The DXer’s ethos, and why you shouldn’t fear the ‘big guns’

Its nice to have personal goals like getting to HR one day, or whatever, but its certainly not something I’d be comfortable talking about unless its in the context of encouraging others in their own pursuit.

Eg, I think it can be encouraging to others to talk about how you managed to work DXCC in a year with 100 watts and a vertical, but its certainly not encouraging to talk about how you worked a given DXPedition on all bands and all modes.

And if you’re the type of person who talks about working every DXPedition on every band and mode, and then whine when you miss one… well.. the rest of us start wondering what else you’re missing in your life.

Encourage others; re-assure them that DXing is possible no matter what their budget is, and pursue the challenges you enjoy for your own satisfaction.  That’s how I personally enjoy DX.

One thing I will say though is I find this whole notion that ‘big guns’ are stealing from ‘little guns’ is really toxic.  Anyone who has been around the block long enough should realize by now that the order of importance is this:

1) Perseverance
2) Condx
3) Station

Ham radio is such a wonderful hobby in that you can get a lot of individual satisfaction without it detracting from someone else’s enjoyment.  Lets not feed the trolls by spreading the notion that ‘big guns’ somehow prevent ‘little pistols’ from working new ones.  That attitude is likely to do more damage to the hobby and especially the individual – after all, it is little more than an excuse, and one that might easily lead a newbie to think that DXing requires no effort on their behalf.

Yes, there are idiots who dupe endlessly on the same band, with seemingly huge signals.  Experienced that as XU7AGA, but at the end of the day, they are few and far between, and I can promise you there are plenty of DXPedition ops who have trouble hearing certain calls, especially if they’re already in the log.

If you want to blame something for not being in the log, blame condx.  That way, you’re still likely to enjoy the company of your fellow hams, and they yours.

Bhutan (A5A), ‘big guns’ and why missing a DXPedition is just fine by me.

I’m pretty sure I’ve got next to no chance of getting Bhutan (A5A) in the log this time round.  Now hopefully for the sake of irony I will be proven wrong, but the facts are as follows:

1) I work full time, and its the start of spring here.  The bands are often closed by the time I get home, leaving only the weekends.  That rules out the ‘bum in seat’ approach aka persistence which is so often all that it takes.

2) ConDX doesn’t seem to be there.  Today (saturday) I had the chance to indulge in my favorite hobby.  WAE SSB was on, and I could hear and work quite a few stations easily.  However, none of those stations were in the region surrounding Bhutan.  Jumping over to JT65, I found I could hear and work quite a few stations on 17M (which A5A has used a lot), but my station wasn’t getting heard around that region once more.  Lastly, I haven’t so much as heard a single beep out of A5A.

3) There is still work to be done on my station.  I have an Icom IC-7300 with a great scope, and an Ameritron AL-572 amplifier capable of well over our legal limit in VK, so it just loafs.  However, because of my current living arrangements I haven’t been able to invest in a tower until recently.  As such, using only basic antennas my reception is often noisy (no nulls), and I can’t push the power in the direction I’d like.

So it seems really likely I’ll miss Bhutan this time.  However, if you stop and think about it, its not the end of the world.

Imagine for a second we could all work DX whenever it showed up.  Here’s what would happen:

A) DXing would be about as exciting as a skype phone call.
B) We wouldn’t be motivated to improve our skills and stations; most importantly we wouldn’t learn and grow.
C) There would be less DXPeditions.

Now point C might seem a bit strange, but think about it in economic terms – supply and demand.  If everyone had every DXPedition in their log, there wouldn’t be any demand for further DXPeditions.  Of course, as new people enter the hobby places will need to be activated sporadically, but not anywhere nearly as frequently.

Just think about how many DXPeditions have aims these days – eg, ‘we’re concentrating on low bands’, ‘we’re CW only’, or even ‘we want to give ATNOs to NA’.  If propagation wasn’t a factor, everyone from every continent would work every band and mode on every DXPedition.

And that’s where the real rub comes in.  Imagine DXing where everyone reaches HR in ~10 years, and there are nowhere near as many DXPeditions – doesn’t sound like a very long lived hobby does it; sounds like a FAD to me.

On the other hand, we currently enjoy a hobby where one can always look to the future and say ‘I need Mongolia on CW’, or at worst ‘I’ve yet to work P5 on digital’.  There is always a bright future to hope for; always something to look forward to and dream of.

