ON5ZO – OQ5M

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!

As of today my website runs on HTTPS. You should see the closed padlock icon in the address bar.

This won’t make much difference to you except that HTTPS is supposed to deliver the content faster than plain old HTTP. And google supposedly ranks secure pages higher. Yay!

Thanks to my hosting provider and the Let’s Encrypt certificate authority and a WordPress plugin (Really Simple SSL), the transition took just a few mouse clicks.

I never felt more secure…   ☺

 

With the absence of real achievements to brag about, this will have to do.

By now I know I am pretty accurate when it comes to logging, but it’s cool to find my callsign listed in two ARRL documents: the Accuracy Index Tables for the 2018 edition of the ARRL DX CW (link) and SSB (link) contests.

I find accuracy important because I count it among the essentials skills a complete contester should have. Even my six year old could log contacts if I showed him how. But for now what he’ll type won’t make much sense. Clean logs and log checking reports that won’t turn my cheeks red – how do I do that? It’s actually pretty simple if you follow a few rules.

  • KNOW CW! Yes, learn how to copy CW so that you don’t put any nonsense in the log.
  • A contest is not a casino. Don’t gamble. Ask for repeats until you’re sure. Only confirm and log the contact when the copied info makes sense.
  • About making sense: THINK! After ten years of log checking for both UBA DX contests, I have seen people logging the most crazy impossible BS. Callsigns like ‘portable five’ are logged as /P5. Yeah right. Or logging a call from a country 12000 km away on 80m at high noon. Or serial exchange #358 when only ten minutes into the contest.  Stuff like that. You don’t write this in your log if you think about it when you log the contact.
  • And finally: at least try to be accurate if you want to. If you just want to write down some characters because you don’t care: feel free.

After the OP0HQ operation for this year’s IARU the following issue came up. It’s also a problem in other contests. What to do with guys and gals who mix up WAZ and IARU zones or send a serial number? Of course you can try to talk the station into giving the exact exchange. But this isn’t always successful. It almost never is! Especially on CW. KNOW CW – remember?

Contesting’s number one rule: ‘log what is sent’. In most of these cases I simply break this rule and log what is supposed to be logged and not what is being sent. Luckily this situation only occurs a handful of times in a contest – if that. So why do I break the unwritten rule? A bit of gambling after all.

Someone who messes up the zones or doesn’t know what the proper exchange is, is highly unlikely to submit a log. So a cross check of ‘log what is sent’ is impossible. I have no idea what the log checking software does in such a case, but I reckon that the contact will be flagged as bad. So I just avoid that a genuine contact gets removed or worse: penalized because of the other party’s stupidity.

Suppose along the way or after the contest he or she finally gets it and alters the contacts in his log before submitting the Cabrillo file. Suppose he sent 5NN 003 and not 5NN 08. I have 003 in my log. Which is what he sent during the contact. But by the time his log ends up on the contest sponsor’s log checking platform, his log shows 08. What will happen with my QSO? Right: it’s flagged with a bad exchange. I lose a contact because he goofed up. Suppose one of my peers takes a look at my log checking report. I bet he won’t think much of my accuracy skills…