ON5ZO – OQ5M

I decided to start right at the beginning of the contest. No sleeping, just watch some TV and relax. I went upstairs around 0.40 AM local time. I parked my butt in the chair. Everything was still on from earlier that evening. Twenty minutes before the start of the contest. There was little activity on 80m SSB (or should I say 75m?). That’s cool: I could pick a sweet spot and reserve a place. There was a 9A also doing a dry run and we had a short chat about the contest. ‘See ya in a few minutes’ he said. Sure thing. Ten minutes or so to go. I listened and during his next QSO he openly realized that the contest actually started one hour later: 00.00utc is still 2AM. So we both overlooked that. I quickly went back to him and we had a chuckle. Almost eighteen years in the contesting business and then this… I calculated that the contest would end at 1AM local time – winter time. That’s why that 1 AM was on my mind. But the start was still in summer time, being GMT+1 = UTC+2 = 2AM. I decided not to leave the shack anymore and worked some American / Caribbean guys on 40m SSB.

Then a spot passed for VK9XG on 80 CW. Sure enough: audible. Not even that weak. But a bit QSB. I think it took less than a minute to get into the log. Definitely a new one. With an antenna resonating on 75 meters. I only have VK9X on 20 SSB and 15 CW. Maybe I should try 40 too before they shut down. Too bad I have nothing for 30 up. But the plan was to work a contest.

I called CQ and worked a few guys to secure a space to start the contest. Around 23.59.55 I did a two mouse click move to switch my DX log to the WW SSB log I had prepared. Two seconds was all it took for TM3Z to start CQing unannounced right where I had been working stations for over ten minutes. I announced after the last QSO that I would change logs and start the contest. I’m sure it was on purpose. I’m not sure why though. Anyway I didn’t move and he went away after half a minute.

The first hour was good. Too good. I knew that on 80m SSB this is unsustainable in the long run. The contrast with CW is huge. Soon the rate dropped and I got bored. Very according to the predicted scenario. It wasn’t so much a propagation issue. I guess it was a lack of activity. Modest highlight after two long boring nights: 115 Americans. But not deep into the USA. Only east coast. Not even central Americans.

Picture >> 1000 words

Time for the annual stating of the obvious: No cluster spot = no rate.

Sunday morning I decided to close the night with a run on 40m. That was a bit of a disappointment. Just over 100 Q in one clock hour. Too late for USA it seemed. Again: the contrast with CW on this band too can’t be bigger.

Just a reminder: why SB80? Because motivation lacks for 48 hours of SSB. Because we’re missing two bands (15+10). Because SSB on 40 in CQ WW is HELL. Because 80m is supposed to be ‘not an easy band’ so any outcome is good. If it’s good it’s super good. If it’s bad then… hey it’s eighty meters – waddaya expect? This leads to the annual conversation with the XYL:

XYL: How’s it going?
OM: Well you know…
XYL: What does that mean?
OM: I’m not putting down a score, I’m just in it for the fun.
XYL: And are you having fun?
OM: No, not really.
XYL frowns. I raise my shoulders and head back to the shack.

Sunday afternoon the time had come for the real fun. The Fresh Meat Experience. It seemed that on 15m there were only vegetarians. Or was that band in poor shape? I developed high hopes for 14 MHz.

Oh yes baby. I found a clear spot high in the band. Clear meaning only two layers of running stations on top of each other. A few CQ, a few QSO and a cluster spot. BANG! The starting shot of a nice USA run. See the graph. This is what makes me tick in SSB: running Americans like crazy. Following the beat of a metronome: tack – logged – tack – logged – tack – logged. Never gets boring. A few years back we could do that a whole weekend by hopping between 20-15-10. Sunspots: please come back soon. And bring your whole family and friends!

After an hour and a half I thought that The Deserving had had enough time to put me in their logs. SSB Contest Blues struck. VP6D was on 20 and 15 CW so I gave them a call (or two or three but not more) and they were so kind as to reply to me.

I did try some more 80m but since I wasn’t on an award winning track there, I took it easy. Shining in absence: the far east. After my sunset there were a few spots: JA, VR and something I forgot. They were audible but very weak. Biggest problem: splatter from nearby running stations rendering good copy impossible. Too bad. Again: this would have most likely been worked in CW. A few local mults showed up (TK, 4O…) and it seemed everyone had run out of things to work because the cluster pile ups were heavy.

At 2232 utc I decided I had enough. I was falling asleep and it wasn’t worth it anymore. QRT.

