Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Yet another Montserrat DXpedition wrapping up

While I was planning my Montserrat trip, a couple of other fellows from the UK wrote to me regarding their plans for a trip to the island. Phil Whitchurch (G3SWH) and Jim Kellaway (G3RTE) have been on the island since the 21st of February. Phil and I exchanged a number of email messages both prior to my trip, and again after my return. I hope that the information I provided helped him prepare for his journey.
If you are planning on a trip to a special place, try to find somebody else who has been there before. Getting advice from somebody who has been there, seen the terrain, met the locals, and navigated through the maze of governmental entanglements, can be valuable input to any planning process. I was certainly thankful for all of the advice I had received from George Briggs (K2DM), who had not only visited Montserrat but had stayed at Gingerbread Hill. I am now absolutely delighted to be able to provide this service to others. I've not been many places, but I'm sure happy to talk about those few places I've seen!
I told Phil that I really wanted to work him while he was on the island. I found him on 40m CW last night, but was unable to raise him. About 1AM local time (2AM local time on Montserrat), Phil said he needed to QRT to sleep. Drat! Missed him!
I don't have a set of paddles in the car (I'd be a road hazard if I did), but I did tune around today on my way back from lunch and found Phil again on 20m CW. It was pleasant listening to him work the pile-up.
The schedule I have for Phil's DXpedition shows them packing up and leaving after tomorrow. Alas, it looks like another one slipped through my fingers. But, while I won't have Phil in the log, I believe I still played a small role in his trip. I feel good about that.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Heading West next week

I just spent about a half-an-hour scouring the logs looking for a particular QSO. A kind fellow emailed me this weekend telling me he was surprised that his contact was not shown on the web site. Alas, I had to send out my first not in log response. Luckily, the fellow had worked another of us on that band and mode so he'll get credit for Montserrat, just not from that one operator.
The cards continue to mount up here at the condo. I think it is time to find a nice box for them. The stack is getting kind of tall and unwieldy. Also, I understand from a conversation with Chris this weekend that Budd has quite the collection at his house now, too. I'm having those forwarded to me. (I mentioned this the other day.)
No word back yet from West Mountain Radio on my note regarding the drivers. I've got quite a lot to do this week and will be traveling next week, so that's just as well, really.
Speaking of travel, I need to make a business trip to the West Coast next week. I'll be in the Seattle area arriving Monday night and in meetings through Friday. It isn't clear how much time I'll have for blogging, but I'll try. With those very long flights between Boston and the Pacific, I collect a pretty sizable batch of random thoughts. Perhaps a couple will be blog-worthy. {grin}
I'm excited to be going on this trip for a couple of reasons. First, this project at work is very interesting and I'll get a chance to see some of the hardware associated with it when I visit the factory in Redmond. I always like to see cool stuff in hardware labs!
The other reason I'm excited is I'll be visiting my friend Henson. There is a photograph kicking around someplace that shows two Cub Scouts just about to board a bus heading for a White Sox game. I was eight years old at the time (I think) and he just one year older. We've been friends ever since. I've not seen Henson for a few years for all the usual reasons: distance, personal commitments, work schedules, and the like. I'll get to visit him after the business portion has concluded. I can't wait!
Of course I'll be bringing a radio. The IC-7000 is already packed into the smaller Pelican case along with the power supply, tuner, and other accessories. I'll bring the smaller Buddipole system, too, and see if I can't add to my DXCC total while on the other coast. Hey! It counts! It is all from the same DXCC entity (continental US). It should be fun to show Henson and his family a little ham radio magic.
Finally, I've signed up to assist at the K1TTT station for the ARRL International DX Contest. There will be some very bright and talented people there this weekend and I hope to learn a great deal. As I've said many times here: practice makes perfect. I should also add that learning from the masters isn't a bad idea, either.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

RIGtalk procedure published for MacOS X

Yesterday I mentioned a small breakthrough that I'd had getting the RIGtalk USB serial interfaces work with MacOS X. I now have a procedure on my home page that outlines the steps necessary to get this nifty device working with a PowerPC-based Macintosh. Unfortunately, there are no Intel-based Macintosh drivers yet available. {sigh}
I'm going to write to West Mountain Radio in hopes that they will take the baton in this relay race. The next logical step is to have the small fixes I've identified rolled into the existing installers and distributed with the devices. West Mountain Radio could probably do that pretty quickly. After that it gets harder.
Silicon Labs, the maker of the little chip that does the conversion between USB and serial lines used by radios, needs to release an Intel-Macintosh version of this driver. They've had the PPC version out since 2004 (but nothing since). I hope West Mountain Radio will put the request to them to make this happen.
In the mean time, I can use these little devices with my PPC-based 17-inch PowerBook but not HamMac (which is Intel-based). Well, that's a step in the right direction. Let's see what happens next. With luck, my next 100 Pound DXpedition will be using these little gems instead of the big clunky things I'm packing now!

RIGtalk on MacOS X

Now that all the planning for the Montserrat trip has been completed and we've actually made the journey, I've been circling back to revisit some of the small projects I've started but not yet finished. One such project was making the RIGtalk USB serial interfaces work with MacOS X. I did just that tonight. Hooray!
I'll spend some time tomorrow writing up the procedure and getting it published on my web site. Then, I think I'll write a nice mail message and send it to the good folks at West Mountain Radio echoing those details. They may then include them in a more appropriate place, or actually update their installation process to support the Macintosh directly. In fact, if I've really ironed out this process, there is really no reason why they shouldn't support the Macintosh platform. I'm sure every MacLoggerDX user would be interested in this product.
I have two of these RIGtalk interfaces, one for my Yaesu rigs and one for my ICOM rigs, so I was motivated (so say the least) to get this working. Now that I have, assuming I can repeat today's success in the morning, I'll be swapping out the bulky and heavy rig control stuff out of the IC-7000 Pelican case and replacing it with this little chewing gum-sized device. That will feel good! I'll post to my blog when all of this is accomplished.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

