Summer in Orinda

Summer in Orinda can sometimes be 30 degrees warmer than San Francisco, where I work. It’s less than 20 miles away and a pretty short BART ride.

Even just 5 miles away, Oakland and Berkeley can be 20 degrees cooler.

That finger of fog comes in through the Golden Gate bridge and comes in directly toward Berkeley’s Greek Theatre. It then comes over the hill once the SF Bay proper fills up with fog.

This means it will be gray and cloudy and dark in San Francisco and in some parts of the East Bay, but when I get off work and arrive at the Orinda BART platform, I have bright sunlight and cool clean air conditioned air.

These are my favorite days of summer.

Who Will Be Featured on the 2017 Cover of QST – October DX Special?

I think of all the awards, this one cover of the legendary QST Magazine will always be my favorite. I was completely surprised and taken aback by it. In fact, it was such a big deal for me personally that I did not even plan on going to Dayton (until I was urged to go only weeks before it took place, and I got the “nudge nudge, wink wink). Bob, KK6EK won the Cover Plaque Award to boot. Just amazing.

Another complete surprise is the wonderful ARRL DXCC Yearbook. Its now a PDF only affair – so is not quite as prominent as the 2016 October QST article, but I’m betting the ARRL will keep it on their site as they do QST now.

So, who will be on the cover of this years October QST – DX Edition? I don’t remember any big deal DX-peditions since that first quarter of last year – so it will no doubt be a surprise.

If all goes well with 3Y0Z, I will bet we will see 3Y0Z also in all of the magazines and publications and winning awards by this time next year. Besides being the only interesting DX News this year, they also have an epic project with an epic price tag. That price tag alone is huge DX news . . . .

I will get to “consummate” all of this at Pacificon, where I had given 10 years of presentations that led up to both DXCC Honor Roll and then VK0EK. I have always chronicled my journey in my Antenna Forum Presentations – showing what I did to meet my operating goals as far as antennas were concerned.

Now I move onward and upward to the Maker and Ham World, so it will be nice to use this years presentations as my “gateway” to my next chapter in this wonderful hobby.

The History of the DXCC


Click on the image for a full sized chart . . . 

Its hard not to wonder where the DXCC program is headed when polar places cost more than $700,000 to activate. Political set backs have proven to work themselves out – in some cases it took 20 years before a place was activated (China and Albania). In some cases it was purely administrative (Navassa), and with Heard Island it was cost and logistics – these are not easy projects to put on.

The NCDXF just awarded 3Y0Z $100,000, which I predicted a long time ago, and they certainly deserve it. The organizers have 10 Top 10 Most Wanted and just as many DX-pedition of the Year awards to boot under their belt – if anyone can get you in their log, they can. Since there is nothing else rare planned in this “DX Year”, I fully expected that they would get such an award.

For the good of the DXCC Program and its future, I sure hope the smaller teams gain traction and get creative, because I believe that this 3Y0Z DX-pedition will represent a big turning point and a bell weather in DX-peditioning. I do not think this cost is going to be sustainable – and I base that on actuarial figures. DX-peditioners and DX-ers are getting older, and from a percentage perspective, far fewer are getting into this aspect of the hobby than leaving. It will always be a supply and demand situation, so that’s what will dictate where this is headed.

Mike, KJ4Z and I share the opinion that we will be headed back to the days of small teams and single world travelers – and that Mega DX-peditions have for the most part seen their best days. I know I welcome that – I really like DX-peditioners like Vlad, UA4WHX, who just shows up and puts many in his log. In fact, Vlad still is the #1 DX-peditioner who has put the most ATNO’s in my log.

20 years ago, part of the reason VK0IR were able to keep costs down (relatively speaking) is because they found available berths for a reasonable price on a scientific ship (The Marion DuFresne). I hope more enterprising DX-peditioners also go back to that sort of planning.

Chuck Brady, N4BQW (SK) activated Bouvet by himself, but that was during a time when a scientist / astronaut had access and the right connections to do so. I worked Chuck for quite a few ATNO’s – especially in the OC-PAC part of the world. Sadly, there are  very few left in the ham ranks with that sort of connection, and the current administration is all but wiping out climate science, meaning forget about US teams to piggy back on a US scientific mission – there will be fewer. I predict that if DXCC is going to continue, it will be because countries other than the US jump in and activate the rare one’s – especially the polar ones.

