Sunday, December 31, 2006

QSL route databases and a lazy day

I picked up a small case of the sniffles somehow so I'm spending a lazy day around the house, mostly picking up loose ends. There are lots of things I should be doing, I guess, but right now I'm planted firmly in front of the TV watching the game.
I did take a few moments to add the QSL route information for all seven call signs to a couple of databases so it now appears in:

I also added my call to the HamCall web site as you can see here.
New Years Eve means Straight Key Night. I was going to give it a big effort this year, but I think it would be wiser to concentrate on getting over this chest cold than running round in the freezing rain and sleet to hook up my antenna. I'll make a few contacts with my MFJ loop, watch the New Year roll in, then get some sleep.
Happy New Year to all. Best wishes from everybody here in the NE1RD (the "1" is silent) household. See you next year!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

QSLpro announcement

It has been a week since my last post. Those of you who have followed along with me during this trip planning know how uncharacteristic such a lapse is. I don't anticipate another such lag in posting until after the Montserrat trip has concluded.
While I have not been blogging, I have been working feverishly on software that should help with this coming DXpedition and those that will follow. Let me introduce QSLprotm.

This software reads a log file from a special event station or DXpedition and creates QSLcard labels. There are a number of features that I've put into this program that I'm excited about, but let me talk about just one today: the ability to take a log from multiple operators and create the minimum number of QSL card labels (which consequently use the minimum number of cards). Imagine a station 6Y1V worked seven stations QSOs with seven DXpedition members in 2005. QSLpro would create just two labels as pictured below:

When you are done, just use the Save feature to update your log and each QSO for which a QSL label had been printed will be marked with a Y for QSL sent. Easy!
The program works directly with MacLoggerDX log files. There is no need to export to ADIF or perform other conversions. I used it today to print a dozen labels for my home call (NE1RD) that I'll send off on Monday to help boost my DXCC total. It was so easy! Just click, click, click, and print. It really does make QSLing fun!
I have written a full manual for the software and will made program and manual available in the next few weeks. (I want to do additional testing before releasing it to the public.) We've not made final plans regarding QSLing for the Montserrat trip. This new program should help make for some interesting discussions! I know I'll be using it for the K1P special event station. I'll let you know what the Montserrat team decides.
Finally, I had ordered two pieces of luggage for the trip. The carry-on sized Pelican case (1510) was, in the end, too small for this trip. It is a lovely case for the ic7000 system, but I need something a bit larger for Monserrat. So, I had ordered a second Pelican 1610 case (the first case contains my 50 pound Yaesu 897D system) to carry the bulk of my equipment. That case arrived this week. I also ordered a nice bag from REI which also arrived this week. I should be able to start backing (and weighing) this weekend. I would like to have everything in the bag, inventoried, weighed, and tested by January 15th. Since it is snowing here today, I certainly won't be needing any shorts or T-shirts here in Massachusetts anytime soon!
I look for my blogging to return to its normal daily pace now that this software is (nearly) finished. With less than a month to go before we depart, these next few weeks should be very interesting!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

DXpedition announcements

Things are pretty quiet around the condo this weekend. I've only been puttering around picking up things and either repairing them, putting them away in their proper place, or both.
I've been checking the web site statistics and noticed people have been visiting from a large variety of places. A quick Google search and I ended up with a long list of people that have picked up our announcements. What is below is by no means complete, but it is a representative collection of places now listing our little adventure.
Ohio/Penn DX Bulletin
Announced DX Operations
Announced DX Operations RSS
UK Six Metre Group
QRP Amateur Radio Club International
radioamatorismului romanesc
DX Bulletin of XE1BEF
Radio Society of Great Britain IOTA
VA3RJ Islands, Castles & Portable Operations
Active Hams (Japanese)
INFO-DX par F5NQL (French)
DX Info Clubul Radioamatorilor "ISTRITA" BUZAU
Noticias de el mundo del DX por EA5KY
UBA (Belgium) DX News
One particular announcement, at, was particularly nice as they had brought in our logo, the Buddipole Antennas logo, and my 100 Pound DXpedition logo. They also created an interesting stylized "VP2M" graphic to accompany the announcement. It looks quite nice!
I would like to thank everybody who has picked up our announcement and encourage anybody who would like to help publicize our DXpedition contact me directly. (My call sign at ARRL dot net)
Best wishes for the season. I wish everybody good health, safe travel, and happiness. 73!
-- Scott (NE1RD)

Friday, December 22, 2006

5A7A video

One of the great things about the explosion of YouTube in the last year is that there is now a central place where you can look for videos corresponding to a special interest you might have. As for me, I'm always on the look-out for cool DXpedition videos. They are fun to watch, of course, but I'm also making a mental list of do that, don't do that when I critique them. Here's a very nice video from the 5A7A Libya DXpedition. Thanks to KE9V for the pointer!

There are a number of things you can pick up even from this short clip. There was a discussion of antenna placement early in the video. I'm sure they did some work on that before they left, but the ultimate decisions were made once they were on-site and had complete knowledge of the situation. Notice the orange and white hazard tape at the 2:08 point. I'm looking for stuff like that, too, to mark guy lines and radials as tripping hazards. Video taping the set-up to the group snapshot (probably for the QSL card) is also a good idea. I'll be sure to do that.
There are plenty of these videos out there and I'm guessing there is at least one interesting idea in each one. Watch them. Enjoy them. Learn from them.
Finally, I got a fortune cookie yesterday that was surprisingly on-point. Mostly, these things contain lame, bland, or English-grammar-challenged snippets that are less like predictions ("You will meet a kind stranger") and more like observations ("You are a kind and generous person"). Still, tradition holds that you read the fortune aloud to the group at the end of the meal, and we did just that at lunch yesterday. Mine read, "I am always doing that which I cannot do in order that I may learn how to do it." If I had to sum up my life on a fortune cookie, I couldn't do better than that!
It takes a little courage, a thick skin, and a willingness to look foolish (often, truth be told) to live this way, but I can think of nothing better, nothing more joyful. I am doing these trips, these 100 Pound DXpeditions not because I am already well-versed in all that might go into them, but precisely because I am not. I learn by thinking about things and then acting on those thoughts. MIT's motto is Mens et manus - "Mind and hand". While I wasn't smart enough, or wealthy enough, to go to a prestigious institution like MIT, I've always lived by that tenant. I hope these brief notes left here will encourage you to try to new things, also. I've found that a willingness to apply your mind, eagerness to use your hands, and perhaps a little heart goes a long way.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Island tours