QSL cards ordered

The QSL card design is complete and has been sent to the printer. Chris Drummond's wife Inese, a graphics artist, has done a terrific job of making a design that is visually stunning and an excellent cap to our DXpedition. I couldn't be more pleased. Inese generously donated her time to bring this project to fruition and I, for one, am very thankful for her efforts. I believe anyone lucky enough to have worked us and request a card will be able to see what I mean. Thank you, Inese.
More cards arrived today and I've gotten several requests for BURO routed cards. I promise that I'll fulfill all those QSL requests as soon as the cards arrive.
Budd Drummond reported to the group that he'd received some cards directly (instead of being sent to the QSL manager: me). Please, please, please send your QSL cards and requests to me. I would hate to see any card requests lost because they were sent to the wrong place.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Interview on 99 Hobbies now available

Dave has published a new podcast on his 99 Hobbies site. It is an interview with me recapping my wonderful trip to Montserrat. Enjoy.

St. Kitts license materials sent

I made my goal of getting my license request for St. Kitts in the mail today. First, though, I called down to the island of St. Kitts today and verified all the information obtained from the ARRL web site was indeed correct. I'm glad I did.
There was something of a run-around as I wasn't exactly sure which office to call. Once I found the right person it was clear that all the effort would be worthwhile. The young lady on the phone verified that the amounts to send were the same as mentioned on the ARRL web page, but she suggested that I not send a personal check or even cashiers check for the transaction as that almost always triggers a 6 to 8 week delay in processing. {gasp!} Instead, she recommended that I simply send $30 in cash (US dollars) to cover all the fees.
I know what you're thinking (or should be thinking). Sending cash in the mail is usually a very, very bad idea. Before I could fully form that thought in my head, though, she followed up with a question of her own: would I be using Federal Express to get the materials down to St. Kitts?
This is the second time I've heard that regular postal mail isn't the best way to get things on-and-off these islands. Our (second) set of licensing materials for the Montserrat group was also sent via Federal Express as instructed by our contact there. It seems Federal Express has a reputation of getting things there expeditiously. When I said that I would be using FedEx, there was a note of relief in her voice. I'm sure she's been on the wrong end of a lost license request before and wanted to avoid it here if possible.
So, I took all the materials I'd gathered yesterday, stuffed $30 and a cover letter in with it, and drove down to the Federal Express office in Burlington. It cost a little more... OK, it cost 40-times the postage of a regular international first class envelope... but I was assured it would be there tomorrow. Whether this translates into me getting this license quickly only time will tell. At this point, though, I like my odds.
Once I get my license, I'll get a web site the call sign as the domain name. It will be something like www.v47rd.com (or something similar). Since it is just little-old-me (and Sandy) going on the trip, it won't be as elaborate as the VP2M web site, but I'm sure I'll find some interesting stuff to put there. This will have to be deferred until the license comes, of course.
Small steps. A little at a time. That's how these things get planned. I'll start looking into flights over the next few days.
In the mean time, QSL cards keep coming in bunches. Another 15 or so arrived to day and I got word from Budd that some folks have sent their QSL request directly to him instead of me (the QSL manager). I guess they're still fooling with the card design so we're not quite ready to send it off to the printer. I can tell you all that the versions I saw last week looked fantastic. I hope you all believe it is worth the wait.
Finally, I also received an envelope full of CDs (DVDs?) with pictures from Bob (AB7ST). I've not had a chance to look them over yet, but I'm sure they will be spectacular. That's tomorrow's project, though, as it is well after midnight here on the East coast. As Mike would say, "The sleep monster has me." Time for bed.

Monday, February 19, 2007


I have created some software to support my DXpeditioning needs. The web pages were created by me using some pretty simple off-the-shelf tools, but the online logs were generated by some software I wrote prior to departure. I didn't get a chance to finish that software before I left. I picked up that project again today.
The software generates the static pages allowing visitors to see if they are in the log. That part works (though it still needs a little polish). I had also intended to create additional pages that showed interesting statistics like the number of QSOs made, the countries worked, bands covered, percentage of QSOs by mode, CQ zones worked, and so on. That's the stuff I was working on today. I've not finished anything yet, but I'm pretty sure those preliminary statistics that I put out at the end of the trip were incomplete (or inaccurate). I'll know more when I've finished this software, and I'll post the results, of course, but we probably had more QSOs than I originally stated. It will be nice to get those final figures.
The other software I'm anxious to try is QSLpro, the QSL card label printing software. I can't use that until the cards arrive, of course, but once I've had a chance to shake out the program on our QSL cards, I'll make it generally available. I'm sure lots of people could make use of that program.
As for the web site log processing software, I'm not sure if I'll publish that stuff. The program(s) are not nearly as polished as the QSLpro program and its utility is not as general. Maybe this is just a another way of saying I'm too lazy to finish the software, or hesitant to expose code that is not my best work. Ah, pride goeth before a fall. {grin}
I'll try to get that log statistics software finished within the next week or so. It should be fun to really get the final and accurate statistics on this trip finally up on the web site. Of course I'll announce that here when it is complete.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Finishing strong

