Friday, January 19, 2024

Best Laid Plans

Winter has really hit hard this January.   First was the wind-storm that knocked out power for a couple days.   Luckily we are prepared for that and the generator hookup for the house is already set.  I just needed to wheel out the generator, hook up the lines and flip the switch to get most of the house back on power.  

The contest calendar was on my mind.  The ARRL North American QSO Party for CW was this weekend and despite all of my attempt to be ready for that I could not really participate.

I tried.

The problem was rooted in a very pernicious RFI problem in the shack.  When I installed the second (replacement) KPA-500 I noticed that the KPA would switch bands during Tx -- even with very low power from the K3.    The problem was even worse when high power was used.  And, it didn't matter if the load was the antenna or a dummy-load.

The issue is critical because it would be unfortunate if the KPA got a driving signal from the K3 that was expected on a band but not the band the KPA was ready to handle.   A sure fire way to blow those precious finals on the KPA.

As much as I tried to limit the amount of RF(I) in the shack, I could not eliminate it fully.  The KPA would encounter a situation where the KPA was wrongly changing the band even though the K3 (driving exciter) was not changing band.

I've narrowed the problem down to emissions and I will just need to re-do the way the shack is setup by changing one thing at a time until I can find correlation.   

Good news is that the WX is getting warmer so I can work more easily in the shack.

Just in time...    TX5S (Clipperton) is expected to go up in a couple days and I also need to get back into the MST contesting scheme.    And then there's the slew of State QSO Parties to do.

Finally, got the bill from Elecraft for the repair of the KPA-500.  The cost to replace the MOSFET finals (VRF-2933) is $850 plus shipping.  The KPA-500 is a tough little unit and does a good job, but take care of it.  If the magic smoke comes out, it's about 1/4 of the cost of the amplifier to replace them.
I took care of mine and I still don't know what the real cause was for the failure -- and neither does Elecraft.   Don't expect the warranty to apply.  It really looks like the problem I'm having with KPA-500  number two is why number one failed -- the KPA-500 got driven off band.

Friday, January 5, 2024

Lenny, what's your secret?

The new year already spun and the CQ Marathon results were sent in.

171 Entities
39 Zones   (missed #34)
210 total

The WWDXC is chalking up some big numbers.  Very cool to see the club so active in CQ Marathon. On average the reports I've seen have each individually been north of 200 points -- some even above 300 when they include the Zone counts.   Great work!

Right around the new year, a member of the WWDXC posed a question about How Long does it take for Honor Roll?

I put some thought to it and came up with this small story:

In 2018, our family visited Paris.  Our son was 16 and we knew that soon his college preparation would occupy his time so this would be our last 'great adventure'.  He picked Paris, so.. (twist my arm, right) .. we went.

We went to the usual places - the Louvre was one of them.  But there were too many fine museums to see.  We saw a dozen  or so for the three weeks we stayed in the Latin Quarter (Rue Monge).   We were fortunate that because of his education -- he was actually quite well versed in some of the history and at times was our 'docent' as we walked the parquet halls.

The question Rusty asked just a few days ago made me think of a hypothetical scenario --  several masters of painting are assembled together to walk the parquet floor of the Louvre after closing time to discuss each others work.   No public in view, just masters in conference as they walk the hall and discuss each others work.  Their Honor Roll.   In my imagination, I can hear the question posed by one master to another "So, Lenny (Leonardo).. how long did it really take you to work out that smile on Mona?" etc..

To me at least, the work of attaining HL let alone #1 HL is like the work of a master.  Serendipity, luck, and determination all playing a role in finding that rare ATNO in the log -- and better still the QSL paper in a stack.  But I think there's also a less talked about skill involved and that skill eludes some of us.   Sure, we read The Book and we are enamored by the fiction.

The skill involved is probably not as difficult to acquire as one thinks.  That's my hope at least.   When I started out in 2006, I had absolutely no clue how to do this.  No advice, no Elmer, literally just whatever the ARRL Handbook said - it was my only reference.   I was not a no-code Extra. I actually took a code-test, albeit a slow one.  But the strangeness was being an Extra w/o a single QSO logged.   First QSO? a DX -- KH6.  Great.   But it took 2.5 years to get DXCC.    At or around #75 I did find The Book and (not making this up) -- the same weekend after I read it, I worked 11 ATNO in one night.   When the ARRL DXCC wall-paper arrived in the mail, I was very proud.

But going from 100 to 210* went a lot easier actually.  I sort of knew what to look for and organically the antenna system improved, the power improved and awareness of DX improved.   But it all had to take a back-seat for a very long time (2011-1018) while I had a kid to raise and work to do.

During the hiatus from radio, FT-8 happened and I wasn't aware of it until 2020.   Now the playing field is a bit more level.   To be honest I hate FT-8, but I also love it for what it does - let's me put the ATNO in the book when nothing else works.   But, FT-8 has been a useful foil -- FT8WW couldn't be worked on FT-8 (too many callers, maelstrom of signal), so I worked them on CW 15m almost immediately.

This leads me to my final point -- it's really remarkable how we look at DXCC HL -- I have the sheet in front of me -- the print-out I made of what I need to do -- my list of entities that I need to work.  I made the list in April 2023.     15 of the entities on that paper list are now crossed off.    There is now almost a direct correspondence to the News Letter announcement for stations planning to QRV and my need-list.    Like ET3AA, etc..  The jog from 210 to 330 is going to be a rough one.   The CQ Marathon only proves the point that in a few months (weeks, days even) someone could chalk up DXCC.

At this rate, with 15-20 ATNO per year (a conservative number given my work-schedule and role of Dad of College Student) -- it could be perhaps as early as 2026 to 2029 -- kind of around the time I can retire and hang up the spurs.

When the masters make their way through the halls, and discuss their work -- remember that the students on the side are hopeful to hear and watch and learn.   At least in this club that seems to be the pattern. Thank goodness.

Things happening

It has been a busy few months since I hung up my software-spurs. On deck -- DX'pedition for Lord Howe Island Lord Howe Island (July 202...