While it is certainly my intention to put a lot of QSOs in the log while on Montserrat, there are other things that can be done on the island as well. We're now carefully looking through our options. I'd like to take a helicopter tour of the Soufriere Hills volcano and get some video of the trip (I believe it would be a great addition to the DXpedition video I am planning), though there has been some chatter on the list that this may be a bit more expensive than I had planned. I need to get that nailed down soon.
There is a dive shop called the The Green Monkey that has some interesting tours we've discussed. (Of course they offer scuba diving trips, too.) There is an island tour by boat which would give me a chance to see the Plymouth, the capital now in ruins under the ash, the old airport, and, of course, the volcano. It blows half a day, but it is one of the only ways to see the parts of the island now in the exclusion zone.
There is a small area call Rendezvous Bay that has interesting possibilities. We're considering a trip to that area, located in the Northwest part of the island, for a picnic, maybe a little snorkeling, and a whole lot of right-on-the-salt-water operations.
Returning to dry land, we're also hoping to do a tour at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory where we can learn a great deal of history about the volcano, maybe talk with some of the scientists there, and hopefully do some portable operation from that location as well. Since the volcano, and its observatory, are one of the signature spots on the island, and of the Caribbean itself, this seems like a natural place to soak up the sights and strut our stuff!
There are many more things that could be done on the island, but my emphasis will be on executing on my plans for a successful DXpedition, that is, a successful 100 Pound DXpedition, and capturing enough audio, video, and still photographs so I can convey to others just how much fun we had. If I can manage that, it will be a successful trip indeed.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Group signing up for LoTW

The guys are getting those Logbook of The World (LoTW) accounts established this week. At risk of being accused of being a "league basher", my goodness this system is not the friendliest system in the world to use! I've got a degree in Computer Science and understand concepts like digital signatures and public key cryptography systems, but certainly the average ham can't be expected to have the same sorts of intuition about such things. It isn't that the system doesn't work--it does; the problem is that the system is a little opaque to many. Your average ham probably doesn't quite know what going on half the time, not because they're stupid, but because the actual model, the mechanics of what this system is doing, are not obvious from the user interface.
Ward Silver (NOAX) wrote a very nice article for the September 2005 issue of QST magazine attempting to explain this model. I don't think anyone can explain it better than Ward Silver has done in this piece. That's both good news and bad news, I guess. Anyway, if you are interested in LoTW, and you should be, there is no better place to get started than with this article. Once you have an account established for your first call sign, adding another call sign is quite easy. I've added a Hints and Kinks entry to my home page for adding a QTH to the LoTW. I've added NE1RD/1 (Georges Island), KP2/NE1RD (USVI), K1P (special event station), and now VP2MRD (Montserrat) just in the last year. All of the team members are establishing LoTW accounts for their home call (if they didn't have them already) and will then create additional certificates for their VP2M calls in a separate step.
In addition to the LoTW credentials, we're also getting our eQSL accounts, and QRZ entries finalized, too. My goal would be to have all of this stuff completed by year's end.
In other news, I got a quote back from QSLworks today. I asked Tami (the graphics artist on staff) to quote me for a card that was 3.5 x 11 (to be folded in half so it makes a booklet shaped regular card 3.5 x 5.5 inches). I asked for two quotes, one full color, full bleed, both sides, and one with full color one side and black-and-white on the other. Here are the quotes. They come out to be about:

Two-sided-color: $0.18 each (for 5000)
Color/B&W: $0.16 each (again for 5000)

I have no idea if we need that many cards. (In fact, we probably won't.) But, it is interesting to see that even a very fancy card (four sides instead of just two, full color all sides) wasn't that much more expensive than their standard offering. I've not shopped around; perhaps I could do better. I simply wanted to get a general sense of what such cards would cost.
Finally, there has been some discussion in the group about whether we should use items left behind by another ham for this trip. The subject came up again today in a couple of mail messages. It seems to be a matter of honor, or principle perhaps, to really do a 100 Pound DXpedition and not, well, cheat. {grin} The big stickler appears to be a large tribander that was left from a ham that had done CQWW from that location. Would using it be cheating?
I have a couple of slides in my talk that show you can bring a yagi as part of your 100 pounds, if you are willing to trade if off for something else. Specifically, I had a Force-12 C3SS tribander that weighted about 30 pounds. It could go, if I left lots of other stuff behind. There were some situations where this made lots of sense. A yagi isn't inconsistent with my vision of a 100 Pound DXpedition--it is just one flavor. Put another way, I don't care what makes up your 100 pounds of equipment. It could be a K1, mini-straight key, and SteppIR. If it was 100 pounds or less packed, that works for me.
Also, using local materials isn't cheating. If you can locate batteries, mast material, or even antennas (or antenna-making materials) locally, I believe you can use them with a clean conscience. Certainly it is our intent to show that just the equipment carried with us provided ample opportunities for an effective DXpedition. We will do that. I think we should also make the best use of anything we find locally, too. So, unless there is a group revolt, I'll be on that tribander (if it is still there)!
Tomorrow I'll talk about some excursion planning that's been done over the last couple of weeks. While I want to put plenty of QSOs in the log, I also want to get to know Montserrat (and capture some great images on videotape as well).

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Cards and Cars

I'm trying something a little different tonight. I'm editing my blog entry within TextMate, yet another text editor. To be honest, I'm somewhat of a Neanderthal when it comes to blogging tools and HTML creation. My first editor for these things was vi and no matter which editor I've been using I insert all my own HTML tags. No WYSIWYG for me! Recently I'd been using BBEdit or a simple word processor like AppleWorks, anything that allowed me to enter text and do a quick spellcheck. This color-coded, language-specific, syntax-directed, context-sensitive, high-tech editor stuff seems a little over-the-top for just blogging, but I'll give it a spin for a few days and see how it works out.
I got an envelope today from Paul (KB9AVO) with his executed Model Release Form and General Agreement. It took me by surprise when I pulled it out of the mail box, though. Check it out:

