Friday, March 30, 2007

VP2M Cards -- worth the wait

My previous post declaring that QSL cards had been ordered was, at the time, premature. I thought they had been ordered, but no. The order wasn't actually placed until later. (Why am I always the last to know?!) Sorry about that. I got a note today that the cards may be shipped from the printer either today or some time early next week. I will post here the moment I have those new cards in hand. The good news in all this is these cards are gorgeous! They are worth the wait. Really.
This weekend is Atlanticon. I had attended this gathering the last couple of years and had a great time. This year, though, I was too busy. My friend Greg (NE1OB) will be there. Take a look at his blog later this weekend or early next week to see how things went. Drive safely, Greg!
On a final note, Today is Stop Cyberbullying Day. I posted an off-topic entry the other day on this issue and I won't belabor the point here. Suffice it to say that I believe that words matter. Let's use them to build something worthwhile together. Thanks.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

AntennaSmith first impressions

The TZ-900 AntennaSmith arrived today. My first impressions of the unit can be summed up as wow!
I only played with it for about a half hour this evening but the results were very pleasing. Here's what I did: I set up a Buddipole right in the middle of the living room, hooked up the analyzer, and turned it on. It immediately plotted from 1 MHz to 30 MHz the SWR for the antenna. You can see the trough of green where the SWR is less than 2:1. Nice.
There are four buttons on the side of the unit to select features and change options. These buttons are labeled by notations on the right side of the screen. It all made sense to me. After going through all the different plots, changing the range of the frequency sweep, walking through the points plotted in the Smith chart, and playing with some other features, I realized that I'd not even opened the manual yet! In fact, at this point at least, I can't even tell you if the manual is any good because I've barely skimmed it!
The unit is smaller, lighter, and easier to work than my trusty MFJ-259B. I will try to take a picture of the two units side-by-side for comparison this weekend.
I was nervous about this purchase. It was big bucks and could have been a big disappointment... or a disaster. It was neither. I am very pleased so far.
Obviously, first impressions are just that. I'll have much more to say once I have experience with the unit. And, of course, I'll post that here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Nice to be thanked

I sent a letter via FAX down to St. Kitts today asking for help straightening out my call sign. I've asked if they would issue me V44RD. Again, this was my goof-up for not being more specific in my initial request. We'll see how long this takes to fix.
I just got home from a nice dinner with local club members where we discussed our Field Day plans. This year our club is going to do things a little differently than we'd done before. Our goal is to have Field Day be an Elmering event with a concentration on members helping other members try new things and learn new skills. We're not worried about our score, we aren't worried about QSO rates or scheduling operators. Instead, we're pulling together lists of interesting topics for hands-on demonstrations and mini-talks (perhaps 15 minutes or less). I'll have more on this as we get closer to that last weekend in June.
Finally, I help with testing sessions for hams once a month (or so). This is always rewarding but this last session held Saturday had a man bringing his grandson. Both were sitting for the Extra exam. Last night I received a mail message forwarded by Bill, the session organizer, originally from that gentleman. Here's what he had to say:

Just wanted to drop a line and say Thank You to you and your group of volunteers for their time. It was a great experience being able to upgrade at the same time with [my grandson]. I always asked myself why I didn't upgrade years ago? I guess there was a reason. I'm glad I waited. Thanks again for a great experience for both of us.

It was fun having these two fellows in our session. Both had studied hard and had done well. It is also nice to be thanked for our efforts. Congratulations, guys!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Mosley mini beam ordered

My St. Kitt license has arrived! That's the good news. The bad news is I was not specific enough about wanting a genuine St. Kitts call sign from their pool so they "gave me" the call V4/NE1RD. {sigh} The call V44RD is available so I'll see if I can get this straightened out tomorrow by sending a FAX down there. The lesson in all this? When you're sending in requests such as this to some licensing authority be as specific as possible about what you want. I did that with the license requests for Montserrat; I didn't do that for this request to St. Kitts. My mistake. We'll see if I can fix it.
I ordered the Mosley Mini-32-A mini-beam today. I spoke again with Gary Sr. at Mosley and reviewed the requirements we discussed a couple of weeks ago. I need this antenna to have no piece longer than 48 inches so it can travel easily in my golf bag. He'll have his team build the antenna to these specifications, though the traps will need to be partially disassembled during travel. He assured me this won't be a problem.
Two things about my discussion today are noteworthy. The first one is practical: the lead time for this antenna is now upwards of 40 days. Mosley is busy filling commercial and military orders. (Good for them!) Like so many things discussed in this blog, planning ahead is always key for these lightweight DXpeditions. In this case, planning ahead means ordering what you need long before you think you need it as lead times on some of these items could be as long as 6 months! I should have the antenna about the time the weather turns warm here in Boston. I can get some experience with the thing here before carting it to St. Kitts in October.
The second noteworthy thing about my call to Mosley was Gary. It was a pleasure to speak with him and work out the details of what I needed, what those design decisions implied, how long it would take, and how much it might cost. He was patient, personable, helpful, knowledgeable, and a pleasure to work with. All too rare these days and definitely welcome.
That's two big expenses in two days. I think that's enough for a while! Of course, I'll report back here on what I learn once these things arrive.

