Monday, April 30, 2007

A message from Elecraft

It seems like every blog I read regularly is talking about the new Elecraft K3 radio. I'm an unabashed Elecraft fan and always thought that these radios were made with me in mind: low power, low profile, portable, simple, and elegant. My beliefs in this regard were confirmed in a very unusual way this weekend by an email message from Wayne Burdick as shown below.

Hi Scott,

As the principal designer of the K3, I was tickled to run across
your blog ("100 pound DXpedition"). I didn't realize it until now,
but we designed the K3 specifically with you in mind :)

I like your concept of lightweight DXpeditions so much that I'd
like to help promote your site somehow. Perhaps the feeling might be mutual?

My partner Eric and I could do a guest posting to your blog, or
we could do a brief interview on the design philosophy of the new
radio. I haven't ever asked about such a possibility, so my apologies
if I'm way off base in how I might approach you about this.

I previously designed the Norcal rigs and the K2/K1/KX1, so
"lightweight" is my thing. But this time we tried to design a
high-performance rig for the masses -- one that we think of as
the only "Affordable and Portable" dream rig. The idea is that,
at only 8 pounds, you'd take it with you on trips -- not just
leave it at home on the desk. A *serious* lightweight DXpedition
rig, in other words.

Let me know if I can answer any questions for you.

Wayne Burdick, N6KR
CTO, Elecraft, Inc.

Well, first let me say that I was thrilled to receive the message. I've since exchanged some mail with Mr. Burdick and I hope to either give the Elecraft guys a guest blogging spot here or do a brief interview--whatever they want. I agree completely with his assessment: this radio does look like a 100 Pound DXpeditioner's dream. If I can get information directly from the source (Elecraft) to the reader (you) I'll gladly eliminate the middleman (me!). Realistically, nothing will likely happen until after Dayton. I can't imagine how busy these guys are with a new radio announced and the national convention right around the corner!
In the mean time, I've pointed the Elecraft guys to Dave and the 99 Hobbies site and hope there is a podcast in our future. It would be fantastic, I'm sure! Watch the 99 Hobbies web site for more (and I'll post here when it happens).
By the way, WA5ZNU has a clever K3 Budget Planner page to give you a quick tally of the kind of wallet-damage this new radio will cause. Act soon if you want one of those low serial number units!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

SLAs and K3s

Both Sandy and I had made major deliveries at work on Thursday and we both used those small victories as an excuse to take a long-overdue three day weekend. Friday was spent at Boston's Museum of Science where we took in a couple of IMAX films, an astronomy show, and caught the last day of a traveling exhibit chronicling Charles Darwin's life and work. All were spectacular and put us in a relaxed mood that lasted the weekend.
These last two days we have puttered around the house doing some Spring cleaning and fixing things that needed mending. I noticed that my two 18Ah sealed lead acid (SLA) cells had not been charged in a very long time. So, I dug out a couple of 1 amp smart chargers and started pumping energy back into them. These little two-stage wall-wart-style units only cost about $15 or $20 and can be found at most well-stocked ham fests. If I had the room to do it, I would have a shelf set up where each of my SLAs would be lovingly trickled charged whenever they were not in use. If you have the space to do it consider such an arrangement for your batteries. Check out this page for some common sense guidelines for SLAs (and for some fun animal pictures).

The other really nice thing about this weekend was that Sandy and I got to spend some time together without that looming work deadline pressure lurking in the background. As it turned out, one subject kept coming up: the new Elecraft K3 radio I mentioned yesterday. I am considering getting a K3 for my St. Kitts trip this Fall. Of course, I would get it long before our departure for the islands so I could study the device, practice with the device, and become comfortable with it. And, of course, if I purchased the radio as a kit, I would also have to assemble it! That would no doubt be half the fun. I have told people that assembling my K2 was one of the most rewarding experiences I've had in the hobby. I'm certain that building the K3 would exceed even that. And, when I'm finished, I'll have what will probably be the best lightweight DXpeditioning radio available. Sandy and I have discussed this a great deal.

There are some other interesting things happening around this radio's announcement that I hope to share later this week...

In the mean time, I hope all of you planning your next DXpedition!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

K3... oh my!

I've been reading blogs with a program called Newsfire since the first of the year. It is a nice program which helps me keep track of what I've read and what I've not. I fired it up this morning and noticed Long Delayed Echoes had a new entry. I took a peek and have been unsettled since.
Jeff's post had a heads-up about the new Elecraft K3. It is a beauty. It is also a full-featured, no compromise radio that should stand toe-to-toe with others in its class including the FT-2000 and IC-756ProIII. It will be fun to watch the reviews roll in.

I love my K2 and had talked seriously about building another with the 100 watt PA option. Needless to say, I've got other plans now!
I spent some time today crimping connectors for the new solar panel and charge controller. The rain held off long enough for me to get all these pieces outside with a VOM, battery, and radio. Everything appears to work properly. I'm now ready for Field Day and trips to the Boston Harbor Islands.
Another stack of QSL cards has grown while I wasn't looking including a drop from the QSL Bureau. Surprisingly, there were no Montserrat cards in with the pile from the BURO. I guess either everybody sent their card directly, or I'll start seeing VP2M requests in the next drop. Either way, I should turn around all the requests I've received by the end of the weekend and have them back in the mail Monday. So, if you're waiting on a card expect it soon.
I received the official invitation for my nieces high school graduation today. Like her elder sister, she is an exceptional student and wonderful human being, bright, articulate, and charming. (Hard to believe she's a relative of mine, huh!) Anyway, her graduation is the Sunday of Hamvention meaning I'll need to cut my trip to Dayton short so I can drive to Chicago Saturday morning. It is a little sad to be missing most of the show but I wouldn't miss Katie's graduation for the world!
So, my schedule has me arriving on Wednesday evening and spending all day Thursday in Contesting University. After classes conclude there will be a gathering of ham radio bloggers (and those who have the stomach to read us!) in the Crowne Plaza Hotel in the lobby about 6 PM on May 17th. Food and drink will follow shortly afterwards. I hope you'll join us!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Scarborough Reef and things closer to home

