Thursday, November 24, 2016

Some nostalgia - a new old microphone

Tidying up at my parents' place an old carton box turned up. In it was an old microphone, bought by my grandfather who was a professional pianist (picture below). He had the tendency of buying good quality "toys", so I was expecting this to be too good to just throw away. 

The tiny label on the microphone told me it was an MD421HN and the papers in the box told me it was made by Sennheiser. Time for a bit of research.

The microphone with german product leaflet

In the box there was an original product information leaflet and a separate leaflet showing accessories (both in German). There was also this intriguing little piece of paper showing - I reckon - the frequency response of this particular microphone.

Serial number, frequency response and production date: May 12, 1965
Googling the thing I found out this microphone is still in production albeit in version 2. I saw they are not the cheapest microphones around and considered a classic.

So.. what does one do with a 50 years old good quality microphone.. 
I am not much of a singer.. but maybe I can use it on my radio?

Googling a bit further I found that indeed people use this microphone on their radio set and with good results. Someone remarked it was a large improvement over the Heil headsets.

I have been using the Heil Elite Pro headset with HC-6 element for a long time now and I am more than pleased. There was absolutely no reason whatsoever to change this setup.. except for the appearance of the MD421.

I contacted a few HAMs that had mentioned using the MD421 here and there to figure out how they hooked this microphone up. With the information I got I decided to try and hook it up directly to my ICOM 756 Pro3, using the Heil plug.

Yesterday I was able to complete a cable and perform the first few tests. It seems to work. Comparing the audio via the monitor I have found that the microphone needs more drive than the Heil but it seems that with the volume on the set at 100% there is enough audio. 
There was no time to do on the air tests but I did log two WWFF activators - so people seem to be able to hear me.

The microphone has two settings ("music" and "speech") and the set has various settings as well, so I will need to experiment some more and then compare the results to the Heil mic.

Whatever the outcome, it is great to put my grandfather's microphone to use again.

My grandfather behind his piano

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Special 44 calls for PAFF activities this year

In WWFF the number 44 has a special meaning and is used as exchange at the end of a QSO. There are different stories about what this number actually means but the widely accept version is that the first digit '4' represents the four elements: earth, water, air, and fire and the second digit '4' represents the four directions: north, south, west, and east.

When I turned 44 this year I decided to use that as an excuse to put some more time into PAFF activities again and use special calls with 44 in them. The first one will be PA44FF that will go live in December. 

Special calls are a bit of a nuisance over here as they can only be used for 4 weeks. This means you need to reapply if you want a longer period. However you cannot apply for a new period or new call as long as you hold one. Considering that it takes the authorities 3 weeks to process your request, you can effectively only use a special call every other month.

The QSL card I will use the coming year for PAFF activities

Monday, October 31, 2016

PH0NO goes vlogging

Setting up my /P station for CQWW this weekend I made some movies to give you an impression of what setting up that station entails. 

This one shows you how I set up my hexbeam. It is up on the mast (around 12m/40ft high) in 20 minutes.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

CQWW 2016 experiences

Logging a lot of new (band) ones on the low bands
As planned I went out this weekend to try and catch some new band DXCC - so not necessarily atno although I would have enjoyed that bonus.

My focus was on the low bands this time. I did take my hexbeam just in case there were new ones for me to catch on any of the higher bands. In retrospect it was not really worth the effort though. I logged one new DXCC on 20m and three on 15m. I learned I was too late as I could have worked more new ones on 15m but soon after I started (around 15h UTC) the band started to fade.

Apart from the hexbeam I took my recently constructed vertical that acts as end fed half wave on 40m and as a quarter wave on 80m with elevated radials. It turned out the end fed was resonant in part of the 160m band as well. I brought my tuner so I was able to use the whole band with that antenna.

An evening out on a deserted industrial area - hexbeam and vertical

Scanning the low bands
The low bands were noisy. The geomagnetic storm I experienced last Wednesday had settled a bit but it was still noisy. Another thing is that with a contest as big as CQWW the rather narrow bands are one big splatter party. This is especially true on 40m.

