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

Total Eclipse, at Work

We almost ran up to Oregon for the total eclipse, but decided against it. I’m sure those who drove up to Oregon were quite happy.

Over a very nice coffee at work (we have an in house Cafe that rivals the best of the best coffee places in the SF Bay Area right in our office), I enjoyed watching the NASA and other channels simultaneously.

It was a very rare “good news day” as far as 2017 goes – and a lot of fun.

Lucky 13?

I only need 13 more to get to DXCC on 160M. If there were enough DX stations on Top Band, that would be do-able between now and next summer, but alas, it almost seems like each year there are fewer opportunities from the West Coast to achieve this. I am not hopeful though – but I’d love this Winter to be my last push to 9BDXCC – this is where I truly need luck. ADXO does not give me confidence, but since there are many smaller activation on 160M – I am sure they aren’t always published online much. ADXO looks as sparse as I have ever seen it – there almost seems to be a drop in DX-peditions since VK0EK as I had expected it. I’m wondering if this is temporary or long term. I’m guessing I will make DXCC on Top Band late 2018 or early 2019 based on past experience.

I have what is considered a “small” antenna for 160M, and its 70′ wide and 41′ tall. On a small suburban lot, that takes up most of my antenna space. Its the best I can do, and I really love this antenna – it takes me back to the days when I started DX-ing in 2001 – simple, yet effective.

I don’t have any hope for Glorioso being activated any time soon. Bouvet will have to be it for quite a while, so DX-ing just isn’t exciting any more – I am turning the radio on less and less these days. I have days where I ask myself if maybe its time to just let it go – and declare victory as is – I’m finding that I ask myself “Whats the big deal anyway?”. Its not burn out – its more like – “If you can do something 342 times, isn’t that proof enough that you can do that particular thing?”

Regarding the URAT, I’ve actually decided not to install it on the Palstar BT1500A because there is so little DX that I need that I won’t bother with that. I’ve got the antenna set to 160M with the BT-1500A, and when Bouvet is activated – possibly this year, and for sure next year – I will just go out back and switch bands manually using my Rig Experts AA-30 and this procedure:

I’ve thought about trying to come up with a different tuner than what I have – maybe just two Palstar variable capacitors at the base of the Mod Bob – but with the inductor being the shunt across the caps, but then I realize – the BT-1500A is absolutely perfect, so why waste time and money. I very much love the Palstar BT1500A – its such a perfect design for what I need to do these days. The one thing I don’t like about the URAT is how long it takes to roll the roller inductor. The demo rig is really cool though – so I don’t regret having built that. Its just not worth bothering adding it to my antenna – because of where I am in the chase.

One thing I’ve been doing is reading this book – almost daily:

I also have been playing with the Signal Generator and Oscilloscope. I think my next project will be just creating little Arduino or Raspberry Pi based circuits that follow an online course on how to use this test equipment – so I can master them. Again – my DX-ing needs are so little and new one’s are so far apart that I just don’t need to bother doing anything station or antenna wise.

So, while DX-ing and DXCC are mind crushingly boring, the Maker Desk here has been very busy, and when the rainy season hits again – it will no doubt offer continued fun.

Pacificon is coming up, and I notice they have just (barely) started to update their web site with this years program:

I’ve been told that it should be set by this coming weekend, so that will be cool to see.


Nixon’s Ghost

Greatful Dead’s Jerry Garcia wore this hat when his nickname was “Captain Trips”.

Kat and I went to the last showing off a De Young Museum show called “The Summer of Love”. At the time, we were both 8 years old, and she lived in LA near Melrose and I lived in Newton, NJ, a suburb of NYC.

The show had a great mixture of fashion, art, socio-political writings and posters, music and everything “counter culture”.

I missed the Vietnam war draft by just a few years, but I was as aware of what was going on because of the older high school kids who lived in my neighborhood, and because our media came from NYC and even a little from Philadelphia.

By today’s standards, the multi media light shows and even printing seemed quaint, but it was cool how creative they were with analog technology.

Here’s an Orinda connection – Owlsley “Bear” Stanley, the Dead’s Sound Engineer and manufacturer of more than a million hits of acid, was busted at his La Espiral house in 1967. At first, LSD was legal.

The timing of going to the show was just right. And even more ironic is this Art Buchwald article written about Nixon:

That 1973 column was written when I just passed my Novice license test and when I was 13 years old. As it was then, it is now. The parallels are amazing, and the worries of those who were part of The Summer of Love must be especially amazed at where we are today, 50 years later.

An October Surprise?

I grew up in Sussex County, NJ, which is the northern most county in NJ and has many small towns and country roads that look more like New England than what you might expect in NJ.

By this time last year, the trees had already started turning color, and I have confirmed that its was because of the drought. The dry forces the chlorophyll to change colors earlier than normal. After a drenching Winter, things are different this year. Autumn is still my favorite time of the year, and I never get tired of it.

Its hard to imagine that the Appalachian Trail passes almost through the town I grew up in. Yes, there are hillbillies in NJ!

I am sure that I love the old San Francisco buildings like the Phelan Building that I work in and I also feel lucky that Lamorinda has quite a bit of color in the Fall. We love cycling from Orinda to Danville in the Fall – its not as colorful as Sussex County was, but for the Bay Area, its a little oasis with enough color and a great fall feeling.

The Delaware Water Gap – near Columbia, NJ and East Stroudsburg, PA

The fall colors in NJ come and go fast – they might last a month or 6 weeks, then it gets really grey and Wintery. I prefer the SF Bay Area weather by far, we will have Fall colors from September all the way into December, so while its not overwhelming as Sussex County is – you can always ride your bike and pass enough trees in glorious fall colors, and with the superb weather, I’ll take Lamorinda. We also usually go up to Bend Oregon in the Fall, and that town heightens the Fall Effect for me.

Autumn and the longer nights turn my attention to Top Band, and I am ready to roll with the “Mod Bob”. There is a web site and QRZ.COM listing for 3Y0I, so lets see what happens there – maybe we will see a surprise? I’m sure 3Y0Z will do well – and we are getting closer than we all think to working Bouvet Island, which will be the first ATNO since VK0EK for me. It sure gets “lonely at the top” DXCC wise – hi hi, but thankfully, the Maker World has kept my shack from becoming cob web infested as it did during the bottom of Cycle 23.


A Turning of the Season

The days are getting shorter and we have had some downright chilly evenings, at least for August. I’m loving it. Nature always seems to inspire, especially this time of year in the northern hemisphere.

The Chinese Pistachio’s and Cottonwood’s are showing a little color change, and riding my bike home last night – by the time I got home at 8 PM, it seemed that that was the latest I would ride home without a night light. We will have lost a solid 1 hour 45 minutes of daylight by the end of this month.

It sure would be nice to have some new stations activate 160M, Top Band gave me 5 new one’s last summer, this summer only 1. DX-ing in general has been like watching the grass grow since VK0EK goes new one’s wise, but 40M has offered some great general purpose DX-ing with EU and ZS and AS/OC-Pac. It seems every day I get just a little more away from DXCC as it continues to feel like “been there, done that”.