An intrepid group of travelers is heading towards Scarborough Reef as I type this. Situated in the South China Sea these small clumps of land are claimed by the Philippines, mainland China, and Taiwan. The Philippines seem to have the most vigorous claim at the moment.
This DXpedition was tricky to put together (it took three years to get landing permission) and will no doubt be monstrously expensive. If you do work these folks, put some money in the envelope when you beg for your QSL card. Of course, giving directly isn't a bad idea, either.
In a story a little closer to home, Steve Weinert (K9ZW) has written about his efforts to activate an island for the United States Islands Awards Program. The operation is planned to commence May 5th at 1400Z. Check out the details in his blog for more information. If you can, give Steve and his crew a little help. Of course, I'll be following along with Steve's blog before and after.
Finally, I picked up this pointer from Geoff Arnold's blog for the Bookblog Gender Genie, a web-based program that will examine a chunk of text and attempt to determine the author's gender. I cannot vouch for the algorithm's accuracy or utility but using it did provide a few minutes of entertainment. I ran the last 10 significant blog entries through the program. Each posting's numerical score for male and female gender are shown. I will leave it to you, gentle reader, to ascribe meaning to this, if indeed there is any. Enjoy.

3b9c (male 424 vs. female 83)
Fairwell, Kurt (male 605 vs. female 414)
New mitt-full of QSL card requests has arrived (male 82 vs. female 52)
Slow news day (male 129 vs. female 25)

48 Watt Solar Panel Arrives (male 397 vs. female 532)
Buddi-beams (male 677 vs. 839 female)
Thoughts on logging (male 1128 vs. female 1636)
Solar panel ordered (male 637 vs. female 795)
Show and tell this week (male 858 vs. female 1122)
Declare your QSL routine on the air (male 552 vs. female 696)

By the way, this post (this very post) was a boy post. Go figure.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


Sorry for the dearth in posts this week. I have been writing an architecture document for a piece of software at work and this week was that big push at the end. I find I've only got so many words in me each day. I had used them all at the office.
The Five Star DXers Association (FSDXA) is at it again. This time the crew is heading to St. Brandon. These folks are a very polished bunch who had activated 3B9C (Rodgrigues Island) in 2004. Take a moment to visit their DXpedition web site. The layout is clean. They have all the right stuff. It is easy to navigate. This is the way to organize a web presence.
Just to make a point about how good these guys are, check out this blurb from a recent edition of the The Daily DX:

Having now QSLed nearly 100,000 3B9C QSOs we calculate we achieved an average busted call rate of 0.5%. We believe this to be a good figure although we shall try to improve on it at 3B7C.

Five busted calls per thousand worked. Think for a moment what that means. Through all the weak signals, all the lids in the pile-up, the sheer number of signals present at any given time, these guys can work hundreds of calls without an error. Now imagine the fatigue that must set in after a group has operated ten or even fifteen days. Does that error rate begin to sound amazing?
This DXpedition promises to be an interesting one. They have a brochure. They have a series of press releases. They have a plan for online logs and QSLing rules. They have plan. Watch and learn. I will.

Monday, April 23, 2007

48 Watt Solar Panel Arrives

My 48 watt solar panel arrived today. Hooray! I need to make a power harness terminated with an Anderson Power Pole but other than that, it is ready for action.
The unit is well-built and seems rugged, much like my 15 watt panel.
I had walked through the mathematics of these panels in a post back in October of last year, but it might be fun to quickly crank through the calculations again with the new panel. Here goes.
The panel has 12 areas with photo voltaic (PV) cells. Each area is approximately 31.5 cm wide by 18.5 cm high. Multiplying height by width we see that each PV cell area is 582.75 cm2. There are twelve such areas so 12 x 582.75 = 6993. We'll round that off to 7000 cm2 of active area for this panel.
There are 100x100=10000 cm2 in a square meter. Converting our area to square meters is done by dividing the active area (7000 cm2) by 10000 giving us 0.7 m2.
Assume that 1000 watts fall on each square meter of Earth on a nice day. The amount of power falling on the active area of the panel is 1000 w/m2 times 0.7 m2 = 700 watts.
It would be great if we could convert all that sunshine into electricity, but the panel is not 100% efficient. In fact, panels of this sort are only about 7% efficient. If we multiply the total power falling on the active elements of the panel (700 watts) by our efficiency (7%) we get 49 watts. Close enough!
What will I do with all this power? Operate portably a very long time. Certainly there will be some Georges Island operations. I also like to operate portably from hilltops and picnic tables. I managed a few QSOs from atop Mount Washington last July (though it seemed more like January up there!). This power means I can operate QRP all day with my K2, or operate most of a day at 25 watts with the IC7000.

Sunday, April 22, 2007


The weather has finally improved here in New England bringing clear skies and temperatures into the 70's. This, after a week of cold and rain, was very welcome indeed. Time to go outside, soak up some sunshine, and play with antennas!
I had blogged earlier about making a 10m beam from Buddipole parts and had promised myself that I would give it a try on the first really nice day. So, Saturday afternoon Sandy and I pulled my big buddipole along with the new parts that had arrived recently out to the front steps. It only took a few minutes to build the yagi as I had designed it and hook up the AntennaSmith analyzer. The SWR curve was as predicted. The antenna appeared to be mechanically sound. This last point wasn't surprising as these Buddipole parts are robust, one of the reasons I like this stuff so much. The thing was so solid Sandy suggested we build another version with six arms on the boom instead of four giving it a total length of 11 feet.
The new version of the antenna also seemed solid. The long telescopic whips extend to 9.5 feet but are lightweight so even with three lengths of arms between the VersaTee and the IT adapter holding the whips, there was very little sag along this lengthened boom.
I've not had time to model this new version (3-element beam with 11-foot boom) but I'm pretty sure it would be a good performer. The only exigent problem was matching the antenna to 50 ohms. The analyzer showed a real resistance of about 120 ohms at resonance for a large chunk of the band. A balun stepping this down by 2:1 would be just about right. I'll see what the computer model says before I do any more work on this.
With the Mosley Mini-32-A on order, you might be wondering why I'd be fooling with this antenna. Imagine a trip specifically for the ARRL 10 meter contest. A three element yagi with an 11 foot boom will likely outperform a two element yagi with a 6 foot boom like the Mosley. Gee, I wonder if I could put any more arms in this thing without breaking something?
Content with my progress on the 10m investigation, we then moved to 6m. Carl Gosselin KG6WTF has a page describing a 6m 3 element yagi that uses four arms, six whips, and 3 IT adapters. We built that antenna as per those directions, then built another version with six arms instead of four again giving the antenna an 11 foot boom.
We had built something similar on Montserrat but had no 6m openings. I'm pretty sure I'll get some business during the CQ WW VHF Contest this Summer. So, I'll give this thing a try first at Field Day then again during that contest.
Finally, one of the cool things in my shipment from Chris was a new antenna mast bag. The original bag that was used to carry my big Buddipole system was just a little too small. The newly designed bag is big and roomy. I love it! Recommended.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Fun with anagrams

