Palstar R30CC + Wellbrook ALA1530LNP vs. Elecraft K3 + DXE DV-40-P

•May 25, 2017 • 2 Comments

Using a shortwave station in Maine, USA, I tested the Palstar R30CC and the Wellbrook ALA1530LNP vs. the K3 with the DXE DV-40-P 2 element 40M phased array, and I was very surprised at how well the Palstar and Wellbrook worked. I thought the K3 and DXE phased vertical array would be significantly better, and its not.

There was some QSB on the Wellbrook, but the signal was S9 to S9 +10 and on the K3 and phased array with S9 +10 to S9 +15. The very noticeable directionality extends up to WWVH from Kauai on 2500 khz.

Bottom line – the Wellbrook and Palstar holds its own. The Palstar sounds better than the K3 for broadcast signals and AM – that’s for sure – but that was without me tweaking with the K3 filters. One last thing – the Wellbrook is outstanding as far as directionality is concerned on the AM broadcast band and 160M goes – but as you go up in frequency, it starts losing directionality.

One thing for sure – while the ham bands on the decline, its been a blast to use the Palstar R30CC with the Wellbrook loop. There still are still enough beacons, shortwave and other “utility” stations like WWV and WWVH to tune into and study propagation.

The Palstar R30CC (and I am sure the same thing would be true about their newer R30A) has sound that is just like an old high quality tube shortwave receiver. I listen with good headphones and can listen to it all day. The K3 is for DX-ing – the R30CC is for listening! I’m still surprised how good this Palstar receiver is.

Remotes Are The Future of DX-peditioning!

•May 24, 2017 • 4 Comments

This is the future of DX-peditions. Let me clarify this – if you have an entity where it becomes prohibitive to get there due to cost and access – do you beg the ARRL to delete it – or do something like this? The truth is – in the next 20 years more and more entities will “assume this position”. Also – when the number of people funding these DXpeditions drops below the current “Baby Boomer Heavy” demographic – then what do you do?

When I asked Jeff, K1NSS to create this funny cartoon( I called it the “Sat Shack”) it was when Mike, KJ4Z was working out the details of the VK0LD portion of the VK0EK DX-pedition. Because we knew it would be “highly controversial”, we kept it quiet and pretty much “snuck it in” the DX-pedition as a “Demo”.

The truth of the matter is that we had a series of meetings and discussions with the fine people at Elecraft – who were more than happy that we were going to try this.

I worked on the team that held quite a few conference calls with Inmarsat – pitching our project, and which ended up securing 4 top of the line Explorer BGAN terminals and unlimited air time.

The idea came about when Mike and I had one of our “what if” chats. I knew Mike had a remote station in Tennessee, and we agreed – this could be done – especially since we were using Elecraft equipment and because with 4 BGAN terminals we had no serious bandwidth issues. Mike worked with the guys at Elecraft to make sure the latency wouldn’t obviate this project, and sure enough – while there was some latency – it was still do-able.

The Surveyor that my father worked on was sent up in a rocket and deployed on the moon. It collected samples and radioed back images and whatnot. It gave the future flights to the moon – with humans – the data they needed to proceed.

And I am 100% sure that in the future we will have “convergence” where satellite, radio, power and deployment techniques will let us sail to a very remote location, set up a remote station, and run that station from the boat that brought it and deployed it. Heck – maybe a high powered drone will do a “suitcase deploy” on the island and pick it up afterwards.

