Sep 19, 2010

Back to Analog Basics

Recognize this?
Your current digital product, appliance or service is offering you daily problems. You're fighting your way through settings via zillions of sub-sub-menus, hoping to get that one simple task done. In fact your 'life-style experience' thingy is a product of guaranteed instant stress.

Now there are always some geeks nearby, offering 'help' by friendly telling: you are doing it all wrong. Your settings are incorrect and additionally need to be tweaked(by principal), upgrades installed and special geek-tricks added to the equation before such a device can work at all... This takes time. Yes a lot of precious time (hours), during which you're told how you are living your life utterly wrong, explained at the same geek tech level, which slows down your present perception of (lost) time even more.

And then it shows; the offered intervention did not help.

Surprisingly this does not change the mood of your geek-friend. Quite the opposite; you receive an even longer explanation about why it did not work. In many details that is, until you finally surrender by nodding that you understand him completely...

Why these creatures are willing to spoil so many consecutive hours of what could have been a fine day is beyond my comprehension (I already exploded mentally twice). I know the world needs them for propelling our technical development. And basically, I am a technician as well. Professionally I'm creating bridges between Planet Geek and Earth, thereby understanding both entities. But in my free time I find myself more often in the base camp of the average John Doe nowadays. Effectively I'm pulling myself away from the interventions and want to call it a day. However my friend is more focused than ever and does not let go.

More geek tricks are pulled in and, since the challenge level is rising, others step in soon, turning this into a geek frenzy. After much longer it is finally your product bursting up in flames at which the whole pack is joy-ably agreeing it is you who choose the wrong Operating System in the first place.

Well I'm sorry, but back on earth I find it an insult if one imposes such a discussion to a consumer in the year 2010. I know consumers are indeed slowly mentally degrading, but geeks lack common sense. The product is just crap, period.

Daily Digital Crap Products
Getting to my current affairs; I have been trying some 5 different types/brands Digital Cordless Telephone sets these last couple of years and concluded it's crap.
Battery charging issues, never correct battery indicator, non-responsive number buttons, blinking lights, alarm messages on the display etc...
My favorite annoyance is the "missed call" message on the display. It took 18 (!) button pushes to clear that message from the display, every-time. Why is it that manufacturers aside from implementing a hundred ridiculous options, cannot create a selectable basic simple operating mode, offering nothing but making a call?
I have installed one complete set with 4 handsets at my parents house. Their world is different and they do not recognize any of the display messages at all. And the one in their bedroom is blinking red from day one. Every time a unit does not work or responds differently, they conclude it's probably their operating error and accept that. Hmmmm...... maybe a small learning opportunity for the control freak?

Back to Analog Basics
Out goes the digital crap phone stuff, in comes the Beocom 2000 from Bang & Olufsen. I bought this telephone sometime during 1990-1995. It has an astonishing design. It's greatest asset was and still is its superb audio quality. I used this great device for over 12 years without a flaw ever...

The brown leather pouf is over 35 years old and needed a 2 hour leather creme polish as it was totally dried out. Both are milestones from the past. Guess what? They both still function well.
This model has just a few basic functions like 20 memories, a red emergency number button, an LCD showing the dialed number (no call ID recognition) and 3 selectable true analog ring-tones.
Installation process takes 1 single non-dramatic step: connecting your RJ11 cable. No batteries to install and charge 24hrs, no firmware upgrade, no operating system settings, no help desk and no on-line manual.

That long greyish thing on the left is your handset(wired connection!). As soon as you pick it up from the hook-switch you hear the analog line buzz. Not that digital created artificial sound image from the past, just the real thing.
No answering machine, mailbox, Call ID and/or hide call ID. Just the basics needed for a phone conversation between earthlings.

Feb 24, 2010

Doing it right....

ARRL DX CW Contest 20-21 feb 2010

Last weekend I participated at our club station PI4TUE.

This is the University of Technology Eindhoven's contest call.

Call: PI4TUE

Class: M/S HP

Operators: ON9CC, PC5A, PE2HD, PA5MW

Band QSOs Mults
160: 83 29
80: 261 42
40: 866 55
20: 999 59
15: 933 58
Total: 3142 243 Total Score = 2,290,518

Club affiliation: Bavarian Contest Club

Antennas: 160m sloper@220ft (RX: 5ft vertical@200ft), 80m full size horizontal
loop@220ft, 40m 1/4 GP @200ft, 20-10m 3el SteppIR
Rig: Ten-Tec ORION
Power: 400w from Acom 1000

Wow! This was big fun. Some of us love this contest even more than CQWW.
Finally we made some substantial progress compared to our past entries; at 1000 QSO's extra this year we have moved from the back end to the middle(ish). Watch out for us next year !

What went very well?


This time I'm well prepared by taking a few days off before and after the contest. Being well rested and refraining from doing the *last minute job* I am fully motivated.

Looking fresh during the final hours...... :)))

The new 3el SteppIR is a big improvement over the 15yrs old 3el compromise trapped(read: noisy) yagi. Next the 80m dipole at 220ft was replaced by a full size 80m horizontal loop at 200ft along the roof perimeter of the building (thanks to PA3DSC, PA0IB, PE2HD and PA3FGA).
But there is room for improvement for the RX antennas on 40-160m.