And that’s why I’m not going to get too upset when I miss Bhutan this time round… But hey, in the mean time, I’m going to improve my station in any way I can, so that condx willing, I’m one of the deserving when I get the next shot.

The golden days of DXing are ahead of us!  Always be a believer!  And don’t let ANYONE convince you that a ‘big gun’ stole your ATNO! For they are just men, not the gods of condx!

Plans for next XU7AGA Activation

Since returning to VK3, I have been really busy with family stuff and finding some decent employment.  However, I’m glad to announce that I’ve got most of it sorted now, and it looks like I will be returning to Cambodia in October or November 2016!

I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag, but it looks like it could be quite an exciting year for DX in Cambodia!

My plans for XU7AGA is to focus mainly on digital modes and ssb phone when I return, and help get as many people ATNOs as possible!

I’ll be sure to keep everyone updated as plans progress,

73,

Jarrad

XU7AGA QSL Card Update

Note: All XU7AGA Direct/OQRS cards have been dispatched as of 06/10/2015.

Just want to let everyone who has ordered an XU7AGA QSL Card know that my cards have been dispatched by the printer so hopefully I’ll be able to send them out shortly!

My apologies for the delay – the printing has taken quite a bit longer than I expected.

73,

Jarrad

Health Considerations for Backpackers & DXPeditioners

To be clear, I am not a Medical Doctor, so the following is an account of my personal experiences, the health situation in Cambodia, and precautions I’ll be taking in the future.

Background

Whilst operating in Cambodia, especially when operating from Koh Rong Island (IOTA AS-133) I was frequently bitten by all kinds of insects, namely:

  • Bed Bugs
  • Sand flies
  • Mosquitos

While Dengue Fever has been present in Cambodia, it was not endemic while I was there, so I (nor anyone else) placed too much emphasis on protection from insect bites.  Most of the time, I wore a singlet top, shorts and flip flops.  I was bitten all over the place, and as it turned out, the local insects produced greater allergic reactions than whenever I suffer insect bites back home in Australia.

Scratching produced wounds, and the wounds became infected with various results.  Read more for the whole story and advice to prevent experiencing the same issues I did, but warned medical issues are discussed. 🙂

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Revised QSL Card Design & QSO Rundown

As previously mentioned, the original QSL Card Design wasn’t compliant for the IOTA awards, so here is the new one.

Basically, if you get a QSL card with ‘Koh Rong AS-133’ ticked, it counts for IOTA.  If ‘Sihanoukville’ is ticked, it doesn’t.  All QSOs made with me between the 19/06/2015 & 21/06/2015 UTC were made from Koh Rong Island, IOTA AS-133.

In total, there were 92 IOTA QSOs. Although I would have liked more, it is wet season here and the weather was absolutely terrible.  Japanese stations collected the majority of QSOs, although even these pile-ups were frequently ended by the WX.

Honorable Mentions go out to: W6CCP, W6ZR, KH6HM, W4DJL, S52LD, UA0FDQ, SP5FCZ, YO8BGE, and Wim (XU7TZG), who managed a QSO on every band (except 160m which neither of us could tune) 😉

If you have any questions regarding whether your QSL counts for IOTA, please email me via my QRZ listed email address.

XU7AGA Back Small XU7AGA Front Small

Photos from Koh Rong Island

Hey Guys, the IOTA team have a few issues with my QSL Card design, and may not accept it for IOTA AS-133.  I’m working with them to see if we can find some middle ground.  In the meantime, here are some pictures from Koh Rong Island in Cambodia (which is designated IOTA AS-133).

Jake the Owner of ‘Bongs’ (Cambodian for ‘brother’), who kindly let me setup out the front of his establishment and scribble all over his bar:

Jake Bongs

Myself Pretending to Operate Outside Bongs when the WX was OK but the Bands Not So Much.

Operating Outside Bongs Close

The Local Kids Enjoy the Spectacle.

Local Kids

It was Kind of Windy (The 12M Spiderbeam Pole Didn’t Care)!

Windy

Planned Activation of IOTA AS-133 (Koh Rong)

Koh Rong (IOTA AS-133) Activation

This weekend I plan to activate IOTA AS-133. IOTA AS-133 is actually a group of Cambodian Islands, but I will be located on Koh Rong, which is a popular backpacker hot spot where my brother owns a few Hostels.