Paul must have printed up some of these early in the planning stages as it has the old logo. Still it looks pretty good!
Speaking of printing, I exchanged some email messages with Budd (W3FF) today regarding possible QSL card printers. My current off-the cuff estimate is a print run of 5000 cards. Maybe we need fewer (and wouldn't it be nice if we needed more!) Budd suggested LZ1JZ QSL-print. I have used the QSLworks for my cards and have been very pleased. I would like to have a fold-out style card which would give us four panels with the standard 5.5 by 3.5 inches. I figure one panel will have a group picture, one panel would have the QSL information (band, time, etc.), one panel would have some shots of the villa and island, and the last panel would have some product information for Buddipole antennas.
I called QSLworks and talked with Tami, the graphics designer, about these ideas. She's now working up a quote for 5000 cards with full color on both sides. I have no idea if that's how the card will ultimately look, or if indeed we need 5000 cards, but you've got to start somewhere.
Just for kicks, I stopped by the local print shop that has done some work for me on other projects and gave them the same parameters. I suspect the local place will come in just a bit higher than QSLworks but not unreasonably so.
The other interesting tidbit that Budd came up with regards drivers licenses on Montserrat. Specifically, you need a local drivers license to drive on Montserrat; Montserrat does not recognize international drivers licenses! Well, that's a twist! I was going to suggest we appoint a head of the motor pool in the next round of assignments. This would be a person principally responsible for securing ground transportation for the group, renting the van, be the designated driver, and so on. Now that we learn that local drivers licenses are required, there is even more reason to consider this idea. We don't need all seven of us to get a Monsterrat drivers license!
Finally, Budd was also able to confirm with the hosts at Gingerbread Hill that they have wireless internet available, each villa has lots of 110 volt outlets (and one 220 volt outlet, too), and lots of power strips. Although we've gone to great lengths to ensure that everything we bring is dual voltage (110/220, 50/60 Hz), knowing that the power available will be just like home is still a relief.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Last night’s conference call between team members was brief, mostly reviewing open items we’d like to have completed soon. They include:
  • Getting those LoTW accounts established
  • Creating eQSL accounts
  • Creating QRZ entries for our new call signs
  • Executing the model release forms and general agreements, and
  • Getting the last of the pictures up on the biography page
There were plenty of other of other things we could have covered, but only four of seven members were able to make the call, and most of us are either traveling or tied up with business or family commitments for the next couple of weeks. That was to be expected, and planned for during my early conversations with Budd Drummond this Summer. The last couple of weeks of the year are always tough.
Our next conference call is scheduled for 7 January 2007. At that point, there will be only 3 weeks until our departure. That’s not much time! Hopefully, all the member will have completed their equipment spreadsheets by then so we may begin the process of reviewing the equipment, weeding out duplication, and identifying missing components. We did make one decision last night: I will be bringing my two bags plus the big golf case. Southwest allows three bags for domestic travel so getting it to Orlando should be no problem. Once there, another team member, who is only bringing one personal bag, will count the golf bag as his own (so, on average, we both have 2 bags). The golf bag will be used to ship all the long items such as 16 foot masts, tripods, fishing poles, and other awkwardly-sized pieces. We still need to do the spreadsheets and do this minute planning--but this strategic bit of planning (having at least one case for long items) should help in general.
The microphone mentioned yesterday has arrived. I’ll try to test it in the next couple of days. That was one of the last pieces for the audio capture planning.
Finally, I made a trip up to Ham Radio Outlet today looking for some of the parts I had listed from yesterday’s exercise. I found some, but not all. I was relieved to find one part in particular, though: a spare power cable for the IC-7000. This radio has a four pin molex connector instead of the usual 6 pin harness. I had only one of these (the one that came with the radio) and thought that was probably tempting fate too much. I’ll cut this new one relatively short, put power poles on it, and make it be the primary cable. The original cable will now become the spare. I can’t bring duplicates or backups of everything, but the light stuff, especially something that would be really difficult to replace or improvise on-island, will get a look.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Assembling the station

I assembled the radio, mixer, computer, tuner, power supply, and accessories today just as I hope to have them on Montserrat. You can see the setup below.
tangle of wires
This is a tangle of wires, but it need not be. Today, I just wanted to make sure I had every cable I needed, and that everything talked nicely to everything else. I was able to record several hours of audio from the IC-7000, confirm that the computer control worked properly, and do some other tests. HF conditions were pretty poor today so I didn’t try to make any contacts or record my side of a QSO. Also, I’ve ordered a desk microphone that should arrive tomorrow to give me another option for picking up audio from my side of the conversation.
This exercise was quite helpful. Other than seeing I’ll need to do a better job of organizing the wires, I discovered a few missing cables and adapters I needed to make this work. A quick trip to Radio Shack fixed that. What I need, to ensure I can reproduce this system, is a wiring diagram. Below is a low resolution version of that diagram.
wiring diagram
None of this speaks to the problem of antenna planning, nor have I received (and integrated into this mess) the band pass filters I just ordered. Just what this setup needs: more wires. {grin} Still, it was something of a relief to get everything I did have assembled and working. I’m really quite excited about the on-air recording portion of this. It should make for some interesting audio clips for the DVD and for future 100 Pound DXpedition presentations.

Watching sky and Earth

With all the holiday parties, it has been hard to get any real work done. (Who knew I was so popular? {grin}) I was able to attend the Minuteman Repeater Association VE session this morning (more on that below) and get my MFJ loop antenna reinstalled. Testing it was somewhat problematic, though, as the HF bands were heavily affected by the erratic solar activity. Solar flares and coronal holes emitting high energy solar wind particles promise to keep conditions dicey for a while. Of course, I’m looking ahead and wondering if stuff like this will be active during our stay on Montserrat. We’ll be paying close attention to the solar conditions and the 27 day solar rotation.
We’re also watching conditions at the volcano by monitoring the Montserrat Volcano Observatory. While the Sun has been going a little nuts lately, it looks like the volcano is actually calming down a bit. That’s good news. Again, we’ll monitor this right up until we leave for the island (and then really watch it once we get there!).
I note something here and would like to give a nod of appreciation. Jeff Davis (KE9V) announced this week that he is suspending his blogging activities. His very popular web site and his fantastic podcast series Long Delayed Echoes still lives on. In fact, Jeff has removed all of the blogs and replaced it with a simple and elegant directory of his LDE podcasts (now up to number 36). If you have not given these a listen, please do so. I’ll miss Jeff’s blog. He kept it up for over two years, though, and that’s a lot. Jeff wants to move on, and we need to respect that. Just so you know, Jeff, if ever you pick up the blogging habit again, I’ll be there to read it! In the mean time, accept my thanks for the work you did. Well done.
One last point, a young man, Matt Williams (W1MAT) passed his Amateur Extra (element 4) test today. I was lucky enough to be working the VE session to see this happen. Matt is 12 years old and is an avid contester and DXer. Eric (KV1J), Matt’s proud dad, sat nearby nervously pretending to read the latest QST while Matt worked away on that very long test. No worries! Matt sailed through that test with flying colors. Matt, I hope to work you from Montserrat! Congratulations!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Looking for more volunteers in the group

The BUMS hold a conference call each Sunday evening at 9 PM Eastern Standard Time. The service works very well for this. If you need to organize a conference call, give this a try.
The next couple of Sunday evenings after this weekend fall on holidays: Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Eve. So, this will be our last conference call this year. Any work done after Sunday night will be through either email or the group-private web site for the rest of the year. I knew that the last half of December is basically lost when we began planning for this trip in the Summer months. By the time January 1st rolls around, we’ll have less than 4 weeks until our departure. That sure isn’t much time!
I asked for volunteers for two positions last weekend: Activities Coordinator, and Equipment Coordinator. This week, I’m seeking two more volunteers for the following positions:
  • Propagation and Band Management (PROP) - There is lots of planning and paperwork that can be done prior to departure to help organize our on-air work. Having a list of sun rise and sun set time for our location and other parts of the world, for example, is very helpful. Knowing the band plans for Montserrat and how they line up with band plans for Japan, Europe, and other places is also helpful. I started working on this, and wanted to include it in my DXpedition manual (which I cannot complete because of time pressures). I’m hoping one volunteer (with helpers, of course) can pull some of this information together.

