Calling All Ghosts!

Its pretty funny, a couple mornings ago it was so cool I had to wear a jacket in the shack. We almost hit 49 degrees F. I had blogged how August has been a cooler than normal month – albeit just because of a thick and persistent fog along the coast that is more normal for June than August. Yesterday it hit 107 degrees F here – so I must have jinxed it.

This morning I heard the strongest signals on 160M coming from VK, ZL and Alaska – much stronger than I have heard in many months. We also just had a great 40M opening to ZS on the Long Path, so maybe the equinox will kick us back into low band DX “season”.

Of course, I need 13 new entities, and while it should be easy – the trick is variety – that more entities have hams on Top Band on those entities or that more DX-peditions take 160M more seriously.

If I were on the East Coast it would have been a wrap a long time ago – only 6M would be harder to achieve DXCC from the West Coast.

Fingers crossed for Top Band.

Where Have All The Top Banders Gone?

There were three announced 160M activations this summer that never happened.

There have been at least 4 mega DXpeditions whose 160M activation was pitiful in the last several years. I do understand that its a hard band to put antennas up (and keep them up) and that it also doesn’t have the “ROI” that other bands offer.

I had expected as we slide down the sunspot cycle that more would be interested in Top Band. But it seems like just the opposite is happening.

I’m wondering if Top Band has seen it’s best days or if I’m just a little ahead of myself. Autumn is almost here in the Northern Hemisphere, so fingers crossed that there will be more 160M DX.

 

The Best Part About Ham Radio? Learning

I’m very pleasantly surprised that my latest big excitement in Ham Radio and “Making” is reading about the physics of electronics. Its because I am finding this book to be fascinating.

When I was at University of Pennsylvania at Lock Haven in the late 70’s, the physics professor needed a full class for an electronics class he wanted to teach. Lock Haven did not have an engineering curriculum that I knew of (besides Computer Science and which is the program I was enrolled in), but what stood out is that the professor advertised that the course was offered for those who were pursuing a physics / science degree and those who were not. He basically split the class in what I called Electronics for Smarties and Dummies. We shared the same text book, but us dummies took a much simpler test each time we had a quiz or test. The smarties had to do calculus, us dummies, trigonometry (at best). I remember being totally amazed reading about semiconductor physics especially. How in the world did anyone conjure up such notions?

Answer: The Diode. Take the physics surrounding a Diode, and then build on that. NOW – the Diode in radio started out as the “coherer” – which is where receivers started. A little history and physics combined is just too cool, and its the kind of thing I think of on BART or on my bike rides.

What I love about this book is that it reminds me of that Lock Haven class. The authors start with a really superb description of the physics with great diagrams, then they show the simplified trig equations, and then the full on calculus. I like it because while the calculus loses me – I like to see how the theory is more involved than what I have learned in the ARRL Handbook, the ham tests and whatnot.

I’m going to decommission the URAT tomorrow an re-use its parts for future projects. I simply don’t need it because DX-ing has become mind-numbingly boring – like watching the grass grow. Heck – having to go out with my Rig Experts AA-30 and a coax cable to manually tune the remote tuner gives me something to do in between what seems like months where I actually work anything I need.

What really excites me is reading about Thevenin’s Theorem or whatever and then building a little circuit and using my test equipment to see whats going on. I also have various Arduino shields and Raspberry Pi hats that I want to play with, and code I want to try.

This is all just for the fun and education – andvfor no other reason. I am finding that just being inquisitive and learning has been leading me down paths I normally wouldn’t go down, and its kept me in the shack doing something, and having big fun.

I also love the fact that I can share knowledge and have some fun techie stories to tell. I have several people visiting the shack for Maker stuff, but they then look at the Ham gear and get interested.

Giving presentations is also a blast, and I’m really excited about Pacificon – more than ever because I have one Ham low band antenna presentation and one Maker URAT presentation.

I found out that the Pacificon seminar schedule will be published on September 1.

When I wrote yesterdays blog post – and where I have been “colluding” with Mike, KJ4Z on techno-philosophical things related to DX, I find that my mind expands and some very cool “unintended consequences” of the good kind happen.

Learning is Rad.

The Future of DX-ing and DXCC: ROBOTS!

I’ve been grappling with this for a few years, ever since I was involved with fund raising for VK0EK. I don’t think the average DX-er really knows what a big job it is. 

The funniest thing about this blog post is that it came about while sipping a very nice Uinta Detour Double IPA and just sitting back and thinking – musing about the URAT Maker project this summer and about recent posts where I discuss leaving DXCC and moving on to the Maker world. I asked myself “Why do I feel I have to leave one and move on?”