I still wonder who will take the place of those DX-peditioners entering their 70’s, and the Baby Boomers are already there . . . and in fact, the world wide DX Community is made up of mostly Boomers, so all at once the DX Community will drop in numbers over the next 10 – 20 years at a dramatic pace.

What will be the remaining supply, and what will be the remaining demand?

ARRL Guide to Antenna Tuners

This is a decent book which covers all of the different kinds of commercial – and a few home brewed antenna tuners (couplers). It is a high level book and offers  practical explanation of why you might choose one model over another and also whether or not you would use an internal or external or tuner in the shack or out at the antenna.

There are some especially useful pages (for my application):

  • 3-3 shows variations on the LC circuit that I have in the u.RAT, proving while simple, its still a viable antenna coupling circuit – its just not very versatile. If you were to use an LC circuit at the base of a single vertical, the unbalanced LC circuit is all you need – especially if you are setting it up to be a mono band antenna. The u.RAT circuit as it is covers 80, 40 and 30M just fine – but whenever you try to also include 160M, things get a whole lot more interesting . . .
  • 8-3 shows the losses when using different types of coax and also when having the tuner at the antenna or in the shack. Now I’m very happy that I decided to put the BT1500A right at the antenna – it is as low loss as I can get and is a versatile as I can get as far as it being a Low Band antenna coupler. I could not have made better choices
  • Chapter 14 covers Balanced Antenna Tuners very nicely

The Best Antenna Coupling Presentation by W0QE

Excerpt from Palstar BT1500A balanced antenna coupler.

I did a few Google searches for “LC Antenna Tuner” and found the best presentation on the topic yet:

It is just packed with so much useful information – and it covers the topic at a level that reminds me that I still have a lot to learn. In fact, it pulls everything that I have been thinking about into one presentation and offers the reader a way to go back to the books and study each area one at a time (which I will do).

The ARRL publications and the W8JI web site does cover some of this but not all in one place, and not in the same scope and scale as this presentation.

In just the first pass, I have learned that just having one variable capacitor and one roller inductor is fine if you are coupling / matching a limited frequency range, but that you will usually need at least three components if you want a wider range tuner. It also confirmed that there are high pass and low pass designs and that the Palstar BT1500A is a very unique coupler, and that me having it at the base is a very good decision and that for all of the low bands it does in fact seem like the right decision.

So, when someone asks “What is the best antenna tuner?” the answer is “It depends”. I also like how Larry describes what most hams call an antenna Tuner a Coupler instead.

One very important thing that I learned is that the SPE Expert 1.3K FA amplifier will be fine if I use its internal ATU in conjunction with the Palstar BT1500A at the antenna. The SPE manual says to never use the ATU with another antenna tuner – but what they don’t say is that they mean another ATU. What you don’t want at high power are two ATU’s trying to find a match and getting confused. Since I go out back and set the BT1500A manually right now – if I needed to cover more of a band using the SPE ATU I can. On 80 and 75M this would be very useful, but its a moot point on 160 and 30M since I never go more than say 20 khz across either of those bands. And since 80 and 75M are my least favorite bands, all of this is pretty much moot. Of course, if 3Y0Z miraculously bangs in on 80M, well, I will learn to love that band.

I will be reading and re-reading this presentation for some time. Its awesome. He also has a series of videos:

U.RAT Ready for World Domination!

The final part of this u.RAT “science fair project” is wiring the variable capacitor and roller inductor with a 50 ohm dummy load resistor and then attaching the Rig Experts AA-30 so we can see how tuning the components affects SWR and what the L, C and X values are.

I have been playing with different “equivalent circuits” and using a 56 ohm as a dummy load for an antenna, but the control that seems to affect the SWR the most is the variable capacitor.


Which shows the components that would be in an “L Tuner” and the other components / values for the equivalent circuit. I will re-read my theory books to figure out why the capacitor is the component that is doing all the work. The inductor almost seems to look like a short because of the resistor – I’m not sure.