Off-topic: Kathy Sierra

This is an off-topic post.

I spend a great deal of time on this blog. The act of writing helps me clarify things in my mind and, of course, I hope that those who take the time to read it also benefit. There are many, many blogs out there and I know that everyone's time is precious. Please believe me when I say that I feel honored by the number of people who take time out of their lives a couple of times a week to drop by and check up on my exploits.
I also feel lucky that the community, the ham radio community, the DX community, and those of us who love the idea of DXpeditioning, is largely comprised of gentle, thoughtful, and generous people. It is rare that I run into anybody mean-spirited (and those few occasions were confined to one particular web site).
Why am I saying all this now? You know I blog about ham radio stuff but I've also blogged about computer science topics on and Artima. I've not spent much time on the professional blogging stuff recently (this blog and my DXpedition planning has been very time consuming!) but I still read and follow other people's professional blogs. It is about these blogs that has prompted me to write today. Something dreadful has happened in that other arena.
Kathy Sierra, a long time force in the computer industry and one of the big brains behind the Head First books published by O'Reilly, has received death threats on her blog. I am appalled, saddened, and angry. This is ugly, ugly stuff. Ms. Sierra was forced to cancel a public appearance for fear of her safety. We're talking about educated professionals threatening other educated professionals in ways so heinous I dare not describe them here.
Words matter. If you have the stomach for it, and if you can tolerate exceptionally coarse, hateful, and violent language, take a moment and read her account. Be warned: her description and recounting is deeply disturbing with language equally shocking.
This new medium where anybody can publish and collaboration is pervasive and immediate is amazing. We can shape it in any way we like and hold it to standards we set. And, it is up to us to reject the kind of savagery shown to Ms. Sierra. Just as we should "police" ourselves on the ham bands, we should hold each other to the highest standards here in the blogosphere. We must not cede our civilization to barbarians on our streets, or our screens.
My rule-of-thumb on these things is simple: I won't accept behavior on-line that would be unacceptable face-to-face. Again, I am incredibly thankful that everyone in my corner of the world is civilized, thoughtful, and helpful. Let's keep it that way! And, if you are a computer professional, take a moment to send a message of hope and support to Kathy. Thank you.

Monday, March 26, 2007


I took the plunge today and ordered the Timewave AntennaSmith today. This is a rather expensive piece of equipment and I didn't make this decision lightly. Certainly you can do well on these trips without such a device. I have! But, I have a tendency to try new things, experiment, and push limits. Evaluating some new contraption with on-air tests is good, but I'd like to report back more in this blog about some of these antenna ideas. So, I'll try to use this device and antenna modeling software over the next year to provide a better description of, and justification for, my lightweight antenna approaches. I hope to have the unit by the end of the week. I'll relay first impressions then.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

WPX and statistics

I finally finished the statistics for the VP2M DXpedition today. You can view them here. I know I reported something like 2400 QSOs back in February but I hadn't fully processed all the logs. The total is really closer to 3000 QSOs, 120 digital contacts, 270 CW contacts, and 2588 on SSB. We worked 85 DXCC entities and nearly did a Worked All States.
The software still needs work, but I've got enough working that I can get it finished in plenty of time before my trip in October. I might even have time to work on it before the K1P trip in April.
The CQ WW WPX SSB contest was this weekend and I was able to play a bit in between yesterday's VE session and working on the DXpedition statistics. I decided to do the contest QRP so I could work on my DXCC (QRP) total. I was able to put four more countries in the log! Here's the results from my half-hearted effort.

Band QSOs
80: 37
40: 25
20: 90
Total: 152 Prefixes = 123 Total Score = 36,162

Note how high the percentage is for new prefixes vs. total QSOs. When you work QRP, you expect to invest a lot of time for each QSO. So, I don't work for 5 minute to get a prefix I already have; I spend that time tuning around and looking for a prefix I don't have! Not bad for a little K2 and a G5RV.
Another busy week ahead. I'm still thinking about the beam and analyzer...