Was it fun? Not by CW standards. Not by far. But a major contest is a major contest. So of course I will be back next year. Maybe for a relaxed ‘no pressure’ all bander again?

My last QSO was made during the first weekend of August in EUHFC. No, not true. I logged four contacts in WW RTTY. More precise would be to state that the tower hasn’t been up since early August. High time for some HF activity.

We set up the JA-ZL RX loop last weekend. We being my youngest and myself. He loves to help out. The screw in anchors went in smooth and they stuck this time. Unlike four months ago. Not that it has rained much since. On the contrary: we had a nice warm and dry Indian summer. During which this RX loop got up.

Wednesday before the contest I decided to crank up the tower. No wind predicted (not yet, that is) and it was supposed to rain later on. I detached the 160m wire because I plan SB80 in CQ WW SSB. My initial plan was to leave the wire set for CW with VP6D being active. But I thought I wasn’t going to make it into the shack before Friday so I fold back a length and had the antenna resonant around 3630 kHz. Or so I thought…

In the shack I heard noise but the rig showed SWR 9.8:1. HUH? Oh no… Now what? I want to have fun on the air. Not hunt down problems and try to fix them. I took the analyzer and checked the point where the feeder from outside meets the relay antenna switch. Same story: SWR sky high. Outside then, visually checking the coax from the feedpoint down. Maybe a rat chewed away the coax? I caught a handful of vermin this summer with a trap so might as well be. But no: the coax seemed intact.

Next stage: into the cabinet where the outside feeders and control cables are joined before diving into an underground conduit. I unscrewed a N-female barrel and hooked up the antenna side to the analyzer. SWR was good there and the antenna had a nice sharp dip around 3630. What can go wrong with a cable that runs into a conduit? Conduit too small for a rat, or isn’t it? I joined both cables again and went back check the other side of the underground coax. Now it was good there. I hooked it up to the coax switch again and upstairs in the shack all was well too. Must have been a bad connection in the N-barrel? That’s a first in nine years or so. Problem solved. Hope it doesn’t return.

The good thing of tuning the antenna for 3600 is that its SWR rises towards the band edges but is 1.9:1 at 3510 and similar around 3780. I usually have it resonate around 3530 for CW. The upper part of 75m for SSB contesting is useless for me. I need to stay down in the clear. Yes: exactly there where the Germans and Brits have their daily blahblah. I bet those will ventilate their emotions again this weekend. But it was nice to see that I might as well use this antenna for CW the coming days.

Thursday 4.45 AM local time. Why on earth did I let the cat in the hallway and not outside or in the living room? The cat really wanted to get out and so I had to get out too; out of bed. Oh well, might as well fire up the rig and see what’s to work. Some 40m DX: FJ, ZF and XT on CW. And Ducie – VP6D on 40m phone. That would be a new one! It took a few tries and a reply for RQ3M remained unanswered. Maybe it’s for me? Oscar Quebec OQ5M! VP6D replied: OQ3M 59. Oh no! OQ5M OQ5M! He got it, in the log. New one on 40 SSB I guess. I logged in to LotW to check. I worked VP6DX in 2008 on 40 but also in SSB. I need it in CW! A little after they got spotted on 40 CW and of course it was much easier and smoother to log that. BINGO! I shut down the shack and brought the kids to school and drove on to work.

Today (Friday) I had to go to work later. So I drove the kids to school and was in the shack around 6AM utc. Worked XT2 on 80CW for a new one. And some more DX (ZL on 40 etc).

And then there was VP6D on 80 CW for a new one on 3.5 MHz. Pretty loud and more importantly: easy copy. The pile up was hectic but well within reason. Of course there’s the occasional simplex caller and the resulting finger raising coppers. So I thought they were coming back to me but I wasn’t 100% sure because of the stupid QRM. Now what? Log it and see what happens in the online log? That’s lame. Oh wait – they use the real time reporting. That didn’t show my contact. Maybe it was just before the page updated itself? I decided to call again. It only took a few calls on the same QSX for a clear confirmation and a valid QSO. But the real time logger didn’t show my contact. Actually the real time reporting didn’t indicate any activity at all on 80 at that time. Pirate? Well: it’s Friday evening as I type this. The latest log upload does NOT show my 80m CW contact. What does that mean?

EDIT 28/10: the last log upload actually shows my 80m CQ QS with VP6D. The page says: ‘Total of 4 QSOs with OQ5M in the log‘. That’s 40 SSB + CW and both the 80m CW contacts.

