Hi - I'm Jack, a researcher with the US National Cancer Institute. I am based in Antananarivo, Madagascar. This blog is devoted to hobby items like amateur radio (my call sign: 5R8SV), electronics, computers and interactive fiction.

Solar CDX

SOTA W6/NC-423 (Mount Davidson)

After a week of meetings in Washington, I arrived in San Francisco for a meeting on gastrointestinal cancer that is held every year about this time.  In the previous week, I had thought about where I might operate if weather were good and decided on Mount Davidson, the highest elevation within the City of San Francisco, and a SOTA peak (W6/NC-423). I got into town the day before meetings and the forecast was good, so took a bus to the park entrance. For reference, the bus stop is at the intersections of Dalewood Way and Lansdale Avenue. I have to admit that the bus did a lot of the work, as the park entrance itself it at considerable elevation. From that entrance, there is a clear trail right up to the summit. The trail was in good shape, but a bit slippery since it had rained the day before.

IMG_20160120_142632There is a sign near the base of the trail that specifies that the very top of the mountain is not owned by the city, but owned privately (but nonetheless is accessible by the public). I worked from a park bench in that area, throwing my end-fedz antenna over a eucalyptus tree just to the west of the bench.

I went in the afternoon, which I thought would give me the best chance of reaching the US East Coast on 20m and perhaps working regionally on 40m. It was a week day and propagation was a little down, and I ended up with about fifteen contacts, which ranged from K6EL’s booming signal from a neighboring hill out to New York. Again, contacts spread evenly between 40m and 20m, with only K6EL hearing my call on 10m. I had meant to try 2m, but left the antenna in the hotel room.

I came down the mountain when it got dark, and while it was a fun adventure to take the bus to the mountain, I dialed up an Uber car when I got to the trail head and was back in the city 20 minutes later. The QSOs have been logged into the SOTA database, but upload to LOTW will again have to await my return to Antananarivo next week.

Here’s a picture from the peak facing North. I like this picture, because I can see my operating positions from previous visits to San Francisco: Buena Vista Park and Twin Peaks.



SOTA W6/NC-432 (Chabot 2 Benchmark)

radioSelfieI thought I would be lucky if I had time to activate one summit on my visit to San Francisco, but morning meetings left my afternoons free, so I activated Mt Davidson (NC-423) as planned but also worked in Richardson East Benchmark (NC-407). Yesterday, thanks to a monstrous amount of snow that shut down airports on the US east coast, I found myself with an extra day in San Francisco. After reviewing maps, reports from other activators and a quick look at weather, I chose to visit NC-432, Chabot 2 Benchmark (what does that mean, benchmark? Why are all these peaks called Benchmark? Is that a west coast thing?).

One of my main criteria for choosing this peak, like the others I visited on this trip, was that it would be accessible by public transportation: I took the BART underground from near my hotel (Powell Station), green line towards Daly City, stopping at Bay Fair. From the bus terminal at that station, I caught the 89 “counter-clockwise”. The bus runs only hourly on the weekends, so I had a bit of a wait. I took the bus to the Juvenile Justice Center, about ten minutes away. I suppose you could walk, but the route crosses a major interstate (580) and there’s more walking to come, so I thought it was worth the $2.10 fare.

Continue reading SOTA W6/NC-432 (Chabot 2 Benchmark)

SOTA W6/NC-407 (and NPOTA RC 11)

richardsonHaving worked Mount Davidson, the highest point in San Francisco (283m), the only way to get more altitude (“excelsior!”) was to leave the city. I set my sights on Richardson East Benchmark (339m) in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, just north across the Golden Gate bridge from the city.

After spending the morning in meetings, I again checked the weather forecast. Although it had been drizzling all morning, the lowest probability of precipitation occurred in the afternoon, so I packed my bags and took the 70 bus north from 5th and Mission. The timing worked out just right, by the time the bus got to the destination, rain had stopped.

IMG_20160122_132933The most convenient entrance to the park is at the park and ride station, “Spencer Avenue Bus Pad”.  Google Maps suggested taking one of the North bound buses, e.g, the 70 or the 4, northward past the stop and then coming back southward on another bus since the trail head is on the southbound side of the bus pad. This is not necessary, as you can walk from one side of the bus pad to the other through an underpass. This shaves off a lot of time and some extra bus fare.

There is a sign near the entrance, the morning sun trail. Stairs lead upward from that point, and the morning sun trail joins with other trails that circle the peak. The stairs wind back and forth a bit, but are not too steep. I did find the upper portion of the stairs slippery since it had rained earlier in the day and the stairs were covered with organic detritus (i.e., dead leaves).


A more detailed view of the trail map from the parking lot sign.

At the top of the stairs, there is a scenic lookout, which includes a bench. The peak itself is visible from there, topped with commercial radio antennas. I ended up climbing most of the way up, but wanted to keep some distance to those antennas. Again, my antenna plan consisted of throwing the 10/20/40 end-feds into a tree.

I did remember this time to bring the VHF antenna and I tried putting out a call on the 2m calling frequency at the start and end of operation, but heard nothing. My business band was 20 meters, with 35 contacts. I was working two a minute for a while. I only had two contacts on 40m, which seemed alive with activity, but mostly QRO, so I might have been buried in the noise.

Some of the activity might be attributable to a comment that NF1R added on sota spotting network, that the peak was not only a SOTA peak, but also NPOTA RC11. I hadn’t realized that when I chose the location, but when I enter the contacts into LOTW, I’ll be sure to use the NPOTA unit number so chasers get NPOTA credit as well. The SOTA contacts have already been entered, but I’ll need to get home to update LOTW.

