ON5ZO – OQ5M

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.

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.