Superb W6 – ZL Path on Top Band

I’m hearing several ZL stations very well on Top Band this morning, and they are on SSB no less.

I hear some lightning strikes that seem to be mostly in Kansas and Nebraska, but not enough to quell the ZL’s.

Its really starting to feel like the “Lowband Season” is near – we lose a full hour of daylight this month, and the first 5 days of August we have already lost 7 minutes of daylight. While I love riding my bike to and from work in the daylight, I must admit – I like my cozy shack when “Lowband Season” is in full swing. This Fall and Winter I will be in mt best shape low band wise. The Mod Bob and BT1500A and the DX Engineering DV-40-P phased array antennas are all I need. The 20M 2 element home brewed yagi might get a work out – for 3Y, yesterday a CE station came booming in, and so that path to 3Y was looking great there.

Yes, I’m still a DXer, just one at the end of my “paper chasing” phase. One day soon I will only be on the low bands.

This Blog Featured on the “Geeky Gadgets” Blog

There is a very cool blog called “geeky gadgets” and they have featured the u.RAT. I’ll follow them for sure – and I continue to be amazed at the cooperation and collaboration between “Makers”

The IMSAI 8080, Ham Radio and Me

It was 1976, I was newly minted WA2QHN (after passing my General Class Ham Radio test on vacation in Seattle at their FCC Office), and I thought I wanted to be an Electronic Engineer. It all started in Ms. Goodin’s 4th grade class when she taught a series on “The Inventors”. I wanted to be an inventor at age 9 or 10. At age 11, I built my first Heathkit, the SW-717:

My Novice station in Newton, NJ was this receiver, a Hallicrafters HT-40, a Dow Key Relay and a handful of crystals.

Anyway, my father’s good friend and Electronic Engineer, Joe Secundo, visited and plopped an IMSAI 8080 on the kitchen table and after I tried to impress him with my proclamation “I am going to be an Electronic Engineer”. He said “No you are not!” and went on to convince me to instead become a computer programmer. Two years later, I was getting straight A’s in my COBOL, Fortran and Basic classes at the County College of Morris – and after a year transferred to Lock Haven State College in PA. I graduated with a Business Computer Science degree.

My first job was at Kodak in Rochester, NY coding Octal Assembler and Machine Code on PDP-11’s using the Kodak Park OS:

I hated it. It was too abstract – my job was “process control” – to try to track waste in the manufacturing of Instant Print Film. Ironically, I’d love this job now!

I have told this story in my old blog, but after designing and building the u.RAT, things have magically come full circle. Today, designing and building something electronic is the same as designing a system and drawing a block diagram. You assemble a set of boards that have functions, wire them together, and then download code from Github and mash them up to make the set of circuits to do what you want.

My parents bought one of these for me in my 9th birthday…

I am 100% sure that I thought that in the future this would happen. I had “Systems Analysis I” and “Systems Analysis II” classes, and we basically drew block diagrams at the systems level and drew flowcharts at the program level. We even used those plastic templates and drafting paper if I remember right. That’s when I thought “what if the system was a block diagram?”.

Well, that’s exactly how I approached the u.RAT, and 40 years later, my 1970’s era thoughts and predictions just happened  with my first “Maker” project.

u.RAT and This Blog Featured on the Adafruit Blog!

The Adafruit Blog, Copyright Adafruit featured this blog today, August 1.

Adafruit was founded by “Lady Ada”, AC2SN, and I am finding more and more that if you want a reliable component, you will never go wrong ordering from Adafruit. Their site is amazing wealth of resources – including CAD drawings for their designed components – such as the cute little Pi-OLED that really make the u.RAT rock! Some drawings are in Eagle and Fritzing format, and they always have tutorials and information to help you make your project a success. Their forum is very helpful – and in the case of the Pi-OLED, Mike, KJ4Z helped me find Larry Banks FB library, and I shared that with the Adafruit forum – so that others using C will be able to make the Pi-OLED work.

Adafruit products are available at their site and also sold at Amazon and other outlets on the web. I have been burned by some cheap knock off Chinese clone products, and so will be a lot more likely to look for the Adafruit, Arduino or Raspberry Pi official logos. And their prices are very good too.