Thursday, March 22, 2007

1:1 baluns

I've been very fond of using vertical antennas on my little island excursions. The nice thing about these antennas is their simplicity. Just a few wires held up by a fishing pole or fiberglass mast and you've got your radiator. The last remaining problems that I've got with this approach is keeping the RF out there at the antenna instead of following the coax back into the radio. Usually, a few turns of coax will provide enough of an impediment to keep the problem manageable, but I been thinking I could do better.
The Buddipole systems each have a Triple Ratio Switched Balun (TRSB). This device serves two purposes: (1) it has an isolation transformer to keep the RF off the coax, and (2) it has a tapped second transformer that allows you to match your 50 ohm feed to an antenna with a lower impedance such as 25 ohms or 12.5 ohms. (It also has a switch position for a 50 ohm load, too.) Since the Buddipoles are shortened verticals for the lower bands, being able to match these lower impedances is very helpful and, as such, I believe the TRSB is a must have accessory for any serious Buddipole user. I should also have something similar (but simpler) for my fishing-pole verticals.
What I need is just a simple box with a 1:1 balun wound around a toroid. There are lots of simple designs in popular books like Understanding, Building, and Using Baluns and Ununs. All you need are the parts and a little patience.
I purchased from The Wireman kit 836 that has the following description:

CQ "Lew McCoy" heavy duty balun kit for balanced line to coax, heavy load. Kit contains 3-T200-2 or 1 T300A-2 iron powder core, fiber glass tape, #635 polyimide wire, instructions.

My kit contained 3 of these toroids--though I dropped one on my new kitchen floor and now I have only 2 {sigh}. Of course, you can get better prices for some of this stuff. Check out the prices at on their
Toroid page. Looks like I can get three of these T200-2 toroids for $12!
I plan on making two 1:1 baluns around the two toriods I have left (assuming I don't drop any more on the kitchen floor) and put them in small boxes that I can place at the feed point of these fishing-pole verticals. Hopefully, I'll have some time between now and my trip to Maine in April so I can try them out at the K1P special event station.
In other news, there has been some progress on our plans for a Dayton get-together for ham bloggers. The tentative plan is for anybody interested (bloggers or those who read us) to meet at 6 PM in the lobby of the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Thursday, May 17th. This will be immediately after the conclusion of the Contest University event. So far Steve Weinert (K9ZW), Jeff Davis (KE9V), and yours truly are planning on meeting at that time. This is the first "official" announcement for this. Pass the word!
Finally, assuming my cough will subside enough (I'm still fighting this stupid cold! Can you believe it?!), I'll be in the CQ WW WPX contest this weekend working on my QRP DXCC total. Of course, if QRP at the very bottom of the sunspot cycle becomes too depressing, I'll either hang it up, or switch to 100 watts. This is a contest where everybody-can-work-everybody. Even if you're not keen on contesting, this is a fun one. Just use a signal report (59, of course) and a sequential serial number for the exchange. See you on the air!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


I finally joined the Northern California DX Foundation today. Well, I sent them the money anyway. {grin} This is something I've been meaning to do for a while. The NCDXF is one of the premiere DX organizations in the world sponsoring DXpeditions, maintaining a beacon network, and providing scholarships. Last night's speaker mentioned he was a member of the NCDXF and I made it a point today of finally getting my application submitted. I wish I could give more. They do great work.
Today is the first day of Spring. Hooray! It won't be long until the boats are running again in Boston Harbor. Last year I made more than a few trips out to Georges Island and I hope to make even more this year. That will begin in May.
In the mean time, I can begin planning for the RSGB IOTA contest to be held July 28th and 29th of this year. Last year I was only able to put in a six hour effort because I needed to catch the last ferry off Georges Island. This year I'm hoping to put in a full 12 or even 24 hour effort by camping on one of these islands. I submitted my camping request this evening which should get me a spot on Lovells Island for the night. With luck, my biggest problem with be managing the batteries! July seems like a very long way off right now, but I'm sure it will be here before I know it.
Finally, I'm still wrestling with the idea of getting a lightweight yagi. I guess I'll make my final decision in the next few days.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

DXLab suite

My local radio club held its monthly meeting tonight. The guest speaker was David Bernstein (AA6YQ), author of the DXLab suite of software tools. The software, which runs on MS Windows-based PCs, is a collection of separate tools which work together. They can be run individually, you can pick-and-choose subsets to run, or run all of them depending on your needs.
The tools in the DXLab suite are:
  • Commander - Commander is a rig control applicatoin that allows you to manage most any modern radio with a serial port. It provides banks of memories, works with SpotCollector to show spots in a band-map, and allows you to switch between up to four transceivers.
  • DXKeeper - DXKeeper is a logging program that integrates with callbook CDROMs and services. You can print QSL card images, labels, and envelopes, upload to eQSL and LoTW, and track your awards. It works with most of the other tools in the suite.
  • DXView - DXView gives you instant information when you enter a call sign or call sign fragment. Just enter in the call sign and it pops up the main country prefix, country name, grid scquare, distance, long path and short path headings, and your progress towards awards for that entity by band, mode, QSL sent, QSL received, and even ARRL credit verified.
  • Launcher - The Launcher isn't really a DX tool. It is a utility that provides the backbone for the other tools to work together. It also serves as the one-stop-shopping place for updating your software with just a push of a button.
  • Pathfinder - Pathfinder locates QSL routing information from a variety of sources.
  • PropView - PropView includes the IonCap engine. It cranks through all the propagation predictions and presents you with graphs that tell you instantly when band openings are likely to occur. If you look at nothing else in this suite, check this one out!
  • SpotCollector - SpotCollector is a data aggregation tool for the DX spotting sources. It can watch up to six different DX spotting resources combining, compressing, and filtering data as necessary. The results are stored in a database allowing you to examine spotting data days or even weeks later to see trends (when is that rare DX station typically on) or even notify you when that one special country (or station) is spotted.
  • WinWarbler - WinWarbler is yet another digital mode interface nicely integrated with the rest of the package.

