Thursday, June 28, 2007

Try some antennas

One of my Toolbox Talks was on the 40m vertical antenna I discussed previously. There were two really fun aspects of this talk. The first was the look on everybody's face when I popped up that 10m mast. I forget how big and imposing this thing is when it is extended. The second thing fun about this talk was that we were able to use the antenna when we finished setting it up. Of course, it is good on both 40m and 15m!

Field Day has some funny rules for a contest. Each SSB QSO is worth one point. Getting a member of the local fire department to visit is worth 100 points. Do you know how long you have to work on SSB to get 100 contacts in these solar conditions?! So, at least in my view, if you do a little experimentation on the SSB station you don't really put that many points at risk.
We built this antenna and then used it. Looking back, this is a really great idea! We should have built about four antennas and had them all available to the SSB station so people could do a little "compare and contrast" between them. I should have put up
  • The Buddipole - The one on the 16 foot mast with the long arms and large coils
  • The Sigma-5 - Force-12 vertical dipole
  • A 15m vertical - a 1/4 wave 15 meter full-size vertical to compare with the 3/4 wave version on the 40m vertical
  • Buddistick - just to show that even a small antenna with a few radials can do a good job if deployed well
It would have been fun to have a 5-way switch so we could switch between all these antennas and hear the difference. We could listen to a strong signal, look at the S-meter, and then click, click, click to see how the different antennas stacked up.
I think I'll suggest that for next year's event. Field Day is a really great chance to try out new stuff, train fellow club members, and learn how to set up stuff in the field and make it work. Forget about points! Learn!

Our club is going to have a Field Day retrospective at the next meeting. We'll go over what went right, what went wrong, and what we might wish to change in next year's planning. Of course, I think this is a great idea. Even if you go on a 100 Pound DXpedition alone, go through the exercise of reviewing what you did and how you did. That's the first step in improving your operation and having more fun.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Field Day retrospective

I was traveling immediately before, and then immediately after, Field Day which put a serious crimp in my blogging. Luckily, almost nobody noticed. {grin}
I was part of the planning team for the local club's Field Day effort this year. I wrote and printed the Field Day manuals passed out to participants, made the poster which greeted visitors to our site, and led the Toolbox Talks. The weekend was a tremendous success, IMHO, though exhausting. Here are a couple of pictures from the event.

This is the poster and stack of manuals. Thanks go to my colleagues at Verocel who gave me time on Thursday (all day Thursday) to get the manuals copied, collated, and bound. I expect the manual to be on the PART web site either tonight or tomorrow.

The club raffled off an Icom 718 transceiver.

Here I am, right in the middle of things. That's my military mast with a 20m monobander on top. It was up 16 feet by the time we finished.

Here I am doing a Toolbox Talk on the Buddipole. We had 22 Toolbox Talks in all over the weekend. All talks were very well received and made the event one to remember.

Here I am with Tom Frenaye (K1KI), the New England Division Director of the ARRL. I guess he should go on the cool people page on my web site!

This is me on the left with Bo (WA1QYM) listening in on the second headset. This was a headset-only event which made for a very relaxing, and comfortable operating environment.

Most of my Toolbox Talks covered items that I've already covered in my blog. That said, I might go back over some of this material over the next couple of days.

I hope everybody had a great Field Day!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Buddistick radials

David (K2DBK) asked: "Scott -- When you have your buddistick mounted like that, do you just let the counterpoise wire hang straight down?"

The radials for a balcony vertical are run as far as I can without causing a nuisance. If I can drop a radial off the balcony and let it drape down two, three, or even four floors I will do it. Usually, this will be late at night so I don't attract attention to myself. If I am doing daytime operation, I'll usually try to keep the radials confined to my balcony or the area immediately adjacent to the balcony.
I don't just have one radial if I can avoid it, though. I made this set of wires that are packed with the Buddistick that serves as a set of radials. The wire is the really small stuff I keep talking about from The Wireman (though Jeff, KE9V, points out there may be cheaper alternatives that should be investigated). Each radial wire is terminated with a male spade connector.

I created a single eye connector with a bunch of short wires, each terminated with a female spade connector.

Here is a close-up of the ends of this bunch.

I connect the eye to the Buddistick mount for the radial and then plug in as many radial wires as I like. I'll usually add 3 or 4 to start for a quick operation and run them around the balcony. If I know I can leave the antenna up for a few days, I'll add more. I also add the long radial on the kite-winder and drop if off the balcony straight down if I can get away with it.
This whole arrangement only weighs a few ounces, fits easily into the Buddistick case (a very nice case!), and makes adding a good set of radials to this sweet little antenna very easy.

