Solar CDX

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…

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¡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.

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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.

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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.

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A club meeting in Vienna

The QSL sorting area at club HQ.

The QSL sorting area at club HQ.

For once I went to a radio club meeting in Vienna, but not in Virginia. Earlier this week, I landed in Austria, had some meetings at the Vienna International Center and then headed directly to the Landesverband Wien in Österreichischen Versuchssenderverband, i.e., the Vienna section of the Austrian IARU member organization. According to their website, meetings are held every Thursday at 17:00h. It turns out that this is true, but 17:00 is just the starting time — most come between about 17:00 and 19:00 (presumably the time is more exact on an evening with a scheduled activity).

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The Ginger Polygraph


The frequently lit red light indicates that our dog is lying.

My dog Ginger has a problem: she really likes food. That, coupled with her uncanny ability to convince family members that she has not been fed adds up to an overweight dog. She is not particularly sensitive about the subject and besides, she doesn’t read this blog (does anyone?) so I don’t think she’ll mind if I write about our attempt to find a technologically sound solution to her overeating, which is really a matter of our overfeeding her.

Ginger is supposed to get two scoops of dog food, one in the morning, one in the evening. Mornings, however, are chaotic. I get up and shower, and my wife adds food to the bowl. Then, while my wife is in the shower, Ginger whines and I figure she hasn’t eaten, so bowl number two. Often we’re out the door before the kids have emerged from their rooms, and at least one of them will take pity on Ginger, who clearly has not been fed at that point, and she gets her third bowl. Pretty much any time someone walks past her bowl, it seems that she hasn’t been fed. You would think we’d be on to her now, but there are times where in our rush to get out, we have made the mistake of each assuming the other one fed the dog. Ginger reminds us constantly of these rare occasions.

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Weller WESD51 Evil Football Taunt

Fooled again.

Fooled again.

You know how you never see negative results published? Well, here are some. Recently, I thought that I had used experimentation and logic to find a clever fix for my transiently functional solder station. For the entire day after I soldered in two capacitors, it worked beautifully. On, off. On, off. On, off. And every time I turned it on, the LED display lit up, the soldering iron got hot, and everything was peachy. Until this evening. I turned it on, finally hopeful that I had found an enduring fix and… no. Nothing. No LEDs. No heat. It mocks me.

Once again, with experience borne of many unproductive disassemblies, I tore the solder station apart and poked around. This time, poking the CLKOUT pin didn’t help. I clipped off the cap on the CLKIN. No help. I clipped off the other one, no help. I’m still getting power to the MPU, the oscillator is still oscillating. What gives? I didn’t keep at it long enough to see if it would randomly turn on again at some point.

You’ve won this round, Weller, but I’ll be in Europe next week — where they sell 230V Hakkos, and I’m just about ready to buy one.

Weller WESD51 Repair

wesd51My solder station, a WESD51 had become increasingly flaky over the last year – at times, it would fail to turn on. Flip the switch up and down a few times, and the digits would light up and the iron would heat; flip a few more and it would remain inert. Sometimes it would work immediately, sometimes it would just not turn on at all. Every time I took it apart, it would trick me by eventually working again, only to fail when reassembled. To compress months of annoyance into one sentence: I seem to have fixed it by soldering some capacitors onto the oscillator crystal. Note added after the fact: Nope this didn’t fix it. See next post for grousing.

Generally, I like Weller irons. I had used the analog version of this model (i.e., no LED digits, just a knob to set temperature) for a couple years. During that time, I had sunk some funds into buying a variety of tips from teeny screwdriver up to the broad chisel that I use for soldering coax plugs. So, when it came time to move overseas, I found a 230V version online and ordered it. I had considered just putting the US model on a transformer, but thought it better to have a model directly grounded through its plug. Continue reading Weller WESD51 Repair

Wifi for the Garage

A look inside the Linksys WRT54GS router used in this project.

A look inside the Linksys WRT54GS router used in this project.

Propagation has been abysmal, so it’s time to hang out in garage and work on projects. One catch: the garage PC gave up the ghost about a month ago. The Windows 7 computer had been functioning for a few months as a wifi repeater that let me use other wireless devices in the garage. Unfortunately, it looks like a power spike may have taken out the motherboard. I have retired that PC, and came up with a replacement: a linksys wrt54gs router reflashed with DD-WRT firmware and hardware modifications to add a cantenna.

Last week I made a video about putting up the hex beam, and now that I have the video editing software, I made one about the wifi repeater bridge project. Making video is somewhat addictive, so I think there are more on the way. I have a ways to go in terms of production quality – maybe Christmas will bring a better video-capable camera.

On the subject of videos, my home club, the Vienna Wireless Society, is now posting videos of presentations made at the club.