04 July 2016

July 2016

July 4: I and other Kiwi DXers have been chasing a group of DXers from A6 (United Arab Emirates) currently in the Seychelles. S79V has been quite active and spotted on bands that 'should' be open to ZL at the time, but their signals have been weak or very weak here. 

Yesterday I caught them on 40/CW - well almost. The path was marginal so we needed a few repeats. Some of the more impatient Europeans in the pileup just wouldn't give us the chance to complete our QSO in peace. The S79V op was good and patient enough to keep on trying with me but the callers didn't let up, until eventually we parted company. I'm not sure who he logged - looks like it wasn't ZL2iFB though. That's a shame: it would have been a new DXCC for me on 40m. Not to worry, I got them on 20m via the long path this afternoon, while poor old Mike who has never worked S79 has barely even heard them so far. Good to their word, they have uploaded to LoTW already.

July 7: over the past day or three, I've been sorting out a shack PC belonging to my pal Lee ZL2AL (SK). My main objective was to retrieve Lee's log in order to be able to respond properly to his incoming QSL cards, so the first job was to find his log. I found several ... but I think I know which is the main one. I will have to check that later and maybe combine it with the others, but thanks to the ADIF format, it is quite straightforward. 

Next job was to decide what to do with the PC. I've been selling off Lee's junk pile on behalf of his family gradually over the past 3 months (I'm not that slow: Lee had a lot of stuff!). I'd like to sell his PC but I'm reluctant to release the hard drive in case there's anything personal on there (it will go back to the family). A little old PC without the hard drive is hardly worth selling though. Yesterday I dug out a spare disk drive from my junk pile to replace it. Being an information security pro by day meant I had to erase the contents properly, a job which took several hours overnight using DBAN Boot-n-Nuke.

Today I downloaded the latest release of Ubuntu, made an installation DVD, and installed it. Well, to be honest I first installed an old release of Ubuntu and soon discovered that it wouldn't recognize the Ethernet port on Lee's PC. The new release works fine. Installing CQRlog was next, another painless job, and there it is: a decent good-as-new PC, ready to grace the next ham shack. 

Another job today was to test a high voltage transformer that has been sulking in a corner of the workshop for a few years. I bought it with the intention of forming the plate supply for a GS35 amp I'll be building one day ... but at a back-breaking 83 kg, it was simply impracticable so now I'm selling it to someone who will make good use of it. Rather than just ship it off and hope for the best, I thought I'd better check it first, but how? It is rated for 2,500V output and several kVA, and has to be treated with respect. A continuity check of the windings was an easy start, then I used a little wall-wart transformer to squirt about 16 V AC into the 230 V primary, generating about 160 V on the secondary. So far so good! Finally, the smoke test: I rigged up a mains cable through a 3 amp fuse, stood well back and gingerly switched on. No bang, no smoke, no worries! It doesn't even hum (off-load anyway)! Although I don't presently have an AC voltmeter man-enough to check the HV output, I'm happy that it is working. Job done. 

July 9: I'm chuffed with my latest purchase - a second Elecraft K3 transceiver plus a P3 panadapter. The P3 needs a good clean and I must study the instructions to learn how to drive it properly, but it works just fine ...

That's a clip of XW4XR working a RTTY pileup split: we can easily see where the stations are on the band, including someone who pops up in between the DX and pile towards the end of the clip.

I'm edging ever closer to a competitive SO2R (Single Op 2 Radio) setup. Still a few things to sort out on the station, particularly the local and remote antenna switching and the ergonomics. Although the colourful little LCD display on the P3 is usable (and nothing like as blurry in real life as in that dodgy home vid!), a full-sized monitor would be better. Trouble is I'm running out of desk space with 2 widescreen displays already in use. Time for a re-think: how can I squeeze in another display? Google Glasses maybe? Or suspend it from the ceiling on number 8 wires? 

On top of that, the HF quad construction project has not progressed for several months. Without a decent HF beam, the rest is moot.

Meanwhile, I now have a surplus Icom IC7600 and a few other bits-n-pieces to sell in order to replenish the bank balance. My impulse purchase on TradeMe, which to me was the bargain of the century, was duly noted by The Boss who seems to think one radio is more than enough for anyone. So much for my cunning plan to slip the new gear quietly into place in the shack while The Boss was out: she had to collect the box from a lazy courier in Napier (cheers Mainfreight) which rather gave the game away.

