Monday, July 22, 2024

Midterm Grade


(This morning right after I got a morning coffee, a rainbow shot across the lagoon.  It got so bright it masked the view of the trawler boats.  The wind was blowing about 30 mph at the time and the rain was starting to kick up too).


In about 10 days or so, I tear down the station.   I'm writing this several days in advance so that I don't forget to write a good summary of the DX'pedition to Lord Howe Island and include some insights and observations from the experience.

I will end up annotating this post as the days progress, but there are fewer days ahead of the trip than behind.  This week is the time I will be preparing (CW QSO's) for the RSGB IOTA contest this weekend.  I am anticipating the contest as I write this summary of the events that unfolded while I was on Lord Howe Island.

The stated goals of the DX'p were to do many things and you can review the goals by simply finding the Page on this blog (probably to the right or somewhere in the Menu for the page called simply "Goal")

The main goal I had was to get experience.

For the goal of experience, gain experience working a DX'pedition.  All that entails and the effort that goes into making the trip happen.  It started way back in late March and early April of 2024 when I decided that I was going to go on a DX'pedition.  I had not originally planned for it to be a solo-operation, but it would have been inconvenient for me to pull in a team at short notice.   Even so, many of the experienced DX'p people I've met, especially the experts who regularly visit the DX Convention in Visalia had recommended that the trip I do plan involved a team effort.   That was one guiding principle of the experience that was shared with me from those experts.  I value their opinion and advice -- all the while I still wanted to know what I was capable of.  Being on a team involves a key element -- that is called "followership" -- which simply means being a good and reliable team member and taking in the direction and advice of the team Leaders who are organizing the trip.

I didn't quite have the same level of "team" experience while on Lord Howe Island -- I had to do everything myself.  Let's just start with the activities ON the island:

  • Chief Engineer
  • Procurement Specialist
  • Public Relations Officer
  • CW Operator
  • Pile-up negotiator
  • Band Plan Analyst
  • Propagation Scientist
  • Coffee Maker
  • Exercise Guru
  • Sand Sweeper
  • Radial Wire Scavenger
  • Email Responder
  • Sked Caretaker
  • Health and Safety Officer
  • Log Maintainer
  • Database Administrator
  • Software Programmer
  • Sand Castle Fabrication
  • Beach Cookout Participant
  • Hike Planner
  • Cyclist
  • RFI Scrubber

Those are just a handful of the roles that I had to play.

The main insight I have had is this:

You can plan your DX'p perfectly -- make plans, lists, agendas and scope documents to your hearts content, but nothing will change the reality that bad things will happen.  By "bad" I mean things that you could not have foreseen, or at the least expected to be an issue as you start to deploy the station.

For this expedition, what was not expected was the severe weather patterns that would envelop the island at random times.   Rain and Wind I did expect, but not with the chaos that unfolds when those weather events occur.  It can be bright and sunny one minute and then the next, a downpour that would frighten the most native Seattle resident, with wind and violent air movement straining the guy lines that were put in place to hold the only antenna.

Things can and do go wrong and dealing with the adversity of unforeseen events is part of the experience.  I have had no regrets about the outcomes that have unfolded because of those events.  At times, I've been on a roll, doing a good Run and then suddenly have to QRT over an issue as mentioned.  It was not expected because when I am on the other side of the QSO -- when I chase DX, it seems like the operation just rolls on 24/7.  But I then have to realize those operations are team operations and there is usually at least 2 people or more at  several radios always working more bands at the same time.  They have the  throughput to handle the issues because their bench is deep.

In a solo operation the bench is not deep and the result is that at every moment, I have to deal with an issue.  Luckily, the issues have been somewhat spread out over time.   When I first arrived (July 10-11) the weather was probably the worst, but over the last week or so except for a weird lightening storm and wind storm (several of those), it has been relatively calm.   I write this just as at the very moment I can hear the wind kick up again and see the palm trees flexing in the strong breeze around me.  It never ends.

The other goal of this DX'p was to simply provide the amateur radio operators out there a chance to log Lord Howe Island.   It is not a super-rare DXCC entity, but rare enough that sometimes I get a message from folks via email indicating it was an All Time New One (ATNO).  I'm actually quite pleased to be able to do that -- provide them the LHI contact for either their DXCC tally, or maybe even their  CQ Marathon list.