In another (guest) blog post – Mike, KJ4Z discussed how he developed a “suitcase DX-pedition” which he calls a DX-podition. This means you could hitch a ride to Bouvet Island and deploy this box and antenna and then the world can start making QSO’s with it. Pay someone to drop it off and then pick it up on the way to and back from dropping off scientists at Neumeyer Station or wherever in Antarctica. Pay them $50K – no more $740,000 or $400,000  DX-peditions. The NCDXF doesn’t deplete its bank account in 5 years. And I am inflating that figure – you probably could do this for less.

Of course, remote haters hate this. OOOT’s, curmudgeons and those who can’t handle (the more than silent march into the future) will be left by the wayside – to grow carbuncles and moss on their North Facing Souls. Too bad. SAD. Hate to say it – they will be SK in 10 – 20 years (maybe me included) – what then? Time waits for no Ham . . . .

So – Mike has developed the technology, and I have the idea for the NEW DXCC Program – gamification using DATA. Here’s how it works:

  1. DXpods are deployed anytime and anywhere. They are certified by a digital Hash – which is a Primary Key in a database
  2. They are assigned a “point level”. Deploying in France is much lower than say Bouvet point wise
  3. You work them maybe like FT8 or in some way that they record your QSO using the finest in whatever succeeds Arduino and Raspberry Pi plus SDR technology
  4. You call the robot – the robot never calls you. If you make the QSO – you get that graded point

Data can ensure that this is equitable, and we can even use GPS to ensure that we don’t saturate or overload some geographic area with an advantage.

I left DXCC Challenge because if you are on the West Coast you are totally screwed on 160 or 6M. If you live in EU or the East Coast – you have an HF advantage and that sucks royally.

Data is the new currency that levels the playing field and keeps us all honest.

But more importantly – its exactly how we attract the schmarty pants who I work with who are my kids age and who love Maker and don’t even know what Ham Radio is, let alone DX-ing or (GASP) DXCC.

To recap, this solves quite a few problems:

  1. The declining number of DXCC participants as Boomers leave the ranks. You would attract the type of people who Make fighting robot cars to compete as robotic remote beacon “data pingers”. When I make a QSO with a Mega DXpedition, it takes less than one minute for both parties to exchange 599 TU, and the TU is wasted time. It’s already robotic
  2. It continues to advance the radio art by involving Makers who are the best candidates for building what will be more and more processor based radio gear. With SDR, and new digital modes, this has already begun
  3. It keeps the cost down and lowers that barrier to entry which I feel is going to really start being a “blocker” to DXpeditions and sooner than we think or hope. If you look at who funds the Lions share of these DXpeditions, it’s Boomers. If you want Millennials to carry this on and continue to fund this activity, you need to reach out to Makers, not Emcomm-ers
  4. There will still be people going to places and activating entities. But say a single person going on the next Swiss Organized ACE program has a ham along for the trip (the last one circumnavigated all of our Sub Antarctic entities), that person works SSB, and her DXpod faithfully hands out digital QSOs so she hands out several more times the Q’s than she would alone. Also, because she is a scientist, the Bot hands out QSOs 24/7 when she is working or sleeping. Even mega DXpeditions could use this
  5. The ARRL might have to start allowing docked ships to count. If their digitally secure log contains grid square data, which is guaranteed by the pod constantly receiving GPS data, then the rule that you have to step foot on land becomes a silly old antiquated rule. This is digital proof you were there. Maybe the CQ Field Award would become a lot more popular
  6. Solar trickle charged bots might offer 3 to 6 months of 24/7 QSOs with places like Heard Island or South Sandwich. Sure, send a team there as usual, leave the bot and have the scientists pick it up in a year or whatever. If it dies, it’s point grading changes. Maybe our points system even becomes more dynamic and then the program no longer is based on how long you live. Maybe the last person standing is 18 years old at Visalia?
  7. If entities change, no problem. In fact this eliminates the Gerrymandering” that we have witnessed as past entities like Okino Torishima were added. Heck you could add any entity where a bot could survive. Install a bot on a pole strapped to Scarborough if you like. Ask the Military to deploy it for you as they fill Scarborough in with concrete to make an airfield and base!
  8. Low power and weak signals work fine. No more need to lug tons of crap. It could be as lightweight as a SOTA activation. Those with HOAs and those living in retirement communities only need a small rig and simple wire in the attic or tree or flagpole
  9. You could compete using your Android or other Schmart Fone. In fact, you could keep your robotic station on 24/7 and ssh into it
    anytime like I can my Raspberry Pi
  10. If some entities couldn’t be activated (i.e. Turkmenistan or whatever) so what? The point grading system changes so its not a factor at all in the scoring. Not sure exactly what I mean – except the algorithm no longer rewards those who are really old and who have just been in the program longest – anyone can be the top dog

 

Im sure I’ll think of more, but the best part of all of this is that it becomes a dynamic program. As it is, DXCC is static. When you’ve worked them all, you are done. If we make it dynamic, where I can wake up and all of a sudden my score changes, I’d have a constant imperative to get on the air.