After spending time on 15m and 20m, logging only a handful of contacts, I turned to 40m around 15:30 UTC. There was not a lot to chase there, so I went down to 160m. It was early for that band but it was easy as I did not have to change anything when switching between 40m and 160m. For 80m I had to change the antenna setup slightly so it took some time to switch to and from that band.

Using my laptop with HRD Logbook I was able to monitor the cluster and see where I could find new ones. HRD shows you whether a DXCC that is spotted is already in your log for that band. Based on that information I switched between the bands. Unfortunately my laptop battery died at some point. I did bring an external battery but forgot the cable. I then relied on just listening around and on the cluster app on my phone. The downside is that I just cannot remember what DXCC I worked on what band.

Moving around across the bands I logged 69 contacts in 12 hours. Not particularly impressive during a contest (I suspect some stations managed more contacts in that period). However they contribute 44 new band DXCC to my collection.

Experiences per band
My 40m antenna was working as I expected. It is not a miracle antenna but I could work what I could copy. This included PY, a new one and the ODX on this band this weekend. I logged him when I had taken down the hexbeam and just wanted to check the low bands for the last time before taking down the vertical. I was happy with that catch. There is however a lot I cannot hear that others apparently can hear - judging from QSOs where I can only copy one side. This vertical end fed is clearly not a match for a beam. Conditions weren't particularly good and QRM was incredible, so I only logged 4 new DXCC on this band. I had hoped to log more new ones to move towards my 5th 100+ DXCC. I was counting on skip to the Caribbean but I only worked 8P.

My 80m antenna was better than I expected. The quarter wave relies on the ground system to work and with only 4 rather short elevated radials I was not expecting a lot. But again I could work almost everything I could hear. ODX this weekend was A6 at more than 5000km and I logged 12 new DXCC on this band. Note that I don't use this band at home and I had only logged 37 DXCC before (mainly on one evening and night in the snow when I joined the PACC for the first time).

On 160m I had only worked one station so far since I got my full license - some nearby german super contest station on CW on a shortened 40m wire antenna. This of course meant that almost all stations I heard were new DXCC on that band. The antenna was resonant but very short for this band (20m). I could work more than I expected but could not work everything I could hear. I noticed some stations had difficulty copying me while I could copy them without a problem. So there is still a lot to improve for this band. Starting with only 1 DXCC this was of course the best scoring band. I added a whopping 28 new DXCC here. ODX on this band was a respectable 2900km into 5B4.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Preparing low band verticals for CQWW

Conditions on HF have been better than they are the last few months. I find this a good reason to spend more time on the lower bands. 

Another good reason is that I completed my 100 DXCC on the fourth band just last week or so. It was on 17m. I am not counting on reaching that number on 12m any time soon - as I have failed to use that band when conditions were more favourable. So the next candidates are 40m and 80m. I could also go for 30m of course but phone remains my favourite mode.

With the limited space I have at home I will need to go out /P to work new DXCC on those bands. At home I use a shortened end fed wire for 40m (just 12m long) and that will not really bring me any further than I have reached so far. 80m is even more challenging. I have not worked out an effective solution for that band yet. The other obstacle is that the areas I need to work are generally workable late at night or very early in the morning. Using phone at these hours in a room that is not sound proof will get me into trouble with the rest of the family.

All of this made me decide to focus on the low bands during CQWW this month. A couple of times before I have used this contest to hunt DX by reserving a considerable (to my standards) amount of time during the contest weekend going out /P with the best antennas I have. In the past I have used a 4 element mono band yagi for 10m that created an unforgettable experience where I just worked atno's like there was no tomorrow and I have used my hexbeam with success as well.

On the low bands I used inverted V dipoles before. They work, and have provided me with new band DXCC but they have a (mainly) high angle radiation pattern. It would be nice to try something with a better DX profile. So that is why I went out today to test two verticals I prepared at home: a quarter wave with 4 elevated radials for 80m and an end fed half wave for 40m (this time full size instead of the shortened version I used before). 
To be able to switch them easily - without taking down the mast - I use the same radiator for most of the length. The 80m antenna is a bit longer so I have an extension wire I can add / remove that connects to an SO259 socket with the four radials. When I use the antenna on 40m I disconnect the last bit with the radials and add my end fed transformer.