  • CFO - We should have one person be "point" on the money matters. This really means creating and maintaining the master spreadsheet of costs, moneys collected from team members, and helping assess who-owes-who-what. This is somebody who wants to hold on to the receipts, enter stuff into a spreadsheet, and help us divide up the bill at the end.

There will likely be other positions opened after the new year: food chairman, motor pool chief, etc. I’ll figure that out later. Right now, these two new positions seem important, so we’ll fill them. (We also need to fill the Equipment Coordinator... I have taken it temporarily, but my plate is already full with other stuff.)
Truth be told, much of this stuff should have been assigned at least a month ago. I’ll know better next time.

Sandy pokes a little fun

As you might guess, I've been spending a lot of time both planning
for the Montserrat trip, and working on this blog. She dropped me
this comic, just to poke a little fun. I guess I deserve it...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

QSL manager: me

This week has passed very quickly. It is hard to believe it will be Friday in a few hours! As mentioned earlier in the week, I ordered the ICE filters from Radioware including the six band model 419B filter. ICE 419b
Craig at Radioware called yesterday to tell me that the order is confirmed and I should expect that filter box, and the three WARC band filters, sometime in mid-January. So, that worry is behind me. {whew}
Other aspects of the trip planning are also coming together, though not as I had expected. We thought we had somebody signed-up to be our QSL manager for the trip. Alas, our candidate decided that he would not volunteer after all. It is very late to begin the search for a new QSL manager candidate so I have stepped up to be the QSL manager. This is not bad news. I volunteered for this role early in the planning cycle but was talked out of it. Well, I’m back in it now! That’s OK. I enjoy the work and it means I will get the first glimpse at any cards folks send to us. It should be fun.
I had promised the group that I would get the QSLing information and rules written before our next conference call. They are now up on the DXpedition web site. Just click on the QSL information box to see it. This page outlines what we expect to do and how we will handle QSLing during and after the DXpedition. There should be no surprises here: send us a card, make sure the data you send us is correct, we’ll send you a card with correct data, make sure you don’t stick us with the postage. Simple! {grin} Well, maybe you should give it a read to see if I’m more helpful than that.
Late last night, after I had posted my blog entry, I dropped a note to the group telling them that I had second thoughts about all the non-radio activities that I had planned. The result of my note telling the guys I was backing out of the scuba diving trip was a flurry of messages about making sure we keep the “fun” balanced with the expectations we’ve set. Bob put it best. Here’s an except from his lengthy but very thoughtful message:

So, what's that mean to the rest of you? I see two thrusts: One, the make as many contacts on as many bands effort at the Villa. To me, that could mean putting in as many hours as possible without breaking the fun factor. Being there when the major bands are open, but not going nuts trying to work 5 bands with 5 ops. from the same location... We need to make this fun -- but at the same time -- we will need some discipline :-)
The second thrust, is of course operating portable/bike mobile. This, in my mind, is what really demonstrates the "power of the buddipole". I think the videos, photos, write-ups of successful contacts with quickly setup stations is the essence of the uniqueness of our trip -- along with the 100lb carry limit.

I goofed up something on this trip and didn’t realize it fully until today. One of the things I push in my 100 Pound DXpedition presentation that I give to radio clubs is every DXpedition should have specific goals. I made very specific goals for my other trips but had not worked with the guys to work out those goals and common vision for this trip. Luckily, the general goals that everybody understood have been good enough, at least for now, but that was largely because we drew team members from a very specific group: Buddipole users. My mistake, not being pointed about making sure we all agree what we’re trying to accomplish here, didn’t matter much because all these fine fellows quickly fell into line with the general philosophy. (And, I suspect Budd selected them because they were in-tune with the general idea of the trip.) Still, I should be more deliberate about this next time. It is better to be explicit about the goals you have, and the expectations you have, than to leave such things to chance.
Finally, the January 2007 QST arrived in today’s mail. Page 86, in the “How’s DX?” section, has our press release announcing the DXpedition! We were given nearly a whole third of a page including the list of operators (not Bob and Tom, though, as they were added later) and a pointer to our DXpedition web site. Fantastic!
Also, on the same page, was an announcement with the heading Rare IOTA - NA-219. A group of Germans will be activating Elbow Cay, part of Cay Sal Bank, early next year. I thought that might be my next stop. {sigh} Well, let’s get this one done and I’ll reconsider my options. Maybe it will be time to get out the old world map again!
I achieved something of a milestone and thought I would share it. My Logbook of the World account just registered its 1000th QSL. Actually, my total stands at 1003. I have uploaded over 4800 QSO entries into the system including some from Georges Island, the special event station in Maine, St. John USVI, and Hawaii. Of course, there are serious contest operators that do that much in a weekend, but with my modest operating conditions here in the condo, this represents a considerable investment in time.
I got a call from Paul this evening. He and I were having the same concerns about time pressures while on the island. It is easy to start racking up a long list of things you want to do on your vacation (or, in our case, DXpedition), but in our haste and bout of enthusiasm these last few days I’m afraid I’ve signed up for far too much. Here are the things we’ve discussed:
  • Scuba diving
  • Visit to a nearby island with cliffs and a great beach
  • Visit to the Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO)
  • Visit to Plymouth (guided tour)
  • Hiking trip
  • Helicopter tour of the island
  • Cookout with Montserrat Amateur Radio Society members
I’m beginning to realize that I can’t do all that and put the QSOs in the log. I’m going to have to start making some choices. Paul and I agreed that the scuba diving trip, while almost certainly spectacular, eats a whole day and then leaves you exhausted. So, no scuba diving. I had tentatively committed to one trip (and was being encouraged to consider multiple trips), but I now think I’ve overcommitted. In fact, it is probably time to make a prioritized list of things I want from this trip. Here they are (right off the top of my head--don’t be surprised if a revised list appears tomorrow!)
  1. Make QSOs - This is a DXpedition. I have worked very hard to make good plans and execute them as well as any big DXpedition might do. Now, it is time to execute and get on the air. I want to put at least a thousand QSOs in the log on this trip. That might be very difficult, or it might be easy. I have no idea. But, part of the deal on this trip is to learn. You learn by doing (not by screwing off and going on a fishing trip!).

  2. Make a DXpedition Video DVD - I want to get enough raw footage of interesting stuff while on the island (and before and after, too) so I can pull together a DXpedition video that is fun to watch and that conveys the excitement we had on this trip. I have the entire collection of DXpedition videos from DXVIDEOS.COM and would be honored if the results of my efforts were compared favorably with these excellent works. To achieve that goal, I know I need raw footage. Lots and lots of raw footage. I have purchased 15 one hour tapes that I fully expect to fill on this trip. Visits to the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, helicopter tours of the island, and hiking, can help me get interesting island footage. Other side trips (like scuba diving) cannot. I should stick with what helps me make my goals.