The last day of the show is tomorrow. Then, I've got a very early flight on Thursday and back home early afternoon. The Lowell Spinners had their opening night tonight (and I missed it!), but I'll be going Thursday. I can't wait!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

In Tampa

I'm here in Tampa, Florida. I brought the Elecraft KX1 and Buddipole with the hopes of doing a little CW to South America. I asked for, and got, a room near the top floor, facing south, with a balcony. What a view!

I called CQ, but there were no takers. I'll set it up tomorrow and try again.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

40m vertical

This afternoon I built and tested the 40m vertical that our club will be using on Field day. It used the 10m DK9SQ 10m mast from Kanga to hold up the vertical wire and used two elevated verticals radials to complete the design. This is actually the first time I had used the mast in a ground-mounted configuration. The other times I had deployed an antenna with it we were able to find a roof or upper-story deck to mount it. In those cases, I would just bungie the mast to a railing or post and not guy it. Today, I used three pieces of dacron rope fixed to the mast about 10-feet from the bottom to hold it in place. The ropes were held to the mast by a single cable tie. The nice thing about that arrangement was breakdown of the system was a breeze. One snip and the guy ropes were freed.
The exercise was to build a 40m vertical antenna for the local club's Field Day outing next weekend, but I also wanted to make something that could be taken to St. Kitts this fall. So, rather than use heavy or stiff wire, I used some of my magic #534 from The Wire Man which is claimed to weigh less than one pound per 1000 feet. It is light!
Here are the details of the construction: The mast is 10m long. I needed 10m lengths of wire to make the 40m quarter-wave lengths. So, I used the mast as my ruler to cut the three pieces of wire to the correct length (adding a generous amount of wire in each segment as it is easier to make wires shorter than "cut them longer"). I then cut a 2-foot length of 3/32 Dacron rope and tied the end of one of those lengths of wires to this rope. Some masts have enough carbon in them that they are conductive and could couple with our vertical wire element. The Dacron rope allows us to attach to the top of the mast without creating any coupling complications.
The Dacron rope is attached to the top of the mast by wrapping it around the very thin top section six or eight times, then taping it with regular electrical tape. It is a fine way to do it if your antenna needs to only last a day or a week. I'm sure it would not last a year that way. But, luckily, we 100 Pound DXpeditioners can take a few shortcuts!
The vertical element, now tied to the Dacron rope (which is in turn afixed to the top section of mast) should be run to a point well away from the bottom of the mast. When we erect the mast we will run the wire down at an angle to ensure it will not couple with the mast.
The vertical element and two radials terminate in a small, inexpensive center insulator normally used for dipole construction. These have an SO-239 connector and two wires coming out: one which connects to the center pin, and the other which connects to the shield. Use your multimeter to determine which side is the "hot" and which is the shield. Connect the vertical wire element to the "hot" wire of the insulator. I like to make a good mechanical connection by crimping on a butt splice or some other physical connector Soldering is OK, too, but this seems easier in the field. Since the 26 AWG antenna wire is so small, I just wrapped it around the bigger wire from the center insulator and honked on one of these splicers. The radials were attached the same way to the other side of the insulator.
The beauty of this antenna system is (1) it is very light, (2) it can be erected by one person, (3) if you already have the wires cut, ropes cut, and all the connections made, it can be up-and-running in 15 minutes. We'll try to make that time on the Saturday morning of Field Day as this is one of my Toolbox Talks!

I am off to Florida in the morning. I will be blogging on the trip assuming there is good Internet access in the hotel. Though I have plenty to do, I am taking the KX1 with me on the trip along with a Buddistick. I might try to make a couple of contacts from the hotel room... assuming I can get the window open!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Youtube video

Video from the Monstserrat trip. Enjoy.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Field Day planning set

This last week has been a blur. Field Day is just around the corner and I have been doing lots of planning and work for our local club. This project, and a couple of others (also club-related) have kept me busy every waking hour. I just noticed it has been a week since my last post. My how time flies!
The big project this week was the completion of the Field Day Guide, a document over 20 pages in length covering all aspects of the Field Day planning from the antenna and radio setups to where to park. We covered it all! Also in the Guide are supplemental materials for the 22 Toolbox talks, brief hands-on, practical presentations given by members, for members. This is promising to be a great day!
I'm going to repeat myself: Field Day is a great opportunity to hone your planning skills. Develop an antenna plan. Figure out how you will manage inter-station interference. Did you remember to watch the solar activity 27 days before Field Day weekend?