Did I tell you I like to contest?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Farewell, Kurt

I got a very nice certificate in the mail yesterday from Tom Frenaye proclaiming me the high score for Massachusetts (QRP) for the New England QSO Party for 2006. It is very nice and I am very pleased. I'll need to find a little wall space in the shack for it.
I'm under a bit of deadline pressure at work so there hasn't been a lot of time for personal activities. Nonetheless, my dentist appointment today gave me some time while sitting in the waiting room to read most of Kurt Vonnegut's latest work A Man Without a Country. Vonnegut's passing just a few days ago saddened me. While I've not read many of his books, I've always enjoyed his staccato delivery and crisp, short sentences. Many of my sentences, by contrast, seems to meander and seem like they don't quite know where they're going. Sometimes they don't.
We in ham radio are communicators at our root. I sometimes cringe after reading a previous post because, as a communicator, I've not done well. Writing when I'm tired, writing when there is little time or energy to proofread my work, and writing when I've not fully formed my thoughts are but a few sins. Like somebody who is perpetually promising to go on that diet, I'll promise to work harder to polish these posts before I press the submit button.
For those who might question my taste (literary or otherwise), I would like to point out that appreciating an artist for their art doesn't necessarily imply sympathy for, or antipathy to, any particular belief or opinion that artist may have held. You can enjoy Hemingway even if you don't like to fish.
Finally, the art of amateur radio is like any other. There are rules, and the very brightest among us know when to break them. There is much to learn from others. There are some things, it seems, that you can only learn by yourself. We practice this art. Vonnegut says what I'm thinking, only better:
Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.

Try. Do. Create. That's what I, through this blog, am saying!


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

New mitt-full of QSL card requests has arrived

I received another 75 (or so) envelopes with QSL card requests for the Montserrat trip. A whole bunch were included from the boys in California in a box containing some new Buddipole parts I had ordered (talk about good news/bad news!). This is a solid evening's worth of work. I'll try to get to it this weekend.
To the best of my knowledge, this means that I now have in my hands the very last of the QSL cards sent directly to one of the team members.

Thoughts on logging

"Not in log." Nobody wants to receive an answer to a QSL card request with those words. I can tell you firsthand that no QSL manager wants to send a note with the dreaded "not in log" notation, either. I've thought about logging a great deal over the last few weeks. I'll try to compress that thinking into this post.
I answered the first batch of QSL card requests about a week ago and they should have arrived at their destination by now. Nearly all who asked for a card got one, but, alas, a few did not. I've received email from some who were disappointed. One wrote to say,
I would say you are going to have some unhappy people with the “not in the log” contacts. I received mine back and my friend, {callsign}, received his back too. He and I both worked VP2MTC within 5 minutes of each other. We both live in {city} and work DX while talking on 440. But thanks for sending my SASE back.

If I were these guys, I'd be angry, too. In this specific case, I think it very likely that the fellows sending us the card may have worked Tom in those early hours. In those first few hours of the DXpedition, we did have some goof-ups. I believe I remember Tom coming to me sheepishly admitting that he may have accidently deleted (or otherwise lost) a small handful of contacts in his computer log. My response to him at the time was, to paraphrase, "stuff happens." What else could be said when Murphy comes to visit?
The above was an isolated incident. I have expressed my remorse and disappointment to these fellows. It really was a very unfortunate turn of events. But, if you make a few thousand contacts (or tens of thousands of contacts, as the big DXpeditions do) there are bound to be at least a few of them that don't line up. Some will be logged incorrectly. Some may even be deleted. All you can do is try to minimize errors through planning and try to spot troublesome situations on the trip before they cause damage.
As for the planning, we did a great deal. First, we created a planning document (I am making the first 2 pages available through this link) which described in great detail how the logging system would work on the island and after the trip. I had also worked hard to develop tools to put our log on the web at the end of each day. Both of these efforts, I now see, fell short. Let me elaborate.
The planning document was a very good start. It covered much of the mechanical aspects of logging well, but failed to cover the organizational aspects sufficiently. Here are some examples of things I should have included (and will next time):
  • Valid call sign check - With tools like the QRZ ROM and the web-based call sign look-up services, it is inexcusable to hand off a log for daily consolidation without at least checking to see if all the QSOs are with valid call signs. Further, there were (and still are!) some call signs that were logged that are malformed. I'm not picking on anybody in particular here. In fact, I've been known to log a bizarre call sign once in a while! But, there should have been a mandatory review by the operator of all their logged QSOs before I accepted that log for consolidation.
  • Consolidation should not be at end-of-day - This was probably my biggest mistake. There were late night operations and the last thing people wanted to do at the end of a very long day was fight with me over logging. I'm not sure if there is a better time, but I'm convinced there is no worse time! I think I might suggest that operators give me a clean log in the morning before they either start operating again, or before they take off for a portable operation. Perhaps things would go smoother if folks were rested and not bleary-eyed when they did their checks and log exports.
  • Computer logging should be mandatory - unless it is a portable operation where it is impossible. There were probably hundreds of QSOs logged at the villa on paper that should have gone directly into a computer. This would have helped ensure times, dates, bands, and modes were accurate. We had trouble with errors in all these categories. Even if it can't necessarily help with broken call signs, computer logging solves many, many other problems.
  • There should be peer reviews on logs - Chris and I actually did a great deal of this while on the island. He was tired, and I was pushy. He was patient, and I was, well, impatient. But we got it done and it was easier because we did lots of log checking as a team. One reads, one checks, make things go much faster and reduces errors. Given that I've advocated log review above, I believe it makes sense to assign "logging buddies" as part of team assignments. Now when you catch something stupid in the log, you can make fun of two people for being careless. {grin}
  • There should be an explicit backup strategy - I took on this task myself, ensuring that the data collected was protected with backups (in multiple places). In retrospect, while this worked fine, I should have documented this process so it was part of the group planning and not just a personal assignment.