Best DX to the east was NY (preparing for a blizzard), FL and TX to the south, a good showing for Canadian stations (ON, QC, and BC), and westward, HI.

NAQP-CW from W2

IMG_20160109_203053I started in 2016 in Mauritius, but since getting a temporary license there requires a few months lead time, I wasn’t able to operate from there. I had about two days on the ground in Madagascar, and then packed again for the US for meetings in DC and San Francisco. This time, the FT817 came along and saw some use.

The night after I arrived, I rented a car and drove up to visit my parents in New Jersey. It was the weekend of the winter NAQP-CW contest, so when I got there I threw my end-fedz 10/20/40m into a tree, suspended the matchbox from another tree about 3 meters up, and ran the coax into the kitchen since it was chilly and drizzling out.

Continue reading NAQP-CW from W2

Weller: The Final Chapter

Well, I hope it is the final chapter. I’ve written before about fixing and then learning that I hadn’t quite fixed my Weller WESD51 digital soldering iron. After much manipulation, I think I ended up cooking the PIC chip on the PC board, so I just ordered another board. Long story short: replacing the old board with a new one worked and I now have a functional solder station. I have some details below about where I ordered the replacement board and how I installed it in case anyone runs into a similar situation (or, given that cyclone season is again upon us with massive voltage fluctuations on the mains, in case my unit gets toasted again and I need to follow my own instructions).

Continue reading Weller: The Final Chapter

The other side of the wall


I got back from a trip on Friday, woke up at a reasonably leisurely hour on Saturday and thought it would be fun to test the waters of the big CW contest going on. Almost immediately, I was drawn in and didn’t leave the chair for another seven hours. Since the CQ WW DX contest is based on zones and there just aren’t many contesters in my zone (39), it was very flattering to be the object of desire for the rest of the world, but being on this side of the DX wall is quite different from what I’m used to.

At the best of times, I was working three calls a minute in a jedi mind-trance, but that of course was not typical. There were plenty of times where I was dialing around, trying to get noticed with my 100W and two-element antenna. However, the converse was also a challenge – sometimes I would be plugging away at a good rate and then all hell would break loose. Somewhere, someone had spotted me and suddenly I would find myself lying on the space shuttle launch pad, looking up at the main engines sparking to life, while trying to hear a song playing on someone’s ipod on the flight deck. The experience of operating into a solid wall of callers added some new perspectives…

Continue reading The other side of the wall

¡SSB en fuego!

This past weekend was the CQ WW SSB contest — one of the big ones. I usually have a vague idea about the approach of a contest and decide whether to take part on Friday of the contest weekend, but I had marked this one on the calendar ahead of time and was prepared. Aside from setting up everything and working a bit of SSB earlier in the week, I spent some time looking at propagation and figuring out where to point the antenna at different times of day to hit both areas with high densities of hams (NA, EU, Japan), but also beam heading that would cover the most DXCC entities, the multiplier for this contest.

Continue reading ¡SSB en fuego!

VHF Update: Repeaters, Earth and Sky

Relais 5R8ZZ

Relais 5R8ZZ

I got an email from Albert, 5R8GV, last week alerting me and other hams in the area that Serge, 5R8GX/FR5GX, had put a repeater into operation: 5R8ZZ.  The repeater is based at his house and puts out 16 watts (after filters) through a quarter-wave ground plane antenna on his roof. The repeater’s input frequency is 145.150 Mhz and the output frequency is 145.750 Mhz (i.e., set your radio to 145.750, with 600 khz negative offset). No PL tones are used; instead send a brief 1750 Hz tone to open the repeater.

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A quiet night at home


A tale of low power operation in the dark.

For the past couple weeks, we’ve been experiencing load-shedding that starts about an hour after sunset.  The capital region of Madagascar does not have enough electrical power production capacity at present to run everything at once, so there is a rotating blackout. Now that I’ve added some UPSes, this has minimal impact on my family because we have a back-up generator that comes online in under a minute — usually. Last week, the generator didn’t start rumbling and we sat in the dark [presumably] looking at each other.

Continue reading A quiet night at home

OE1ZJW Field Operation

Operating position at the top of the hill. The hills are alive with the sound of CW.

Operating position at the top of the hill. The hills are alive with the sound of CW.

I was in Vienna on a business trip, but I had some time on Sunday to put the portable station on the air using my Austrian guest license, OE1ZJW.

At the Vienna radio club meeting, OE1VFW gave me two invaluable pieces of advice. The first was where to shop for electronics: Conrads. Their megastores in Vienna carry consumer electronics, hardware and tools, and hobby electronics like arduinos, raspberry pis, various kits, parts, project boxes, etc. I was able to restock a few items that I needed back in Madagascar. The other bit of wisdom: where to operate.

If I had lived in Vienna for a few years, I probably would have eventually come to the same conclusion: Cobenzl. It is elevated and far from any noise sources. I have rarely heard background so low. I could hear signals that would not even budget the S meter.

Just outside the city on the North side there is a wine-producing area known as Grinzing. From the Heiligenstadt Bahnhof, the 38A bus runs through this region and up to a park. Near the bus stop, there are restaurants and public bathrooms, so this is civilized sort of “field” trip. Behind these facilities, however, is a large public field.

Continue reading OE1ZJW Field Operation