Archive for May, 2012

2012 WPX CW contest

May 27th, 2012

I don’t normally operate the WPX contests, but several friends (e.g., KB9UWU and SM2WMV/SJ2W) were planning efforts and I thought it would be worthwhile to spend some time working them.  The high bands have been in good shape lately.  And, WPX CW was the first CW contest I ever operated (in 1997…my call was AA8UP then if you want to look up my stellar performance).  Why not have a little fun?!

The 30-meter open-wire fed dipole at 40 feet worked great as two half-waves in-phase on 15 meters into Europe (and the Pacific).  Now, I can move the lackluster 15-meter dipole high into the back tree for N/S operation.  In fact, it might actually be smart to just put a second 30-meter open-wire fed dipole there.  Interesting thought.  Probably have the parts to build another tuner in the junkbox(es).

I paid basically no attention to strategy and just did whatever I pleased working interesting stuff and running a little bit later on.  I didn’t spend much time on 40 and I didn’t work the 2nd radio very hard until the last 1.5 hours between 2114 and 2249 on Sunday when I made 124 QSOs…not big rates, but a nice pace for using the second radio to fill in dead space.  Here is the damage:

Call: K8GU
Operator(s): K8GU
Station: K8GU

Class: SOAB LP
Operating Time (hrs): 6
Radios: SO2R

 Band  QSOs
  160:    0
   80:    0
   40:   52
   20:  206
   15:   97
   10:   12
Total:  367  Prefixes = 256  Total Score = 266,496

Club: Potomac Valley Radio Club


“Sleep when the baby sleeps,” new parents are told.  All six hours of operating were with Evan asleep and about four were with Sarah asleep.  So, guess who’s behind now!

Thoughts on Digital

May 19th, 2012

I have opined in the past (although perhaps not on the blog directly) that CW is the reason I am still an active ham after almost 19 years…actually, I think a week from today marks the 19-year anniversary of passing elements 2 and 3A in the basement of the Stark County Sheriff’s office.  CW permitted me to make interesting, intriguing, compelling QSOs that I simply could not complete on SSB with my meager station as a beginner.

Over the years, I have used this as the argument for retaining the Morse code testing requirement:  Morse code proficiency gave newcomers the opportunity to make exciting DX contacts under all solar conditions (except disturbed, of course) and hook them on the hobby.

PSK31 was the first mode that challenged CW in that arena.  I made a couple of PSK contacts almost 10 years ago now and decided it was harder than CW.  So, I did not pursue it.  Aside from making a half-hearted effort to get ARRL’s Triple Play Worked All States using only unassisted (no cluster, no RBN, no skeds) contest contacts, I haven’t really operated digital modes much and didn’t really understand why anyone would want to because CW is so much easier.  I’ve seen dozens of JT65 posts by fellow bloggers.  And, about a year ago, I met Paul, N8HM, who lives in an apartment in DC.  He’s very active on HF digital modes with a shoestring setup…and he’s very passionate about it.  That’s when it clicked.

Digital modes are the new CW:  the DX mode for the average ham.  I must be slow!

I still think CW is way easier than digital QSOs, especially in contests and pileups:  there is a certain amount of critical humanity (varying timing, sending speed, spacing, or calling frequency) that you can’t apply to cracking a digital pileup…or maybe I just haven’t figured it out yet.  I guess I have years of Morse practice and shouldn’t expect digital to be easy just because the computer is doing the sending and decoding.  But, I think I understand digital operators a little better after this revelation.

You guys are alright.

Recent tinkerings (19 May 2012 edition)

May 19th, 2012

I try not to do these “meta-posts” too often, but time has been of the essence lately and it’s been hard to find enough time to sit down and write something coherent when most of my “ham time” has been devoted to DXing or antenna work.  This post covers tinkering and operating from K8GU since January (!!).

I am not at Dayton this year.

Worked 7O6T on three bands (20/17/15) on CW and also on 20-meter SSB.  The only one I spent more than five minutes for was 20CW, which was during the first few days of the operation.  Normally, I would have waited, but since this was in the land of pirates and AQAP, I decided to play it safe in case there was an international incident that curtailed the operation.  My friend Steve, K0SR, gave me a hard time when I bragged about working them with 100 watts and a dipole.  You can do that on the East Coast.  He’s right.  DXing and DX contesting from the Upper Midwest (aka The Black Hole) is hard.

Did not work 6O0CW (Somalia) or 9M0L (Spratly).  XX9E (Macao) is doubtful since it’s a short DXpedition and I’ve only heard them once so far.

