Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Going QRT for a few days

I took the last remaining antennas down today: the 43 foot vertical and the off-center-fed dipole. It has been a wonderful eight years at this QTH.

Some of the highlights (not in order):

  • Finally collected enough QSL's for DXCC
  • Worked 100 countries on 80 meters
  • Did some working on 160 meters
  • Put up my first directional antenna, a hex beam for 20 meters, WOW
  • Started working ham satellites, very cool
  • Upgraded my main HF rig, from TS520S to TS570
  • Added mobile HF with TS480SAT
  • Did some serious remote operation while on the road
  • Started weak signal work with WSJT software
  • Started 6 meter work with meteor scatter and sporadic E, with a hex 6 meter antenna
  • Started really analyzing antennas with EZNEC, and understanding what is going on
  • Leveraged the power of the PC in the shack: DX4WIN, Ionoprobe, Bandmaster, DX Atlas, and a bunch of other programs
  • Jumped into digital modes with MixW
  • Put up some good antennas for low bands: Cushcraft MA8040V, Zero-Five muli-band vertical
  • Reached total worked DX at 260
  • Put up a home page and a blog related to ham radio
  • Jumped into Software Defined Radio with a Flex 3000
  • Participated in several Field Days at the local club
  • Put together quite a diverse antenna farm
  • Did some work as a QSL manager for a DX station
  • Made a lot of friends around the world
  • Learned a LOT about antennas, propagation, and operating procedures

I thought I knew a couple of things with my Amateur Extra class licenses and 27 years of hamming when we moved in back in 2001.

Eight years later I realize how much I do NOT know and how much more I need to learn.

It has been an amazing journey at this QTH. I am excited about starting at the new QTH. Look for me on the air soon!

73 and good DX!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

LP or SP - YOU make the call

Back in the 1970's era on American Television, there were commercials about American football that said presented an actual scenario during a game, and asked the viewer to guess at the actual outcome. The announcer would say something like:

Time has expired, the quarterback throws a long pass and the receiver jumps to catch it. The defensive safety interferes and a penalty flag is thrown. Time has run out. IS THE GAME OVER OR IS THERE A REPLAY? YOU MAKE THE CALL"

This would be followed by some advert for shaving cream or beer or some such rubbish, followed by a return to the scenario and an answer which the viewer had awaited through the useless advert.

So, it's 2020 UTC, I worked UA0FAI on Sakhalin Island near Japan. SHORT PATH OR LONG PATH PROPO? YOU MAKE THE CALL!

Before we break for a silly advert, let's look at the facts.

1. We know there is a well-established LP in fall and winter to JA from East Coast USA (I just worked this path on 17 meters two weeks ago). This happened on 18072 kHz, same band.

2. Does my antenna give any clues? It was the low (32 foot high) off-center-fed dipole. What is the pattern for the antenna? What does EZNEC tell us?

3. What about propagation? Well, the DX was IN the gray zone, and I was getting close to the gray zone.

4. The signal was fairly strong with no apparent polar flutter. However, we know from the great guidance given by an OT in my previous post, that this is not always a good indicator.

5. Look at it holistically. Who else worked him? reveals two other spots: W5 and W8. Inconclusive.

So, YOU MAKE THE CALL! LP or SP! Inquiring minds want to know.

73 and good DX

Propagation "words of wisdom" from an Old Timer

Old Timer does not necessarily refer to the age of a person, although it can. It normally refers to the person's experience.

I have 32 years in the hobby, some would refer to me as an Old Timer (OT) even though I am only 45 years old. (Such a reference to me would be a compliment, OT hams are looked up to with respect and deference as those who have "been there, done that")

Anyway, I have had an excellent exchange with an Old Timer, Jim W9VNE, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Jim and I worked each other last year on the ham radio satellites (a future post on this is coming from me). Well, after I worked TX5SPM, I saw Jim spot the DX and added the comment "long path" on the DX Cluster network.

Since I worked TX5SPM on my vertical, I wondered how Jim could tell it was long path. My confusion is taht I thought the DX (Marquesas Island) was not too far from Hawaii, so it had to be a daylight propagation path. What did the path look like at that time?

So I was confused. I did not think that my signal from my vertical could be travelling LP! I have worked Laura, 3A2MD, via LP because she has mountains to her west headed from Monaco to US. We did this when my Hex Beam was up, back on 1 January 2008 in the morning local time.

I decided to ask Jim, W9VNE, for his thoughts on this. Jim has been in the hobby for more than 50 years and he is on the DXCC Honor Roll at #1, so he knows what he is talking about!