I visited Dave (KZ1O) today and recorded a podcast highlighting the Montserrat trip. Expect that up on his 99 Hobbies web site in the next few days.
I also finished filling out the application for the St. Kitts radio license late this afternoon. I'll put a cover letter in there along with the checks to cover the fees tomorrow. I'm going to call down there to be sure I've got all the latest information on who gets the money and how much they need. With luck, I'll be able to drop that in the mail first thing Tuesday morning.
Finally, it is last call on T-shirts for the Montserrat team. I had designed custom T-shirts for the trip and I've given everybody one last chance to order more. I'll be buying a bunch for the good folks at Gingerbread Hill, too. They treated us like family while we were down there. I'd like to give them all shirts as a thank you for all their fine hospitality.
Our DXpedition team motto was "Not rare, but well done." I'd like to finish strong. We'll do a nice card, send appropriate gifts and "thank yous" to the people who helped make it a success, and make sure nothing is left undone. Its only right.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Replenishing parts and a Buddi-beam

Today was a very busy day. It began at the Algonquin Amateur Radio Club flea market and a testing session. Anybody who has complained about the hobby dying should have been on today's VE team in Marlboro! An 8 year old passed Element 1 (Morse code test) and several other youngsters took, and passed written exams. And, while Matt Williams (W1MAT) is a little young to be a VE, he helped out the team by getting photocopies and running other errands while the VE team (including Matt's dad) worked about two dozen candidates through the paces. Young and old alike had studied hard and had come to this very crowded and bustling session. Based on the caliber of the candidates seen today, I think we're going to be just fine.
After the testing session was complete I raced through what was left of the flea market to start replenishing my stock. Most vendor were picking up and packing what little was left over from three full hours of scavenging but I was able to pick up 500 feet of dacron rope, some center insulators (for those wonderful fishing pole verticals), and a fist full of connectors. I still need some other stuff, but given the length of the testing session and the lateness of the hour, I was lucky to get what I got.
Though I chewed off some of my shopping list today, there are still some things I need to get based on my experiences on Montserrat. The Buddipole systems I used on island performed very, very well. We also did some experimenting with configurations I had never tried before--not because I hadn't imagined them, but because I didn't have all the parts needed! I've called the Buddipole the erector set of ham radio. What I need is more pieces for my erector set!
Here is one idea I've been kicking around for a while. It should be possible to make a 10m 3-element beam from just Buddipole parts. Budd and Chris constructed a 6m beam during our several attempts to activate the magic band while on the island. It shouldn't be that much more to make a 10m beam with the same strategy. The antenna needs 6 long whips, four 22-inch arms, a VersaTee, and three of the aluminum pieces Chris just started selling on the Buddipole web site. You end up with a boom of 88 inches (or so). Here are some outputs I made with NEC2GO to give you an idea.
I dropped Chris a mail message with the long list of stuff I want to buy from him to supplement my already extensive collection of Buddipole parts and accessories. It is good stuff! Perhaps 10m will be open, at least a little, by the time CQ WW comes around in the fall. I can dream, can't I? I'd love to have this little baby tucked up on the veranda of that villa!
I should point out that this design is only preliminary. I've spent a total of one hour actually modeling the thing. I know there are improvements that could be found. Still, what a great starting point. I'll publish the instructions for actual construction and an antenna performance testimonial once I've built it and tested it. Still, even at this very early stage, it is very exciting to be able to build an antenna with these specifications with very, very lightweight parts no longer than 22 inches long. I love this stuff!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Lodging set for St. Kitts

I just received confirmation that my deposit for the St. Kitts Villa has been received. We are now confirmed for CQ WW DX SSB contest.
There are a number of things that need to happen next. I have now downloaded the information for licensing and will complete that paperwork this weekend. I'll have that in the mail by Tuesday morning (as Monday is a Federal Holiday and no mail moves that day). It would be nice to get something with an "RD" in the suffix. We'll see...
I'll look over flights this weekend, too. Sandy and I will likely take direct flights from Boston making the logistics for this trip much simpler than the Montserrat trip (no day-before rendezvous, no chartered flights). Just a young (well, maybe not so young) couple taking a vacation. That extra bag? That's just some radio gear. {grin}
October probably sounds like it is very far away, but if this last trip has taught me anything it is that time flies! I hope to have everything settled for this trip long before the snow melts here in New England. Once licenses, flights, and lodging have all been arranged, I can start obsessing about equipment and antennas. I've already got some ideas cooking that I'll talk about next week.
By the way: Montserrat is NA-103. St. Kitts is NA-104. Maybe I should start doing these islands in order. If I did, I guess St. Martin would be next!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Logging accuracy and diligence