Late in the afternoon I worked a handful of USA on 15m. K3OO (hello Rick!) being the loudest. No worries about my choice for SB80: fifteen won’t be the place to be unless things improve dramatically. Rather miraculously even. I tried the same on 20m and signals weren’t really rocking the S-meter either. So I hope SFI = 69 and low K/A will bring some DX on 80 tonight and the coming weekend.

Oh yeah, as of today there are lightning bolts on the WX forecast maps for the coming night and first half of Saturday. And for Sunday the wind is increasing to ‘gusty’. After more than half a year of calm weather. I’m not superstitious but… Must be a contest coming.

I wrote this almost four months ago (and said thanks) but never got around to posting it. That’s how busy I am and how far this ham radio hobby in general has moved to the background…

This week the mailman knocked on the front door… No it’s not a knock-knock joke. We used to have a doorbell but I haven’t hooked it up after last year’s renovation. Turns out you don’t really need a doorbell if you have an easily triggered four pawed alarm. I digress – so the mailman knocks…

I was expecting parts from Russia for (yet another probably never finished before retiring) small project. Sure enough: there was a small parcel from Russia. But he also held a bigger parcel. I noticed its origin right away: also from Russia. Nice stamps!

Unexpected but then again not a total surprise: a contest plaque for the 2017 RAEM contest. Again: z14 winner. Got one for 2014 and one for 2015. I reluctantly skipped 2016 because it fell on Christmas day which in the end is a family day. And I decided to spend more hours in RAEM2017.

This was a special edition. I was working the contest with my 8 y/o son next to me. I couldn’t really interact because RAEM is a busy contest and you need all the focus because of the juicy QRQ exchanges. But he got curious and later on I told him the story of Ernst Krenkel and his RAEM radio station. The story and images can be found here:

http://hamgallery.com/Tribute/RAEM/krenkel.pdf

I got away with this because my firstborn has a deep interest in all things history: an ancient Greek legend, a medieval saga, the life of Charles Lindbergh on National Geographic, WW II trivia.. This old story was the link between his interest and mine.

And now Ernst Krenkel temporarily shines on top of the dresser in the living room. Until the XYL decides my fifteen minutes of ultra-local fame are over and the plaque has to move to the shack. Actually it had to move one story higher because of the living room makeover in August.

Thanks to the people running the RAEM contest and R4IT for sponsoring the plaque.

For many years I avoided this popular microcontroller platform. Two reasons: I’m a one trick pony when it comes to programming (in VB.Net) and I hate having to learn yet another new programming language. I just want to be productive. Since my new job requires the intensive use of the Arduino ecosystem I now have to go down that road.

To stick to Windows programming and its GUI I previously used some of the USB hardware boards that were available. Like Labjack, my favorites DigiBee and Stepperbee and two years ago a co-worker got me acquainted with Phidgets.

All this is cool stuff that gets easily interfaced to a VB.Net program and nicely letting me stay in my .Net comfort zone. The major downside is that you always have to keep a PC available to run the software that interfaces to the hardware. Not always practical and sometimes even impossible.

Then there was the infamous Netduino. Sounds like and Arduino, looks like an Arduino and supposedly operates like an Arduino. But for the .NET platform. Through Microsoft’s micro framework it was programmable with either C# or VB.Net. That brought me a stand-alone microcontroller that could be programmed with a language I was reasonably proficient in.

Sales talk! Soon I learned that this was not a match made in heaven. Rather a quirky  marriage. The community was mostly centered around C#. I understand that given the popularity of C# – no problem. Factory support and code samples seemed to favor C# and treated VB stepmotherly. I found this more of a problem since they explicitly mentioned VB.Net support. But the biggest problem we (I together with my former co-teacher and students) was that this darn platform was just not stable. The IDE didn’t respond to the board, the board didn’t respond to the code, the IP stack was unstable, I²C routines were hard to get going… What worked yesterday is broken today.

My guess had always been that there are too many layers in the cake: firmware on the board, SDK for Visual Studio and the Micro Framework. Each of those rapidly issuing updates that would sometimes break old code. I lost interest in the board because of this. Recently I learned that the original manufacturer sold its business and the new owner (wildernesslabs.co) sent out a newsletter in which he openly admitted this:

Even with its quirks and limitations (I’m looking at you .NET MicroFramework), there’s nothing else on the market I’d rather use. 

Quirks and limitations indeed.