  3. Execute on the Public Relations tasks - I have spent a great deal of time publicizing the trip, building tools to provide the world with an online log searching capability, and a web site that can be updated while we are on the island with photographs and stories. Again, I’m trying to make this trip just as classy as some of the large DXpeditions. With the simplistic notion, “you only get better by practicing”, I’m trying to learn how a smoothly run DXpedition is organized and executed. I’m sure I’ll stumble along the way a few times, but I hope to learn from my mistakes and get better as I go. Of course, I’ll continue to share what I learn here.

  4. Those are my three goals. Modest in many ways, but important--at least to me. So, I’ll send out a message to the fellas telling them that I’m going to bow-out of scuba diving. It isn’t that it wouldn’t have been really fun; I just have other things I want to do more.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Loop repaired

I guess you can file tonight’s entry under, “I really didn’t need any more problems, but...” The MFJ loop I’ve been using died again. Specifically, the small 1 RPM motor in the unit stopped working. This is the second replacement motor I’ve installed. The first, luckily, died while the unit was under warranty. And, true to MFJ’s word, they sent me a free replacement quickly with no questions asked. This one was, now that the unit is out of warranty, $40. {sigh}
These small magnetic loops are very interesting antennas. I have compared them to a G5RV at 50 feet and they are surprisingly effective. Plus, with my space-limited situation, I have few alternatives. So, with it now fixed, perhaps I’ll get it reinstalled this weekend before the Winter weather befalls us. Here’s a picture of what is inside these devices.
MFJ loop motor
Dave has one of the small high efficiency loop tuners like this one (or one similar) on the MFJ site. He used it on Deer Isle last year but conditions were so terrible that it wasn’t possible to get a good feeling for how it performed. We’re returning to Deer Isle again this year for the Patriots Day celebration. I’d like to really run one of these things through its paces. The weight and size are suitable for a 100 Pound DXpedition. If you could obtain a 10 or 20 foot piece of copper tubing upon your arrival, it might be a fine antenna to have in some remote place!
I guess I’m advocating more “thinking outside the box” here. Sure, the big DXpeditions pack yagis and tower sections and mast. That’s not what we do (we 100 Pound DXpeditioners, that is). Instead, we look for alternatives that provide good options with small size and little weight. Don’t be afraid to think of, or try, something a little unorthodox. You never know where the next really interesting idea may come from!

Filters ordered... maybe

Only a brief entry tonight (it is after midnight here) as we just returned from the season opener for the Boston Holiday Pops concerts. A little punch, a little carrot cake, and soon I’ll be ankle deep in Boston slush. I know its coming! {grin}
I called Craig at Radioware in Rindge, New Hampshire this morning to order the ICE filters mentioned yesterday. Craig was one of the fellows I spoke with at Sunday’s Yankee Clipper Contest Club meeting. As it turns out, the very person I needed to order the filters from was sitting right next to me at the meeting! (I saved this last tidbit for today’s blog.) Craig took me aside after I had talked with several other club members and told me what my options were. I agreed to call him this morning.
It isn’t clear if the ICE 419B mode is available, or if it could be delivered in time for the trip. (Gee, I really should have thought of this sooner!) Craig will contact ICE for me and determine what options I might have. He also asked, in the event the 6 band 419B model isn’t available, if I wanted individual filters. Do I? I’m not sure. I told Craig if the 6 band unit isn’t an option, I’ll need to reassess.
Finally, I got a quick note late this evening from our contact on Montserrat. He has the physical paper license for the last couple of licenses for the newest team members. We have the electronic version, so this is a little anticlimactic, but it is still very, very good news.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

ICE filters

I went to the Yankee Clipper Contest Club meeting this afternoon. There are some really amazing people in this club! At the break, I stood and shamelessly solicited help with my band-pass filter problem. Did anybody have some knowledge that they’d like to share? Several rose quickly to my aid.
The offerings from Array Solutions, the W3NQN filters, were thought to be fine filters. But, the fact that I’m only running low power and perhaps not in the highest level of competitive station setups (no 12 station multi-multis), that those filters might be overkill. Instead, I received several recommendations for the Industrial Communication Engineers, Ltd. (ICE) filter designs. These filters are thought to be very good, have traveled with several YCCC members on various DXpeditions without incident, and happen to be about 1/3 the cost of the W3NQN filters.
The ICE folks also make a box with 6 filters inside for quick band switching. The Combination Band-pass Filter weighs in at 5 pounds, but the weight seems worth it to me. I received a pointer to this product from fellow Montserrat team member Paul, too. Paul owns this box and it has served him well. If you want one more recommendation, here’s one: upon careful review of the 3Y0X DXpedition video, you can see these boxes prominently perched on each of the transceivers. Good enough for them, good enough for me!
I am going to place my order for this six filter box in the morning, which will cover the contest bands 160/80/40/20/15/10, and will also order three other filters for the WARC bands 30/17/12. The whole thing should be about $400.
Two other ideas were tossed about during the YCCC meeting. The first was to use stubs, especially on 15m and 40m, to reject the other band. Stubs could be “tee-ed” into the line and it might be a cheap (and lightweight) way to effectively reject those “other band” signals.
Idea two was to see how much the automatic antenna tuner serves as a band-pass filter. I hadn’t really thought of it this way, but it is an interesting idea. I need to think about it more.
Tonight's conference call with the group was extremely productive. We covered my agenda in about 45 minutes, then picked up new business. Band-pass filters (the above discussion) was one topic. Two other topics were scuba diving plans, and other island activity plans. I think these seven days are going to pass quite quickly. Too many great ideas, too little time!
It is back to work in the morning for me. This week is going to be quite busy. Several team members indicated they would be largely unavailable between now and the end of the year. That was to be expected (which was why we were pushing to get so much done this week!). The large items are mostly handled: travel plans, lodging plans, and licenses. The group agreed that the Model Release Form and General Agreement were acceptable, so, once signed, the legal document tasks will also be completed. Everybody is working on their LoTW, eQSL, and QRZ entries for electronic logging. Perhaps it is time to take a breath and relax! Just 49 days to go...