Marti Lane (OH2BH) famously asked, "Where do we go next?" I have the answer: St. Kitts! I have set the wheels in motion to rent a villa on the island of St. Kitts (NA-104) for the upcoming CQ WW SSB contest in October. So, while I'm still sorting out the final stages of the Montserrat trip, I'm now busily making plans for the next thing. Life is good!
Another dozen envelopes came today seeking Montserrat QSL cards (at least I presume that's what they're looking for--I've not opened them {grin}). I've also received one or two emails a day with requests for corrections for the log files. Perhaps this is a good time to talk about logging and accuracy.
I believe there are three different levels of logging diligence you can have. The lowest is that done by means other than directly into a computer. Paper and pencil, or entering data into a PDA while operating portably would be the lowest level of logging diligence. When you log this way (and I've done this a great deal while operating portably on Field Day or from a Boston Harbor Island) you are capturing all data manually: time, date, frequency, mode, call signs of stations you've worked, signal reports, and other QSO information such as operator name and location. The chances for any one of these data points to be inaccurate are relatively high when compared to other logging means. Even if you capture everything correctly at the time of contact, there is still a chance you'll make errors when you transfer that information to your permanent log later. These transcription errors are easy to make and difficult to find.
The next highest level of logging diligence is using a computer to capture some, but not all, of the QSO information. For example, perhaps you have your computer talking nicely to the radio so time, date, frequency, and mode are captured when you log a call, but the call sign recorded is not checked for validity. It is still possible to get the call sign wrong and not recognize the error immediately. Operators who use computer logging without call sign database lookup (either through the internet or via a resident database such as the QRZ CDROM) operate at this level.
The highest level of logging diligence involves using rig control to capture all the radio's data, and using a call sign database to verify each call sign you work. This is how I try to operate, both in contests, and on a DXpedition. When I hear a call sign, I immediately type it into my logging program and do a lookup. If I get a name back like "Franz" and the operator says his name is "Franz", I'm pretty sure I've got things right. Occasionally, the names will not match--so I ask for a repeat on the call. Often, in these situations, I've got the call logged correctly, but it is worth the time for the second query. And, on those times when I had dropped (or added) a letter or transposed two characters, it was definitely worth the extra time.
Out of the nearly 1300 contacts I made while on Montserrat, I have needed to fix just one of my QSOs (so far). I would be surprised if the number grew much more than this.
I'm not trying to make some point about my operating skill here. Quite the contrary, I worry (obsess?) that I'm not accurate and focused enough. The point I'm trying to make here is accuracy counts and the best way to achieve higher accuracy immediately is to utilize computerized tools that are available. Rig control, when working, eliminates a whole category of errors: forgetting to record when band or mode changes occurred. Computer logging eliminates another whole category of errors: recording incorrect times or dates. Call sign lookup helps eliminate another category of errors: logging non-existent or nonsensical call signs. It can't guarantee you won't log a busted call, but it gives you second chances to correct a problem that would otherwise go unnoticed until much later.
Those of you who like to contest know the importance of accurate logging. Busted calls cost you that QSO and usually a penalty of a couple more. The penalty points really add up! If you wish to work on your logging accuracy for DXpedition work, I can recommend no better practice than working a big contest and then submitting your log for score. Review the results when they appear. Vow to improve your score the next time. Here, I certainly believe that practice makes perfect.
Again, if you are not logging with rig control and the QRZ ROM or equivalent, I would urge you to try it. This can be one of the best investments you can make. After all, don't you and those you work deserve an accurate and reliable accounting of your fine work on your DXpedition? I think so. I hope you agree.
I'll report back to everybody when the QSL card design is finally off to the printer. That should be by Monday (I hope). I'll also let everybody know where we stand on electronic QSLing for the group. I believe everybody has finally arrived home (except PauL) so it is time to get that buttoned-up. We are coming to a close on the Buddipole Users on Montserrat. At this point, we need only finish what we'd begun. Just a few tasks left...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

NE1RD is back and blogging again

It has been roughly one week since my flight landed safely in Manchester, New Hampshire and I was met by Sandy. I was in no hurry to officially end my trip by picking up my bags, so we sat down in the restaurant area just outside the gates for a quick bite to eat. It had been about 10 days since I'd seen her and it felt good just to sit and see her smile.
When I finally did get down to the carousel I found my bags were about to be gathered into the pile of unclaimed luggage. "No", I said. "Those are mine." I had begun the trip back on the island of Monserrat with temperatures in the 80's. Now, with single digits (Fahrenheit) outside, I thought it best to change into something more appropriate to the climate. Jeans, hiking boots, and a parka were the fashion of the day. Goodness I'd forgotten what cold weather is like!
Even after the trip I had goals. I had 11 hours of video captured on my little Sony Handicam that I wanted to condense into a DXpedition video. We stopped at CompUSA on the way back from the airport and I purchased a 500GB bare drive to use for the video editing process. I had all the computing power and software necessary to do the job (Macintosh tower, Final Cut Express HD, Garage Band, iDVD), what I needed was space to work. Once I got home (hauling all those bags back into the house!) the drive slipped easily into the bay and I had it ready-to-go in about 8 minutes. I like it when things are easy!
For the next three days or so, the remainder of Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, and Saturday, I sat in my small video editing suite and created the video. It was finished around dinner time Saturday night. Whew! Lots and lots of work, but worth it (I hope). Saturday and Sunday were spent making copies of the DVD for the team members and pilots, and creating, printing, and applying nice labels to the discs. They were mailed Monday morning.
As you all know, I had not posted anything to the blog during that time. Sorry about that. I had put all my energy into the video editing and had very little at the end of each day for blogging (or anything else, truth be told).
While I was doing the video stuff, Chris, Chris's wife Inese, and Bob were working hard on the QSL card design. I've been involved enough to render an opinion occasionally and I must say, it looks fabulous! Inese is a graphic artist and she's come up with something really special. Of course, having the excellent photographs in Bob's collection helped provide lots of good raw material for this exercise, too. We should be getting the artwork off to the printer by the end of the week. Then, perhaps two weeks later, I get that big box of cards and I can start answering those QSL requests.
Speaking of QSL requests: I've got a big pile of envelopes already! Over 100 envelopes are sitting in the DXpedition in box right now for places both near and far. Because the operation concentrated on WARC bands, data modes, and portable operations, we knew we would be handing out quite a few new ones to operators around the world. We hope to get you confirmed on those bands and modes just as soon as our cards arrive! (Please check our online log before sending a card. If you do not find your call, please email me directly.)
I arrived back and Verocel Monday of this week. It is sure good to see everybody here in the office. I work with a fantastic group of people. Customer meetings all day Monday and Tuesday followed closely by a new, big assignment were something of a shock to the system after 10 days away. But, I'm back, just about to hit my stride again, and I hope to keep blogging about all the stuff that happens after DXpedition operations have been completed. You didn't think we were done, did you? {grin}
For those of you who have written (and there were a number of you), thank you for the notes. And, if you can stand even more of my prattling, I'm going to do an audio podcast with Dave Bushong of 99 Hobbies this weekend where I'll provide a summary of the planning, execution, and aftermath of this whole DXpedition. When that becomes available, I'll post something here. Until then, best wishes from NE1RD.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Recalling Montserrat