In the mean time I took my first steps with the Raspberry Pi. That was two years ago. Fantastic platform and the onboard HDMI makes GUI programming possible. I bought a (pretty expensive) touch screen after I learned that Microsoft made an IoT version of Windows for the RasPi. No need to tell I fell into the trap – AGAIN. Compiling traditional Windows Forms code (i.e. to write programs working in a window running on Windows) was impossible. I fiddled with their Win10-IoT / UWP thing only to abandon after a while. If I need to learn another approach from scratch I might as well ditch that Microsoft shit all together. Python then? I have learned a few languages over the last 25 years so… YES I CAN! Only to find out that Python does not lend itself to GUI programming without additional frameworks or whatever it’s called. BUT I WANT TO INTERFACE WITH THE USER!!! And that user is me. A wattmeter/SWR meter for instance. Wouldn’t this look so much nicer with a graphic display rather than an alphanumerical LCD? However too much other things have kept me away from these toys since 2017.

Late 2018: Arduino it is then. I’m slowly getting to know the board and the code. I don’t want to cut ‘n paste code. Which is what most users seem to do. I want to understand. The classic blinking LED is easy. PWM with transistor driving a small DC motor was easy too. A four bit binary counter putting out BCD visualized with LEDs? Took some studying but it worked. The online documentation is great!

Five or six years ago I bought an 4×20 LCD display that never worked on the Netduino. I thought the display was DOA but no… I had it display a few lines of text after half an hour of trying to interface the display to an Arduino. The display is not DOA after all – damn Netduino platform. So many wasted hours!

I really would like to make my own watt/SWR meter. Seems like a cool project. I could do the hardware with the Arduino with basic reporting on the LCD display and have it send values to the PC that runs a VB.Net program with a nice interface…

Hobbies: time is an issue. Its use dictated by priorities.

I know you’ve all been anxiously waiting for my next post. I know y’all stare at the RBN for my call to pop up. I know the hordes are chewing their nails off awaiting their turn for another QSO with the elusive OQ5M… But it just doesn’t fit into my mood and schedule.

The first six months of the year were productive: I was QRV in most contests. Then there was OT70 and ON18FWC. Those two special events made me reschedule or cancel many things just to be in the shack and on the air. Big fun yielding thousands of contacts!

We did a four man CW Field Day in June and finished second with more Q but five less multipliers. I really would like to know what mults ON6CK/P worked that we didn’t. And where. And when. And how. Should we try again in 2019?

I did IARU as OP0HQ (20 CW) in July. Then four weeks of sweating my butt off with tropic temperatures approaching 40°C at times. Not quite the time to be in the shack – not even taking propagation into account. Highlight: my longtime mail-pal and MA contest-beacon W1EBI came to visit for about 36 hours between WRTC in Berlin and flying home.  Then I did EUHFC in early August. And then: nothing. Nothing ham-radio.

I tried to do some fun family things in August. And we also did round #2 of the house’s total makeover. Another two weeks of moving stuff outside, tearing down ceilings, breaking up floors, grinding in walls, put power cables and coax and UTP in, watch the plasterboard go up and apply layers of joint fillers (not the green herb but the white powder… well not that white powder either…). Then another few days to finish walls, glue wallpaper, paint paint paint and then some painting.

And I also changed jobs. Did you know a bad employer can bring you down? New job: once again it brings the need for me to reinvent myself again as a teacher. And the workload that goes along with that.

Last week I scratched my head trying to remember where the cables had to go after a few special setups the first half of 2018. Then I launched the station for CQ WW RTTY. I was glad to see everything still worked. Even RTTY! After four (yes 4) contacts I had enough. With poor conditions and the tower down…

Last Sunday was the annual biggest ham fair in Belgium. ON4BHQ was the driver and I provided the company. My impression was that it was a calm edition with possibly less people there. Maybe less commercial stands too? That’s a totally subjective impression not backed up by official statistics. I was glad to meet a few of the familiar faces and found three like-minded souls when it comes to FT8. I was called a dinosaur by a no-coder because I still prefer CW over anything else while ‘he’ (?) worked DXCC in FT8 in a nick of time. Heck I don’t even have an appetite for the stuff in the ‘else’ basket. Difference: this dinosaur can boot a PC and install software too while he can’t copy a dit from a dah.

So it’s clear that I haven’t been in a radio mood. I guess propagation is what it is right now so I just don’t bother too much for now and hope to do some of the fall contests (both WW, LZDX). And be QRV a lot in December. I hope I’ll have a few calmer weeks then and that everything from 10 MHz and below is sizzling.

73!