I also just answered a question that I did not exactly ask, but over a beer it did pop out –  “What would keep you in the DXCC Program forever?”

 

 

Cool for August

This was a great album – lost in the dust of the 90’s. I used to think the 80’s was my favorite decade music wise – but its really the 90’s.

This entire month has been one of the nicest weather wise for August. After a pretty warm June and July, we have had a strong persistent fog along the coast and it extends just over the hill to Orinda. We get sun and cool air where just over the hill its socked in fog, but does burn back during the day.

Cycling to and from BART has been just the best – in fact I would say this has been the best month ever weather wise for my bike commute.

The Anachronistic DXCC Program

When I started DXing in 2001 I clearly remembered feeling like I needed to catch up on something I had missed out on since I left Ham Radio in 1977. DXing.

In 1973 or 1974, a fellow who lived across town and who was in High School, Larry Reiser, WB2KBH tried to get me into DXing and contesting. I was a CW rag chewer and a “Traffic Man”, and just wasn’t interested. I was in middle school. Larry went SK a few months back as N9LR. Turns out he was very good friends with Craig, K9CT. They both went to Bradley University together in Peoria. Small world.

Anyway, I love “living history”. I love hearing stories about the way things came to be. In parallel, I’ve been in a career where if you didn’t keep current with the latest technology, software especially, you would quickly be put out to pasture. My recent foray into the Maker world has me wondering where Ham Radio is in relation, and doing the URAT project told me that Ham Radio and Makers simply must join forces. They are even better together.

When I still see DX-peditions using “Press Release #9” and look at their web sites that look like 1995, I just cringe a little. It makes DXCC look long in the tooth.

I then see people saying DXCC is dead (often opined on the Low band Chat and on several web sites) because of remotes or some other new-fangled “mechanization” or whatever. I see OOTs really stuck in the past. Maybe DXCC needs to stay an anachronism? Maybe that’s part of it’s appeal? I don’t see how it can continue that way. I love the historical aspect of DXCC, but when I compare it to the newness and freshness of the Maker community, it makes me wonder. I am quite sure that Makers are the future of Ham Radio, but don’t know where future DXers (who would keep DXCC relevant) will come from.

The program has been driven by Boomers and several generations before them, now long SK. 3Y0Z costs more than $700,000, and is still short by over $100,000. How long can we continue on that road? Two years ago the Millennial Generation surpassed the Boomers in numbers. Boomers are going SK and Millennials have just started their careers. Its the equivalent of me living in the 80’s. My kids are Millennials. I even tried to get more kids into Ham Radio by holding a class during summer break, and all kids passed their Technician test at an MDARC meeting, but none continued on being active in Ham Radio. HOWEVER, when I wear my Hack a Day Maker hat, I get people asking me about Making on BART quite often. They really like it when I say I do Making and Ham Radio. In that guise they both sound cool, modern, hip. Its kind of funny – but my evil ploy works!

In fact, I am giving two presentations at Pacificon in October, one is Low Band DX-ing antennas and the other the URAT – Maker Meets Ham. I’m doing my part – and not just blogging about it – I just gave the first URAT presentation at EBARC and its really important to get out there in person and share.

I have had several people interested in Making come over to my Maker Space – which is also my Ham Radio shack, and they then see the cool connection between ham and maker. Its very encouraging.

Back to DXCC – that’s a different story when it comes to attracting hams to become DXers and DXCCers. Its no wonder to me that the ARRL would be loathe to add any new entities to the list (which would require a rules change). I actually could care a less (personally) since I am in a transition away from DXCC and into the Maker world. But yet, I still care just enough to care and think about it. Its been a fun time in my life and DXCC helped me through a rough spot of 7 years – which is only a few years short of the 11 years it took me to earn Honor Roll. But I do often wonder where the new fresh DXers will come from. Some say Europe, but I don’t see the numbers at all – only a small fraction of the Boomers who cut their teeth on ham radio and even got into IT – just like me! That seems like an era that won’t be replaced. That was pre-PC for God’s sake. “Kids these days” are “Post Internet” let alone “Pre PC”. Its actually amazing.

I do know that DXCC has been relevant as long as there has been “critical mass” – and by that I mean numbers of participants and there willingness to donate to DX-peditions. 3Y0Z and its cost (heck even having worked on VK0EK and helping raise the money we did) just makes me feel like we have passed a certain point or peak.

I don’t see where the vacuum will be filled – even though nature abhors it . . .

VK0EK Wins DX Coffee’s “Best Communication” Award

The VK0EK is very pleased to receive the DX Coffee Best Communication Award, which is a unique and very thoughtful award. Please visit DX Coffee