This would have these benefits:

  1. Anyone going to – or even past a rare island entity could be paid to deploy these. Maybe a ship going from South Africa to Antarctica would do this – or maybe a tanker passing some other island would do it. The ACE scientific mission that sailed around so many of our ultra rare entities could do it. In turn – we could pay a fraction of what a mega DX-pedition would require to have several weeks of on air remote operation. Imagine doing a 3 week Bouvet DX-pedition for $50K. Nigel of Braveheart fame travels all over the world and even supplies Pitcairn Island with supplies. Either he or the residents on Pitcairn could deploy and maintain a suitcase sat station onto places like Ducie – easily – almost like setting up a portable emergency repeater
  2. Liability – we would not risk anyone’s lives
  3. It would only take ONE person to deploy the station
  4. It would have a minimal footprint thus making permitting easier
  5. Data packets and encryption could be used to ensure that the DX-pedition was at the island or entity they say they are

I am sure that VK0EK – with its first ever remote activation VK0LD is something people will look back to – that we made history, and provided a very vital service to the Amateur Radio and DX-ing communities.

Watch for it – its going to happen within 10 years!


VK0EK Was Ahead of Its Time . . .

•May 24, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Click to enlarge . .

We are all getting older every second. Like gravity – obey: its the law. No matter how much money or power you have – you can’t turn back the hands of time. The population is changing drastically – and we will not be the same as we were in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s or any time in the past – and no politician will make it so (some are trying though but this is only a small “blip” of nostalgia). There will be power in numbers – and so – look at the Millennial chart above – and you will be able to get a good idea of what the future will look like from a “people” perspective.

The Surveyor – at the Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC

I have told my story of how I got into SWL and Ham Radio after seeing a fellow Boy Scout’s Heathkit shortwave radio that he built. This was a few years after Mrs. Gooden – my 4th Grade Teacher taught a series on “inventors” and we had visited Thomas Edison’s lab in Menlo Park, NJ and when I did a book report on a book about Marconi. That was the precise moment when I realized I loved science and technology – or was it?

Subliminally, I had already been corrupted – by my Father and in the 60’s. My dad had worked in the aerospace industry for Thiokol when I was very young, and he worked on the Surveyor that went to the moon. He was a project and program manager (we was a machinist who was one of the first to get into CNC machining – hence our connection to Cincinnati, Ohio and the Cincinnati Millicron Company). That was in the 1960’s – when I was very young. The Surveyor was my fathers pride and joy – and he is actually listed on the patent papers for the rocket engine that propelled the Surveyor. His friend told me to not become an electronic engineer (after I tried to impress him with my early maturity in knowing what I wanted to do at age 16), but told me to get into software instead. I listened to him – and my father was very pleased. So that whole “please your father” deal was sealed when I was coming of age – and I literally have been on that path since 1976. In 1979 my family moved from Newton, NJ to Pleasanton, CA because my father had a great offer from Lockheed in Sunnyvale. This was while I was half way through college in Pennsylvania – so Silicon Valley was destiny. After 37 years I love my job and career more than ever – its really quite amazing.

While at Dayton, I was VERY impressed with the ARRL’s drive to get more young people into the hobby and also into DX-ing. They have great books and programs to try to bridge makers with ham radio. Here is a link to a web page where the ARRL starts off with a 16 year old who went on a DX-pedition:

Ruth Willet – KM4LAO (recipient of the Dave Kalter Memorial Award and trip to a DXpedition on PJ6 – Saba) was the speaker at the SWODXA DX Dinner. Her story was a Mother – Daughter relationship of two hams, and she clearly is a beacon of the future of ham radio and DX-ing, where multiple interests combined (digital modes, “making”, satellite and HF DX-ing) was her “pallette” – and it was so refreshing to see someone not jaded or pontificating about the “one and only way to do ham radio or a DX-pedition”. Bill, AE0EE had a nice chat with Ruth after her presentation – during a “meet the presenter” portion of the program. It was very clear to me that younger hams want to try many different things and also want to combine these things in a hybrid approach.

I had breakfast every day members of the ARRL, and told them I was very impressed with their new emphasis on bridging the Maker and Ham Radio communities. I think the new CEO, Tom Gallagher, NY2RF has the right idea leading this charge, and it was very evident that this is taking off. Right now – we have the best opportunity to attract young(er) people into the hobby and into DX-ing, and the best way is to get to understand the youth and what they are interested in.