My 2011 Sweepstakes “Clean Sweep” mug arrived.  Sarah banished it from the kitchen because it’s canary yellow.  I think it’s hand-wash anyway, so it will continue to hold baby-proofing outlet covers and look good on the top shelf in my shack next to the liquid-crystal painted Jicamarca mug.  Speaking of baby-proofing, Evan is on the move…

I built a gate that fits in the aperture of my shack desk.  An unintentional feature of this is that I can still reach the keyboards through a gap at the top.  It’s a little hard to send CW through there.  But, it keeps curious Evan away from the jungle of wires that make up this “wireless” station.

In January, I took down my VHF antennas from the main house chimney.  I had estimated the wind surface area of the chimney and determined that the wind load of the antennas increased it by 15-20%.  Since I know that the guys (it was built in 1946ish, so yes, guys) who built the house didn’t do any calculations I figured that the safety factor was at least a factor of two.  But, I was growing increasingly uneasy about the torque exerted by the antennas on the chimney, so I took them down.

In March, I had the opportunity to pick up (from K3AJ, who beat me by three QSOs in ARRL SS CW last year…need to be disciplined since I left 4 hours on the table) a M2 2M9SSB Yagi for two meters on great terms (per usual).  This antenna is lighter and stronger than the homebrew K1FO that I had been using.  I cut up the elements from the 2-meter K1FO to make Yagis (also K1FO designs) for 222 and 432 on 10-foot booms.  Need to finish those and put them up.

We have another, shorter chimney on the addition that houses my hamshack.  This chimney has served as the anchor for my 10-meter rotable (by the Armstrong method) dipole for a while now.  Branches from a nearby tree have impinged on the rotation somewhat, but since it’s bidirectional it hasn’t been a big deal.  But, I decided that this might be a good location for the new 2M9SSB, the A50-3S (3-el 6-meter Yagi), and the 10-meter dipole.  I himmed and I hawed.  Then, I climbed the tree and sawed.  It’s a miracle I didn’t end up with poison ivy.

I upgraded the 10-meter dipole using hardware from DX Engineering so it could be mounted to a mast (old method was not mechanically sound, especially for something that would be rotated with a T2X).

A few weeks ago, I assembled and installed the whole mess…see photo at the top of the post.  I’m now using a Hy-Gain T2X (purchased at Dayton in 2005—I showed up at my in-laws’ grinning ear-to-ear with the motor in one hand in the control box in the other—they still love to tell this story) instead of a CDE TR-2 rotator.  The T2X can probably turn the house.

A spring wind storm dislodged the branch that supported my 80-meter wire vertical and one end of the 20-meter dipole.  So, I cleaned that up last weekend.  By “cleaned,” I mean I took both of those antennas down.  I also took down the 160-meter TEE because one of the TEE wires was very close to the new VHF array.  At this point, I was only QRV on the “Technician bands”…minus 80…40/15/10/6/2.  I almost got the 160-meter wire all the way out of the tree except the rope that supported the center (TEE junction) bound up with the junction about 10 feet off the ground.  So, I improvised a hot knife on a stick to cut the poly rope:

It worked great.  As she should have, Sarah gave me a hard time.  There are two types of people: those who watch Red Green and there are those who inspire Red Green.

Taking a wonderful brilliant hint from N4YDU, I replaced my 30-meter coax-fed dipole with a 30-meter open-wire-fed dipole.  While I prefer resonant single-band antennas for contesting (clean patterns and nothing to touch when changing bands), every other kind of operation can tolerate tune-up.  The open-wire-fed 30-meter dipole not only tunes well on 17 and 12 meters, it just has a slightly narrower pattern!  An aside:  After the 2010 ARRL 10-meter contest, I posted to the PVRC reflector that I had been running 100 watts to a dipole at 30 feet.  This prompted my neighbor (who lives about 2 miles away, a neighbor for bands below 76 GHz) K3KU to pay me a visit because I had beat him in every pileup that weekend.  He thought surely I was running a KW to 5 elements at 60 feet!  He runs an open-wire fed 135-foot long dipole on all bands through a tuner.  The pattern of that antenna looks like a sea anemone on 10 meters!

Worked D3AA on the third call on 30-meter CW last night.  So, I guess that antenna is working.  Also worked VP9GE on 6 meters. There’s a certain amount of satisfaction working DX with a transverter you designed (mostly) and built yourself.

I have a wicked RFI problem on 6 meters when I run the amp (150-watt Mirage brick).  It’s probably RF on the power lines, although it doesn’t set off the CO detector like 40 meters does.  So, it could be RF pick up on the audio wiring in my shack.  In any case, need to get that worked out before the ARRL June Es contest.