Jim provided me some GREAT information, and with his permission I am posting his thoughts here, bceause I find this fascinating:

How do I know that the path was long path (LP) ? That is a good question. Two ways of knowing. First is turning your beam and peaking them. If LP then you will not hear them SP. While that sounds simple it is not intuitive. Sometimes a station will be both SP and LP. You can tell that too without much trouble (to the educated ear). The signal will have a flutter or echo on it. One signal coming from different directions will be out of phase since one is going 5,000 miles from Eastern Europe to USA and the other signal from the same station is going close to 20,000 miles. The 15,000 mile difference divided by the speed of sound 186,000 miles will give you that delay in the fraction of a second.

There are patterns (long established) about LP and SP. From the Eastern USA short path (SP) to the Pacific Islands occurs on 20 meters late in our evening from around midnight until it gets daylight. Since this QSO that I made occurred around 3 PM Eastern time it would not be short path. It was over South Africa. Other well known LP paths are into Europe from Midwest and Western states in dead of winter (late Dec into Feb) when it is getting dark in Eastern Europe 3 to 4 pm it is 9:30 or a little later in the morning. Turning the beam to Europe and you do not hear them and beaming to the South West you will hear them. Early sunset for EU but late sunrise for USA.

A good DX station; 3A2MD (a YL) is active on 20 cw. Her location in Monaco prevents her 2 element beam from doing much good as she is beaming directly into the high hills of Monaco City. She turns her beam about 10 AM my time and beams the long way around and I hear her out of the South West.

So how do you tell. Turn the beam. If no beam, become familiar with the times when this phenomena does occur. The Western Pac into NA is well known about 3:30 PM. I work many VK stations then on LP. I have worked Japan LP on Ten Meters about 9:30 AM when it was 9:30 PM in JA land. Beam is over Africa. You would not hear a thing if beam was on JA SP. Often you can work South East Asia in the morning by beaming into the South East. Stuff like HS and 9V1 9M2 can be heard on LP but not SP.

I look at the Terminator (grey line where the sun is just starting to shine or just starting to set. There is always a grey line around the globe. When you are in it (the grey line) you should look for stations on the other end of the grey line. The path will always be LP. I used to work JA on forty meters about 4:30 PM on forty meters and that would be 4:30 AM in JA land. It is dependent upon frequency as much as time of day. LP propagation is most prevalent on 40, 30 and 20 meters. As I noted I have experienced it on 10 meters but that is very rare.

I akso asked Jim to comment on my earlier post on this blog regarding my JA long path QSO on 17 meters. Jim kindly responded with some more TERRIFIC analysis:

I did a cursory view of your blog. Working LP on 40 and 30 in the late afternoon is fairly routine. It is LP. Because it does NOT have flutter does not mean it is not LP. You can go over the pole(s) and not have flutter too. Flutter does occur on polar paths but not always. Depends on the amount of magnetic activity then and there.

A SKEWED path is something that is used to refer to an anomaly i.e., neither LP or SP. I have seen that with extreme magnetic activity. The signals from EU or AS can start off and then be DEFLECTED from their routine paths. An example is to receive EU from a direction of 70 degrees when it normally is 40 degrees. The signals peak at 70 and fall way off at normal 40 degrees. All of that occurs with high sun spots and high solar activity. Same occurs from JA.

So the term SKEWED should not be used as you used it. It was LP for sure at that time of day YB and 9V come in on 30 and 40 from the SOUTH EAST at that time of day.

So there you have it, excellent words of wisdom from an Old Timer. Thanks, Jim!

73 and good DX

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

And the hits just keep on coming...

I have been trying for two weeks to work TX5SPA/TX5SPM with no luck. The hex beam is still down, so I have the 43 foot vertical and the low off-center-fed dipole.

No luck on 17, 20, 30, or 40. Never heard him on 80 or the other bands. Pileups usually too intense for me to get through.

But TODAY! Saw TX5SPM on Marquesas on 20 CW and worked him on the second call. 100 watts to the vertical. Not new DX (I have FO/M on 40 confirmed), but new on 20.

The Flex DSP helped with making him copyable, and I could clearly see the stations he was answering in the split, so it was like shooting fish in a barrel to work him.

My only challenge is being heard now, and with 100 watts that is not going to change. So I just need more patience.

One week until the move. Cannot wait to get the antennas up!

73 and good DX!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Obsession with Asia, and the long way to get there

Why the obsession with Asia in Amateur Radio? It took me 31 years for my first QSO with People's Republic of China. And 32 years for my first QSO with Taiwan. I am in need of countries in Asia the most, and these are the hardest for me to get.

I don't often hear Japan, which is amazing because there are so many thousands of active hams there. When I do hear them, it is normally over the polar path and the signal;s are weak and fluttery. (I notice the same with China, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, etc).

