Friday, August 16, 2013

Some summer SOTA

Unless you’ve had your head stuck in the sand, it’s no secret that the HF band conditions have been lousy.  While that’s not entirely unexpected in the summertime, it makes reading about upcoming DXpeditions all the more painful.  They seem so far off, don’t they?

But they’re actually just around the corner.   The next couple of months should kick off DXpeditions to Laos, Juan Fernandez, Sable Island, and a real goody, Wake Island.  Followed up by Banaba Island and Bangladesh, among others.  Lots of things to be excited about.

Even with the crummy bands, I’ve managed to nab two ATNO’s, a surprise activation of the Vatican recently and also Libya, which I believe hasn’t been active for roughly six years or so.

But what’s kept me going is SOTA – Summits On The Air.  I was introduced to this by Todd, N4LA, back in April.  It seemed interesting and he did a great job of explaining it to me.  Within a weekend or two, I was hooked.  Not only did it incorporate the challenges of copying weak signals from QRP stations on mountaintops across the country, but it added an element of competitiveness (at your own pace), a slight feel of contesting, and a chance to hone some skill that easily fueled my DXing desires.  As a person almost totally focused on DXing, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed working stations in the states and Canada and not clear across the globe.

The first milestone is to work enough stations to qualify for ‘Shack Sloth’ by reaching 1,000 points.  The summits are assigned a numerical value (1, 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 points) depending on the height of the summit.  There may be other factors that increase the point values, such as difficulty in reaching the summit, but I’m not sure.  That may just apply to the activators.

To make things interesting, there’s an online database where participants can post their logs and you can see where you stand in the chaser or activator roll of honor.  You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to, but why not?  It just so happens that NC is one of the most active areas in the southeastern US, with a lot of folks participating.  Some of the best too.

One thing that quickly became evident is how challenging it can be to copy weak signals from, say, Oregon or Washington back in NC during the middle of the day.  Especially when you consider that the person on the other end is running just a few watts, or maybe just a watt or two, to what’s usually a makeshift or extremely compromised antenna.  Naturally, being several thousand feet above sealevel helps! J  The rotten conditions this summer have made things even harder.  I found myself praying that solar conditions would be favorable on weekends, but all too often they stunk.  Nevertheless, I am constantly amazed at the skill and the quality of the ops on the other end who are activating these summits.

A couple of weekends ago I garnered enough points to break the 1,000 point barrier and become an official Shack Sloth.  All of this was done from the end of last April and the first weekend in August.  And even though a marching band didn’t suddenly appear outside my shack and balloons cascade from the ceiling, I was proud of myself and felt a sense of accomplishment.  Of course, that excitement is quickly tempered when you see other participants with several thousand points, but, hey, I set a goal and accomplished it.  And I can keep going too.  I plan to, that’s for sure.

The main thing is that I had heard about SOTA and read a few snippets, but it didn’t really seem to appeal to me.  It wasn’t until Todd demonstrated it to me and I could sense his enthusiasm that I really became intrigued.  So, I hope that if anyone is reading this, it might entice them into checking it out.  It’s been a great way to pass the summer and enjoy being on the radio when there's not a lot of DX.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Someone please do something


The other day I came across this review on eHam.net.  It isn’t hard to decipher good reviews from bad, but this one takes the cake of any I’ve recently come across.  Here it is (misspellings included):


Let’s see.  I have something, but I’ve not used it yet (it’s on my pool table, by the way).  It’s better than anything else, but you’re free to form your own opinion.

If you openly admit that you’ve never used something but you’re rating it 5/5 (or anything else for that matter), shouldn’t someone be smart enough to remove such a boneheaded review?

Shame on eHam for still allowing this to be posted.  Do the admins even read what’s posted there?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

I've got to go WHERE and you want me to be there WHEN?


Unless you’re retired or independently wealthy (and I’m presently neither and probably will never be one of those), work schedules frequently get in the way of ham radio.  And since ham radio doesn’t pay the bills for most of us, we sometimes have to plan ahead and adjust our commitments in order to work new ones.  Case in point was when the surprise notice that Yemen was going to be activated was made public.  When I looked at the dates I immediately got a sick feeling in my stomach because I knew that I would be working in Vermont for at least 80-90% of their scheduled time.