You can find out more about this program at the supported DXLab Yahoo group. David claims that there are no outstanding defects at this time and that any defects found are fixed within 24 hours if possible. Updates are frequent so you'll want to pay attention.
David's talk at tonight's meeting was wonderful. Though he emphasized that this work was a hobby, you can tell that there is lots of polish on these programs. I've not used them (yet), but was very impressed by the presentation and demos. Give them a look.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Visalia on my mind

Just tying up some loose ends tonight, filing away mail messages and updating my calendar. The local radio club is organizing a trip to ARRL headquarters in the morning. I sure wish I was going. That is a fun place to visit!
I'm also wishing that I could somehow swing going to Visalia this year. Just looking over the DXpeditions program makes my mouth water. DXpeditions to Swains Island, Lakshadweep, Revillagigedo, Iraq and Kermadec are covered Saturday. Wow. Imagine what you could learn in just one afternoon! Alas, after losing a week to this dreaded chest cold, there's no way I can sneak off again. Anyway, I've got a special even station planed for April and Dayton in May. I'm still working for a living! I'm thinking seriously about going out there to the International DX Convention next year, though.
Finally, I got lots of email over the last couple of days on antennas, analyzers, and some other stuff. One message suggested that all us bloggers find a way to meet at Dayton. What a good idea! I'll see if I can get something organized on that with a couple of other guys and let it grow from there.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Analyzers considered

One of the observations that I made on my recent trip to Seattle was that I had become dependent on antenna analyzers for setting up my antennas in the field. I own two analyzers:

The MFJ analyzer has served me well. The Autek unit, not so well. I should give the VA1 another chance, but it almost doesn't seem worth the effort. There's no nice way to say it: the Autek unit has been a very big disappointment. It's junk. There. I said it.
I'm in the market for another analyzer. Well, if it can't be small, let's find one that does more than the MFJ! There was an article in the November issue of QST reviewing two analyzers:

The allure of both units is the ability to see a graph of data resulting from a frequency sweep rather than the single data point presented by a typical analyzer like the MFJ. I have made this point before but it bears repeating: time on the island (or whatever your DX location may be) is limited and precious. If you can plan well on some issue before you leave saving you time on site, it is a big win. Similarly, if you can have a tool that saves you time while on location, that, too, can be a big win. I'm putting these analyzers in that category.
The price difference between the two units is stark: the Timewave device is roughly double the cost of the AEA unit. Either would be a large investment. But, with the kind of antenna work I typically do: improvised antennas, experimental, always in a different location, and compromised on weight, the ability to quickly assess my antennas (especially since I'm always working against the clock) makes this kind of investment worthwhile.
I just window-shopping now but hope to make some decisions on this and the yagi soon. I would very much like to have all of this in place for the St. Kitts trip. The sooner I could get some experience with this stuff, the better.
Finally, I should remind everybody that I'll be running a special event station K1P with my buddy Dave for Patriots Day in April. I'll use that trip as a way of evaluating a bunch of stuff I've collected since the Montserrat trip. If one of these new analyzers were to make the trip, even better! Of course, I'll have a full report here.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Featherweight tribander (continued)

I've gotten some very interesting feedback from my post the other day about my search for a featherweight tribander. Dave Murphy (KB1LKE) wrote to me not long after the post to challenge some of my assumptions and make some alternative suggestions.
Even before I get into this, let me say that this is good stuff. Challenge assumptions. Reconsider alternatives. Think hard about your choices and understand why you're making them, what you're getting, and what you're giving up. Dave's message had a healthy dose of all that.
I had said I was looking for a featherweight tribander and listed some reasons why I thought one might be desirable. Dave restated some of my thinking simply: "It is apparent that you want to output a little more power and have some directivity to minimize interference from certain directions. The only questions are how much power and directivity and how much are you willing to sacrifice for them." Exactly. I had also quietly buried an assumption, though, that he picked up on immediately. Do I need 3 elements on this thing? A two element yagi is also a very effective antenna which provides a good front-to-back ratio and some gain, maybe 5 dB, over a dipole. Adding that third element only gives you a small bump from there. Consider a couple of Mosley "mini-beams" suggested by Aston Lee in the comments section of this post. The data below was gleaned from the Mosley web site.
3 Element 2 Element
Gain dBd F/B Gain dBd F/B
10m 6.1 16 5.1 ~17
15m 4.2 13 4.5 ~17
20m 3.5 12 3.3 ~17
Weight 10 pounds 8 pounds
MSRP $468.95 $347.95