The HF2V mainly used for 40m

80m horizontal loop along the top perimeter. SteppIR 3el yagi. 160m sloper at the right end-corner

The ORION's user ergonomics offered its merits to all operators. Especially the setup for audio (main=both ears, sub RX =right only) and the volume knobs (toggle for audio on/off) was much appreciated for operating RUN/S&P between main and sub receiver with help of N1MM contesting software; Single Band SO2R in one box so to speak.

The station has no true SO2R capabilities. Another challenge for the future.

Second operator position....... not really.

Being focused
All operators were sharp from start till end. We strained for the best (band) strategy and our senior contest op successfully taught us additional tricks on the fly.

Operator Aurelio, PC5A looking sharp during sunday afternoon

Food, coffee, sleep, etc.
There was plenty of it all and the couches in the 'lounge' were comfortable for a quick nap.

What went not so well?

Pin 1 issues
We use some 5 pc's, various audio routing, external equipment and zillion connections for different set-ups in the shack. During the contest our headphones showed all kinds of strange varying noises, rattles and hum. The room houses another 30-40 pcs, several HF/VHF/UHF transceivers and other equipment. Definitely a challenge for the future.

Very likely related to the above; WinKey locked up the N1MM program.

The ORION needed 4 power cycles (3 for no RX and 1 for no TX).

All in all a very memorable contest.
Thanks to Martin PA3DSC and Steef PA0IB for maintaining a great club station.

See you in the phone contest.
73 Mark, PA5MW

Feb 20, 2010

50 MHz Bandpass Filter from Cross Country Wireless (UK)

Why a bandpass filter for 6m?
I recently ordered this from Cross Country Wireless and received this the other day.

There is a couple of reasons in no particular order:

  • Release any front-end(pre-amp) from strong out of band signals, thereby avoiding possible IM from local FM broadcast etc.
  • Avoid total blocking of 144Mhz while transmitting on 50Mhz
Both my transceiver, transverter and/or seperate pre-amp have internal bandpass filtering. The pre-amp even has a carefully tuned sharp helical filter. But in all cases the filtering is either very wideband or only after the LNA. A seperate, dedicated 6m bandpass filter might clear things up, in theory that is.

The Cross Country Wireless offers bandpass filters for 50, 70 and 144 Mhz. They handle 100W RF power and contain a built-in lightning surge arrestor as well. High voltage spike protection too; nice !

The bandpass filter comes with a filter test certificate, detailing RF and VSWR performance.

Final question: "will it result in more QSO's yes/no?"

Let's evaluate that in a few months.

For now I have to catch my next shift in the ARRL DX CW contest at our clubstation PI4TUE.
Have fun guys!

Feb 10, 2010

Cleaned up the measuring table/solder corner

Cleaned out the soldering table

Installed two wooden shelves

Lined up the equipment at one side

Notice the army CW key?

Feb 2, 2010

Doing it wrong..

CQWW 160m CW
My favourite contest.
These last few years I have hardly had time to participate seriously from anywhere.

Excuses, excuses
There's never been any time to prepare myself correctly (make that: I never took the opportunity..etc). Haven't built any decent station after my move to this new QTH. Not even the smallest 160m TX antenna. Not even a low dipole.
I do argue with others about which rig to buy or how to optimize for best performance on 160m, but have not made a single 160 QSO from this city lot yet. Go figure.
Last year there was this great QST article on the 160m No excuses homebrew vertical from John Miller, K6MM. I tried to build my version of a backyard vertical, but the neighbours strongly opposed to its physical exposure. And so it ended.

Even worse preparation for 2010
Now work goes before hobby and you better plan things ahead. Taking some days off is a good start. Arriving home at 01:15 AM after ploughing 150km through heavy snowfall, an earlier delayed flight, on a thursday morning and then try to catch-up the 'normal work' on the two left days of the week, is not a good start.
On saturday morning I awake early and monitor the progress of our club station PI4TUE in the CQWW 160m CW contest. They have a great TX antenna, using full size slopers from some 70mtrs(220ft) AGL. But they totally lack any RX antenna. Local environmental noise is such high that all past field experiments failed. It is frustrating to hear them miss all dx I can easily hear on my backyard small 160m RX reference vertical
I arrive at PI4TUE in the afternoon and take my shift from 15:00 till 18:00 UTC. After that I'm completely exhausted, cannot even stay to support the others and head home for a 12 hour sleep.
Sunday isn't any better so I go out for a 3 hour walk to catch some energy again.

3830 archives
Dink, N7WA offers a great service via the 3830 list and it's great fun to read the sopabox comments.
I'm flabbergasted by some of the low power/long wire entries; one European OM making 512 QSO's, 8 states and 52 countries using 5W and a 42mtr longwire ....

Lesson learned
Waiting & debating for the new & better station set-up can be an endless frustration.
Next time I will throw out some wire in a nearby tree, connect a tuner and use 100W,
just for the weekend. And operate from my own shack, just having fun.
And have my own decent cappuccino