This particular trip was problematic with regards to logging for a couple of reasons. First, there were a large number of QSOs made from portable locations resulting in many pages of paper logs. Transcription from paper to the computer is rife with opportunities for error. My experience from paper logging on Georges Island and Field Day from NARA (just to name a few) has taught me that this is the most likely place to make a logging error (in the transcription).
Finally, the aspects of our planning that you might have thought would be problematic were not. There were four or five different computer logging programs used on the island by the team. All these program were able to export to ADIF and did so without incident. MacLoggerDX consumed those ADIF files easily. Interchange between computer programs was a breeze. The errors in our log were data entry errors by the operators, or accidental deletions. To paraphrase a common saying, "to really screw things up requires a human."

Monday, April 16, 2007

Solar panel ordered

I had written last night that I'd not made up my mind on whether to get that big solar panel or not. I don't usually have a decision-making disorder, but I think the money already spent this year (on the Montserrat trip, a big order to Buddipole antennas, Mosely, and the AntennaSmith, and so on) has made be cautious about spending more.
There was something of a breakthrough at breakfast this morning. After some discussion, Sandy and I agreed it made sense to do it. Further, I should probably look into it soon. If, for some reason, the thing was backordered for 3 months, that would screw up all my Summer plans!
I called The Alternative Energy Store this morning and talked to Ben. After some hand-wringing, I decided to get the Global Solar P3-48 48W 12V Portable Power Pack Desert panel. There was one bigger, the 55 watt version, but it ran at a nominal 16 volts, not 12 volts. Not knowing all the implications of this, I decided to be conservative and get the 48 Watt panel.
I also picked up a larger charge controller to go with this system. I have the smaller 6 amp Morningstar Sunsaver SS6-sL that I've been using with the 15 watt panel. This new controller, the SS-20L handles a load up to 20 amps. The "L" in the part description means "low voltage disconnect". So, the controller sits between the battery, solar panel(s), and load (my radio, in this case). When the battery voltage falls below a safe level, the load is disconnected from the circuit thereby avoiding permanent battery damage. Very nice! My original controller has this feature, as does the new one on order.
I had tried to use the SS-6L controller with the IC-7000 last summer but quickly discovered that the unit could be swamped by excessive current from the radio. I could back the power down until this no longer happened, but I wanted the option of cranking the power up. Of course, I could always by pass the low voltage disconnect feature by connecting the radio directly to the batteries, but that means I need to watch the battery voltage. I'd rather have the box do that.
So, I now have two charge controllers. I can either use the two panels together to generate more current for the radio, or use the big controller for the radio with the new panel, and use the smaller controller just for charging a second battery.
Finally, a note about The Alternative Energy Store: when I called their toll-free number this morning I was connected to a very helpful sales representative (Ben). He made sure all my questions were answered. He gave me an immediate indication on the stock status (both items were immediately available). Within 30 minutes of placing my order I received an email with confirmation of the order with a PDF invoice attached. An hour after that I was given estimated shipping dates (the charge controller ships today, the panel tomorrow). I am promised UPS tracking numbers when they ship. That's the way to do business.
My expectations of things are pretty simple: if I've given you money for a product, please keep me informed about your progress in getting me that product. The Alternative Energy Store does this well. Other folks I've dealt with (and blogged about) do it not-so-well. These folks are good guys. Need solar stuff? Check them out.
I can't wait to see the new panel! {grin}

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Show and tell this week

I was able to meet with my friend's daughter Carolyn this week. She's recently finished her degree in physics and is now working for a local company developing photovoltaic technology. I met her for lunch this week to talk about solar technology.
The first thing I did was confirm with her that the posting I'd made last year on my folding panel was accurate. I didn't have a copy of the posting, but I was able to recreate some of the numbers by scribbling on a napkin. She nodded at all the right times. {whew!} I then showed her the folding panel.
The technology she's developing is still on wafers so the CIGS technology employed by my panel was new to her. So, while I wasn't able to get any new insight into my portable panels, she was able to give me a grand tour of the kinds of things we can expect from the wafer-style cells in the near future. It should be very exciting!
I've not made any decisions on obtaining a new big panel. Certainly it would be a boon for the overnight stay for the RSGB IOTA contest in July, but it would also help a great deal for those day trips. Looking back on a previous post I had determined that my IC-7000 drew about 1.3 amps on receive. (Compare that with the 35-45 milliamps that the K2 draws!) Transmitting at 20 watts drew upwards of 5-7 amps (estimated). The extra power helps on transmit, of course (that should be about an S-unit worth of increase) but it is brutal on the batteries. Supplementing the power from the batteries with an extra 3 or 4 amps from the panels would make a tremendous difference. It would mean I could operate most of a day on Georges Island even at 20 watts output without exhausting the batteries.

Tuesday night is the local club meeting and is show-and-tell night. I haven't decided what to bring yet, but the current ideas are:
  • Buddipole beam - I've ordered enough stuff from Chris to be able to make either a 6m or 10m beam just from Buddipole parts. The trouble is: I don't think the stuff will arrive in time for the meeting.
  • Buddipole low band coil - I have one such coil (with another on order... see above). I have been able to make a nice vertical from my small Buddipole system that can be tuned for 80m, 40m, and 20m by just moving the tap on the coil and lengthening or shortening the radial(s). I assume 60m and 30m are also possible. I just didn't try that yet. If I could only bring one antenna for the RSGB IOTA contest, I would be hard pressed not to pick this system.
  • AntennaSmith - You can't resist bringing a new toy to show-and-tell. I bought it a nice Pelican case yesterday at HRO, too.
  • Masts and fishing poles - I've talked about these things at club meetings, but I'm not sure I've actually showed how light (and versatile) these things are.

