DXing: A Balanced Design

When I design databases or data pipelines at work, there is always that “sweet spot” between over engineering something or making it too “minimalist”. For example, in modern data warehousing (aka “Big Data”), I have noticed young engineers trying to use a key column followed by a JSON Blob in every database table they need. Its a disaster. It seems simple at first – until you have to expand the design within the JSON.

On the other end of the scale, in the 90’s – we had the Kimball approach – or the STAR schema. It was wonderful when disk storage was expensive, but now with clustered commodity hardware and the cloud, the STAR schema is inflexible to the point of feeling like a trap.

The best balance can be found in columnar data stores with column families – with it you can have the best of both worlds – extensible, flexible and high performing data ingress and reporting with massive amounts of data. And the design is simple, in a word elegant.

With DX-ing and antennas, I have always taken a similar approach. I always ask this question:

Based on my current goals, what is the best combination of simple and complex that offers a balanced solution?

I’m not a minimalist and I also do not like the idea that if you spend enough you can have the best. Neither ends of the spectrum work for me – I tried being a QRP guy, and for my goals it just wasn’t realistic. On the other hand, throwing tons of money at a problem would help me make my goal, but wheres the challenge in that. You might as well hire Jeeves to make all of your QSO’s while you are at it!

For me, the perfect balance is to follow the amateur radio credo: only use the maximum power that you need. This means approach this with a balanced mindset. Fir me, that’s when the best challenge happens – using the minimal power and antenna that gets the job done. Its living on the edge in a way . . . . and is especially why I love Top Band. On a small suburban lot – you have no choice but to follow this credo. Actually, the same applies to all of the Low Bands when you think of it – so there is no wonder that after Honor Roll, the Low Bands is where the real challenge – and excitement –  is at.

When I started, 100 watts and wires were perfect, then I needed a mini beam, then 200 watts, then a larger beam and 800 watts, then a larger antenna and a full gallon.

At the zenith, I had the N6BT DXU-32 and an ACOM 1500 full gallon amplifier

The one variable is what you can do based on available designs – radio and antenna, but more and more combined with the Internet. While I’ve made exactly 2 QSO’s using a remote (just to see what its like), I would reserve using a remote as a last gasp effort if propagation were as bad as when I missed Glorioso and FT5GA and if that were about to repeat itself, it would be “Mulligan Time”.

So, here I sit, with two more to go, and I feel like I have nothing to prove anymore, except to just have fun – my way. I find myself still wanting a decent station, and one that is commensurate with where I am in my DX “career”. I love to see a spot and then see if I can hear that station. If I can. then I might work them – mostly these days just to confirm that I did a good job strategizing –  with my antenna and station choice (radio, amp, antenna). Right now – my 160/80M Inverted L and UrbanBeam seem to cover it all. The one “hold out” antenna wise is the DX Engineering DV-40-P phased vertical array – its so good, even with the UrbanBeam, unless the UrbanBeam obviates the need for the phased array – it stays up – even though it seems redundant, and I don’t like redundancy. But on 40M, I feel you can’t have enough really great antennas. The Elecraft K-Line is still my all time favorite. Its system integration is still the very best of the best.

Its been like a story – started out simply, hit a climax, and then the end resolution. I’m in that end phase, but there seems to be unlimited and daily fun and new things to try, do and learn.

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