There are exceptions: I worked Indonesia on 15 meter SSB at 8 AM local, but that was back in early 2002 just after the solar sunspot peak. And I did work Indonesia again on 40 meter CW in 2005, Dec 31st, late in the afternoon. That was pretty amazing and unique, strong signals and a huge pileup. Must have been unique because I was running 100 watts into a Cushcraft vertical. Clearly, that signal was NOT polar. It must have been skew, or more likely long-path because the time was late afternoon for me and there path of darkness for 40 meter prop was long path (40 meter signals don't propagate very well in sunlight, that's another story). Here's a pic of the solar position as it was on Dec 31.

With a strong non-fluttery signal, it did NOT come over the pole. But I have never had that happen again, so it probably was a one-time thing.

Back to today - I heard JA1LZR, Joe in Tokyo, on 17 meters, coming in really strong at 5 PM local time. NO POLAR FLUTTER. Wow, I thought, this is not a common occurrence. And he was a LOT stronger on the off-center-fed dipole than the vertical.

17 meter signals DO propagate better in sunlight. If they propagate (remember the solar conditions are pretty poor). I have tried to work JA on 17 meters before, with very limited success.

What is the position of the sun today?

What did JA1LZR look like today? Strong!

And it was not point-to-point just to me like my VK QSO three weeks ago. JA1LZR worked KP4, W9, W8, and another W4 after me.

What other data points would indicate that this was long path and not over the pole? Take a look at the radiation pattern of the off-center-fed dipole. It has a lobe in the long-path direction (although also in SP direction).

What other facts support the long-path hypothesis, besides strong signal with no polar flutter? Look again at the picture above in the lower left, of the PATH! The long-path signal travels almost along the sun line. This is also known as the grey-line, a special region with enhanced propagation signals.

More proof? Joe was running 800 watts to a 4 element SteppIR yagi. His signal never varied in intensity in the 20 minutes I listened. If he had gone the short path, the signal should have increased in strength as the sunlight over the direct path improved.

About 5:45 PM, his signal was suddenly no longer there. Gone. He had just been in a QSO shortly before then, and other stations were calling him. If the sunlight was increasing over Japan and I still had daylight, how could the path just disappear? It didn't. What disappeared (or changed) was the long path via the gray-line!

Now it could have been a skewed path, not direct long or short but indirect. No way to confirm or refute this, but normally skewed paths are (I believe) point-to-point like what happened with my 5 watt VK4 QSO on the dipole several weeks ago on 20 meters CW. NOONE ELSE HEARD HIM, HE WAS S9 HERE, THEN HE WAS GONE. That was a skew path.

This is not that circumstance.

So, I worked JA on 17 meters this afternoon, first call, on the dipole. He was strong. I am happy. Even the blind squirrel finds a nut occasionally!

73 and good DX

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Spend twice as much on the antenna as the radio

This nugget is some advice from many old-timers with a lot of DX experience, and I think it is very valid. As you can see from my previous posts, I am certainly putting in a lot of time into the antenna design at my new QTH.

Well, I am obsessed like a labrador retriever and his tennis ball; even though we are moving in just over two weeks, I am still improving on my current antenna situation. The chase for DX never ends.

I put my off-center-fed Buckmaster dipole BACK UP in at 32 feet, with the ends in vertical fashion to provide some gain and directivity on 40 (yes, even at 1/4 wavelength in height, this thing DOES work DX because the ends act like two quarter-wave radiators separated by a half wavelength, giving some broadside directivity).

So I have my 43 foot vertical and the Buckmaster (NOT Buxcomm) OCF dipole. This gives me options on all bands.

With challenging conditions, I'm still getting through with 100 watts. Oh, it takes longer and I have to listen a LOT more. I never did hear FT5GA or 3D20CR (FT5GA would have been an all-time new one). But yesterday I worked E51NOU on 17 meters CW on the OCF, and the evening before (my time) I worked E51NOU on 40 CW on the vertical.

Today I finally heard TX5SPA and was able to work him on the vertical after repeating my call several times, on 20 CW. (Oh how I miss my 2 element Hex yagi, never knew how much until I took it down to prepare for the move!)

Now let's take a look at how marginal the signals are with my setup now. Here's a shot of the TX5SPA signal on my Flex 3000 panadapter.

The blue window is the CW filter in very narrow mode. Notice the signal that is stronger just to the left, and the background noise that, although quiet, is not much below TX5SPA. (With the Flex 3000, I cannot even tell that the other signal is nearby, and the audio processing lets the signal "pop out" into my headphones.

Let's conclude two things: (1) TX5SPA is an excellent CW operator to hear me, and (2) my Flex 3000 technology gives me a great advantage to hear HIM in very marginal conditions. I will say the same for Bill, N7OU. From both ZL7/N7OU and E51NOU the conditions were not all that great. It sure helps when the DXer is an FB operator.

On my end, I have been DXing on CW for 32 years. But the technology does help me to hear the signal above the noise.

73 and good DX