I don't need to decide tonight. And, even if I bring a bunch of stuff, I don't need to show everything I bring during the meeting. I can always hold court afterwards and show off more toys!
Finally, I received a message from Carol, the owner of the beautiful home in Maine we were to be visiting this week. She's graciously offered to let us pick another week in the off-season, or apply what we've paid to another week at the on-season rate. That was very generous! As far as I'm concerned, she was under no obligation at all to refund anything given how late we cancelled. But, that's why we like staying there. These folks are great. Anyway, I think Sandy and I will just ask her if we can't reserve next year's Patriot's day week. With luck, both our work schedules, and the weather, will be more accommodating.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Slow news day

I've updated the links along the side of my blog's page. There are now "Blog roll and podcasts", "web sites", "equipment", and "software". It is still skimpy, but at least I've got an organization to things now. I'll be adding to it over time.
Finally, here is a little something I heard this evening. I liked it a lot.

"At every crossroads on the path that leads to the future, tradition has placed 10,000 men to guard the past."
-- Count Maurice Maeterlink

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Declare your QSL routine on the air

I received some QSL cards that were misdirected to Tom today. I'll process those along with the ones that were sent to Budd as soon as I receive those. As much as I had tried to get the word out, there was still some (just a little) confusion on the QSL route for the Montserrat trip.
In retrospect, I think we should have all been more diligent about advertising the QSL route while on the air. Perhaps every 5 or 10 minutes we should have just reminded everybody that QSL cards are welcomed and the QSL manager is NE1RD.
We did have a couple of team meetings while on the island and one of those meetings discussed what we should, and should not, say while on the air. The trip was officially organized by Buddipole Antennas, but we didn't want to break the rules of doing commercial advertising while on the air. So, we came up with these guidelines: we would tell people we were using small, portable antennas for our radiators. If people asked us specifically if we were using Buddipoles, we would answer their question honestly (which was usually "yes").
I should have put more thought into these kinds of guidelines prior to the trip. I'll certainly do that before the next trip. How often should we mention the QSL route? How and when should we point people to the DXpedition web site and the on-line log? Should we tell people to look in the on-line log on the air? Or, should we just assume that people will find it on their own? I will be thinking about things like this before my next group adventure.
That said, I have no immediate plans for another such trip. I've got some Boston Harbor Islands trips planned for this summer, and I've begun making arrangements for a trip to St. Kitts for CQ WW (just Sandy and me), but there are no plans for another team DXpedition. At least none are planned for this year.
Finally, I should have been up on Deer Isle, Maine this week. Work deadline pressures nixed that trip. The weather is horrible here (snow and sleet, cold and dreary). The weather in Maine is roughly the same. Sandy and I joked this evening at dinner how terrible it would have been to be up there right now. Imagine it: stranded in a beautiful house, all by ourselves (or with Dave and his wife Carol), with nothing but good books, good food, and complete peace and quiet. She would have read her pile of books. I would have assembled my K1. We would have ate like kings. Terrible indeed! (Maybe we'll be able to return next year!)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

NEQP results in

Results are in for the New England QSO Party held in 2006. The contest is held in the first full weekend of May (May 5-6 this year) and is lots of fun. Here are the scores from the single operator QRP category from last year.

Single Operator QRP
Call County State Score
K1ESE Oxford ME 35,226
AA4AK Cumberland ME 29,376
KA1LMR Merrimack NH 29,312
W1KX Kennebec ME 12,600
NE1RD Middlesex MA 2,322
K1RV Plymouth MA 1,776
WB1HGA Bristol MA 1,722
K1QW Norfolk MA 1,590
KA1VGM Cheshire NH 1,575
N1AIA York ME 1,332
K3IU Newport RI 462
W1OH Barnstable MA 144

I was in the middle of the pack with my little G5RV and K2. I did have the high score in Massachusetts, but that seems like a weak claim. {grin}
Still, if you want to be better at something, practice, practice, practice. Oh, and have fun, too!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Other QSLs now caught up, too

The original plan did not have me in the role of QSL manager for the Montserrat trip. We thought we had somebody lined up for that job, but that fell through. I stepped up sort of at the last minute. So, without thinking too much about it, I had all these cards come directly to me and to my home address.
The problem with this is that I can't tell the difference between an envelope and request associated with the Montserrat trip, one associated with my K1P special event station, one associated with my Boston Harbor Islands trips, my home call, or even some random piece of mail with my name on it. I had been throwing each pile of envelopes into a big box (unopened) as that was the safest way to ensure that return SASEs would remain with their requests, the money wouldn't get mixed up, and that nothing would be lost. This system kept those requests safe, but it also delayed my personal QSLing (as those requests were mixed in with all those Montserrat requests.)
Sure enough, I found QSL requests for NE1RD, NE1RD/1, KP2/NE1RD, and K1P in with the Montserrat cards. To those of you who were waiting for those cards, I apologize. I have fully caught up on all those tonight. {whew!}
Upon further thought, it might make sense to set up a separate PO box to handle all this traffic. If I do this again, I might set up a such a PO box. It would be a good way to keep my QSL manager-associated mail separate from my personal mail.
Finally, in with this pile was one other noteworthy piece of mail. It was a form letter from Benny Neal, a former high school classmate, who is running for the Clerk of Court in Harrisonberg, Virginia. I don't remember much of Benny. I do remember he was an aspiring singer who had gone to Nashville to record some records and be discovered. Oh, yeah, and one other thing discussed here. His letter, again, lost in with all those QSL card requests, was looking for campaign contributions. Um. Pass, thanks.