18m pole holding a stretch of wire
Today was also a test to see if I could set up my 18m mast by myself in the field. Normally I use a support like my car or any sign post or fixed pole I can find. The contest location I use is just open field. After some trying I found a procedure that worked well.

I used my VNA and my radio to see if the antennas worked and they indeed seemed OK. There was no enough time to do serious testing on the air and the bands were in terrible shape (s8-9 qrn/qrm). The plots and TX tests showed me that the 80m antenna is easily usable from 3.6 to well over 3.8mc. It dips in the phone contest region of the band. The bandwidth of the 40m end fed was much wider than the trapped version I used before. I can use it across the whole band.
I also found that the radials of the 80m vertical really need to be off the ground some 10-15 centimeters. If they are too close to the ground the performance really deteriorates with SWR rising above 1:5 easily (1:1.4 when the radials are well off the ground).

It seems I am ready for some action this weekend. Now let's hope the earth magnetic field calms down in time. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

First DL activation - Geldenberg DLFF-0213

On last notice an appointment was canceled leaving me with time off on Friday afternoon. This gave me the opportunity to go /P again after some time of radio-inactivity.

I live close to the border with DL and there are a number of DLFF references nearby but for some reason I never activated any of them. I decided this needed to change - so I headed out to Kleve to activate Geldenberg DLFF-0213.

As conditions have been horrible I took my amplifier with me, to enhance the chances of being heard. I decided against taking a beam as that would mean bringing a lot of heavy stuff and losing more time setting up and breaking down the station.

After a detour because of a blocked main road I quickly found a good operating spot. I started around 12:45 UTC on 20m. The band was already open to east coast US to my surprise. I stayed on 20m for an hour logging 78 chasers. Not too bad.

18m pole with EFHW antenna
Somewhere in this first hour a car pulled into the parking space I was in and someone walked up to my station. I guessed right when I asked him if he was Axel DL1EBR. I just spoke to him before (as I did many times before from various nature reserves), and he lives a few kilometers from the nature reserve I was in now. It was nice to be able to connect a face to the voice I already knew.

After 20m slowed down I set up my inverted V and tried 40m. It was already very lively and in over an hour I logged another 99 chasers. Then I tried 15m before heading home. It was barely open but I did log a few stations including a ZS4 - the odx this time.

In total I logged 180 chasers from 34 DXCC with 3 P2P contacts.
It was fun, thanks to all the chasers that called in & Axel who came by in person.

Monday, August 29, 2016

VEFF experiences

From the end of July up till August 14 I traveled through VE3 (and a small part of VE2) with my family. I visited family in Toronto and made a round trip from there up to Manitoulin Island, Algonquin Provincial Park and into Montreal. From there we went back to Toronto via the 1000 Islands area.

My idea was to take my radio with me and to activate one or more nature reserves.

Before heading over to VE3 I contacted the VEFF coordinator - Dave VA3RJ - to find out what nature parks would be on my route. Dave took the opportunity to revise the VEFF list, adding a number of provincial parks in VE3.
He also helped me a great deal by highlighting all nature reserves close to the route I would be travelling.

Although customs was suspicious, I was able to bring my radio on the plane. I took my Yaesu FT857d, a HyEndFed transformer and a collection of wires for all HF bands. As I could not bring a pole I relied on my hockey ball and nylon wire to get my antenna up in a tree.

First activity: VEFF-0158 Blue Jay Creek Provincial Park 
The first place where I was near a nature reserve and was able to plan a time slot for radio-activity was on Manitoulin Island. This enormous island is very sparsely populated and would be a nice IOTA candidate if only the lakes surrounding it would have contained salt water - they don't.

The island is on the Canadian islands award list however and features three VEFF nature reserves. Two of those were 1.5h to 2h drive away (yes, it is a large island) and one - Blue Jay Creek Provincial Park - was less than 30 minutes away. So I chose Blue Jay Creek, even though it was impossible to enter this park by car.
I suspected I might end up in a reserve I would have to enter on foot, so I bought two lawn mower batteries (12v and not too heavy) before we headed to the island.