My next worry was, what if my trip got extended?  That’s pretty common and that might jeopardize the  remaining time that I’d have to try and work them.  What if, given the instability of the political situation in Yemen the group was forced to leave early?  Needless to say, I was on pins and needles as I read the DX forums on eham.net that touted how loud they were and how massive the pileups were.

My fears proved unfounded as I got home when I anticipated, maybe a half-day later, and after walking in the door (and kissing the XYL, of course), I had 7O6T in the log three times within 30 minutes and ended up with a total of 5 fairly easy QSO’s.  Maybe there really is something to waiting until the pileups die down?

But what if I’d missed them entirely?  I’d rather not take that gamble again, especially with one as rare as Yemen.

There’s a couple of options for working these kinds of rare stations if one is out of town.  You could operate your station remotely.  I have a radio that lends itself well to that.  I have the software already set up.  But quite frankly, I don’t think the usability is quite there for pileups operating a wide-split, at least not how mine is configured.  Too much latency, too much of a delay.  Since tuning after each exchange is not feasible, I would either have to camp out on a frequency and hope for the best.  Not really a good approach.

I could drag a rig with me, but what about the times I fly?  I have enough to bring, toting a radio with me isn’t a viable option.  And the setup would be marginal at best.  Some Most hotel rooms don’t have the means to setup an antenna, at least where I generally end up staying.  And 100 watts to a low dipole from the East Coast probably won’t get  many rare Pacific Islands in the log.

I could try and set the radio up in a park but that requires free time and I’d probably get arrested if I was operating by candlelight at midnight.  If it rains, I’m out of luck.

Mobile.  I could certainly outfit the work vehicles with a temporary mobile arrangement.  It’s been proven that DXing is very possible and even highly successful under these conditions.  It would dictate dragging a substantial amount of crap with me though. 

I’m going to keep looking at the remote option and see if I can do anything that might give better performance.  But given the usual slowness of internet connections in hotels, I’m not holding my breath.

Any thoughts, suggestions?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Whoopsie Daisy

Whoopsie Daisy

Yes, it's been a long time since I made an entry. I'll get to that later, probably in another post. But for those of you who have read any of my entries, you probably are aware that I'm a logbook junkie. What I mean is, I get a big kick out of trying different logging programs. To drive this point home, I maintain 4 different logbooks, keeping each up to date regularly with all of my QSO's, simply because I've not found one single program that does everything that I want it to.

You might think that something like that takes a lot of time and trouble. No, not really. I've got it down to a pretty quick science and I can update all the logs within 5 to 10 minutes. Is it overkill? Undoubtedly. Is it stupid? Absolutely.

But, hey, it's my sickness and I'm not looking for a cure. Fact is, I enjoy it.

And now that you know my dark secret, let me say that this entry isn't about me and my fetish...uh...obsession.

This is about a major error that occurred to Ham Radio Deluxe on Friday the 13th. Now, surely the new developers should've known NOT to release an update on Friday the 13th, but since they didn't heed the bad mojo, they're paying the price.

HRD has always intrigued me with its eye-candy and pretty interface. But, despite cutting my teeth on it a few years back, I quickly moved elsewhere because of some shortcomings that were show-stoppers, in my opinion. For instance, the cluster not providing the proper mode (I think this has been addressed), not showing duplicates, not showing a confirmed vs worked status readily, a resource hog, screens that required substantial real estate, and obscure menus that didn't lead where you thought they would.

Worse, every so often you'd read about how things like dates and times were modified unknowingly. You did make a backup, didn't you?

Nevertheless, every now and then, whenever a new release was issued, I would download it to see what had changed and if any of those shortcomings had been addressed or corrected. Just before Simon sold it to the new owners, a major revamp of the awards was completed and it really was a step in the right direction, I felt. I was encouraged.

Then the news that it was going to become software that you pay for. I was good with that. I've paid for a good many logging programs. No problems there.

Back to Friday the 13th. Version 5.20 was released that day. In case you don't know, check out their site, http://www.hrdsoftwarellc.com/ The opening screen says it all, although they've toned it down a bit last time I checked, but feel free to read the online forum posts.

Apparently this release was a total disaster. Now my purpose is not to drag them through the coals one more time. I write software for a living myself so something like this is my worst nightmare.

