ON5ZO – OQ5M

Still not being in a ham radio mood and with the current solar affairs, I didn’t have plans for this year’s IARU contest. However my daily check of the DX cluster on Friday revealed EU-NA QSO on 10m CW. Aaahhh, that made me curious.

I had to attend a family event on Saturday. I agreed to join my parents and siblings as I had decided to skip the contest weeks ago. I came home late in the afternoon and raised the tower just one level. Nothing serious in the works so the tribander at 15m AGL would do. I wasn’t too motivated to bunk into a hot shack so I waited until the sun dived behind the horizon and a cool breeze provided at least a feeling of coolness. At 2056 utc –pretty late– NR4M was the first of ten US contacts on 10m in a row.

My last previous 10m contact with USA was KC1XX on August 4, 2018. Then N4YDU (Hi Nate!) on November 24, 2017. Two contacts in two years. Imagine my excitement now! I was a little late to the party though because after YV5AM and three EU HQ stations, it was down to 15m. A bunch of W/VE contacts there too this late in the evening. I decided to call it a day around UTC midnight which translates to 2AM local time.

I started the day late on 40m: 6AM utc. DX signals were hard to find and I only managed to work five Americans. I played a little more but got limited to 20m. The propagation on Sunday did not offer something beyond EU on 21/28 MHz. It seemed to have been nothing but a short lived burst of enhanced propagation the days before.

I quit with 344 QSO on the counter; half of them on 14 MHz and the other half balanced between 40/15/10. It was good to see everything in and around the station still seems to work and I still have enough skills to copy 40 WPM callsigns even with months of not copying a single dit or dah.

 

Regular readers may have noticed: it’s been a long time since my previous post. It’s been even longer since I was active on the radio. Over the last week three people have commented on the absence of blog posts and my signal on the air.

In short: I haven’t had the time nor the energy for the hobby over the last few months. Sometimes other things need to be taken care of. Things that are even more important than the important hobby.

The only two contests I did so far in 2019 were UBA CW and ARRL DX CW, both in February.

I did a time consuming welding job for a friend in late March and early April.

I went to a ham fair with ON4BHQ and ON3MDW on Easter Monday. I bought some SMA-to-various plugs (N, PL, BNC). Because I bought an RSP1A. Haven’t gotten around to actually do something with it.

At the fair I talked to the guys organizing OP0HQ. We agreed I’d be doing 20m CW just like in 2018. I decided to bail out of the team a few weeks later. I assumed I wouldn’t be into the hobby with enough motivation by now to go all out and I didn’t want to compromise the team’s score or cancel my participation last minute. This early cancellation gave the organizers enough time to find a potent replacement. I hope to be back in 2019…

I finished checking the logs for the UBA SSB contest. The CW part is done too, I just need to manually look for busted calls versus uniques and then run the scoring and UBN modules.

I had no interest in WPX CW either. That weekend I went out for a walk with the dog and the kids when I noticed my farmer-neighbor installed a bunch of new giant fans with speed control. Speed control = switching semiconductors = possible major PITA (RFI and noise anyone?). So back home I decided to fire up the rig and see if these fans caused problems. So far they seem not to bother my HF RX. I haven’t listened below 7 MHz though.

Maybe I should combine the RSP1A and RFI-sniffing? Maybe later…

Every time I checked the online cluster I saw little or no propagation and almost exclusive FT-8 spots. This is not what it takes to overcome my current ham radio state of mind. Last week though I noticed EU-USA spots on 10m CW. Now that’s what might do the trick to get me on the air…

 

Let’s get one thing straight: The yagi. With respect to the 40m dipole. After the storm that shook things up last month (link).

I hate these jobs. I don’t like tower work at all. Even with a tilt over tower. The objects of the interventions (antennas) are still about 3m or 4m high. The problem is not that height. It’s the fact that the antennas are hard to reach from a ladder and there is never a good way to position yourself. While the tower is hanging on a steel cable and a brake winch. To me there is absolutely no fun in this. It’s never easy, it’s always a risk. A scaffold seems to be the only solution to do this right. And something to support the tower should the stainless steel rope break.