Band pass filters

Some time ago Greg wrote me and asked if I had considered obtaining band-pass filters for the Montserrat trip since this was my first multi-op DXpedition. Actually, this is my second, Dave and I operated simultaneously in Maine at the K1P special event last Spring. Even then, with just two of us, it would have been very helpful. Of course Field Day is another multi-operator event (not a DXpedition, though) and it would have been very helpful last summer to have had these things!
In Greg’s message he said, “Maybe this is already on your radar...” Well, it should have been. I was thinking about researching this topic not long after the K1P trip, but I forgot. I just plain forgot. Which brings me to a recommendation I should make: even if you’re not considering a DXpedition right now, start a notebook to capture all of the questions and ideas you might have. I didn’t start this notebook until early in the Montserrat planning and I clearly lost interesting ideas and questions because of it, this being one of them.
So, I’m thinking about it now! Greg sent two links that are very interesting. The first is an article on band-pass filters. The other link points to the Array Solutions site where you can purchase these critters.
Greg wondered in his mail message if it wouldn’t be worth it to build them. I spent some quality time in the ARRL Handbook looking over the details and decided the actual assembly wouldn’t be that hard, if I only had all the parts. I don’t. Nor do I have a lot of time to put something together. As of this writing, I’ve got 49 days until I leave for Orlando, the first stop on the trip.
As a side note, all you clubs out there, here’s a chance for you: buying all the toroids in bulk, getting the right lengths of magnet wire, bulk buying the capacitors, boxes, and hardware, might just make a great club kit! But I digress...
At this point I’m looking into buying a complete set of these filters. They are about $100 each. For the 6 contesting bands, there is a deal where, as a bundle, you can get the 6 filters (10/15/20/40/80/160) for about $540. Then there are the WARC bands: 12/17/30. They, again, are $100 each. I’m looking at nearly $1000 worth of filters! That’s a lot of money (duh).
There is a Yankee Clipper Contest Club meeting this afternoon and some of the brightest hams in the hobby will be there. I’m planning on throwing out a cry for help to see if I can get some free advice. Of course, I’ll report back here what I find out.
Finally, there is a conference call tonight with the group. I put out a sanitized agenda earlier. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Friday, December 08, 2006

3Y0X DXpedition video and con-call agenda

The 3Y0X DXpedition video came today. Hooray! I just finished watching it. Those guys are my heroes. Really. It took courage, amazing skills, and even more amazing planning and dedication to pull off such a feat. I would dearly love to someday gather enough expertise to even be considered for such an adventure.
In the mean time, planning and preparation for the Montserrat trip continues. I wrote a four page overview of the log processing strategy for the trip today including a description of how the data flows through the system to produce the daily online log updates. After the group has had a chance to look it over and comment, I’ll likely post it to my home page so everybody can see the plan.
I also worked up the agenda for Sunday night’s conference call. Of course, the team might make changes to it between now and Sunday, but here it is (with some details stricken that are private to the group). Again, I hope this sort of posting gives any would-be DXpedition planner some idea of the kinds of planning that go into a trip such as this (even if it isn’t Antarctica!)

AGENDA for December 10, 2006 Conference Call
Version 1


1. Assessment of state
The status report from December 6th declared there are five
areas of planning for the actual trip as shown below.
Does anybody believe we've missed a whole category of stuff?

[1] Log file and QSLing strategy (computers, log programs).
[2] Ham equipment planning (radios, antennas, power needs).
[3] Non-ham equipment planning (scuba, video, etc.)
[4] On-island logistics: vans, cars, bikes, etc.
[5] On-island excursion planning: helicopter, MVO, scuba, etc.

[a] Web site
* ACTION: Chris: Bio + picture for web site.
* ACTION: Budd: picture for web site

[b] Logging
* ACTION: ALL: Plans for computer logging to Scott.
* ACTION: Scott: Finish web site QSO log processing tools.
(Discussed below.)

[c] Financial
* ACTION: ALL: Pay Chris $XXX for share of flights.

[d] Legal
* ACTION: ALL: Send Scott signed Model Release form.
* ACTION: ALL: Send Scott signed General Agreement form.

[e] QSL management
* ACTION: Budd: Finalize paper QSL manager stuff and tell Scott.
* ACTION: Scott: Make QSL information page on web site.
* ACTION: ALL: Create eQSL account for your VP2M call sign.
* ACTION: ALL: Create LoTW account for your VP2M call sign.
* ACTION: ALL: Create QRZ entry for your new call sign.

3. Logging strategies and processing
Overview of log management. Please read the
logprocessing.doc file uploaded Friday (Dec 8)
prior to the meeting.

Also please identify:
* If you are bringing a computer.
* Which logging program you will use.
* If you are not bringing a computer, identify which
computer brought by another member you'll be using.
* Please provide a sample ADIF exported file to Scott ASAP.

4. Open issues
* BUDD: Power at the villa. Voltage 120v. Cycles 50 or 60?
* BUDD: Van rental while on the island?
* BUDD: Inventory of equipment already at the villa.
==> Does anybody have anything to add here?


[a] Equipment Coordinator (EC)
The Equipment Coordinator will be responsible for identifying
all equipment, baggage allocations, checklists, serial numbers,
etc. Let's put one person in charge of this and have the EC
ensure we bring at least one of everything we need, and no more
than one of things that are really heavy ({grin}).

[b] Activities coordinator (AC)
Scuba Diving, visit to the Monserrat Volcano Observatory,
Helicopter Ride (image in the video you could take), visit
to Plymouth to see what's left of the city. All of these
ideas sound like fun trips. Let's get an Activities Coordinator
responsible for finding out how these things are arranged,
booked, scheduled, etc.

Other leadership positions are probably going to open up/
become obvious as we think about it. Other suggestions?

Respectfully submitted,

-- Scott (NE1RD)

# # #

That’s a lot to cover in an hour. Plus, I’m sure the guys would rather talk about equipment selection and antennas! It is getting to the point where we’re going to need to break up the remaining work into subgroups. I’ve identified two such tasks (EC & AC). I’m sure we’ll come up with a few more in the next week.
As of today there were only 51 days until I leave for Orlando. Just a couple of days after that I should be QRV as VP2MRD. So little time and so much to do!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Solar events and legalese reports that strong radiation storm is raging and that a rush of protons detected by satellites might be the leading edge of a CME. That won’t be good for HF communication!
One of the nice things about this site is the fabulous images of the Sun shown right on the front page. I’m a sucker for pretty pictures. Of course, there are desktop tools that help you get a sense of all this, too. I own DX Toolbox which gives me all sorts of images, graphs, and data. It is basically a data aggregator and presentation tool, collecting images and data from NOAA and other places. Here’s a graph that shows that rush of protons. A picture certainly is worth a thousand words.
Needless to say, I’m happy this is happening now and not while we’re on the island. I’ve already had something like that happen to me once. My buddy Dave and I ran a special event station in Maine this year. I got started on Wednesday, he joined me on Friday morning just as a major solar event hit. Ugly. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, we’ll be looking 27 days in advance of the trip to see what conditions are like.
I made a few updates to the DXpedition web site today and have more planned. I also completed a draft of the General Agreement for all DXpedition team members. This is a single page document that outlines the legal obligations and responsibilities we all have (pay your fair share, etc.). The group should review this in the next few days.

An excellent idea!