I don't often double post but tonight I'll make an exception. I've just been reminiscing the events of the last week and I think I should share them with you before I sleep.
We all piled into the van, with Paul driving, and went to the Monserrat Volcano Observatory yesterday. We wanted to do two things: get a group picture with the volcano in the background and work some DX from that location. The group pictures began with Bob setting his camera on a tripod, setting the self-timer, and then running into formation with the rest of us holding our banners and flags. We were quite the entertainment for the group of tourists looking down at us from the observatory's observation deck. Being the shy and retiring soul I am, I shouted up to the group that one of them should come down and trip the shutter release for us. Sure enough, a young man trundled down the stairs and to our aid. You can see the results on the on-line log web pages.
As for working DX with that magnificent view in the background, we had the best asset we could wish for right in our midst. It wasn't any tool or antenna we brought with us; it was Budd Drummond, W3FF/VP2MFF. The group began referring to this as The Budd-Factor and so on. It seemed as though every time he would get on a frequency, folks would come out of the woodwork to talk with him. So, naturally, he was the ideal choice to start warming things up on 18.1575, the HFPack frequency. After working one or two fellas, another famous call, W5SAN, Joe, came on as bicycle mobile. Budd was beside himself. It was immediately obvious what should happen next: We would work Joe in succession, one after another. I was last, giving Joe a clean-sweep for all of us. Just was we closed with Joe, the band closed as well. It was almost as though the band stayed open just a little long for us!
Chris and Budd were out most every day, either at the beach, or Budd on his bicycle if Chris went scuba diving. Budd had begun taking his bicycle about 300 feet up a hill near the villa to operate. He was just barely within ear-shot if you were to stand in the drive way. Station-after-station wanted to talk to Budd. After doing some antenna work one afternoon, I returned to see both operating positions at the villa manned by operators leaning back in their chairs, arms folded, with the cans on. They stopped operating and just started listening to Budd work DX. Seeing this, I reached over and pressed RECORD on the iPod recorder to capture the spectacle. I'm sure some of that audio will make its way into my DVD mix.
Seven guys meant lots of peanut butter and jelly for lunch. That's OK. Lunch was just the "hold over" until dinner. Also, we ate like kings at breakfast most mornings. Mike (VP2MVG) made amazing eggs with fried potatoes that were soul-restoring. Just another example of how everybody pitched in and did their part.
During the shake-out of the antenna situation early in the week, I had decided I would erect an antenna out in front of the villa, well away from everything else. It began its life on 20m, but quickly moved to 17m. Except for a couple of moments where it had been cannibalized for an experiment, that antenna stood there being the workhorse of this DXpedition. I alone made 615 QSOs on that antenna, one quarter of all QSOs made by the DXpedition!
What kind of antenna does this? It was a simple Buddipole Deluxe Package with a longer (12 foot) whip on it. It was configured as a vertical antenna with the TEE, then two 22-inch aluminum arms on top of that, then the red coil with just a few turns tapped, then the whip. Just a single elevated radial sloped down from the feed point. It did have the TRSB on it, a must-have accessory in my opinion, so much so I often forget to mention it!
Simple works. Easy works. This antenna stood there in heavy rain and wicked wind. Nice and simple did the job very well.
The other antennas that I had a ball with were the fishing pole antennas I created on the top of the villa. A 20-foot pole held up my 40/15m antenna; my 33-foot pole held up my 75/80m antenna. Amazingly simple: feed point near ground level with two elevated radials and the radiator going up to the end of the fishing pole. I worked 168 contacts on 15m (at the bottom of the cycle!) with the first antenna, and worked 172 QSOs on the other. It was very gratifying to see these two extremely simple antennas work so well.
Tom picked out a quiet spot off between the main area and his bedroom, a little nook filed with old paperbacks and knick-knacks. His 706 and LDG tuner along with some home-brew Buddipole stuff where nestled in there for the first couple of days while Tom hung out and watched the festivities. Again, we should have planned this better (this is partially my fault). Once I saw that he was somewhat stranded in this position with no good antennas and no prospect of finding a place to put one, I ran a short length of coax over to his station and made it possible to patch into the other main antennas as they became available. Tom soon thereafter hit his stride and was putting QSOs into the log quickly and efficiently. Even with this late start, Tom ended up with over 250 QSOs for the trip.
Bob was our resident photographer. Content with taking fabulous pictures, he didn't operate as much the rest of us. Then again, we're all looking forward to the CDs filled with pictures he's promised us!
Paul worked amazingly hard on the digital modes when he was there at the villa. Fortunately for us, but unfortunately for him, he's an excellent driver with experience driving on the left-side of the road. So, one of our best operators, and only digital mode operator, would often need to leave a nice run on 20m to retrieve the guys down at the beach, or grocery store, of volcano observatory. Twisty roads, steep inclines, and hairpin turns never seemed to bother him. Again, guys pitched in to make things work.
I could go on: more about Chris frantically trying to make sure Budd had all he needed, Mike making big runs on an open station, Paul's singular humor, or Budd's unquenchable enthusiasm for getting on the air. I could go on, but it would just be more of the same at this point. When it was time to part company first in San Juan and then again in Orlando, there was a genuine feeling of disappointment that it was over. But, I believe we all feel good about what we did, and how we did it.
I'm closing now. Again, it is after midnight. Wake-up call at 6:30 AM so I can catch some breakfast. Thanks for reading. I hope you've found this recounting interesting. 73!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Flight home

I am writing tonight's blog entry from the airplane en-route from San Juan to Orlando. I've been chasing Chris and Budd for a couple of days to get the paper notebooks Budd had been using to log transcribed into the computer. It looks like a jumble to me, but Chris and Budd assure me that they've got it all. So, my next update for the on-line log will be the last unless somebody shows good cause we've missed something.
Preliminary statistic on the log show
  • 2400 QSOs
  • 82 DXCC entities
  • 23 zones
  • 47 states (missing NV, AK, and HI)
  • 271 CW contacts
  • 98 PSK31 contacts
  • 22 RTTY contacts
  • 2042 SSB contacts