Indeed, as per the table above, that extra element does provide a little more gain on 10m and 20m, but look at 15m. The extra spacing between the elements of the 2-element antenna actually helped on 15m gain!
Why a tribander? Could a reconfigurable antenna that provided different bands be as good? Aston Lee also suggested looking at
Super Antennas (W6MMA) Portable Yagi System. This is a two element antenna that can be configured for any single band 20m-6m. It weighs only 7 pounds and comes in a nice carrying case. I remember seeing this at Dayton last year and being intrigued for a time, but in the end losing interest. The main reason for this is another unstated requirement that should have made the previous list.
When you consider the weight of an antenna system for a 100 Pound DXpedition you also need to consider the weight and bulk of its feed line. If you need 100 feet of RG8X to feed a given antenna, that coax run will add 4 pounds to your pack. If you have three mono band antennas that need such a run, that would add 12 pounds. One of the appeals of a triband antenna is that I get to feed that single antenna with a single piece of coax, theoretically saving you weight.
The other reason why the collection of configurable mono-banders did not seem like a great deal to me has to do with what I already have in my antenna collection. I have already purchased or designed mono-band antennas, collapsable masts and fishing poles hanging wires for the low bands, Buddipole, Buddistick, or MP-1 for the higher bands, and some other weird things I've picked up along the way just to add to the variety. I don't need any more single-band antennas. Further, if I'm going to add complexity of assembly in the field to the equation, I want to have a significant payback for that. Gain, a nice F/B ratio, and three bands from one wire sounds like a nice trade-off. Anything less does not.
Build or buy? Returning to Dave's message for a moment, he suggested that I look into some articles Cebik has on his web site. (This is always recommended. If you love antennas and haven't been to W4NRL's site, you're missing a lot!) I am a "tinkerer" by nature and can be easily enticed into wandering off into a very interesting distraction. I must not allow that to happen this time. My goal is to have whatever system chosen to be in place this Spring. I would like to have ample experience with it before it makes a trip to St. Kitts.
Will it fit?! I listed "breaks down small" in my criteria in my original post. I could, I guess, find some hard-sided ski bag to haul around 6 foot pieces, but I would rather not. I have a very nice hard sized golf bag that was served me well and would very much like to continue to use that for carrying my antenna parts. Further, even if I get a tribander, I will still need to carry other long items such as the DK9SQ mast, fishing poles, and my trusty big Buddipole system. This, too, becomes a "build vs. buy" alternative. If I buy an antenna, can I get the manufacturer (or somebody else with the correct tools) to chop it up so it would fit in my bag?
As mentioned before, I was considering the Hy-Gain TH-3JRS. At 21 pounds, it was on the heavy-end of my criteria, but it looked to be a good performer. To be honest, I didn't think anybody made what I was looking for: small, light, and low-power rated (to enable these savings). I was wrong. Look again at the Mosley specifications in the table above. These antennas are 8 and 10 pounds respectively for the 2- and 3-element models!
Intrigued, I called Mosley this afternoon and spoke with Gary. There are stories on the Mosley news page about DXpeditioners ordering antennas cut to size. Could he do that for me? Yes! There would be some additional charges (which we discussed and sound reasonable to me), and assembly time would probably be a little longer than the "stock unit", but I could order the antenna the way I wanted it (short pieces, please) and he'd do everything within his power to accommodate me. That's service!
I now need to decide if I'm really ready to drop another big bucket of money on an antenna. Also, do I get the 2-element or 3-element model? In any case, I believe I'm a few steps closer to my featherweight tribander.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Ours go to 102

Somewhere between Seattle and Boston I managed to pick up a nasty chest cold. Needless to say, a 102F temperature is not conducive to clear thinking, or blogging. Sleeping 16 hours a day lets me dream of DX! I should be back on track tomorrow after a liberal application of antibiotics.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

NE1RD/W7 is now QRT

My time with my friend Henson and his family is coming to a close. I'm a little sad for I've not seen him for many years and less than two days is far too short a time to catch up on all that has happened to both of us. Still, it was an excellent and relaxing way to wrap up this West Coast trip.
My IC-7000 was set up on a family room table for most of the day. I fiddled with the antenna and found the loose connection which allowed me to make a few contacts as NE1RD/W7. I was able to snag Svalbard, Japan, and several special event stations in Oklahoma running 1x1 call signs. Apparently, there were enough of these stations that you could spell "Oklahoma" with them (and if you did be eligible for some certificate). Very nifty idea!
I'm now packing up and preparing for the early morning drive to the airport. There are two long flights ahead of me (I have a stop in Chicago). I've got a couple of things to ponder on the way back. The first one is my reliance upon antenna analyzers for setting up these antennas. I did not bring my MFJ 259B with me on this trip, and it made things much harder than I would have thought! I either need to get more comfortable setting up some of these antennas without the analyzer, or declare that I'll always have such a tool in my bag. (I also admit the solution might be answering "yes" to both.)
I've just glanced at the clock in the corner of my screen. I had left it on Boston time for this trip. It was comforting somehow to see the time at home while I was so far away. It now reads 3:59 AM. I've got to sleep fast and be up in just a few hours. I'll see all of you on the other end after my long flights!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Visiting childhood friends and high SWR