Monday, April 09, 2007


Many of the QSL card requests from Europeans were accompanied by an IRC (International Reply Coupon). I had thus far been able to avoid taking such things to my local post office by simply recycling ones I had received into my own international QSL card requests. I'd receive one of these things, hold on to it until I made my next mailing, then stick whatever IRCs I had collected in with my outgoing cards.
The influx of IRCs from this weekend's exercise, however, was larger than could be comfortably managed by that strategy. So, today's trip to the Post Office included the task of converting these things into actual postage.
I guess the horror stories I'd heard from other hams had convinced me this was going to be a problem. Those stories usually included the ham handing a pile of IRCs to the person behind the counter after which the clerk would stare blankly. I just didn't want to go through all that, but at this point I didn't have any other good options.
To my surprise, Tina (the postal clerk) knew exactly what these things were and was happy to help me get these things converted. It took her a couple of minutes to figure out how to get the computer to recognize the IRCs (the computer system had changed, apparently, and the IRC stuff had been moved), but she was pleasant and cheerful throughout the process. In the end, I walked out with another mitt-full of stamps.
The value of an IRC is $1.85 right now, far exceeding the postage needed to send an envelope anywhere in the world (currently at 84 cents). I used to dread receiving these things, but at this point (now that I know Tina can help me!) I'm happy to see them. The extra value of these things can help offset the other postal costs I have.
I would like to state for the record my view of QSL card postage. I asked in the QSL information for the VP2M trip for either an SASE (US stations) or one $1 bill (non-US stations). Lots of folks sent me two or even three dollars in their request. I kept only $1 and returned the rest. For those poor guys that got the "not in log" note, I sent back all their postage money. Nobody should have to pay for a "not in log" note!
I had threatened to return things via the BURO if no money was enclosed by DX stations. Luckily, I've not had any of those yet. And, I made out an envelope and applied postage to those few requests that didn't arrive with an SASE. Shucks, I'm a soft touch. {grin} I just want everybody to get the card and be happy.
Finally, in with all these VP2M cards were a few requests for NE1RD, K1P, KP2/NE1RD, and NE1RD/1. I didn't want to open any envelopes until I had the Montserrat cards so these have been waiting for a long time. Sorry. I'll try to get to them this weekend.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

QSL cards ready for the Post Office

Done. It took all of yesterday afternoon and all of today but I've now completed all of the QSL card requests that I've received for the Montserrat trip. I've got 185 envelopes for US stations and 60 envelopes for the rest of the world. Whew!
Included in the big pile are just a couple of not in log notices. I had hoped that perhaps with the on-line log and careful logging we might avoid any such problems but that was not to be. I wrote a note for each unsatisfied request expressing my disappointment that I could not send them a card. As I say, there are only a few, but I sure wish there had been none.
Also in the pile were some SWL (shortwave listening) requests. These require a little extra effort but I don't mind. I hope that each card I send to an SWL will eventually lead that person to get their license and join us on HF. I hope all of you would take the time to help these folks, too.
I've now got 6 piles of cards destined for the other team members. All those cards you sent to me, I'm now forwarding on to the operator who worked you. I sure enjoyed reading these cards (many personal notes were included) and I'm sure the other guys will have fun with them, too. Perhaps I'll spend some time tomorrow and relate some of what was written to us.
Finally, there are a few fellows who managed to work all of us. Here's the list:
  • W5SAN
  • K4KAL
  • KI4MZS
  • AB4PM
  • W0RW
Congratulations, guys!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

QSLing in-progress

Busy day today. I was to attend the Yankee Clipper Contest Club meeting today, but felt guilty leaving that big box of fresh QSL cards and that pile of QSL requests behind. I know folks have been waiting a long time to get their cards. So, I stayed home and started cranking through the pile. I've got over 130 envelopes stuffed with return QSL cards so far. I will make every effort to do the rest (another 100?) tomorrow so they can all be mailed on Monday morning.
This is all I have here. It includes those sent to me directly (thank you!) and those that were sent to Gingerbread Hill on Montserrat. (If you mailed yours to the island, fear not. David Lea bundled up all that had arrived there and forwarded them on to me.) There is allegedly another pile with Budd (W3FF) that will also be forwarded to me for processing. I'll work on those as soon as they arrive.
QSLpro has been working very, very well. I process 14 cards at a time, printing a single sheet of labels from those cards, then stuffing the envelopes. I will make this program available (for free) once I've finished the QSLing for the VP2M trip (and found those last remaining really embarrassing bugs). If you use MacLoggerDX, I think you're going to love this program.

Friday, April 06, 2007

No K1P or Deer Isle this year

They are here! The QSL cards for the Montserrat trip have arrive and they are gorgeous! When you get your card and see the beautiful pictures, you might ask yourself, "Could it really be that beautiful there?" The answer is, "YES!" I've got a lot of work ahead of me to get all these QSL card requests fulfilled. I'll start that this weekend. It will take a while. Please be patient. Also, now would be a good time to verify that you're really in the on-line log. Problems? Email me.
I had to cancel my trip to Deer Isle this year. We had reserved the call sign K1P for our special event station commemorating Patriots Day. Alas, deadline pressures at work forced me to nix the trip. It really is a beautiful place (check out the pictures) and Carol Avery has been a wonderful host, but the responsible thing to do is skip it this year and make my deadline.
Though I won't be going to Maine this year, I still have a number of experiments I'd like to perform before both the IOTA contest in July and my St. Kitts trip. I guess I'll be doing these a little at a time, rather than in bunches as I would have done in Maine. The other thing that I had hoped to do while in Maine was finally assemble my K1. Sandy gave me this kit for Valentine's Day last year (she really knows the way to my heart!) and I've been trying to find a nice chunk of time where I can sit quietly and assemble it. If you've never built an Elecraft kit, let me tell you: it is a joy to build it and then operate it. It still waits for me...
Finally, where are my copies of QST and CQ Magazine? I never received last month's copy of CQ and now both magazines are missing. Normally, I would get the April issue of both magazines in late March. This is already the end of the first week in April. Is anybody else missing their copies?

Thursday, April 05, 2007

A couple of quick notes

My solar technology transfer lunch mentioned yesterday was postponed. My buddy's daughter was tied up in meetings but promises her calendar next week is essentially clear. I'll provide all the details of what I learn (as best I can) next week after we meet.