I had 1277 contacts on bands from 75m through 15m (with only 1 contact on 40m) and could have had many more if not for the side trips to the volcano observatory, the boat trip tour around the southwestern coast (the only way to see what remains of Plymouth), and, of course, the Superbowl. I could have had more contacts, but would have missed out on some of the beauty of that island. David Lea gave the group a four hour comprehensive tour one day that really opened our eyes as to how much Montserrat still has to offer. I have gladly traded those potential QSOs for the time we spent away from the radio.
I am seriously short on sleep. I was up very late again last night straightening out Budd's log. Of the last few nights, I was up until 4AM, 5:30 AM, and 2:30 AM just trying to keep all this data straight. I hope the work on the web site, on-line log, and pictures have been fun for those on the other end of the pile-ups.
When I return, I must begin the QSL manager duties and I need a good set of log files to do that. Much as I hate to say it, Budd's are a little iffy. Finding a better way to log while beach portable, bicycle mobile, and pedestrian mobile is a challenge Budd will have to take up before our next DXpedition. Budd mentioned to me just this morning that he needs to find a better system. It is a very exciting way to operate and really shows off the power of lightweight operation, but it also puts a tremendous burden on the portable operator to capture the data correctly.
In the mean time, all I can do is put up the data I've got and try to fulfill QSL request as best I can. Sandy informed me that yesterday's mail contained 22 envelopes looking for cards. Time to get those cards designed!
I have been scribbling notes into my 100 Pound DXpedition notebook collecting my thoughts on what went right, what went wrong, and what I need to do next time. It will be a while before I get those in any shape so you can see them here.
On the way back we all asked each other the question, "Where next?!" I've got some ideas... but it is getting late. Perhaps I'll mention something tomorrow night (I'm such a tease!).
Finally, I would like to make a point here of thanking the DX community for treating me with respect and kindness on the air. Conditions were not always great and I needed to ask for more repeats than I would have liked, but everybody helped me work through it. We did not do all we had promised (no 160m, no 6m, though we tried) and nobody sent us a nasty note about it (yet {grin}). And, in general, when I said I wanted to work a particular station, the pile-up let me do it. Thank you. 73 from VP2MRD/NE1RD.

Online logs nearly complete

Online logs have been updated for all but VP2MFF. There are about 50 QSOs left to go for Budd. We'll see what we can do in the airport on PR.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Final hours

The Buddipole Users on Montserrat DXpedition has come to a close. I'll have statistics for the operations in tomorrow's blog, assuming I can get to an internet connection. I personally made 1275 contacts, better than my goal but far beneath my stretch-goal. I think if we had worked out an antenna plan prior to our departure I would have been closer but still fallen short. I'm reasonably pleased with the results.
I had a couple of nice runs on 15m, 17m, and 20m today. Several people mentioned both 6m and 160m and wondered if we had done much to activate those bands. The short answer is yes! Both bands were given a log of energy from operators here, but no openings appeared. I was told by one fellow that he had heard me on 160m but I did not hear him. I'll be thinking about what else I can do for this band over the next few months.
Six meters is a different story. If there was an opening, we would have been there making QSOs. We built a 3-element 6m beam aimed at the US and tried to raise a few signals. We tried.
There are several operators who managed to work all seven of us here on the island. The last to do so was W5SAN who was bicycle mobile in Texas. We had set up a portable operation at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory and began calling CQ on 17m. Once we had Joe on the line, all seven of us worked him in succession in about 3 minutes. When the last operator was done (me) the band died. Great timing! I have the whole thing on video.
Tear down was quite an exercise. There had been a significant amount of equipment swapping during our stay, much more than I would have thought. I did not have all of my stuff marked and should have. Paul was smart enough to have nice labels on his stuff. There is something for me to remember for next time.
I have uploaded my logs to both eQSL and the Logbook of the World. Other operators have promised to follow-suit. That, of course, is out of my control.
I know that there will be at least one log entry with an error. We have planned for that as best we could prior to departure. If you believe we have a goof-up in our logs, please read the QSLing page on our DXpedition web site and include all the information you believe would verify it was your QSO logged and not somebody elses. If you know the date/time/frequency and your call is remarkably close to the call in question, I will look at it. If it is a QSO to me (VP2MRD), I'll go back and review the audio recordings I made of all my QSOs to listen again for your call. We really want to get this right.
Our flight leaves tomorow morning. We've got to pass through two customs checkpoints, have a layover in San Juan, and then that long flight back to Orlando. We don't get to our rooms until after 11PM. I will try to have a blog entry ready. If I don't, I'll certainly be there Wednesday evening when I return to Acton.
For the very last time this trip: 73 from the island of Montserrat.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Cross mode QSO and more fun