But it had to be done. I tilted the tower over and yanked the boom a few times until the yagi’s 20m driven element was visually in line with the 40m dipole. After the next storm, I’ll have to repeat this. Rather this than do a permanent fix. Because I really –really- don’t like working on the tower. On the other hand I comfort myself: so far this is the only ‘damage’ a storm has done to my tower, rotator and antennas. Nothing broken, nothing bent. Knock on wood!

I did a visual inspection of the rest and found out that the almost fifteen year old strain relief on the cable boom (2 coax + 1 rotator ctrl) had worn out. Cable ties and electrical tape only have so much years exposed to the elements until they snap. So I moved the ladder (hate it!) and came up with an ad hoc strain relief that should be gentle to the cables and keep the bundle in place. I also lubricated the pulleys to hoist up the low band wires.

Time to get the tower plumb again. Seems about right, no?

This is the closest I seem to come to ham radio these days. Unfortunately.

73

Sometimes you just want to get busy and so something not ham radio related. Yes even me, something not ham radio. Two years ago I wanted to do some welding with leftover scrap metal and finally end up with something useful. So I made a mobile stand carrying two cheap 20W LED floodlights hanging two meters high. I mounted these so they could swivel around. That’s handy when I had to do something outside in the dark. The next level was hooking them up to a motion detector. Since that day all that moves outside triggers these flood lights so the bigger part of the garden bathes in light.

DYI LED floodlight stand with swivel mount

Unfortunately these LED’s also trigger a major QRM source. The floodlights wipe out everything on HF with an extremely broadband S6 level QRM or more. I learned to live with this and just cut the power to the motion detector when I’m in the shack. Sometimes I forget this prior to being active but as soon as the gray line is upon me and the dog wiggles its tail on the terrace, I’m brutally reminded that I need to cut the power to the LED lights. When in the middle of a decent run I text the XYL to do that for me ASAP. She is familiar with the routine by now.

Old model = bad model = QRM. Flemish viewers know when it says NDK…

All this nuisance is not a biggie since it’s my stuff on my property and I’m in control. What if one of the neighbors installs this kind of crap? Cheap crap, I admit. The cheapest I could buy back then. That threat has been on my mind for two years now. I just hope since my closest neighbors are 40-50m away, the possible QRM will not affect me. My lights are right under all my antennas and the power cable crosses all coax and elevated radials.

Last year I bought another flood light to replace a broken and soaked halogen light outside. It was only last week I got around unpacking it. Note: ‘last week’ was early December 2018; I haven’t had the time to finish writing this. I hooked it up to a remote RF switched AC power outlet and went into the shack. While listening I could turn it on and off with the RF RC. This one has ZERO impact on HF. At least not on the few samples spots on each HF band that I listened to. GREAT!

New model = good model = no QRM. Notice the distinct LEDs i.s.o. one big yellow blob.

Today (again: in fact a few months ago) I bought a bigger 50W model of the same brand to replace the two 20W QRM sources. This one has zero effect on HF either. GREAT! I guess I’ll retire the QRM LED floodlights for permanent motion trigger lighting. And hook up the non-QRM module to light up when there’s movement.

New 20W model free of QRM on HF. Again: the box says ‘driverless’ and it shows many little LEDs and not one big module.

The visible difference that caught my eye between the QRM and non-QRM versions: the bad model generating broadband RF noise has one big solid yellow LED capsule. Both EMC-proof models show a matrix with distinct LEDs.

Furthermore the good models without QRM are marked ‘driverless’. Could that be the problem / solution? Could it be that the older models are with a switching driver module designed to put out broadband RF and power some LEDs while at it? And that the lack of driver in the other models explains the lack of QRM?

Driver module. QRM source?

