IF Comp 2013

My reviews are a little delayed this year (thanks, government shutdown for turning October and November into scheduling train wrecks) and I didn’t get to take every submission on a test drive, but the silver lining is that I can just fire off my comments without worrying about influencing anyone else’s reviews. My comments will be short, as I just jotted a few notes about each work, and now a few weeks after playing them, I tend to only remember the points that really struck me. I didn’t use my scoring rubric from previous years, but I had the same criteria in mind. I would usually rate games according to five categories on a first pass and then adjust the scores before voting based on gestalt after playing all of them. This year, I went with my initial gut rating and used the overall history of IF Comp as a baseline.

These reviews are in the random order of play, up to the point that I hit the November 15th voting deadline. Here’s the pseudo-obligatory line break for propriety and etiquette:

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CE3/AI4SV

santiagopark2

I was in Chile this week for a conference on clinical trials in Latin America. I delivered about five talks in three days, but also managed to carve out a few hours to meet with the Radio Club of Chile — more about that in a subsequent post.  Today, I had a few hours free before the flight out and decided to explore the city a little before the taxi to the airport would arrive at the hotel.

I had charged the QRP gear during the conference, and I even had an external 2Ah lead acid battery. This time, TSA had decided that it was permitted to take it on the plane. Maybe it helped to label everything I was carrying as “sealed, unspillable, non-spillable, absorbed glass mat, lead-acid battery” and “not lithium”.  I even went so far as to write “this is a wheelchair” on my bag, since I know that lead-acid batteries are explicitly permitted in the cabin when the are “part of a wheelchair.”

wheelchair
Ceci n’est pas une pipe.

I headed for the metro system and took the red line from Los Leones to Banqueda, which is just south of the furnicular that runs up the side of Santiago Hill to Santiago Municipal Park.  The furnicular has a plaque that advertises that it is the same train that Pope John Paul II took to the top during his trip here. Well, if it’s good enough for the pope…

ilpapa

The furnicular ran smoothly, and we passed the zoological park on the way up. The top of the line is a plaza, which was full of bicyclers, who were taking advantage of the great Spring weather.  I exercised some restraint and did not follow the signs pointing “this way to the virgin”, but continued along the trail, towards the antennas that run along the ridge. The biking trail run along the side of the mountain, and followed it for a bit, then turned towards higher ground on dirt trails. I walked to the very top and checked out the antennas, but decided I really didn’t want to pitch my wire antenna anywhere near them.

The huge antennas on top of the hill
The huge antennas on top of the hill

I continued on a bit more to the East and found a nice place to plunk down on the side of a hill.

The furnicular parked at the top of the track.

I decided to go with a 15m antenna plus my SLT+ tuner. I pitched the wire into a tree and threw the counterpoise down the hill on the pine needles. I got everything else set up, turned on the radio, and didn’t hear much. The background was just not right. I tried tuning the antenna starting with the suggested inductor setting, but the little red light didn’t change at all.  I gave the SLT+ a couple knocks to see if anything was loose, and heard an occasional burst of static.

Of course, I didn’t have tools with me. I almost threw some into the bag, but recalling previous run-ins with TSA, I decided against it. I was, however, able to rip the pocket clip off my pen and use that as a screw driver to open the SLT+.  I had suspected that the toroids might have come loose, but when I opened it, I saw that I had already addressed that after the last incident — all were firmly anchored with hot glue. What had happened was that the red antenna banana terminal’s solder lug had rotated and was grounded. I twisted it around, and the noise level went up. As I tuned around, I started hearing signals.

ce3ai4sv

But, my troubles with the SLT+ weren’t over. When I tried to run the antenna this time, the capacitor knob spun freely. If I recall, it had been attached to the underlying polyvaricon shaft with either glue or nail polish. I tried to turn the capacitor from the side using the jaws of an alligator clip, but found it very difficult to do so.  I had little choice but to settle for the best match I could get using the inductors, although the loudest settings didn’t correspond well to the suggested settings. I decided to go by the SWR reading on the radio itself. My “feedline” was a piece of BNC-terminated coax only about a half meter long, so as long as the radio could tolerate the impedance mismatch, I figured I’d be okay. I did push the radio when it read “high vSWR”, but was willing to transmit with a few bars on the swr meter.  Being less picky let me transmit on both 10m and 15m; it seemed to work on both. The moral of this story: always throw a leatherman into the checked baggage. It may get stolen, but most of the time it won’t.