I have made one of my goals: I have made over 1000 QSOs. The other goals look to be out of reach. Well, I tried.
Conditions were much better today than the previous two. Paul picked up another 30+ contacts today and his count stands at 152. It looks like we'll produce about 200 data mode contacts from this effort.
I was able to work Dave Bushong (one of our pilots) today. We just found a blank spot on 15 and had a nice chat. Of course he's been supporting our efforts behind the scene. My hat's off to you, Dave!
I was making a run on 17m when somebody mentioned that there was a CW station trying to contact me. I had not heard it because I run with the notch filter on half the time (to fight off the tuner-up-ers). Unfortunately, this nice DSP feature also nicely notches out any CW signals.
I removed the notch filter and tried to listen. I don't know if I'm unique here, but when I'm in the middle of a big run my mind is isn't too nimble. In the middle of a pile-up I can pull out three call signs but not answer a simple question like "are you hungry". So, when this CW came in my mind turned to clay. Think Scott! Sit up straight. Tell everybody else to hold off calling me. Listen. K 4 T w J . OK, I copied K4TWJ, give me a roger if that is correct. R. OK. I gave him a signal report, he gave me a signal report, 73, and so on. I'm almost out of my trance at this point but still not awake enough to see the name in the log. It was Dave Ingram (K4TWJ), author and famous QRPer. What fun!
Dave called back later on SSB and we had a quick chat. This quick cross-mode QSO was one of the most fun parts of the trip, probably because it was so unexpected! Thanks, Dave. You really made me smile.
The equipment is holding up quite well down here. The IC-7000s are workhorses. The ICE filters are working very well now that we've got reasonable antenna separation. In fact, we've had no failures here on any equipment that wasn't due to abuse (like falling off a roof!).
The challenge now will be to get everything back into their cases and packed for the return trip. That is tomorrow's assignment. Now, it is Superbowl time. Our hosts here at Gingerbread Hill, who have treated us like kings, have invited us up for a pizza and Superbowl party!
They've made this a very, very ham-friendly place. David, Clover, and company have been very generous and kind. If you ever wished to see this amazing island, stay at Gingerbread Hill.
Just a couple more sessions in front of the radio then back to the cold. I am ready to come home, though. It has been a good trip. 73 from Montserrat.


I made my goal of 1000 QSOs. Hooray!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

There are numbers...

... and then there are numbers. We'd been paying close attention to solar conditions both before and during our trip to Montserrat. Numbers like the "A" index, "K" index, solar flux, and SSN give you some idea of the kinds of conditions you'll likely see on the HF bands. After a period of slightly elevated numbers and disturbed conditions, we were excited to see what the bands would be like once things calmed down. Today was that day and the results were mediocre. All operators complained about fading on the bands. One moment the station we were working would be strong; the next moment the station would disappear completely.
I have wondered to myself what folks back home must think. I'm sure some might say to themselves, "I gave this bozo my call 3 times. Can't he remember it?" I sure hope that's not the impression we are leaving! I would like to attribute most of this seeming incompetence (at least on my part) to the QSB on all bands we worked today.
We do wonder what we sound like on the other end of our QSO. Dave Bushong (KZ1O) was kind enough to send a couple of audio files with off-air recordings of QSOs we've made. I, of course, have been trying to capture many hours of audio recordings at my station, too. I'd like to put sound from both ends into our next presentation so everybody can see what things are like on both sides of the pileup.
I had intended to stay up all night working the low bands. I'm not going to do that. Conditions do not justify the effort. Instead, I'm hoping to sleep fast and wake early to work Europe before North America rises. If Paul is not up yet, I'll start on 20m.
Speaking of Paul, he's been working feverishly on handing out data mode QSOs. It takes a great deal longer to complete a QSO compared to SSB (and especially CW!). So, 200 QSOs for the digital modes is easily equivalent to, say, 500 SSB QSOs. I think Paul will likely make that number. If he does, the DX community owes him a nod and a tip of the hat. I've sat next to him for many hours watching him pour energy into this effort.
More portable operations took place today. Lots of interesting stuff down by beaches, on Budd's bicycle, and all over the island. In fact, the QSO recording Dave did (mentioned above) is of Chris working a few stations from the beach.
I should take just a moment and relate what kind of challenges this takes. You need to get an antenna erected, carry enough power to operate, and then work your stations and log your contacts. This is usually done in high, gusty winds, sometimes under flash rain storms, and almost always with the Sun beating down on you. Equipment is usually put in wind tunnels and under heat lamps. I'm not sure people operating HF should be subjected to the same stress tests!
One of the things we had hoped to show during this trip was these lightweight equipment configurations can produce effective operations. You don't always need an amplifier. You don't always need a tower and yagi. Small works. Simple works. Smart works. Team members like Budd Drummond, who has made hundreds of contacts bicycle mobile, has shown that focus and a sense of excitement go a long way.
As I type this I recognize that there are only two more days on this DXpedition, and one day will be spent packing. I'll repeat what I'd said before: time on the island is precious so every thing you can work out prior to departure is a boon to your whole experience. I've got a list of such things started in a notebook which will hopefully make the next trip even smoother.
One last point before I close for this evening: Budd got on 30m with my Elecraft KX-1 tonight and had a ball. His first CQ netted him a return call and full QSO. So, let's check our facts: Buddipole antenna as a shortened vertical, KX-1 pushing out 2.2 watts on 30m CW, and 175 feet of coax between the two. QSO first call. Goodness! If that doesn't make the point that simple works, I don't know what can!
We've got a great bunch of guys and I know it will be a sad thing when we begin breaking down the stations. For those of you who have worked us, thank you. For those of you who have not yet, I sure hope we get the chance. Thank you for your patience and support. 73 from VP2M.

6m a bust? But 160m a possibility. Exercises in extremes.