The Daily DX reported today that the big brains at NOAA have a new prediction that claims the very bottom of the cycle will be in July of this year. The bad news: that's the month of the RSGB IOTA contest. The good news: things will be picking up when I'm on St. Kitts in October for the CQ WW DX contest.

Finally, QSL cards for the Montserrat trip are due here tomorrow. I'll be spending some time this weekend QSLing. Thank you for your patience.

More power Mr. Scott!

I'm having lunch with my friend and his daughter tomorrow. My buddy's daughter just got her degree in Physics and is working for a company doing research for solar cell-related semiconductors. So, for the price of a really good Chinese food meal, I'm going to get an education on the latest in this technology. That sounds like a tremendous deal!
Though it is very far away (almost 4 months) we have been talking about our plans for the Lovell's Island excursion and the RSGB IOTA contest. We have radios. We have antennas. We're a bit puzzled about power sources. Last year I was able to run 6 hours in the bright sunshine with my 15 watt solar panel and a couple of batteries. This year I'd like to run for 12 hours, with some of the operation after dark (or at least after the Sun has set low enough that the solar panel will be useless). What are my options?
If I run QRP with my K2, I draw about 35mA on receive. I can run practically forever on any reasonable battery if I never transmit. Transmitting draws about 2.5 amps (a rough estimate). So, a 7Ah battery may last 2-3 hours under those conditions. For planning purposes, I'll use the 2 hour figure. I have two such batteries providing 4 full hours, perhaps 5, of operation. That's not enough for a 12 hour effort.
I had this problem last year which is why I opted for a solar panel to supplement my power. Not knowing how much this would get used, how effective the approach would be, and feeling uncharacteristically unadventurous, I selected a modestly-sized panel that I discussed in a previous blog entry. The 15 watt Global Solar unit purchased from The Alternative Energy Store provided enough juice that I could run all day on the island without fear of running out of juice before I needed to run to catch the last ferry. That was enough for last year's 6 hour effort. Though I was drawing down the batteries, the solar panel provided enough energy that the batteries were not exhausted.
This year's effort of 12 hours requires a rethink of this approach. Once the Sun sets, I'll have nothing but batteries for power. Ideally, I would like to have two fully-charged batteries to start the night shift. That means generating enough power during the day shift through solar panels to not only power the radio but to ensure that the batteries are "topped off" as well.
I have by no means made any decisions, but I'm looking closely at the 48 watt "big brother" of the panel I currently own. This offering is also from Global Solar and sold by The Alternative Energy Store. The panel provides 12 volts and approximately 2.5 amps. (Of course, these specifications are for optimal conditions.) I am speculating that this would be enough to run the K2 and keep the battery fully charged during daylight hours.
Consider the alternative in weight to accomplish the same thing with batteries. Let's say the panel does a good job and produces 2 amps of continuous current during the day. Every hour that passes is another 2Ah "in the bank". Four hours later, I've generated more energy than is stored in one of those 7Ah batteries. Eight hours later, and I've matched the energy I've brought in both my 7Ah batteries. The solar panel weighs under 4 pounds. Those batteries weigh 7 pounds each!
Chris Drummond had purchased a Brunton Solaris 26 panel for the Montserrat trip and had made contacts on an IC-703 using only the panel (no battery). This is possible, of course, but not recommended. I'd use a charge controller in there to ensure spikes didn't fry my radio. Still, it was an interesting experiment. One of many that we did while down there!
Again, no decisions on all this yet. The panel under consideration is expensive (and haven't I spent enough money lately?!) and I won't be making any decision for a while. I need to think about this a little more. But, operating portably for many hours at a time for either a contest like the RSGB IOTA event, for Field Day, or indeed for a weekend sounds like lots of fun. Like I said, I've got the radios, I've got the antennas, now I need to solve the power problem in a way that doesn't cost me too much money or too much weight in the backpack.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

A score and the joy of hands-on do-it-yourself

Contesters often submit their unofficial scores and summaries to the 3830 list so they can get some idea of how their efforts stacked up against the competition. (Official results won't appear for as long as a year.) Here is a snapshot for the WPX contest recently held for my category (single operator, all band, QRP).

Call 160m 80m 40m 20m 15m 10m Tot Score
NY6DX 19 94 207 507 93 3 923 1,265,331
K3WW 4 22 28 212 46 0 312 192,517
NE1RD 37 25 90 152 36,162
N6WG 4 30 28 56 25 3 146 22,442
NA4BW 7 51 13 71 5,684

Not bad. Mostly, I was trying out my new Heil Pro Set Quiet Phone headset, (re)verifying the performance of the K2, and adding to my QRP DXCC total. Still, I'm pleased with my score.
I operated in this contest with a radio I had built myself. There is something special about getting on the air with something you built with your own two hands. I first used this K2 on my trip to Hawaii and each QSO was a joy. I also used the radio on Georges Island in Boston Harbor last Summer for the IOTA contest, and I plan on using that radio for that contest again this year when I camp out on Lovells Island and try to work a whole 12 hour shift. (I was only able to put in 6 hours last year in order to make the last ferry home).
I was speaking with Dave (KZ1O) today about the PART Field Day plans. The club is going to try something different this year: we're trying to turn the event into an Elmering event. I mentioned this the other day. I'm hoping that, just as I have found joy in using a radio I built myself, others will get some joy from, say, a 20 meter dipole antenna they made with their own hands (a project idea Ron came up with), or new skills that they gained by working a satellite (Dave's idea). Dave had a bunch of other really great hands-on ideas for tool talks, too.
The funny thing is, I often find that I have learned something whenever I teach somebody else. If that holds true for this year's Field Day, I expect to learn a great deal. I know I'll be having fun.

QSL cards enroute

QSL cards are now enroute and are due to be here 6 April. Looks like this weekend will bring a QSLing party! I'll drop a note here when the cards arrive and when the first batch of return cards are in the mail. You're gonna love them!