field_screw_driver
The broken-off pocket clip from a ballpoint pen served [poorly] as a phillips head screwdriver.
I was extremely relieved when I heard PY1XM, Tom, come back to me on 10m. Up to that point, I thought that I might be skunked on this outing, with nothing to show for hauling my equipment half a world away and up a mountain. Tom was operating from Rio, which is about 3000 km from Santiago. Right  after working him, I talked with Paulo, PR2W operating from Brasilia. Paulo gave me a 579, so I was glad that my signal was not entirely in the mud, although I’m sure his antenna did the heavy lifting.

The plaza overlooking downtown Santiago
The plaza overlooking downtown Santiago

While listening down the band, I heard an Italian station calling — he was pretty faint, so I though I would have no chance, but I could hear another station calling nearby. The more I spun the dial, the louder it became.  It was slow but sure, and I had to hear it a few times because I was not familiar with the structure of the call sign: CD6792. After one exchange, I found out that it was Álvaro, a member of the Radio Club of Chile that I had met the previous day. ¡Fine business, Álvaro!

The view from my operating position on the side of a hill.
The view from my operating position on the side of a hill.

I had two more contacts: LU8WX in Argentina was rapid-firing DX contacts, and he got didn’t miss a beat in replying to my unusually long call.  I also found that I could also get a reasonable match on 15m, so my final contact was with Rei, PY2VJ in Brazil.

So, five contacts isn’t anything to gloat about, but considering that Murphy accompanied me up the mountain, I was happy to have had even one. It seemed that conditions were getting better as the day went along, so propagation may also have played some role. I’ll note that the previous day, the K index had gone up to 4, and when I was operating it, it was declining, but still about 2.

Sweepstakes 2013

sweepstakes-roundupA couple quick notes on ARRL CW Sweepstakes 2013 before the memories evaporate:  I was keen to work this contest because although I’ve focused on and off on DX stations, I hadn’t worked all states by CW according to logbook of the world. Sure, I had, in fact, worked all states over the last couple years by CW, but for a number of states I have a QSL card rather than an entry in LOTW. I was concerned that we’d be moving this summer and I might not have a chance to get some of the less populated states into the record. I’m happy to report after the contest that CW contacts with all states are now documented in my LOTW account. I can now rest easy.

I don’t have a lot of experience in sweepstakes, and had to look up the exchange of serial number, precedence, my call, check value (the year I was licensed), and my state.  My sent exchange was of the form “001 A AI4SV 84 VA”.  It took quite a while to get used to sending that string, and more to get used to receiving it and getting it into N1MM.

I began at the starting time of the contest and was instantly barraged frantic 30+ wpm exchanges. Everyone was feeling the pressure at the start, and maybe this strategy pays off, but by the second day, the same stations had slowed way down. It’s not the end of the world to ask for fills and repeats, and in the worst case, you can always hear the station on their next reply and back-fill anything that you missed out on, but coming into the contest cold left me shaken up a bit. A few hours of contesting fixed that, and by the time I left to see “Gravity”, I had a flow going.

The next day, I was only on for a few hours in the middle of the day and a couple at the end. I made a dumb mistake in the last hour. Daylight savings time had changed in the US that weekend, and I hadn’t taken that into account — I thought the contest ended at 11 pm local time, but it ended at 10. I’d been working 40m and had just switched to 80m when the contest stopped, so I didn’t get to fully plunder the 80m crowd, and so came up short on some local areas, such as parts of New York and Massachusetts.

At the end of the event, here’s the breakdown of my score. I was a long way from a clean sweep, but I was very pleased to have worked Yukon Territory – I think that was a first for me.

band qsos pts sec
3.5 35 70 10
7 44 88 9
14 84 168 29
21 50 100 14
28 8 16 2
tl 221 442 64
score 28,288