solstice

Le Soleil

The sun affects the DX-er in profound ways. While some say that the low bands do not need sun spots or other solar activity, this is not entirely true. However, the low bands (160 – 30M) will work quite nicely with much lower sunspot activity than the higher bands (20M and up). The low bands do need lower noise levels to be most productive. Solar noise is one form, and then there is the man made noise. The best thing is that bands like 160M are still a mystery propagation wise. For example, a few mornings ago I was able to copy a QSO between a ham in Colombia (HK) and Japan (JA), and this was during fairly high lightning activity in the US – even out West. But in general – 160M is not very useful during the summer in the Northern Latitudes. 40M has been fantastic every morning on the grey line to Africa and on the Short Path at night to Europe, and 20M has been awesome almost every night – into Africa, the Middle East and Europe – on the Short Path and just after sunset. I have even heard some decent European DX at night on 30M. I haven’t been checking 80M at all.

This has been one of the better summers for DX, and the SSN has been around 40 for many of these nights. The noise level (excluding lightning noise) has actually been very low at my QTH, and so – even with lower sunspot numbers, the signals seem much better due to lower noise, and there are “enough” sunspots to support world wide DX. I think this bodes well for several years to come.

Solar Cycle 25 Predictions

In this paper:

http://www.probeinternational.org/Livingston-penn-2010.pdf

The predicted peak sunspot number for Cycle 25 is 7. Is this cause for concern?

Disclaimer: after experiencing the predictions for Cycle 24 and seeing how “all over the map” they were, I now take them with a big grain of salt. I don’t trust that any will be “right on”, but I still like to read what the scientists / sooth sayers predict and then use that to create a simulated “what if” strategy. Lets say its “hoping for the best but planning for the worst”. Part of the fun of being an Armchair (or is it really backyard?) DX-er is to come up with alternative antenna strategies based on my DX-ing goals at the time – and what the ionosphere will support.

My DX-ing Goals (in this priority and chronological order):

I only participate in the ARRL DXCC program, so this article focuses on my participation in the DXCC.

  1. Play with my new home brewed antennas – continuing to test their performance by busting pileups – especially 40M and 20M
  2. Make DXCC on 160M which will also get me to 9BDXCC
  3. Work FT4TA on any band – one band on CW and another band for SSB
  4. Honor Roll #1 (I need E3, FT/T, FT/G, VP8/S, KP1, 3Y0/B, VK0/H, KH5K)

This approach could be called Do what you can, when you can!

History

At the bottom of Cycle 23, I remember what seemed like years where 20M never even opened up. However, I still worked something like 18 ATNO’s between 2007 – 2009 – and 40M “saved the day” in this regard. But I also did have some 20M and even 17M rare DX in the log. I also remember reading about VK0IR – who worked 80K QSO’s with the SSN at ZERO in 1997. The main reason? Pretty much every path to world wide DX-ers did not involve a polar path. For me, only E3 would be an entity that probably would demand a polar path – as far as what I need to get to HR #1, and I expect it to be one of the last ones that could be activated towards that goal. 7O2A was amazingly strong on the Short Path – and that was during a CQ DX contest last October with constant giant pileups and the SSN at 141 – so E3 is probably the only SP entity I need that really would require some serious sunspots to work. HOWEVER, during Cycle 23 I worked Iraq and Afghanistan on 40M during a grey line, and so – 40 or 30M could be usable. They were not “easy” – but at the time, there weren’t as many strong players on the low bands – so that used to be a great way for the little pistol to “sneak” in some juicy rare and difficult zone DX. Alas – it seems every band now is full of high power competitors – so those little “tricks” are fewer and far between.

So – even with ZERO sunspots – it certainly IS more frustrating – but no where near time to give up. Those who persevere will get to Honor Roll – or whatever your goals are. Patience becomes one of your biggest tools, and by far – you will need to finally get really serious about antennas. I wish I had then what I have now in my back yard – because I would not have missed FT5GA (Glorioso). Oh well. I have now worked every part of the world – and with far lesser antennas than what I have now. SO – I have done my homework and wrench work . . . I am well prepared. The learning on the way to Honor Roll far outweighs the award itself. The journey was everything.

So – for me – the answer to the question in the previous paragraph is NO.

Slippery Slope Down to Cycle 25

We are something like 5 or 6 years away from Cycle 25, and the slope down from this second peak of Cycle 24 will be long and slow. There is certainly plenty of time for anyone within a handful away from DXCC Honor Roll to make it. Likewise for all other awards. So – what is the biggest mitigating factor?

Location, Location, Location (er, Activation, Activation, Activation)

The biggest “throttle” on making one’s goals is simply “timing”. Timing as in “Who is activating what and when?” – and “What do I need?“. As you climb up the ladder towards Honor Roll – you will find that some years you will be very lucky to work one or two ATNO’s, tops. And, as VK0IR did – some of these will be activated at the very bottom of a cycle. I think I worked something like 18 at the bottom of the last cycle – and they were all somewhat rare, rare, or very rare – because this was when I was past the 300 mark. Some say this is “butt in chair time” – but for me it wasn’t. I pretty much only transmit to work a new ATNO or a counter on 160M. Sure – I transmit to test new antennas, and I used to participate in DXCC Challenge – but these days – its mostly just ATNO’s and 160M counters. However – I am listening every day – so there are no cob webs gathering on my gear. I prefer to have more butt on the bike time – and I go road cycling or mountain bike riding when there is nothing on the bands that I need.