Monday, April 02, 2007

I don't fit

A recent article featured the headline Getting There is Half the Fun. Whoever wrote that article didn't have the seats I had on my last trip. The 2007 Airline Quality Rating Report has been released and according to this story on Yahoo!, things have gone downhill this last year. The quote from the article worth mentioning is, "They just don't get it yet."
One of the metrics used in this report was complaints per 100,000 passengers. Southwest airlines had the fewest; United and US Airways had the most according to this report. I'm going to make a bold statement here: I believe that we are not complaining enough. (I know it is rare that Americans could be so accused!) Airlines claim to listen to their customers. If you want your voice heard, it seems like a good start to actually speak!
I have a particular axe to grind here. At 6 foot 7 inches tall, I'm
far beyond anything "typical". Below is a chart I lifted from
here which illustrates this nicely.

The 50th percentile, the thick red line, delineates the point where half of men will be taller than this height and half of men will be shorter. Similarly, the 75th percentile line shows the height where only a quarter of men are taller and three quarters are shorter.
Life out at the 3 standard deviation point is interesting enough in any day-to-day activity, but it gets especially interesting when getting on an airliner.
On the last set of flights the seat pitch was so short that I had to sit diagonally in my seat for the cross country flight because my legs were too long. Scoff as you will at the person too fat for the seat, but I could diet from now until the cows come home and my legs won't get any shorter. Granted, I'm off the scale (as per the above diagram) but the fellow sitting next to me on that last leg of the trip was only about 6 foot tall and he fit in his seat with only about an inch to spare. That's the 75th percentile point on that graph.
My Seattle trip included four flights on American Airlines MD80/83 airplanes. BOS to DFW (flight 1113), DFW to SEA (1587), and returning with SEA to ORD (1956), and ORD to BOS (874). Each of these airplanes seat about 142 people in two classes (coach and business). If American is arranging these seats to accommodate the 75th or 85th percentile, then a full 15% of the passengers (perhaps 20 people per flight) are uncomfortable. Several, like me, probably didn't fit in their seat at all. Nobody (I hope) had as much trouble as I had.
I just measured myself from the back of the seat to the end of my knees. That distance is about 28.5 inches. On these flights, the coach seats had something approximating 27 or even 26 inches. I sat diagonally coast-to-coast on every flight but one (when I managed to get the exit row... by begging).
I'm never taking these flights again. I'll never fly on an MD80 again if I can help it. I'm also thinking about writing to American Airlines. If I can sit comfortably on a Southwest flight, why can I not find an AA flight with reasonable seating? Again, airlines claim to listen to their customers. We'll see.
For more information on this topic, check out The Shrinking Airline Seat.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Problem solving with the AntennaSmith

I got a chance to work with the AntennaSmith today and I used it to solve a problem I alluded to during my Seattle trip.

I had packed my little Buddipole system for that trip but had some trouble getting it tuned while I was there. The first problem was caused because I was stupid. This particular Buddipole system was purchased a very long time ago, long before Chris's latest coil design. I was using a small laminated card Chris had given me on Montserrat for all the coil and whip settings. Unfortunately, those directions are for the new coils, not the ones in my little Buddipole system. Stupid me. OK, I figured that out (after an hour's wasted efforts) and I dug out the nicely printed directions for that antenna that I had carefully packed with the unit. Lesson: use the directions that came with the unit or directions that have been proven to be correct.
Sheepishly, I begin trying to tune the antenna again. Now I'm using the correct settings (for this version of the coils) but it still isn't tuning up nicely. My buddy Henson is now wondering if I know what I'm doing. "This is usually very easy", I said unconvincingly. In the end, I gave up trying to figure it out and decided to let the tuner do the work. I would figure it out when I got home.

Today was the day I decided to figure this out. It seemed like a perfect assignment for the new analyzer. I set up the antenna for 20m in the front yard with the feed line running over to Sandy who was sitting on the stoop. "It's high", she reports. Indeed it was running high with resonance running about 500 KHz above the end of the band. OK. That explains a great deal. Now, why would this be?
I looked at the "black" coil, and it was set up properly. I then looked at the "red" coil and saw it was also set up properly. Then I spotted the rework Chris had done. Eureka!
It happened a very long time ago. I was experimenting with this system one day about a year ago and a gust of wind blew over the antenna. One coil, the "red" coil, hit the driveway pavement and shattered. I had sent this back to Chris to have him either repair it or replace it. (I was prepared to purchase a new coil but Chris was able to salvage the broken one.) This was the first time I'd used the little Buddipole system as a dipole since that accident.
For whatever reason, this coil, when tapped at the appropriate turn, was "too short". It was obvious from the AntennaSmiths display. I moved the tap back one turn. Now it was too long. I shortened the whip about 6 inches and it was just right!
The SWR display showed a nice curve with a 2:1 match over about 250 KHz of the 20m band. The Smith chart display showed that much of that was at or near resonance (with X either zero or close to zero). The interface for this feature of the analyzer is very clever: each sample point appears within the Smith chart display and the knob on the side of the unit lets you walk point-by-point through those samples. Each click of the knob moves the cursor to a new highlighted point and the corners of the display show the frequency associated with that sample, the R, and the X (including sign of X).
With this new magic formula (move the tap in a turn, shorten the whip 5 inches), I was able to set up the antenna for 15m, 17m, 20m, and 40m easily. Each time the AntennaSmith gave me a great view of 2:1 bandwidth, the real resistance, and reactance across the band.
I don't want to knock the MFJ 259B here as this trusty device has served me very well over the years. Further, I don't anticipate parting with it anytime soon (or ever!). That said, it would have been much harder to do what I did today with the MFJ 259B. The AntennaSmith's graphs, especially the Smith chart graph, were tremendous time savers. It was for this reason, the time-saving prospects, that I was interested in this unit. Today's experience working through this little problem has convinced me this was a good decision and a good purchase.
There are plenty of other things I'd like to check with this analyzer when I get some time. For example, the rotating arm kit allows you to put the Buddipole into many different configurations (horizontal dipole, vertical dipole, vee, inverted v, one arm up and one down, etc.). I would like to see how the antenna characteristics are affected by these altered configurations. Now that the Spring has finally arrived in New England, perhaps I'll be able to spend a Sunday afternoon in the near future doing just that.
In the mean time, I solved my problem. I can't wait to take my little Buddipole system on another trip!