The work week is over and I've made it to my buddy Henson's place. I've known him since I was eight years old and it is amazing how much has changed, and not changed. I'm really glad I came!
I've got the Buddipole set up in the yard but something isn't right. I'm wondering if the piece of coax I've brought is defective. Of course, I did not bring the antenna analyzer with me (or this would be easier to diagnose). It was too late tonight to really figure out what is going on. I'll try again in the morning.
I got some feedback on the yagi musings I had in last night's blog. I'll wait to discuss it, though, as I'm too tired to cover the topic justly this evening. It is after midnight here on the West Coast (and after 3AM Boston time--which my body still clings to). I think I'll sleep. The DX will have to wait until morning.
By the way, Blogger claims that this is my 250th post to this blog. I would like to thank all who have stuck with me this long. I can only hope that some of this has been helpful to you. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

In search of the featherweight tribander

I've not given up on the idea of a very small, very light-weight tribander (10m/15m/20m) antenna for my 100 Pound DXpeditions. I had purchased a C3SS from Force-12 for this purpose, and it was a very good performer, but it was just too large (and a bit complicated) for the kind of duty I had intended. I'm still looking. The constraints for my search are these:
  • Under 30 pounds - Actually, under 25 pounds would be better, and something under 20 pounds would be excellent. Is this possible?
  • Easily assembled - The C3SS was a fantastic performer, but I wouldn't want to be putting that together on a windy beach on some far-away place. Ideally, I like something that slips together in some obvious way in about 30 minutes or less.
  • Breaks down small - How small? No piece can be longer than 48 inches in length, the size of my hard-sided golf bag. Even a little shorter would be better (perhaps 40 inches?)
  • Some gain - I'm going to be realistic here. Gain is achieved by boom length, among other things, and my constraints are going to mean a very short boom. Still, it would be nice to have some significant gain on 15m and 10m, even if the gain on 20m is small.
  • Driven with 50 ohm feed - I just want to hook my coax directly to the antenna. Whatever matching system is there (hairpin, choke, etc.) should be small and no-fuss.
  • Good front-to-back ratio - Even if I'm not getting lots of gain, it would be nice if the pattern of the antenna rejected signals I wanted to ignore anyway.
  • Cheap - I'm not made of money. Gee wizz, it is only aluminum! How much can such a thing cost?!

There are some things I'm willing to give up to help make this happen. Here are a couple of them:
  • Wind survivability - I don't care. If the wind blows hard, I will take it down. I'm using this for travel. It doesn't need to be strong enough to live on a tower 12 months a year. It could even be a little flimsy, if it meant saving weight and cost.
  • Power rating - This is a big one. I don't need it to handle full legal limit power. I don't even need it to handle 600 watts of power. It could be rated at 120 watts SSB, 80 watts CW, and 50 watts continuous (for RTTY or PSK-31) and it would be more than sufficient. There aren't many antennas out there for operators who run QRP or low power (100 watts). It seems to me this would be a big savings in the traps, for example.

At this point I believe I have two choices: buy some commercial antenna off-the-shelf and cut it down for travel, or design one from scratch (even if I use some off-the-shelf components). If I had a workshop and a place to work and test such creations, I would be tempted to make my own. Unfortunately, I don't have such facilities in my condominium. So, I think I'll be buying something.
I'm leaning towards the Hy-Gain TH-3JRS which weighs 21 pounds according to the web site. It handles 600 watts and has a 12 foot boom. I would have to hack up the 6 long element tubes (6 foot long each) and the two boom tubes (also 6 foot long). Adding the additional material needed to then join these pieces together would add additional weight, but I don't see another way to do it.
The antenna is about $360 and there would be additional expenses trying to figure out how to make it smaller. That's a pricey experiment, but I'm considering it. I'll be mulling this over in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Leave the radio at home

I recently talked about my contest work at the K1TTT superstation last weekend. One of the nice things about that experience was everything I needed to operate was already there: radios, amplifiers, antennas, computers, headsets, foot peddles, and anything else you could imagine. There are ways to do DXpeditioning this way, too, by renting an existing station in that far-away place.
We've all seen the advertisements in the back of QST, but there are resources on the web, too. One such site is DX Holiday. Some of the information is out-of-date, but overall it is an excellent place to begin looking for some options. Here are just a few:

There are also places where you can bring your own radio but the antennas are already set-up such as this one in the Bahamas.
As you might expect, rates vary by season and some big contesting weekends might be more expensive than "regular" weekends. The seasonal rate change might actually work in your favor, though. Consider most people do not want to go to the Caribbean during hurricane season, though CQ WW SSB falls at the very end of that season (the last weekend in October). If you can reserve some station in the Caribbean, you may be able to get flights for a deep discount!
Traveling light, or with no equipment at all, is not cheating. When I give my 100 Pound DXpedition talks, I state up-front that the way I categorize DXpeditions is by the volume and mass of stuff that is taken. Hauling zero equipment is the first category I discuss!
If you're not sure if this kind of thing (DXpeditioning) is for you, perhaps renting one of these places with equipment already there is a good first step. That would let you "try before you buy". Of course if you do try this, please drop me a line and let me know how you liked it!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Other people's DXpeditions

I am in Washington state on business but still trying to keep up with things while away. The magic of email allows me to do some of this even when far away from home. Let me tell you about some of the email I've been getting and sending recently.
Phil Whitchurch (G3SWH) and Jim Kellaway (G3RTE) just returned from Montserrat. I'd been exchanging email with Phil for quite some time. Of course, I asked how well they did, what kind of equipment they used, and so on. Here's what Phil had to say in one of his recent messages:

I used a doublet on all bands rigged as an inverted vee with the centre at around 50 feet. Jim used a combination of a doublet, sloping dipoles and inverted vee dipoles. We both used barefoot TS-570D transceivers with switched mode power supplies and laptops for logging. We also have Dunestar filters for minimising inter station QRM, but didn't seem to need them at Alta Loma as we were able to get the antennas sufficiently well separated. It's a formula we have used on several other DX-peditions.

We should have done better, but I was suffering from a viral infection which made me very tired. My antenna wouldn't tune on 80 metres and Jim's wouldn't tune on 17 metres.

160 was very disappointing because of the very high QRN level I did work a few Europeans one morning and could hear a massive pile up, but just couldn't copy any callsigns. The next morning I called CQ for about 30 minutes and worked a solitary W5!

When Phil claims he should have done better, please understand that his two man team outperformed our seven man team when comparing the number of QSOs put in the log! I also mentioned in previous blogs that it was a pleasure listening to Phil work those pile-ups on CW. Very nice.
I've also been exchanging emails with Peter Freiler (W1AIR) who is now in the process of planning a trip to Hawaii and would like to make it a 100 Pound DXpedition. Peter already has a great start with a package that looks very much like the one I used on St. John last year: FT-897 with built-in power supply, laptop, and some lightweight antennas (though precisely which ones he's not decided on yet).
Peter is also looking for smaller parts to make the portable station complete. He was looking for a foot peddle, for example, and I suggested something like this on eBay. I bought a few foot switches similar to these and they work very well.
As for the antennas, I made some suggestions. I had used an MP-1 while in Hawaii and Peter wondered if that was still a good option. I pointed him to some pictures off my home page that show me holding my MP-1 on that top floor balcony. If you look at those pictures, you'll see that this is not a stock MP-1. Quite the contrary, I had made some serious improvements to it by adding Buddipole arms (one or two) to the bottom and a much longer whip on the top. Add to that an elaborate set of radials made from ribbon cable and you can't really compare my set-up to an off-the-shelf version of the MP-1.
Those Hawaii photographs were before the advent of the Buddistick and, though I didn't know it at the time, my contraption was more like one of these Buddisticks than an MP-1. And, by the time you add the parts that I added to the MP-1 system, it would be cheaper (and better) to just get the Buddistick, IMHO. I know it seems like I pump these products (the Buddi* stuff) a lot, but it works well, travels well, and is versatile. I praise what works.
I don't know what antennas Peter will ultimately select, but he's doing the right thing by exploring his options early. It also helps to ask around, get opinions, and see how other people did with their choices. I am absolutely shameless in this regard, asking people what they did, how they did it, and what they would do differently next time. I learn something every time I do so.
I've been exchanging emails with a few other folks as well, but time and space limit me here. Suffice it to say that I enjoy every message, enjoy helping when I can, and really enjoy hearing about all of these trips people are planning. I think this is an extremely fun thing to do within the hobby. I'm glad others think so, too.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Long flights and learning