Another job on the to-do list is to stick a load of endorsement stickers on my DXCC certificates - well maybe. I'm not that desperate to brag to passing shack visitors although it would be quite nice to see the outcome of all that effort chasing DX. The envelope of stickers has been collecting dust for a few years so far, awaiting the mythical Round Tuit.

July 10: although I joined the committee for the Oceania DX Contest at the end of last year to help with the marketing and promotion of the event, I haven't had the time or energy to get going on it, other than drafting a perennial marketing plan for the contest at Christmas. With just 3 months to go until this year's contest, it was high time to pull my finger out and do my job. 

The contest website had been laboriously hand-carved in HTML by Geoff ZL3GA and was desperately in need of a thorough rewrite ... so this weekend I did. The sexy new Oceania DX Contest website is now live, giving a clean, modern look to the contest and, hopefully, even more interest in the event from the global ham community.

I've opted for a minimalist mostly-white site design for now with a very simple top-row seven-button menu plus a few subsidiary pages on fly-out buttons. Provided the profusion of bugs in NetObjectsFusion doesn't cause too many problems, the site should be much easier to maintain and update going forward. 

There is plenty of scope to add more photos and other stuff in due course, including some of the choice soapbox comments from past entrants. So much to do, so little time ...

July 11: I made a few more changes to the OCDX contest website today, including a countdown timer and some better photos.

I updated the P3 firmware too, which meant loading the P3 Utility first so now I can grab P3 screenshots like this:

I was idly monitoring 30m this lunchtime after a Carribbean station had been spotted. I called him for a while and although he didn't hear me, SP7ER evidently did. Stefan was weak but just strong enough on QSB peaks to catch his call on the 3rd attempt and we completed a quick QSO. 30m is an interesting band!  On the left of the P3 display you can see the dual peaks of the German commercial RTTY station broadcasting weather info 24x7 just above 10100 kHz, a handy beacon. It would be nice to know what power and antenna they use. At that time (01:30 UTC) they were about S6 on the K3 meter on a simple quarter wave wire vertical supported on a fishing rod, albeit with a good ground plane, the tin roof of my workshop.

A nice QSL card arrived direct from EP2A today and it's mostly good news:

Although ClubLog had earlier rejected my first QSO with them, they confirmed it (hence the orange background in Logger32). However our final two QSOs on 17/CW were not confirmed. Personally, I think their operator is to blame. When I first called in on April 25th, he told me "QSO" (as in "You are already in the log") so I duly checked my log. Sure I had worked them already but not on 17/CW ... so a few minutes later I called again and that time we completed a QSO in the normal way - or so I thought. Looks like the op was just trying to get rid of me and didn't log either QSO. This unfortunate situation illustrates why we should log every QSO, even those we think are duplicates. I guess they probably worked another ZL before on 17/CW and busted his call, logging him as ZL2iFB. Conceivably, I worked them before but neglected to log it, or busted their call, or Logger32 failed to record it properly (unlikely but possible). Either way, EP2A was not in my log prior to 25th April - in fact those QSOs with EP2A remain my only Iran QSOs on 17/CW, now destined to remain unconfirmed forever I guess. C'est la vie.

July 12: 20m burst into life this morning - well there was a nice little bit of DX about anyway: several Caribbean stations and a few Europeans coming in over the long path via central/South America. As the Caribbean guys were beaming East to work the Europeans, we were off the back of their beams which made it a bit of a struggle to get through to them. The LP Europeans were quite strong. I must remember to listen again tomorrow morning.

July 18: I've finally figured out how to get Logger32 to send mode-specific commands to the K3 when I click DX spots, split-spots specifically. I prefer to listen in both ears to the DX station working split on the subreceiver/VFO B, checking the pileup in my left ear only and transmitting on VFO A. On CW, I normally narrow the bandwidth on the subreceiver to 500 Hz but leave the main receiver wide open at 2.7 kHz. The macro for that works fine on CW. On SSB however, the subreceiver's 500 Hz bandwidth setting in the macro was becoming a pain ... so in place of the original bandwidth command in the "Macros to apply DX Spot split information" window (replacing the command string and the associated semicolon, that is), I now have #ModeModifier# which complete string gets substituted at run time for the appropriate mode-specific commands taken from the "Comma separated mode specific commands" panel i.e. CW=BW0050;, SSB=BW0270;  I guess I might want to mess around with other mode-dependent settings such as the AGC speed and DSP, but for now bandwidth is enough.