When I think back to 1973 – when I got into ham radio, the choices were so much more limited to just a few things – when you compare it to today. Many different modes, satellites (Cubesats especially), remotes, high altitude balloons, Maker components (Arduino, Raspberry Pi, etc), and at Hamvention I clearly saw where the youth were congregating. I’ll make two predictions based on what I saw, and where the “buzz” is:

  1. If you want to attract younger people into ham radio and DX-ing – mix it up – combine different aspects of the hobby. Have some cool science and cool experiments on board with your project. Let the younger hams and DX-ers go wild with projects THEY are interested in – not the limited scope that older hams seem to be set on
  2. DX-pedition teams will become smaller – we have reached the “peak oil” of Mega DX-peditioning. When I worked on VK0EK, the first VERY strong feeling I had when I found out what our budget was – and what I was tasked to do fund raising wise was “THIS IS NOT SUSTAINABLE”. And looking at what 3Y0Z has to raise and what their budget is – those feelings are very much validated and were at Hamvention. HOWEVER, I am very much impressed with how the younger hams have no fear – and are resourceful. They will figure out how to jump on a Scientific Expedition and bring a small station with them. They are not jaded, and I hope they don’t become so

Dayton Hamvention gave me a glimpse into the future, and I was especially proud that VK0EK had so many projects that today’s youth are interested in. Our team included a new DX-er and DX-peditioner (Bill, AE0EE), and he is EXACTLY the kind of person we want in the hobby moving forward. And so is Ruth Willet, and it was great to see two young DX-peditioners at the SWODXA DX Dinner comparing notes and full of enthusiasm for the future of ham radio and DX-ing.

Bill, AE0EE, second from left – the future of ham radio and DX-ing . . Photo Courtesy of SWODXA

It made me feel that VK0EK was ahead of its time and a model for future generations. Except there will be smaller bands of younger people activating the rare places. They will be on smaller team adventures. I’m especially proud that when ANY younger ham wanted to join the VK0EK Team – not only did we say YES, we encouraged them to do a project. I am SURE that we were very different than many DX-pedition’s in that regard, and I think we created a legacy that will be a glimpse into the future. Just ask Bill or Mike (both are Millennials). My two sons are as well, and Graham was KG6MXR – but for him, ham radio never really took off. I introduced both of my boys to ham radio – but did not force them. I did teach youth ham radio classes back in the early 2000’s. I have had lots of thoughts about this topic.

Mike, KJ4Z, also the future of ham radio and DX-ing – VK0LD was his “famous” project on VK0EK (he also created our OQRS system and souvenir ordering system)

To Bob, KK6EK’s and my credit – when we found a person interested who had a skill that we needed for the project – we put them to work and let them run full bore. Bill, AE0EE and Mike, KJ4Z were self starters and wonderful in that they just ran with it. There were many others on the team who did the same – but I’m concentrating on the youngest people on the project who delivered big projects and who were instrumental to our success. We jokingly called this an “Open Source” DX-pedition because of this.

They might do things differently than the way we do it now – but however they decide to proceed – us older people will be thankful that they are keeping the hobby alive. We will have no say or choice in that once we are past an age where trends are set. We will have run our course and will have had our turn. The future will be different – I think more interesting, actually.

I’d bet on it!



Dayton Hamvention Highlights

•May 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Photo Courtesy Jeff, KE9V

First and foremost meeting these fine people (not in any particular order):

  • Jeff, KE9V, Jason, N9AVG, Tom, W5KUB, Ken, NG2H, Adam, K2ARB, Jacob, KC2OHR, Dave, K3EL, Bob, KK6EK, Bill, AE0EE – from the VK0EK Tean
  • Tony of N3ZN Keys – who made both of the keys I use today
  • Randy, KB3IFH who makes my QSL cards
  • Ralph, K0IR
  • The SWODXA Club members
  • The entire 3Y0Z Team – most whom I have already met at Visalia, but I met several on the team I had not met
  • Uber drivers who were always very pleasant and fun to ride with
  • The super friendly people at the 5th Avenue Brewpub – and Warped Wing Brewery
  • Of course, the SWODXA DX Dinner!!!
  • The Xenia / Greene County Fairgrounds. The organizers did a great job – the food trucks were great and the facility really encouraged you to meet many others that you might not ordinarily meet. I had fun whenever I saw a two or three call and would reminisce about NY, NJ or PA, all states I have lived in. My nostalgia trip was sated
  • Oh, the USAF Museum – mind blowing