I'm in Seattle (Redmond, actually). The long flights between Boston and Dallas, and then Dallas and Seattle gave me a chance to just sit and think about a whole raft of things. I also had a chance to watch more of the PVRC DVDs of their Contest Seminar held in March 2005. (I looked on the PVRC web site to see if you can still order them, but came up empty.) The discs are in a 6 DVD set from a two day seminar that covered antennas and propagation, tower construction, terrain analysis, contest operating, ergonomics, logging, automation, and much more. The presenters are very experienced contesters. I wish I would have been at the seminar, but these DVDs are the next best thing.
Speaking of contesting seminars, there is a Contesting University seminar that will be held at Dayton this year. If you were already planning to attend Dayton this year, come a day early and take the class. I signed up the moment I heard about it last year.
Contesting and DXpeditioning are complimentary pursuits in my mind. Both efforts seek to get the most out of a limited time period and demand skills and knowledge that a rag-chewer may not need to have. I have found that things I've learned in one arena have led to epiphanies in the other.
The other thing I did on those long flights was read more of ON4UN's Low Band DXing book. This is really a fantastic piece of work. Even if you don't think you need this book, you need this book. Really. Recommended.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

ARRL DX in the bag

I drove out to the K1TTT contest station on Friday afternoon to help out with the ARRL DX contest effort and put some points in the log for the Yankee Clipper Contest Club. If you've not had a chance to operate at a really big station, take my advice and do it the very first opportunity you have!
In one sense, this is about as far afield from the minimalistic equipment one of my 100 Pound DXpeditions might get. Dave Robbins has built an antenna farm that is extremely impressive. The towers are immediately visible when you pull into the property, of course, but there are also beverage antennas extending deep into the woods and four square antennas tucked away out of sight that really pack a wallop. Just learning to run all the equipment, antenna switching, logging software, and radios at each position was an interesting challenge. Then, there was the operating.
Dave and I exchanged email messages last week and he asked me what level of experience I'd had in contesting. Not wanting to get in over my head, I told him that I should probably be assigned roles where I can learn, help, but not jeopardize our score. I also told him I'd need to leave some time Sunday long before the contest was over as I need to drive back home, pack, and make my early flight out of Logan on Monday.
I operated 18 hours out of the roughly 33 hours I was there (I bailed out at 1 AM Sunday morning). In all, I worked all bands during one shift or another except 10m. Of course missing 10m at this point in the sunspot cycle was no great loss!
There were a number of high-points in those 18 hours including working Hawaii on 160m and some QRP stations from very remote places.
Here are the preliminary and unofficial scores for K1TTT:

Band QSOs Pts Cty
1.8 68 168 41
3.5 471 1341 82
7 404 1173 83
14 1885 5607 117
21 541 1593 93
28 31 81 12
Total 3400 9963 428
Score : 4,264,164

Now that I've seen some of these antennas in action, I'm going back to all my antenna books and start reading about them again. And, now that I've had a chance to try some of this equipment in a contest situation, I've got some new items on my wish list. The Heil Pro Set Quite Phone headset is tops. It was comfortable, well-built, and of course had that great Heil sound on both transmit and receive. I'll be ordering in that this week. Recommended.
Tomorrow's blog entry will be back on-topic. I also hope to catch up on the rest of the email in my inbox.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


Something fun happened today. I received the eQSL confirmation of my 25th country and automatically became eligible for the eQSL eDX award. My application for that award (just a click of a button) was approved this evening. I can now print the award certificate. Sure, it isn't DXCC, but it is a nice waypoint along the way. Plus, the eQSL system is fun and easy to use. I'm printing that award and hanging it in the shack. It was fun making all those contacts; it will be fun to have that reminder of all those good times on the wall.
I made it a point to have the team sign up for this service (and Logbook of the World) because it would provide joy to some of those who worked us. I might compare a DXpedition to a dinner party you would throw for a few (thousand) of your closest friends. You want to make sure everybody has a good time, feels wanted, and has memorable experience. A DXpedition web site, online logs, a nice QSL card, and even the support the online QSLing services, are all things you can do to ensure your guests have a good time. It is your party. Throw a nice one.

I've been finding my mail box, and email box, quite full lately. I'm a little behind on the email, but hope to catch up on that long trip to Seattle on Monday. If I owe you a message, please be patient. Thank you.
As a reminder, I'll be at K1TTT operating in the ARRL DX contest for the next couple of days. My next blog entry will be Sunday night.

Progress on the RIGtalk

It is very late here (after midnight again) so I must be brief. I would like to report that the good folks at West Mountain Radio have been in touch with me and things are progressing on the Macintosh driver issues I identified this weekend with the RIGtalk devices. I am very pleased with the support so far and thought I should say so publicly.
We're not out of the woods yet on this issue, but I am very encouraged that we're on the right track. Remember: this issue was opened just a few days ago so it will be a while before the entire thing can be fixed permanently. But, the good folks at West Mountain Radio are making all the right moves so far. I thank them.
Very busy couple of days are ahead for me: I need to plan and pack for my trip to Seattle tomorrow night because I'm taking off some time early Friday to travel to Peru, Massachusetts to work the ARRL DX contest from the contest superstation at K1TTT. I'll report on all of that stuff, of course, thought it might need to wait until I've got some time (probably on that long airplane ride) to get it all written down.