the zone 14 winner. I learned that NOT by reading the rules but by seeing a tweet from another local active contester, ON4ALY. Oh man, this guy just won a real DX plaque with not too many QSO. Nice job Xavier and glad for you, but I want a plaque too! So I knew the outline of my mission: beat him. But soon it became clear that this year there was serious competition from other zone 14 stations. I guess the plaque won’t be sent to Belgium this time.

Apart from that I gave the KPA500 a workout on the second radio. It works great and I have the feeling that it does exactly what I need it to do: give my signal on radio #2 a bit more punch so I don’t need to call more than once and can ensure my run on radio #1. No need to keep track of the band switch or plate/load settings, it really behaves like a K3 with 500W output. Great!

2 replies on “In the meantime…”

Hi Franki,
A lesson I learned years ago: NEVER, EVER, let someone send a parcel from abroad that has to arrive through BPOST.
Handling of customs formalities sucks with BPOST.

You don’t say 🙂

I sent them (BPost international customs dept.) an email almost 36 hours ago. Still waiting for god knows what their answer will be.

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