The latest VK0EK Heard Island DXpedition newsletter neatly assembles pictures covering the scientific and radio activities undertaken - a notably wide range of things when you see them all laid out. They must have been really busy!

July 19: my QSL arrived today from the recent FT4JA Juan de Nova DXpedition:

The smart full-colour card arrived in a special envelope with unique printed Juan de Nova stamps, despatched via the TAAF (French military) into the normal postal system.


July 20: in place of a thousand words ...

Thanks to CQ Magazine and K9EL John who runs the brilliant year-long CQ DX Marathon, plus the nice people of the South Florida DX Association who kindly sponsor the shiny plaque.  

"Bramble" says hi too. She's helping me sniff out the DX this month.

July 21: some disappointing news came today, but in the nicest possible way.  A month ago I was excited to catch SV2RSG on 30m CW.  The call belongs to Father Iakovos, a monk on Mount Athos.  I duly sent off my QSL direct to his QSL manager George SV1RP. George has been patiently teaching Iakovos the radio theory to pass the license exam and get on the air.  Well today I received my QSL card back with this hand-written letter from George:

Good to his word, George returned all bar $1 of the money I sent him, plus my card and envelope. I feel cheated by whoever it was that pirated the call but at the same time uplifted by George's amateur spirit. We know now that Father Iakovos should be QRV soon from Mount Athos, hopefully for the rest of July and August, so I shall be keeping a close eye on the cluster.

July 23: another frustrating experience this morning at about 8am (20z). Yesterday it was a ZD8, today a ZD7 working Europeans on 20m SSB at a QSO or two per minute. I presume the ZDs were both beaming North, giving and receiving 10-over-S9 reports from the UK. Their signals were weak but readable down here via the long path, over the North pole, but try as I might I couldn't raise either of them. I spotted them both, partly to let them know their signals were making it all the say to the Far Side and partly to drum up some help from other ZLs who might have better signals, timing or luck than me. FAIL! Oh well, that's the fun of DXing.

July 25: the DX frustration continues. This morning before dawn I was calling OJ0W on 40/CW in vain for more than 20 minutes. He was weak, again, working EU mostly but for a while he called CQ DX. He was listening 0-4 kHz up, working the odd EU caller simplex which, of course, encourages everyone else to call him simplex too (doh!). When he started with the CQ DX, he didn't say up and it wasn't clear where he was listening, so I tried up 4, 3, 2, 1 and then out of sheer frustration simplex. Not a hint of a contact anyway. 

I then moved down to 80/CW to call an ES and an LZ station. The Estonian was just giving his call sporadically as if he was calling someone else, except for the occasional CQ thrown in at random. He either didn't hear me at all or didn't respond in any way. The Bulgarian was CQing conventionally and he heard something of me, at least he stopped calling to listen to me, twice, then sent "NIL" and recommenced CQing. I must have been just too weak to copy. Fair enough, LF conditions weren't up to it today. A later spot referred to an aurora which implies high RF absorption.

YI3WHR was once more spotted on 20m this morning, and as usual he was impossibly weak. I guess the damp noodle he is using as an antenna needs to be higher, or better matched so a few more of his milliwatts make it up the spout. I've been chasing him and another YI station on SSB and occasionally PSK for about 2 months now, and prior to that a YI pirate (who, ironically, was much stronger and heard me just fine!). If only they would learn CW, we might have a chance!

July 28: as usual this morning OJ0W was spotted but inaudible on 40m, then QSYd to 30m. For once I heard him OK, working JA's simplex. The JAs were much stronger than him, clambering all over the frequency with LP echoes smearing their signals to add to the challenge (full marks to JF1IRW for persisting and completing despite QRM from other JAs).  Ten minutes or so later, having worked about a dozen JAs, he just disappeared, leaving us calling plaintively into the void. It's as if he's deliberately avoiding me! At one point earlier his signal took a sharp dive into the noise - possibly an intermittent TX/feeder/antenna fault his end? That might explain why he has been inaudible most of the time.