Entrance road leading to the edge of Blue Jay Creek (4x4 advisable..)

The Blue Jay himself

Set-up reasonably comfortable - end fed wire up in the tree  
I did check the propagation predictions so I had a vague idea of when the bands would be open to EU but I had no idea what kind of activity levels to expect. I was not disappointed. EU was open from the start for more than 3 hours. What did surprise me was the low activity level from NA. I tried 40m for a while but logged only 2 stations.

In 4 hours I logged exactly 100 calls - 56 EU, 38 NA, 4 SA en 2 AF. ODX was 8200km into RA6.

Second activity: VEFF-0334 Oxtongue River & Ragged Falls Provincial Park 
The second opportunity arrived when we were staying in a cabin just outside Algonquin Provincial Park. That is by far the largest park in Ontario. As it is huge I expect it stands a good chance to be activated by someone else in the future, so I chose a smaller park that borders Algonquin: Oxtongue River. 

Working from an airconditioned shack
Oxtongue river (worth a canoe trip)

and the Ragged Falls
As you can see I was in a beautiful area but radio-wise it was a disaster. In Blue Jay Creek I was near a large body of water (Lake Huron) and that must have played a role. Or radio conditions were just really bad this time. EU was really weak. After 4 hours I had logged a whopping 27 contacts. I feared I would not be able to reach the WWFF minimum of 44 contacts (let alone the 100 I always aim for). After 4h I found that 40m picked up with stations from the US. In another 2h I logged 26 more stations, bringing the total to 53 (in 6! hours) - 21 EU, 30 NA, 1 SA and 1 AF. ODX was S5 at 6800km.

This was by far the slowest activity I experienced ever. I think it is even worse than running the PACC contest in the early morning hours.

Third activity: VEFF-0023 Frontenac Biosphere
On our way back towards Toronto we stopped in a very nice house not far from the 1000 Islands national park (St Lawrence NP). I was thinking of activating that one, when I found out the house itself was located in a VEFF nature reserve: Frontenac Biosphere.

That was as conveniently as it can get. I had bought a power supply locally and found a 110V outlet at the back of the house, where there were a number of suitable trees for the end fed wires. This allowed me to operate until late without disturbing the family.
I planned to have a longer activity starting around the time 20m would open to EU and continuing until 40m would open to EU. I learned from the first two activities that there was a gap when 20m would close to EU, and before 40m would pick up in NA. This time I would not waste an hour logging close to nothing, but I joined my family for dinner instead. The luxury of operating from the place you are staying.. a whole new concept I enjoyed a lot.

I used my HyEndFed trafo with the original "multiband" wire - 12m of wire with a coil at 10m. Resonant on 10, 20 and 40m. It is not very long on 40m but a very practical solution in between trees.

View from the EFHW trafo up in the trees

Enjoying a beer while the ants enjoyed my nachos

This fellow was climbing up my leg before inspecting the radio - a walking stick. Dave VA3RJ told me you hardly see them as they only come out at night. 
I started on 20m and found that conditions were far better than at Oxtongue River. I could copy EU much stronger - though not as strong as at Blue Jay Creek. 20m was open to EU until around 23h UTC. I logged a number of NA stations and when 20m became slow I went for dinner to come back to 40m when it was lively in NA. I continued and started to hear EU stations from around 4am UTC.

One of the first stations I logged on 20m was Danny ON4VT. When he came back to me on 40m more than 9 hours later and reminded me of the fact that he had already slept in between, I decided it was time to go QRT.

I logged 113 contacts this time - 49 EU, 60 NA, 3 SA and 1 AF. ODX was 8200km to PY1 with an interesting 7300km to YO on 40m.

This way the radio brought a nice little extra to a great holiday in VE. Thanks to Dave VA3RJ I had various options available for activations - making it possible to blend them in with all the other family activities.

Thanks to all chasers who came by and kept me busy out in the middle of nowhere.