The Plan

On Friday the 19th (Cambodian UTC+7 time), I will begin my trip over on the ferry and start setting up the station. I am taking the following equipment:

  • Icom IC-7200 Transceiver (100 Watts Barefoot)
  • Icom AH-4 Remote Antenna Tuner (Mounted at the base of my Vertical)
  • Spiderbeam 12m Telescopic Fiberglass Pole
  • Sennheiser HD-25 Mark II Headphones
  • Turnigy Accucell-6 Microprocessor Controlled Battery Charger

By virtue of the fact my brother has a fishing boat, I have a few decent 100ah batteries available for use. However, Cambodian power often fluctuates between 180-220 Volts, meaning that most of the local chargers (which are linear devices involving little more than a tapped transformer and some diodes), never fully charge a 12v Lead Acid Battery. My little Turnigy charger, although only rated at 4 amps at 12v, easily charges big Lead Acid batteries to full capacity overnight. As such, it is unlikely I will be on the air on Friday, as I will need to charge the batteries up to full capacity in order to get the most out of my radio.

The Antenna

Using a 12M Long Spiderbeam pole, I plan to setup a ‘multiband’ vertical.  The Vertical is ‘multiband’ by virtue of the Icom AH-4 Antenna Tuner / Matching Network that will be placed at the feed point.  The antenna will roughly be constructed as follows:

  • The first meter or so of the spiderbeam pole will be buried in the sand, preferably with some additional hardware to use as an anchor point.
  • Approximately 1 Meter above sand level, the Icom AH-4 tuner will be mounted.
  • The driven element will be approximately 8 meters long, but adjustments will be made to ensure it tunes up nicely on 15M.  8 Meters is pretty close to a half wave, but the tuner should handle this fine.
  • The counterpoise will consist of 4 sloping elevated wires, two behind me, and two going out into the ocean.  Each will be attached to bamboo supports, and the ocean wires will be kept at water height via flotation devices otherwise known as empty plastic bottles.  The counterpoise wires will be roughly 1/4 wavelength on 20M.

Computer modelling and the experience of other DXers suggests this antenna should have a gain between 5dBi and 8dBi, with the highest gain on the higher bands.  These figures are quoted for low angle radiation, between 5 and 10 degrees take off from the horizon. I suspect the pattern will be skewed towards the salt water, however this is not shown by my modelling software.  It is worth noting however that my modelling experience is limited, and I am using a trial version of EZNEC.

The Operation

Beginning Saturday Cambodia time, WX Permitting, I will begin operation as soon as I wake up (this is an unknown variable).  A little bit of time will be spent setting up the equipment, but as I am planning to use a vertical antenna located right next to / in the salt water, I expect this will take less than 30 minutes.

Depending on band conditions, I will be using a mixture of PSK-31 and SSB Phone.  My preference is SSB Phone, so hopefully propagation will be nice.

I plan to operate on the 15M, 17M & 20M Bands, with preference going to the 15M band as it seems to shine in this part of the world.

Why Remote Antenna Tuners Are Not Evil

A lot of Hams hate ‘antenna tuners’, and it’s quite understandable given that there are some common and very bad practices concerning tuner usage.

  

The June 2015 QST Article ‘Don’t Blow Up Your Balun’ explains this better than I ever could – it explains when and how to use a tuner without causing huge losses.  I’ve summarized some of those concepts here, and included some other advantages of using a remote tuner.

  

Antenna Tuners and ‘Loss’

Back in the days of ladder line, having a tuner in the shack wasn’t such a big problem as the ladder line of the day often had an impedance in the order of 600 ohms, and balanced feed lines are less lossy (have less resistive losses) than coaxial cable when mismatched (being driven into a high SWR).  When you combine their high impedance, (which basically means a lower SWR in a mismatch), with their lower losses under mismatch, having a tuner in the shack was not much of an issue.

However when we switched to coax feeds, we should have moved the tuner.  Coaxial cable has a relatively low impedance of 50 ohms, which means that when there is a mismatch between the antenna and the feed line, the SWR is generally higher.  Coaxial cable also has higher losses (higher resistive losses) under mismatched conditions than ladder line, so when you combine these two things, you can burn up a considerable amount of power just in your coaxial cable.  The solution is to move the tuner, or as we should properly call it, ‘matching network’, to the antenna feed point.

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