Just got a note from Greg (NE1OB), a good friend who shares my intrigue with QRP among other things. Here's what he said:

Maybe you have already thought of this. While reading your
blog tonight concerning creating eQSL and LotW accounts for your
VP2 calls, it occurred to me you might want to create pages
for them as well. A lot of people will probably be trying
to look you up on


Now that is an excellent idea, one that had not crossed my mind, yet obvious to me once he mentioned it. Well, part of this exercise is to have a better idea of all the steps necessary to pull off one of these DXpeditions. This item, ensuring we are "good on QRZ", will now be added to the list.
For my part, I entered the data for my listing VP2MRD just minutes ago. I uploaded the logo for the DXpedition for my picture, though it probably won't appear for a few days since the QRZ folks screen all the artwork.
Thanks, Greg!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Status report 6 December 2006

I sent around a status report today to all Montserrat DXpedition members (us BUMS). I hope the team members find them as helpful as I do. The correspondences within the group is private to the group (and should be), but sharing portions of it here will show the kinds of things I’m worried about at this stage of our planning. I edited this a bit, excising things that should remain private.

Status Report
December 6, 2006

Team members
NE1RD - B. Scott Andersen
AB7ST - Bob Follett
W3FF - Budd Drummond
W6HFP - Chris Drummond
WZ1P - Dan Gagnon (not traveling)
KB9AVO - Paul Van Dyke
KC4VG - Mike Greenwood
W4OKW - Tom Clarke

Last status report was November 5, 2006.

* All flights and hotels are booked.
* Licenses received via email, 5 of 7 received via post.
* Slogan "Not rare, but well done!" adopted.
* DXpedition "official T-shirts" distributed (magnet, too).
* Weekly conference calls established: {details followed}

We have completed all the stuff that is "out of our control":
flights, hotels, island rentals, and licensing. Now, we have
a long list of stuff that _is_ within our control (that is,
we can complete it as quickly as we like because we need not
depend on anybody else to get it done).

The big things, as I see them, fall into these categories:
[1] Log file and QSLing strategy (computers, log programs).
[2] Ham equipment planning (radios, antennas, power needs).
[3] Non-ham equipment planning (scuba, video, etc.)
[4] On-island logistics: vans, cars, bikes, etc.
[5] On-island excursion planning: helicopter, MVO, scuba, etc.

I would like everybody to continue to work on their ham
equipment list spreadsheet, but I would really like to
complete the logging and QSLing strategy THIS WEEK. I have
software to write and would like to test it with the log
files produced by the programs we will actually use on the
island. Also, Budd, let's finalize the QSL manager so I can
put that information on the web site ASAP.

Actions since last status report
* Slogan adopted (complete).
* Second license application package sent (complete).
* Final flights obtained (complete).

There are a number of hot issue. Please look down this list
and take actions that have your name or ALL next to them.
If there are questions or problems, please notify the group

* ACTION: Chris: Bio + picture for web site.
* ACTION: Budd: picture for web site
* ACTION: ALL: Plans for computer logging to Scott.
* ACTION: ALL: Pay Chris $xxx for share of flights.
* ACTION: ALL: Send Scott signed Model Release form.
* ACTION: Scott: Finish web site QSO log processing tools
* ACTION: Budd: Finalize paper QSL manager stuff and tell Scott.
* ACTION: Scott: Make QSL information page on web site.
* ACTION: ALL: Create eQSL account for your VP2M call sign.
* ACTION: ALL: Create LoTW account for your VP2M call sign.

Open issues - not critical
* DXpedition manual
* Marketing and Public Relations
* Legal Documents: general agreement
* Equipment inventory
* Pay Chris for flights and resort
* Power voltage and connector shape
* Renting a van while on the island.
* MARS membership...

The rest of the message provided addition details on each of the “open issues - not critical” list, inventoried the “closed issues” from the last few rounds of status, and documented the group’s itinerary again (for convenience).
For my part, I added my new call sign vp2mrd to my Logbook of the World account. It was easy. You can find a link with details of how to add a new call sign to an existing account on my home page (I’ve had this domain for a while but only recently made it point to my home page.) The only extra step I needed to take was to supply the ARRL with proof that I had actually received that call sign officially. I followed the directions on the LoTW pages and emailed an electronic copy of the license to the email address listed with a nice note. Within a couple of hours, I received a message from Wayne Mills (N7NG) with a file containing my new credentials. By the way, if you recognize the name or call sign from Wayne Mills, don’t be surprised. I’ve been telling you to read his DXpeditioning BASICS white paper for some time now!
I also set up a new call sign on eQSL, though that process isn’t complete yet. The eQSL service allows you to have your account marked as Authenticity Guaranteed, meaning the service has made reasonable steps to ensure the cards produced by this user will be authentic. You can gain this status four different ways, but the easiest way is to have eQSL ping the LoTW service. If you’re good on LoTW, they give you the nod on eQSL. It is quick and easy to do it this way. Unfortunately, you need at least one QSO in the LoTW account for this to work. It ends up being a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem, really. I’ll likely just wait until my first upload to LoTW on the island to make this final step on eQSL.
Finally, the blogging service you are reading now, Blogger, has had some major changes of late. I’m now converted over to the beta version of the service and, I must admit, it has given me fits. I write my blog entry within an editor on my Macintosh, spell check it (at least occasionally {grin}), and then paste it into an editing window at the blogger web site. That’s been working for me since the beginning, until Sunday evening. Now, with this new software, my HTML links within my posts are mangled when I paste them into the service’s editor. Once I discovered the problem, it was a matter of updating my browser to the latest version of Firefox, and then repairing one-by-one each of the broken links.
If you notice a broken link, please let me know. It just means that one more was mangled than was found by me during review. I suspect this little problem will be resolved by the Blogger people in good time, but for now it is quite irritating.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Flares, solar rotation, and licenses

After several really late nights in a row, I crashed pretty early last night. It is funny how sometimes you go to bed with a problem on your mind and wake up with the answer. There were bugs in the log processing software that I’ve been working on (you can see it on the DXpedition website) and I was puzzled by some of its behavior. I went to bed thinking about it; I woke up this morning with the solution. It’s weird how that works.
Tonight I sat down at the computer and looked at the code to see if my analysis was correct. Sure enough, the problems were right were I thought they would be. Sleep walking is called somnambulism. I wonder what sleep programming is called?
This software still needs a lot of testing before we can rely on it while on Montserrat. But, I do feel good that the framework is in place.
While on the island I plan to do lots of video taping and audio capture so I can make a DVD of my trip. It won’t be anything as slick as the ones put out by dxvideos, but it should be fun to make, and hopefully fun to watch. I’ve created smaller movies in the past with Adobe Premiere and iMovie, but this will be more then just home videos or 3 minute short films. I hope to have enough (interesting) material for a full one hour production. If I manage this, my 100 Pound DXpedition talks might be a little more exciting than just me with a slide show.
If you visited today you may have noticed that the Sun emitted a major flare. Luckily, the flair was not directed towards the Earth or HF would have been affected, probably severely. This reminds me of something that we should be watching: the Sun rotates once every 27 days or so from our perspective on the Earth. So, whatever is going on today may also be happening 27 days from today. For example, the sunspot (number 930) that spewed that flair today will be roughly in that position again in 27 days.
I leave for Orlando on Sunday, January 28th and then for Monsterrat the next day, Monday, January 29th. You can bet that I’ll be paying lots of attention to solar activity 27 days prior to those days (January 1st and 2nd). If conditions are nice and quiet just after the first of the year, chances are they’ll be nice for our trip, too. If conditions are a little wild, with flares and CMEs, HF might be tough 27 days later.
This stuff isn’t a 100% accurate predictor, but it does give you some idea of what might happen. The great thing about stuff like this is you can go back and review historical data to see how these 27 day cycles relate to HF propagation. I find it fascinating!
One last note, and this is a big one, the last two licenses were issued today. Hooray! The good fellow in the licensing office on Montserrat heard that we were getting nervous up here and he made a special effort to email me with electronic copies of the license. That was really nice of him! So, we have flights, we have our villa rented, we have licenses. All that’s left is to plan, pack, and go. I don’t think I can fully convey how excited I am!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Online log with sample data available

