W1AW Bulletins on 160M

One of the absolute best services the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) provides is the daily bulletins sent in Morse Code, or as we hams call it, CW for Continuous Wave.

Now, throw in 160M, and all of a sudden my new favorite pass time is just listening to the bulletins and trying to get my listening skills back to where they were when I was an NCS “Traffic Man” in the early 70’s, and when I had ZERO interest in DX.

Hey – this is fun – I can even play with my phased Wellbrooks and the NCC-2 to get the signal just right!

The Origin of 73 . . .

Western Union Telegraphers were asked to abbreviate their messages. Customers would write regular messages using their normal “prose”, and because the telegraph lines (at first) could only be used one message at a time, speed was important. Also – while customers were charged by the word, Western Union’s profit soared when telegraphers could shorten the messages by 50% using abbreviations – many that we still use in Ham Radio today. Some do sound “old fashioned”, i.e. “Fine Business – FB”.

73 is a palindrome Morse Code wise. It meant back in the 1800’s what it doesn’t today – Best Regards.

I’m finishing this book, but its a bit of a slog because its mostly about the politics and business issues that happened along the way. For most of the 1800’s, Telegrams were usually sent by business people – and the majority was for stock ticker and betting.

By the turn of the century, when there was a slump in business, Western Union opened up a much more reasonable over night service that the common person could use. It was also a PR push – common people usually only received a telegram if it was bad news – and Western Union wanted to open up its potential market.

Its a good read, but it very much reads like my “History of the American Labor Movement” class I took in college. You plow to get through – but it offers insight you wouldn’t get otherwise.

The End of the EU LP Line

After an early morning DX “session” on 160M, I listen on 40M for EU and ZS on the Long Path. We are right at the end of EU being strong on that path, but fortunately, because ZS is in the Southern Hemisphere, we have a Long Path opening on 40M almost daily year round. In fact, I think we also have the evening Short Path to ZS nightly year round.

I’m hearing Andre, V51B this morning, so that path is 15,111 miles. I distinctly remember working TO4E on this same path on 40 and 30M years ago, so, if the French Team were to go to Glorioso and if they were more astute than FT5GA, they could give the West Coast an ATNO. The French Team is more astute since they very much call for West Coast, so that is my last best hope for working Glorioso from my home QTH. In fact, Glorioso is 5,000 miles closer.

Now I’m wondering which will be activated first, Glorioso or Bouvet. I expect that there will be a lot of fallout from 3Y0Z – and it will really be interesting to see what happens as far as any Bouvet activation goes.

In any case, if either are activated in the next few years – both will be activated at the bottom of this cycle. By the end of this year, the high bands will really be in the dumps.

30/40M Horizontally vs. Polarized Antennas and the 2018 DX Landscape

With the demise of 3Y0Z and having just made DXCC on 160M – which also means 9BDXCC, as far as looking forward to the next “new one”, it will be whatever comes my way on Top Band. The other morning, FK8IK was CQ-ing, but was just a little too lite here to call in a pretty big pileup.

The Mega DX-pedition line up this year doesn’t offer me anything that I need – except 160M for Ducie. I don’t need anything as far as Baker or St. Brandon is concerned – well, 160 for 3B7, but I very seriously doubt that will happen, so much so I’m discounting that one.

The next big deal will be putting up the UrbanBeam and playing with that. The Cushcraft D40 was my “test case” – I wanted to make sure that putting up a 40M rotatable dipole would be worth it given my DX Engineering DV-40-P is like a “magic antenna” because it very much exceeds my expectations (which is rare in the world of ham radio antennas).

What I’ve learned about 40 and 30 is that you really need BOTH vertical and horizontally polarized antennas – that there is a big difference between the evening short path and morning long path. 20M and above benefits more from a horizontal antenna, and 160/80 requires such a height for a horizontal antenna that verticals are the only way to go – in fact Inverted L’s – if you are on a small lot of don’t have massive trees to hang wires from.

Right now – unless 3Y0I really happens, 2018 could be even more boring than 2017 was – and 2017 was the most boring DX year for me in many years. I also have zero interest in Dayton or Visalia – there just isn’t much doin’ DX wise these days.

Here’s a weird thought – if 3Y0I doesn’t happen, then Glorioso could be something I will work before Bouvet. I guess the demise of 3Y0Z is finally hitting me as they approach Cape Town. I do look forward to hearing what they plan on doing next, if anything. I expect some fallout and changes as far as very expensive mega DXpeditions go – but you never know – the pent up demand for Bouvet is now even more than it was before . . . .

3B7A: St. Brandon – a Test for my UrbanBeam?

http://www.saintbrandondx.com/en/

I’m really hoping that SteppIR has the UrbanBeam’s in stock and that I can get mine and put it up before the 3B7A DXpedition. Band conditions might be better than right now – only because we will still be in the “vernal equinox” days, and if there is any high band propagation, it is usually quite good during the Spring and Autumnal equinoxes.

3B7 is just below 3B6, and I already have it on 40, 30 and 20M

For me, it an approximation of what Glorioso would be near the bottom of the cycle. I think the Long Path on 40M will be the absolute best chance for the West Coast. Maybe 30M – but we are already seeing 30 and 20M closing early. HOWEVER, April is a lot different than February, condition wise, but the cycle is dropping like a lead balloon, so its a race with time in many respects.

The biggest test for me will be to see if I can even hear them on 20M and above – and over the North Pole.

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.

Cycle 24’s Rapid Slide

The MUF (Maximum Usable Frequency) dropped down to 9 mhz even before sunset last night, and for the first time in a very long time, even ZS6CCY, Bill, was too weak to call on 40M.

I noticed that 20M closed very early yesterday afternoon, and 30M was right behind that. 40M was not at all its normal self, but 80 and 160M had plenty of signals – ESPECIALLY 80M. 160M sometimes can be deceiving because not so many dare to travel there. I think this bodes very well for 160 and 80M. The UrbanBeam for 40 and 30 will do well, but even 20M will be iffy this year. Almost as if on cue – the sunspot cycle has hit so close to bottom, and is doing it exactly when I had expected – right after where 3Y0Z would be finishing its run.

Damn shame that . . .