This is a great “post honor roll” year for me – FT5ZM last Winter, and FT4TA this Fall. I’ve finally grown completely patient with this pace. I’m also up to 60 confirmed on 160M – and 10 new ones there a year is about how it goes these days. While I have waited – I have spent all of my ham time in the back yard working on antennas and a new most excellent tower – the AB-577. I’m having great ham fun – and have gotten completely back into cycling too. Its all good.

My Cycle 25 Strategy

I already know exactly what I will do for Cycle 25. If the SSN really does hit 7 for a peak – I will keep everything in my antenna farm exactly as it is (see QRZ.COM for a complete description). If 20M really does “go away”, I might think about swapping the 3 element 20M full sized yagi with a 2 element full sized 30M yagi – and I have the boom and aluminum already on hand to do so, but this is really a “Plan B” – heh heh. I will go back and see how many ATNO’s I worked on 20M with an SSN of Zero – that would be good to know.

My Predictions

I predict that more than sunspots, these things will affect what I can work and when (in what I think will be the priority and chronological order)

  1. Several protected environmental “heritage” entities will become much harder to access and activate. They will enter and climb the Top 10 Most Wanted
  2. Geo-political upheaval and change will force changes in the DXCC list – some entities might split – and some combine
  3. Polar expeditions will continue to become more expensive to activate than they are today

The DXCC List will continue to “stay the course” as it has for years. I don’t expect any big changes – maybe not even little changes.

Conclusion

I am very glad that I started my Honor Roll “quest” in July of 2001. Time surely is the great equalizer with the DXCC program.

There have been many “impossible” entities that were in fact activated seemingly against all odds (for example, 7O and KP1), and there are a few that I did work before becoming “impossible” (for example, P5, EZ). There will be some new “impossible” entities, and I expect that as they climb the list, people will be talking about them and several will be activated as a result. Many of these are being worked on now – and I do expect a lot of success – I expect most of what I need for HR #1 to be activated before I retire – at the top of Cycle 25 – but that there will be a few “stragglers” that will await me to work during my retirement years.

 

Three Dummy Opera

July 24, 2014

thres_dummies

Ham Radio

July 23, 2014

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Ticket Taker

July 22, 2014

ticket_taker

This was a piece inspired by the Decemberist’s pair of songs “Engine Driver” and “On The Bus Mall” – from their album “Picaresque” . . Two of the best Decemberists songs – that blend into each other very nicely.

Radio

July 21, 2014

radio

Folk Music

July 20, 2014

111

cap_hat_vert

I had a Cushcraft MA160V on top of a 30′ Rohn pushup mast, but wanted to improve the efficiency – which I thought was about 60%. I am quite sure I improved the efficiency to about 80%. The antenna is 60′ tall.

I basically “morphed” an MA160V into a Sevick – W2FMI short hatted vertical – documented in his booklet “The Short Vertical Antenna and Ground Radial” book on CQ Communications Press.

I replaced the MA160V coil with a much smaller coil, and built a capacitance hat that has a circumference of 34′:

cap_hat

Its amazing – it took me all day to build and tune this bugger, but I ended up with 1.1:1 SWR on 1.821 mhz and 3.505 mhz.

I also increased the bandwidth of the antenna on both 160M and 80M – so that I now cover the entire CW band on both bands. The MA160V on top of the mast had about 1/2 the bandwidth as this new version.

hustler_hub

I had an old Hustler capacitance hat hub – and so I used it with four 6′ spreaders – holding flex weave wire that is 11 by 6′ in a rectangular configuration. (Ignore the big MA160V coil in this picture – I was able to go with a much smaller and more efficient coil) – with less loss – because of the new – large – capacitance hat.

mason_twine

To ensure that the spreaders and capacitance hat stay “flat” (horizontal) – I used masons twine to hold the spreaders up. The Hustler hub probably could have handled the load – but I wanted to make sure, especially because its made out of cast aluminum.

The feed has a great matching circuit – which is documented on page 9-42 on the 5th Edition of the ON4UN Lowband DX-ing Book (ARRL Publication):

matching_network

I now have 100 buried radials – and am VERY pleased with the latest incarnation of my 160/80M vertical antenna. Here is the very cost effective case for this waterproof matching circuit:

dewalt_casse

On The Air

The work to build this is paying off – here is what I have noticed:

  1. The bandwidth went from about 30 khz with the modified MA160V to 90 khz. I can now cover the CW and Phone portions of the 160M band
  2. The noise level has dropped by 10 “S Units” – not sure exactly what this equates to on my K3 – the implication is 60 dB (?). In any case – it is very much noticeable
  3. It is not nearly as susceptable to cable modem intereference as my modified MA160V was – so much so – its no longer an issue. I used to have to unplug the cable modem to make a QSO before

The real test will be when Top Band comes back in full swing, but all of the improvements very much match what ON4UN and W2FMI have written about. I worked FT5ZM on my previous MA160V modified antenna – and with these initial reports, I seemed to have improved on that “compromised” antenna – and significantly.

Only 40 more entities to go to get to DXCC on 160M and 9BDXCC!

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