In summer 2018 we did a total makeover of the living room. The classic light bulbs are replaced with LED bulbs and even dimmers. I was afraid this would generate RFI too but zero effect audible. I must admit that both the electronics as well as the light bulbs are from renowned brands and not El Cheapo made-in-youknowwhere…

In January 2019 one of both noise generators died. I replaced both the troublesome LED floodlights with the non-polluting types. Since then I did two contests with the motion detector active and experienced zero noise on HF.

I opened up the defective light and found this part that I assume is ‘the driver’ as it sits between 230V AC and the DC-fed LED module. As quick search revealed that you can buy these things. Mostly from cave in Youknowwhere. I removed the driver module which has a label that says “26-36V DC output”. I hooked the LED light up to a DC power supply giving 27V but not a blink. So maybe it’s the LED module that is broken? It has been delivered to the recycling park by now.

LED driver modules

Check this link:

www.qsl.net/on7eq/projects/qrm_led_lights.htm

Very interesting stuff. Especially the last picture. Criminals! We really should stop buying this totally worthless garbage. But the whole EU market has been flooded with this kind of mis-engineered and ill-fabricated junk imported straight from Youknowwhere. It’s so cheap and we’re all penny-wise and pound-foolish.

What a f#$*$% sh**  weather it has been before this week. After those two unexpected nice, dry, warm, sunny and most of all windless weeks in late February it went downhill pretty fast. Luckily this short spring like period coincided with ARRL DX CW and UBA DX CW. But over the last two weeks we had exactly the weather that drives me crazy: dark, many centimeters of rain per square meter and especially a lot of wind. Strong wind 24/7.

I hate wind. The howling noise, the sound of things bumping against other things, rattling window stores… And we’ve had a lot of it the last ten days. Not just a nasty breeze. Strong gusts. Lowlight: a genuine storm last week resulting in damage all over the country. Result:

Yes the tribander has been blown away (again) and has rotated around the tube. This is not real damage and no parts are broken but it is a nuisance. So I need to tilt over the tower and yank the yagi’s boom so the elements are parallel again with the 40m dipole. That dipole takes a lot of wind too but at least it sticks.

I know exactly what is wrong with the boom-to-mast clamp. I even have the parts to fix it. The replacements are lingering somewhere in my ‘warehouse’. But I have been pushing the job forward. Mostly because this fix requires a scaffold. I used my neighbor’s excellent scaffold in the past but it’s no longer at his place and so I have been thinking of buying or renting one. But ‘thinking’ alone never gets a job done.

 

Mounting the 40m dipole from a scaffold (Feb 2011)

I tried to fix the clamp assembly two years ago after another storm. I was standing on a ladder because I cannot tilt the tower completely over with the yagi mounted. But to access the bolts and nuts at the same time I had to lean over the boom. Then my wrench slipped when applying lots of torque. As a result I fell over with my chest on the tower and got a nasty painful bruise; two weeks of blue stains on by chest and belly. It was then and there I decided that this job should not be done by standing on a ladder. And when it storms, I get this.

I have also been thinking to make the 40m rotary dipole into a 30/40 dual band dipole. But that definitely needs a scaffold. The original OptiBeam 30/40 dipole has the 40m dipole as starting point. This is yet another project I have been thinking about a lot over the last years but never found the courage to actually do it.

So now I’m waiting for the wind to disappear and some dry wetter to tilt the tower over and yank the boom back into place. Won’t be today. White marbles are falling out of the sky. Add hail to the list of crap the weather throws at me.

This windy WX is also the reason why I skipped RDXC this weekend. Too bad as I like this contest a lot but the winds are just too strong to crank up the tower and mess with ropes and wire antennas. Furthermore the night from Saturday to Sunday turned out to be quite gusty again.

I don’t think I’m missing much propagation-wise but it feels I’m letting down my contest buddy K7GK @ PI4COM who challenged me again just like last year (RDXC 2018).

To compensate I gave him my QSO #1 this morning on 20m with the tower down. I worked a batch of other loud EU stations too. Submitting a checklog is something one has to do once too.