With five of the licenses now in hand and the final two forthcomming (we hope to have them this week), the group is much more relaxed. Tonight's conference call was more about equipment and logistics than the previous couple of calls. We are now worrying about meals, renting a van, and finding good scuba diving places instead of plane tickets and licenses.
There are still lots of things left undone. We decided last week that everybody should begin putting their equipment list into a spreadsheet and upload to the Yahoo! group file area. I put mine up there Monday night but, so far, nobody else has followed suit. I'll start pushing for closure on some of these things this week.
I spent nearly the entire day working on the log processing software we will be using while on the island. The software takes log files from each of the operators and produces HTML pages that can be uploaded directly to the web site. I have created a bunch of pages with sample data and put it on the DXpedition web site. Just go to the front page and click on the ONLINE LOG link. Comments are welcome. Note that this is very much a work-in-progress. I have (conservatively) another two or three days of work on this software before it is ready.
It is late again, coming up on 1 AM. I should have gone to bed, but I really wanted to get this online log stuff working at least well enough to evaluate it. I believe, after playing with it a bit, this is going to work just fine.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Mast repaired

Last weekend I attempted to set up the Buddipole with the new large coil to see if I could get it to work on 80m. Of course, since it was just “temporary”, I didn’t bother guying it. Stupid, stupid me. A gust of wind came along and blew the whole thing over, tripod, 16-foot mast, coil, and 7-section shock-cord whip. Of course it fell across the sidewalk, too, ensuring the most damage would be done.
When I saw the antenna fall in what looked like slow motion, I feared the worst. Amazingly, only one small piece was damaged. The very top of the 16-foot mast had a plastic threaded piece used to mount the “tee”. This small piece snapped unceremoniously. {sigh}
I dropped Budd Drummond a note explaining the situation. Apparently, I was a very early adopter on this mast because Budd told me they had stopped using that plastic part only months after the mast began shipping. What they replaced it with is pictured below:
The replacement part is a solid metal piece shaped just like the old plastic one, only much, much stronger. Mind you, I’m not happy I dumped my antenna like that, but the result was a system with a much more rugged mast system and top mount. It was better that I goofed this up here, at home, with a couple of months to go before the big trip, than on the island. The pictures above is my system for securing the threaded piece to the mast. Budd said that a good epoxy will also do the trick nicely, but I like the idea of a nice solid screw holding it. I goofed up the head on the screw a little (it is a tight fit), but otherwise I think it looks great. Certainly it feels solid.
The Buddipole repair project only took a few minutes. I spent a few hours working on Cab-converter, a utility I maintain for radio contesters that use Macintosh computers and MacLoggerDX. I received a note from a user who discovered the program performed very badly on large data sets (large numbers of QSOs). Actually, he had a number of excellent observations and suggestions for the program. The performance problem is fixed along with a few other rough edges. Actually, that work took some of last night and half of today to complete (time really flies when you’re programming!) Cab-converter is free (as in free as in beer).
What I didn’t get to today was the log processing software for the Montserrat trip. I hope to complete at least a first version of it tomorrow. If I do, I’ll process some test data as though they were QSOs from the island and put those pages up on the dxpedition web site so the group can discuss it in tomorrow night’s conference call.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Mixer has arrived

If any of you have read the Harry Potter book series, you’ll know what I’m talking about when I tell you that I need a time turner. It is after midnight again and I am still up (again). The good news is: my laptop is now fully recovered and healthy. The couple of files that I had actually lost were easy to recreate and I did that work this evening (hence the late hour).
I did two other things that should make future catastrophes less exciting: as promised in yesterday’s blog entry, I created a file with all the important software serial numbers and unlock codes. There weren’t that many; I just needed to make a deliberate effort to get them organized. The other thing I did was create tar files of the “dot” directories in my account. Unix (which is the underpinnings of MacOS X) has a cool rule that directory names that begin with a period (dot) are not made visible when you inspect the directory, unless you specifically ask to see everything. There are two programs that I run that make little directories like this: the Logbook of The World software, and the GNU Privacy Guard utilities. Just to be sure that these directories, and their contents, don’t get lost in the shuffle, I’ve made a special effort to create an easily restorable tar file for each of them and put them in a safe place.
I spent a whole lot of money on disk drives this week, and I’m feeling pretty good about it. I bought three of the SmartDisk FireLite drives: one for my laptop, one for Sandy’s laptop, and one for HamMac. The are small, reasonably fast, and super-easy to use as they require no external power. Just connect them to your machine and run the backup program. Voila! Now each laptop has a dedicated backup device with a recent backup on it. I’ll still back up to the other drives occasionally, but this one can be used weekly or even a couple of times a week. The backup of my 17-inch PowerBook took about 90 minutes in today’s exercise. I plan on setting this up and letting it run over lunch a couple of times a week. Easy.
The drive I bought for HamMac was a little bigger. I might do a little video editing while down on the island (just to play) and I thought the extra space might be handy. It isn’t exactly that I’m looking forward to my next disk crash, but I’m not fearing it, either
While all this excitement with the computer was going on, I was receiving packages from orders I’d been placing over the last week. I received 15 blank video tapes for my video camera in one box. Another box held my new audio mixer that I’ll be using on Montserrat to capture on-air QSO audio. It is a Eurorack UB502 from Behringer. Here’s a picture.
The unit can take up to 5 inputs. I’ll bring in a microphone that will be attached to the boom of my headset in one channel. Two other channels will take the audio from the radio (do I need both?). That still leaves me with two other channels, possibly a second receiver or another microphone in the room. I’ve got a wireless microphone setup that might be good for one of those remaining channels. I had read the manual before buying the unit (every manufacturer should put their manuals on the web!) so setup only took a few minutes. I’ll try to capture some audio exactly like the setup I’ll use on Montserrat this weekend. Maybe I’ll even post a clip.
Finally, I got word from our friend on the island that he’ll be arranging for the last two licenses to be processed in the next few days. Things are coming together! And, that’s good as there are only about 58 days (it is after midnight here now) until I leave. I’m pretty sure that time will go very, very quickly.