Another insight that has been painfully obvious is that despite all that can go into the planning of a DX'p the LOCATION of the antennas is absolutely critical to success.  In this case, where I have my antenna, the situation is less than optimal.  I have a couple of trees nearby and there is a derelict structure that might be the reason why the propagation to the Northwest part of the US or at least the North and West part of North America has been so hard to work.   Location is everything -- you can have the weakest power or the strongest power -- but with the right location the signal can leap from the antenna and make its way to the other stations in the world -- if it is located well.  I have to deal with what I have in this QTH.    Lord Howe Island is a highly regulated location.  Every square foot of this island is protected and as a result it is not as if there is ample "public space" for anyone to put up an antenna farm.  It would be extremely unlikely that I could have deposited one antenna let alone a farm of verticals along any of the beaches here -- and there are two beaches in particular that would have been absolutely perfect for 270 degree swath of signal propagation.   Alas, that scenario would have not worked --- so the insight here is that you can plan, hope, strategize and plot any kind of DX'p you wish but if your antenna location is not ideal, it will play a significant role in how many contacts you have which is in direct proportion to the  likelihood the signal will get out.

I learned a lot so far from this.  The main self-realization moment was that despite how much I thought I could copy CW, there is always room for improvement.    My modest copy skills were enough to handle the perfect pile up -- the perfect pile up is ONE station at a time.   I can actually handle a few stations in a pile up, but there is another kind of pile up that I (should have been) am aware of -- that pile up that is just layers and layers of callsigns overlapping to the point it's just a hum of noise.  It's like trying to climb a hill of dry sand.  Try to get to the top of it means digging and clawing against the unstable structure.   I did my best ( am doing my best ) by working from the edges inward rather than trying to meddle with the inside of the maelstrom of signals.  I don't know if that is the "proper" way of doing it, but it has worked so far.   Another aspect in the pile-up I've noticed is that there are the ultra strong stations and the ultra-weak. In fact sometimes I can copy the ultra-weak better because often their signals (despite being weak signal strength) have the characteristic of highly crisp and clear tone quality.   I strive to work those just as much as the rest of the call signs.   Their "low signal" means something because they are probably like me -- perhaps -- and my home QTH is virtually a pea-shooter station so I am familiar with having a weak signal when I chase DX.    Still, I will work the ultra-loud stations even if I am not trying for that area (Asia vs NA) because I need their strong signal out of the way -- sorry -- there's no other way to put it.  If you're so strong I got to work you now and quick so that I can hear the average strength station and the rest of the calls.   I hope you understand.

Last, I will close with a few comments about something I started with -- regarding the Team effort.
Despite the fact that on the island I do not have a "team" per se, I do have a virtual team back home.  Several members of the excellent Western Washington DX Club have been absolutely vital in giving me some feedback, information and advice in the most productive way.  Rob N7QT, Robin WA7CPA, Rusty W6OAT, Eric N7EPD, and Mike N7WA -- and the rest of the gang back home.  

THANK YOU.

I do want to call out a special friend of mine back home, Bob W7LRD who has been the unofficial Captain of Pilots.  He has from day one been able to steer the ship a bit for me, at least providing a lantern in the dark for me to follow a path towards the best signal and best band to pursue.  Also, I will add that he's an incredibly gifted CW operator and DX'er himself.  I admire him greatly.

I with the best for the days ahead and look forward to talking with my friends when I return.   I owe a lot of this trip to the motivation I've received from the NCDXF members I know and the tutoring from Mark K6UFO, Tom ND2T and others who are involved in the NCDXF and other clubs and foundations.

This DX'p is a little one.  It is not going to blow anyone's hair back and I'm sure the other 60+ other better-wanted DXCC entities are far more interesting to work.  But, I wanted to start somewhere and this is where I started.

There is a lot of ocean out here and a lot of islands to visit -- which means my time in the Pacific has just begun.  As I told my host at the Lodge on Lord Howe Island, I will be returning back to the Pacific again and making friends where I go.  Those friendships will be lasting and formative -- and they will help smooth  out the weird requests that come up like "So, I can put up antennas here?" question.   

About 14 years ago I read a book called DX-Aku by Bob  Schmieder KK6EK.  When I read that book, the hook was set in me for doing a DX'p.   But, back then I had absolutely no clue what to do or how to do it.  Bob was kind enough then to exchange email with me and we pondered, planned and he advised me just in the same way the Aku he heard (metaphorically ?).    I had to shelve the plan for other duties at work and home, but the dream of putting my feet in the sand was not going to go away.  I was going to put my "feet in the sand" as it were, one of these days.  That has happened.