I'm leaving for Florida on Sunday morning. I was going to send a bunch of radio equipment ahead and operate from down there, but I'm so backlogged on other things that would be irresponsible. So, I'll be brining my KX1, my Buddistick, and a whole bunch of stuff I have been neglecting. There is writing to do. I have several books to read.

I have a VE testing session Saturday morning. I believe this next one will be my 36th, all, or nearly all, for the MMRA club under Bill Wade. Bill (K1IJ) has almost exactly 100 more sessions to his total than I do. That's quite a record of service! Greg O'Brien (NE1OB) has been filling in when Bill is away. Between the two of them we are in good hands.

Again, sorry for the long silence. With Field Day preparations now in good shape, I should be returning back to my normal (daily) pace. By the way, during my week-long absence, an anniversary date quietly passed. It was one year ago on 12 June 2006 when I posted my first entry to this blog. So, Happy Birthday to 100 Pound DXpeditioners everywhere. Here's to all of you who have taken up the cause, packed a suitcase, and taken your love of amateur radio on the road. I salute you! And, I'll see you on the air!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Sorry for the sparsity of posts this week. Alas, other commitments have kept me away. One such distraction was a meeting of the board for my local club. For the past 16 months (or so) I have been the Secretary for the PART club in Westford, Massachusetts. The club was started 30 years ago by a bunch of hams who wanted to extend the emergency communications capabilities of the town. One of the founders of the club is our President today: Bo Buddinger (WA1QYM).
The club has experienced some growth over the last few years. Sure, the character of the club is largely the same with its monthly meetings (with great speakers), Field Day, and "Pumpkin Patrol" on Halloween. But the influx of new members, new ideas, and lots of energy to go along with those fresh faces, has pushed the club leadership a bit. Change is good.
Last night, in a marathon session that lasted nearly three hours, we created the club's first ever budget. We have money allocated for club activities, a plan to put some in savings for future equipment acquisition, and also a little pile of money to be put away for "a rainy day." I believe we did a very good thing.

In all the posts I've made about DXpedition planning I cannot remember any that specifically addressed the financial aspect of these endeavors. If you are planning a vacation and the radio is simply going along for the ride, then perhaps no additional financial planning needs to be made. But, if you are planning a trip like the one I made to Montserrat with a group, there will need to be a financial plan, a budget, accounting, and record keeping.
These was precious little enthusiasm for this work among the BUMS so I handled most of it. Still, from the very first teleconference held in August of 2006, I pressed other team members to assist in the record keeping for all our financial dealings to ensure we had a good accounting of the money spent, where it went, and which pocket was picked. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, you want to make sure that bills are paid on time so the trip can proceed as planned. Secondly, team members should pay their fair share, no more, no less. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, you want all team members to know that the financial burdens were shared fairly. It would hardly do to have rock-solid planning for your trip scuttled by bad feelings over money due to bad accounting!
Creating a budget wasn't easy for our group last night. One of the things we wrestled with was articulating, and then justifying, the club goals for the next fiscal year. Just as we did last night, a DXpedition team should also have definitive goals. One way of making sure everybody shares the same vision for those goals is to put a dollar figure on it!

You do not need to have a college degree in accounting to do a good job tracking the finances of even a relatively large DXpedition. I happen to believe that anybody who can get an amateur radio license and organize the other aspects of such a trip can use a spreadsheet, or even paper and pencil, well enough to track the finances for an excursion. Even if you are "all friends" and "we don't need to keep track of things so closely" and "it will all work out in the end", there are good, solid reasons why you should be a little nit-picky on this anyway. As I have stated for other aspects of trip planning, anything that averts trouble or avoids wasting island time is worthwhile. This is worthwhile.

Sunday, June 03, 2007


I keep returning to my experience at Contest University because (a) it was exceptionally well done, taught by some of the top contesters and DXers in the hobby, and (b) I believe there is a significant overlap between DXpedtioning and contesting. Both activities require that QSOs be made during a fixed period. Both activities encourage working stations quickly.
Randy Thompson (K5ZD) covered the Single Operator 2 Radio (SO2R) subject mid-morning at CTU. Like most of the instructors, Randy began with a quick review of his accomplishments (which are considerable). Just a quick peek at his QRZ page and you'll see he makes an average of 20000 QSOs per year. I have not made even half that many in the last four years!
What is SO2R? It is a single operator seated in front of two radios. Ideally, there is additional hardware that helps route audio from both radios to your headset with options like one-radio-per-ear, or mixed to both ears. The extra hardware might also help route various antenna feed lines to the two radios and lock out transmission of one radio if the other radio is already transmitting. Fully automating such a system becomes quite a complex problem. Examination of products such as the MicroHAM MK2R provide some insight as to how hard this problem is to manage.