Just a quick blog entry tonight. We have managed to review and capture all of Budd's contacts from his bicycle (on paper logs). Budd has been quite active and the only means of logging in the field is with paper and pencil. I can attest that any penmanship classes he might have taken in grammar school did not have the desired effect. I spent until 3 AM last night working on the problem. Chris and I worked until after 2 AM tonight finishing up. My new rule: even if you are a 100 Pound DXpedition you should be doing computer logging at all times. It is far too inefficient to do it with paper and pencil. Plan on budgeting for the weight of the laptop--it is going with you!
We have been doing RTTY! There have been lots of requests for RTTY and we finally started making QSOs today. Paul would like me to note that his 100 watt station is no match for the 1000 watt stations currently dumping RTTY into the bands. If you want more RTTY from here, please make some room. This might also be a nice time to locate that RF Power knob you'd heard about. Note that it turns both clock-wise and counter-clockwise {grin}.
Several hours were spent building 160 meter antennas. We now have 2 antennas for top band. We have a dipole (low hung for this band, obviously) and a vertical constructed from Buddipole parts. Budd will attempting to make contacts on 160m CW over the next couple of days. A New Zealand station heard him tonight but refused to work him because we wasn't in the A-1 Operators club. Nice. (Apparently they are having a contest tonight.) Perhaps we'll be able to make some contacts once the contest is over and "regular" people can work.
We had also constructed a 6m 3-element beam for the magic band we listened for openings but heard none. We listened to the beacons and heard the local one on St. Kitts (I think) which was blasting in here... but heard nothing else. I've not given up on 6m yet, but I'm preparing myself for this to be that one aspect of the trip that was a little disappointing. For those of you that wanted us on 6m, please be patient. We are trying.
My web site provider has an FTP service that is used to upload new material. That was horribly unreliable today. I don't know if it was the internet connection here on the island (which has not been 100%), or if the service itself is having problems. Anyway, Budd's new (and rehabilitated) log is up and there are updates for most of the operators. I'll try to get the rest tomorrow.
Our hosts took us out for an amazing dinner tonight so no QSOs were put in the log by me. Now that Budd's logging nightmare is over, though, I'm hoping I can go back to working towards my goals of 1000 QSOs, WAS, and WAC. I'm close: 700+ QSOs, 45 states (with the usual suspects missing), and I worked a ZL and ZS today leaving only Asia as the continent unworked. Cross your fingers.
We pack up on Monday for a return flight Tuesday. Not much time left. Work us while you can. 73!

Friday, February 02, 2007

QSOs are flying into the log

It is late. It is heading towards 2:30 AM local time and I've been up since 6 AM so I'll make this short. (Check me at the bottom for length to see if I kept even this simplest of promises {grin}).
Band conditions have cleared up and antenna arrangements have been solved to the point where I can start putting QSOs into the log at a reasonable pace. The current count is about 550 QSOs with 42 states, 40 DXCC entities, and 13 zones. The zones count is the worrisome data point. I should be reaching more places than I have.
I had several nice runs on 75m, 17m, and 15m today. Note the absence of 20m contacts. Conditions were such that I could have runs off 20m so I worked those other bands. If conditions soften again, I'll go back to 20m.
Not all was managing pile-ups, though. Budd and I were interviewed on the FM radio station on Montserrat this morning. It was to just be a 5 minute interview but it turned into something more like 15 minutes. This is a beautiful place and Budd and I couldn't help ourselves. We went on-and-on about it. So, our 15 minutes of fame was on ZJB radio Montserrat. (Woody Allen Andy Worhol would be proud... I've got to stop blogging at 3AM!)
Rueul Hixon (VP2MFH), the local ham that was instrumental in helping us get through some sticky paperwork to get here met us at the radio station after our interview. He had been listing to the station (after all, it is the only one on the island) and thought it would be nice to meet us there. I'm not sure I've mentioned this fellow by name in my blog, but his generosity in helping us get our licenses expedited through the system (among other things) seems to be a hallmark of this island. The people really are friendly; it isn't just some Caribbean tourist gimmick here! So, if you ever run into this fine gentleman on the air, be sure to thank him for helping make this DXpedition possible.
We had high goals for this trip. Seven operators, light equipment budgets, SSB, CW, and data modes, all bands, and an aggressive on-line presence with on-line logs, pictures, and news from the trip available on our DXpedition web site. We've been able to do some of this (maybe even most of this), but certainly not all we had hoped. Paul (VP2MVO) has been working hard on the digital modes. We know that few people have VP2M confirmed on any digital mode and we hope to remedy that. Paul's initial attempts to make contacts with RTTY, however, did not produce any QSOs at all. We intend to have Paul switch from PSK-31 to RTTY again perhaps even as soon as tomorrow. We'll try to use the packet spotting network to tell people Paul is available on RTTY when he does do the switch.
We've had some compliments--and complaints--so far from our fellow hams. We take all things with a constructive spirit. Here are some things people have asked for that we will try to do:
  • RTTY - As mentioned above. This is a priority.
  • 30 CW - Budd has made some contacts on 30m but we'll get more in the log in the next day or so.
  • 6m - We have some excellent antenna options for 6m. We'll try to get that going tomorrow. The Magic Band always makes for some fun on-air adventures.
  • 12m - The problem with 12 meters is that the opening probably happens during a great run on 15m! Still, we will attempt to sniff for openings on this band (though at this point in the solar cycle, I hope people won't be too disappointed if no reasonable openings appear).
  • 160m - Topband is tough from these locations since there is rarely space to pull it off. Still, we think we've got a shot. It will probably be limited to CW, though.
  • HFPack frequencies - The HFPack folks would like to work everybody in our group on 17m at 18.15750, their calling frequency (or at least somewhere on 17m). I would like all operators to give these fine folks in HFPack a chance to "collect them all". We'll try to do that.

There are other things that could be going better. On-line logs for all operators except for Budd are mostly up-to-date. I've just taken Budd's down because there appears to be some problems with the transcription between his paper notebooks and the computer logs constructed from those notes. Of course we want everything to be right, so we'll get that reviewed, fixed, and then put his QSOs back up on the web site. Sorry for the delay.
I've learned much more in these last few days than I could easily express in this blog. Certainly we were short on some planning activities for the trip. Logging was one such activity that could have used more deliberate discussions and planning. I've already mentioned the antenna plan (or lack thereof) and its cost in time. There are other things, too, but I really don't want to leave the impression that things are not going well. In fact, things are going quite well! And, in case you are wondering, we are all having a great time.
See you on the bands. (I knew this wouldn't be short...)