The real reason that I'm bringing this to everyone's attention is a post on the HRD forum from the owners that states that they are considering monitoring and censoring posts that are "not constructive". This is in reaction to some upset users who have voiced their frustrations.

Bad move. You blow it and your next move is to throttle what people are saying? I will never pay a penny for this software if they choose to go this route. If you lay a clunker, you take your licks, you don't keep people from voicing their displeasure.

At least that's how I see it.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Why am I not surprised?

A couple of years ago, I subscribed to the CQ-Contest reflector list. That was back when I was trying my hand at contesting and I thought it might be a good place to glean some pointers and tidbits.

Unfortunately, I’ve been greatly disappointed because many of the threads degenerate into name calling and repetitive gripes about cheaters and what can possibly be done to run off people who aren’t contesters but want to do the unthinkable…like operate on 20 meters during CQ WW.

It also seems a lot like a closed society. Newbies are often run over.

I’ve considered pulling the plug many times but an interesting thread started up recently about using multiple direction antennas and splitters. Not that I would have the capability to ever do that, but I was curious how this might work. No harm in being curious, right?

So tonight I’m following the thread and I read this (and I give credit to the author, who I don’t know from the man in the moon) from N4OGW/5, and I quote:

“In a contest situation once such a lid has started up, it sometime also works to go narrow on the lid :) Point a gain antenna #1 at the lid during transmit, and receive on another antenna #2 pointed in a different direction. Usually antenna #1's pattern has enough leaks in other directions that you can continue to work other stations until the lid moves on.

I also use split stacks of two yagis quite a bit on 20 and 15 during stateside contests from MS (single amplifier of course). From MS the two population centers are northeast and west. If I point a beam at one of these centers, the other is precisely in the null off the end of the elements. I suppose I could use a stack of moxons or similar with a wide forward pattern, but that would sacrifice a lot of dx performance compared to the yagis.

Tor
N4OGW/5

Finally a “real tidbit” that probably shouldn’t have been spoken out loud, don’t you think? What we’re talking about is nothing more than deliberate QRM, aren’t we? Someone gets too close to your frequency, just point towards them, blast them and run them off.

In hamspeak, the term “lid” generally refers to a poor operator. But, between us adults, let’s face it, it means someone being an ass or someone doing something stupid. I see some irony in his decision to refer to another op as a lid.

Now, I’m not naïve enough to think that this doesn’t go on all the time. I’m also not so naïve that I don’t think that people without multiple direction antennas tied to a single transmit signal are the only ones who employ this tactic. I’m sure a lot of contesters and hams in general with single antennas turn them in the direction of a someone to run them off. But I’m thinking that there’s a lot of contesters, both of the courteous and sneaky persuasion, who are probably gritting their teeth and thinking, “Hey man, just keep your trap closed about this tactic.” Is this how to maintain a run frequency?

I’ll be curious to see if anyone posts anything and addresses that.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A dash of reality

In roughly two years of half-way intense DXing with 100 watts, a hexbeam, a 43-foot vertical, and a G5RV, I’m at 272 countries worked. I say “half-way intense” because I rarely make myself wake up in the middle of the night to chase a country (although it has been known to happen), I’m out of town a good bit and, thus, miss a lot of opportunites, and I still put family priorities ahead of radio fun.

If I owned a 70-foot tower and had a lot of aluminum on top of it, I might think that 272 countries doesn’t look very impressive. And it isn’t about looking ‘impressive’; it’s about accomplishing a goal. Even with my very modest station I can work DXCC in one weekend. Now the going is a lot tougher. There’s fewer countries that I need and fewer opportunities to find them on the air.

So, reality has set in. If I want to make 300 countries, which I’ve set as my immediate goal, I’m probably going to have to make some changes. Not changes that involve buying a new radio, the 590 is proving to be one heck of a good choice. I need to make changes in my antenna system AND I need to put more time in. The last part I can control and change right away with not very much investment.

Here’s what isn’t going to happen. I’m not going to buy and install a tower. I’m not going to buy an amplifier. I’m confident that I can make 300 countries without either. Beyond 300, who knows?