Now, back to planning my days for the lead-up to the IOTA RSGB Contest this weekend.  In the mean time, bias more time in CW than FT-8.  And, double check my Score Summary table for which bands I need to work more often.  I hear a lot about 17m SSB.  And I haven't scratched 10m very much simply because there's a S9 + 40 noise figure on the island on 10 m.  The best 10 m signal for me is going to be CW only, no SSB unless I work around 28,600.  Up the 10 m band the signal seems to quiet, the birdies (flock of birds) resides between 28,200 to 28,500 at S9 + 40.

Take care, check the Live Stream if I made a mistake and the QSL Manager M0URX will handle the OQRS for Paper QSL (which will be happily made once I get back and deliver photos to Tim).

For the folks reading this who are from the Pacific Northwest, do not forget that the Pacific Northwest DX Convention is happening this August.  Many very interesting talks and presentations will be given, plus a lot of work went into making the event full of fun and enlightening time with a great group of people.   I look forward to seeing you there.

Thanks and 73's for now.

Jeff


Sunday, July 21, 2024

Live Stream Active

In order to help reduce duplicates and re-tries, LIVE STREAM is now active:


Courtesy of the StarLink Internet connection.  Expect a tiny bit of latency.   Updates to LiveStream are delayed about 10 seconds after my station confirms the QSO.

I hope that helps!



Imagine the Antenna Farm...

While the kids on the beach made sand-castles, I imagined a row of Vertical Dipole Array antennas.

Oh would that be good.



Cargo Dog

Yesterday, I had a slight detour with a family that invited me to have a cook-out at Neds Beach on the NW corner of the island.

Part of the tour included a visit to the pier where the cargo vessel makes routine trips to the island every two weeks or so.

Everything of any signficant size or weight -- is delivered via ship.  This ship.

And, every bit of cargo that arrives, before it's moved off the dock onto the island is inspected for biologic specimens that do NOT belong on the island (rats, mice, frogs, snakes, etc..)   Dogs are used to sniff out any of these critters and make a sign when they find something.    This is how the island is able to protect the native species that are endemic to the island.  Without this level of critical inspection, the native wildlife would be decimated.  In the past years it was almost decimated until after a serious and dedicated ten year plan was successful of removing every rat and mouse from the island.


The working element of this operation is really that dog which checks every single load off the ship.  The fork-trucks do not leave the dock with the item until the dog gives the "A-OK"


In this case the dog was sniffing out a crate of gravel.

Alarm didn't go off...

I had planned to wake up around 4am local time and see about 17, 15m for EU and NA but the phone didn't make a sound.

At least I got some contacts in on the trail end of the opening to EU and NA this morning.

Looks like 0400 UTC to 0600 UTC should be good for 20m into NA and SA.

Then 2100 UTC looks good opening into EU for 20m.

15m is almost the same story.

Now, to finish that Laundry and get breakfast finally.

Side note --

I've received a fair number of email messages.   I try my best to give a good response quickly, but if the response is short, I will re-address the message in full when I have down-time.   For those who are seeking a contact, I am aware and  with the better VOACAP data in hand, I can predict a bit better when to be operating -- so that should help us.

Thanks for your patience.   And, just for the sake of mentioning it, review the "Goals" page on this Blog.  You'll see exactly what I am striving to do.

So far, it's going more or less as I expected. 

Many thanks,

Jeff




Strangest Weather

Settled in, got the cans on and the band seems quiet.  Fire up the N1MM and hope to enjoy a couple hours of pile up before another cup of coffee.  Work a few stations, some stations that I've worked before on other bands (thank you), and all of a sudden the wind kicks up with a blanket of rain that coincides with a huge spike in QRN on the band.   Wipes it out.

So, I will make that second cup of Nescafe  (powdered coffee from the microwave) and see about another band.

Life on LHI.

I realize that early morning my time is ideal for EU so I will try to make that a regular occurrence.  I appreciate the contacts and I'm glad to work EU as well as the SA stations.  I haven't heard many of them.  My vertical is able to Rx SA, I just haven't heard them much.  EU and SA are a priority as well as the NA contacts.   The AS contacts are fairly loud all of the time, which is good.  If I can hear you, I will try to work you, without delay.

Thanks.

Saturday, July 20, 2024

Logbook

A house keeping issue --

The online Logbook is updated daily when I send the Logs to the QSL Manager

Here is the link to check the log:


It's updated roughly every morning (local time)

If you find an error, please reach out to me quickly.

Thanks.


Midterm Grade

(This morning right after I got a morning coffee, a rainbow shot across the lagoon.  It got so bright it masked the view of the trawler boat...