What problem are we trying to solve? Reviewing the DXpedition statistics for the VP2M DXpedition, you can see we made no contacts on 10m or 12m. It isn't that we didn't try. We did. But, if there was an opening, we missed it. One of the problems that a second radio (or at least a second receiver) can solve is identifying irregular band openings. The Northern California DX Foundation maintains a world-wide beacon network that makes it very easy to see if there is a band opening interesting to you. If you have one receiver, you need to make a choice. Should you stop making QSOs on your current band to check for openings on the other band? Or, should you ignore the other band, perhaps missing an interesting opening in the process? A radio with a single receiver gives you only these choices.
A radio with a second receiver like the FT-1000 or new Elecraft K3 gives you a second option: listening on the second band while you continue to work on your primary band. This option is one of the reasons why I am so interested in the K3. In a contest, that means you can look for multipliers on the second receiver while continuing to run on the main one. In a DXpedition, you can look for band openings either by hearing beacons, or even QSOs, on another band.
A second full radio, with full transmit capabilities, allows you to call CQ on two bands at once. This is illegal in a contest, but nothing precludes it on a regular DXpedition! Who knows, if we had been calling CQ on 10m all day while on Montserrat, we may have been the signal alerting others that the band was open! I believe lots of openings come-and-go because nobody bothers to call CQ. With automatic CW and voice keyers, good band-pass filters, and an alert operator listening on two bands, there is an opportunity to work many more QSOs than the single radio operator. Randy Thompson confirmed many of these claims in his presentation.

Bringing a separate radio when you are carrying your own gear (and trying to live within the 100 pound weight budget) may not be possible. If you are shoping around for a DX location already stocked with great ham gear, you might start with DX Holiday with their Rent-a-QTH program. There may already be an SO2R system there, or enough stuff you could cobble together one during your visit. Note that the very best SO2R stations are not cobbled together! They are carefully crafted with filters and stubs to manage inter-radio interferrence, and have an SO2R hardware system that routes audio, microphone lines, and antennas. Trying to build something like this on your DXpedition violates one of my main rules: keep it simple! All that said, I believe that if you can do simple things that can achieve some of these goals, it would likely be worth the effort.

My recommendation (and Randy's) is to become effective and comfortable with one radio before you attempt adding a second one to the mix. But, when you are ready to "graduate" to that second signal source, it would be best to begin with a second recevier. Listen for band openings. Listen to other signals on the band you are working. Don't lose your calling frequency, but be aware of other things going on. Since this capability adds nearly no weight to the DXpedition (a second receiver inside your radio probably weighs ounces), it is an excellent way to try this approach without blowing your weight budget.
Finally, and I make this point about most things, you should work out all the details of a particular approach or practice before you go on your trip. Practice. Practice. Practice. If you believe you'd like to try using a radio with a second receiver on your trip, try using it at home first. Don't spend your precious island time working out skills you should have mastered at home.

Subject change: June is Field Day month. Field Day can be a great opportunity to practice packing, deploying, and using equipment away from home. I'll be working with my local club putting up some antennas and sharing other tidbits. Plan ahead. See you on the air!

Friday, June 01, 2007

My first piece of HF gear

I had lunch with my buddy Ron (WQ1Z) today. We covered a review of Contest University and Dayton, all over Peking Raviolis and noodles. There was one other piece of business as Ron had borrowed my Buddistick and wanted to return it.
Though it is pretty easy to set up the Buddistick without an antenna analyzer, having this tool makes it a breeze. I didn't realize Ron didn't have one or I would have loaned him my MFJ-259B.

I was licensed in 2002 and installed a dual-band radio in my car not long afterwards. I kept hearing chatter about "Boxboro", the name of the town adjacent to my home town (Acton) and, for the life of me, couldn't figure out what they were talking about! Boxboro is nice, but sleepy little community where nothing happens. Why was everybody talking about it?!
The answer was the Boxboro ARRL New England Division Convention held every other year in, well, Boxboro. After that was cleared up, I signed up. It was my first hamfest or convention.
It was there that I bought my first piece of HF equipment: an MFJ-259B analyzer. I had told Ron today it was my first piece of ham gear, but that wasn't correct. I had outfitted my car with an Icom IC-2800H. So, officially, it was my second major piece of ham equipment. It never even occurred to me that Ron wouldn't have one.

Long before I got this crazy DXpeditioning fever, I had been treating all my activities like something to be studied. I bought my analyzer even before I had bought a radio! I love to measure, study, and understand. That probably comes through in my posts. I've still got plenty to learn, but I believe that understanding leads to better decisions, and better decisions lead to more fun. It has for me.