So, I’m mostly working with what I have. For starters, with fall and winter just around the corner, I’m installing a beverage antenna. I have the space and it’s something I should’ve done last year and didn’t. That’ll help tremendously on 40 and 80, perhaps even a little bit on 30. When the leaves fall and the snakes hit the road, it’s as good as in. Next, I’m making a dedicated antenna for 30 meters. More on that in another post. Finally, I’m raising my hexbeam. For a very brief time I had it at 40 feet. That didn’t last very long, for several reasons. Bottom line, it’s been sitting at about 27 feet for a year and a half. I have the means to raise it to 45 feet but that’s on hold until my arm heals. I managed to rip my bicep muscle in my left arm and I’ve got about 4 or 5 more weeks of “non-use” following surgery to reattach it. I do, however, believe that the increased height will make a difference. Most tout that 40-45 feet is optimum for a hex. It also needs some maintenance performed when I lower it.

Also, despite the wonderful upsurge in sunspot activity lately, you’ll notice that I’m mostly concentrating on the low bands with winter approaching. I hope that proves to be a wise decision.

Here’s what many of you probably won’t understand, but some will. I don’t want to hit 300 countries right away. That’ll mean that I’ll have to come up with a whole new strategy for the next few. I also don’t want a station that I can turn on and have the DX in my log in 15 minutes (or less). Again, I know that flies in the face of many. I’m not going to explain that because you either know what I mean or you don’t. And if you don’t, you’ll never understand.

I want these next countries to mean just as much, if not more than the first 100 and the second 100 did, and I want them to require considerable effort. Because I know that I could rush out and buy all the items to make it happen really quick. Then I would have convinced myself that I really needed that amplifier and that tower to make it happen.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

All bands and modes

I wonder what some of you think about the practice of working DXpeditions on multiple bands and modes. Since I’ve only been mostly active again over the past 2 or 3 years, I haven’t been around enough to judge for myself whether or not this is a trend that’s taken off recently or has it existed all along? I’m sure people have tried to work DXpeditions or rare DX as much as they can, but was the interest of trying to work them on all bands and modes such a popular pursuit as it appears to be now?

I’ve read some banter that indicates that some believe that the popularity of Club Log has caused this chase to explode because anyone can type in anyone else’s callsign and see how many times they’ve worked someone and on what bands and modes. In addition, there’s always a running tab of the top stations to work a popular DXpedition, further filtered by region, country, or call district. Also, as John, AE5X, pointed out in his blog recently, you can even see which operator you worked.

Do you think this is a good thing? Some seem to feel that this activity diminishes the likelihood of Mr. Average DX’er or Mr. QRP being able to work the DX, or, at the least, makes it much harder. Presumably this is due to the increased competition from heavyweight DX’ers to nab as many different QSO’s as they can. Maybe, but I don’t have a good feel for how much more congestion this might add. How many people pursue this aspect? A lot? Just a few? I don’t know.

I can see some merit to the argument, especially for DXpeditions that are short on time, those that aren’t on the air very long. On the other hand, should people who enjoy working them as much as possible be targeted as poor operators or “pig” operators? I certainly wouldn’t go that far. They have as much right as anyone to work the DX. Just like you and me.

And, again, I’m not referring to the stations who repeatedly call on the same bands to let the DX know they’re ‘59’ again tonight, just like last night and the night before that. Those fellers ought to be strung up somewhere. I’m talking about the people who do it fair and square and play by the rules. Get their QSO and move on and don’t cause QRM. I wonder, if I had a station capable of working rare or semi-rare DX all over the spectrum, would I find it fun to try and make 18 or 19 different QSO’s with the same station? Hard to say, but I’m sure the temptation would be there. For the time being that’s not a concern because I usually find time to only make one or two QSO’s. I’m happy with one (especially if it shows up in the online log), the rest are a bonus.

Those who manage to work a DXpedition on, say, 19 different slots, where in the world do they find the time? Especially if they work full-time, how on earth is this possible when 10 meters might only be open for a short time in the middle of the day? I understand that there’s easy explanations that could account for some of the contacts…they run home for lunch and get on the radio. They take the afternoon off. They set their alarm to wake up at 3 am in the morning. That’s not unusual at all for hard-core, dedicated DX’ers. But to get them on ALL bands and modes? That’s pretty fantastic. And if you look closely, it’s generally the same stations that appear at the top of these ‘most worked’ lists.

At any rate, I’m curious what others think of this practice and whether or not it is making life more difficult for average or budding DX’ers, or if it’s just another topic that’s making the rounds on eHam?