I love the new Flex radios and am excited about the new Elecraft amp – but will hold out at least a few years if I do go that direction, and really want to see what the K4 will turn out to be. The one thing that really was amazing was the Midi Loop Antenna by Ciro Mazzoni (I3VHF) – picture above and web site here:

I would love to try one of these once I move to my retirement house – which will be an old house in a historic district of some small city or town – in the West somewhere.





So, When Will 160M Come Back?

•May 23, 2017 • 2 Comments

From the Space Weather Solar Cycle Progression pages . . .

There is a very big drop from 2016 as far as solar disturbances are concerned. This usually means two things:

  1. We are getting close to the bottom of the cycle
  2. 160M and the low bands should be less noisy (atmospheric noise that is)

I wrote a while back that I think that the bottom of the cycle is much closer than others have predicted. In fact I said I’ll bet it starts in 2018 – maybe after the spring. If you look at 2008 to 2009 – we seem to be at about 2008. 2009 turned out to be a banner year on 160M.

Now one big deal that I have is that there simply aren’t any stations on that I need. Its been 2 months since my last ATNO on 160M, so I am hoping for some more South American stations, and perhaps some out in the Pacific. Palau is on the ADXO list – and while I thought for sure I worked that last summer – I was NIL. There is a rumor that KH0 will be active on Top Band – so I do need that. Maybe I can work 2 – 4 this summer. I’m at 86 – so lets just say my goal is to get to 90 before September. Last summer I worked 5 ATNO’s on Top Band, sooooooo

Fingers crossed.

One For The History Books

•May 21, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Well, I feel more of a “closure” regarding VK0EK than anything.

When I first approached Bob, KK6EK to help with Heard Island, he first put me to work on TX5K. I already had Clipperton – so the entity itself was not very exciting to me – but was very interesting to those in EU and perhaps other parts of the world, but trying something new (live blogging) was fun. It did give me a chance to try something new – “Live Blogging” as part of our Pilot Support – and I learned what worked and what didn’t as far the whole pilot thing is concerned. I realized a new and better process needed to be created because using email as a communication device between pilots just sucked and is “so 1990’s”.

But even with a few “warts and wrinkles” –  a new, and very thoughtful DXpedition award by DX Coffee – “The Best Communication Award” was started because of the “Live Blogging” that I did on TX5K. The live blog went over very well – and many people told me it was a refreshing new development that they liked better than the (very old school) “Official Press Release” that all other DXpeditions had been using up until TX5K. Here is that award:

You know – I think the DX Coffee award is on the same level as the SWODXA DXpedition of the year award – they are both very good awards and are meaningful to me. I appreciate and thank both organizations very much. In fact, these two are on the same level as 9BDXCC and Honor Roll – they are the only 4 I will hang on the wall – they are the only one’s I’m truly proud of (besides the last two that I am working on – Top of Honor Roll and DXCC on 160M). After that (IMHO) its just quantity – not quality.

After TX5K – I greatly improved on the model I built for TX5K and got “all in” on every aspect of the VK0EK DX-pedition – which was the real reason I first visited Bob (who lives 2 towns over). Since I joined years before VK0EK, I got on the ground floor of the Heard Island DXpedition. I also witnessed all of the things that went wrong with TX5K (there were a few things that were classic mistakes in building  a compatible team of like minded souls) and was adamant that those mistakes wouldn’t be repeated on VK0EK. That meant we had to be a lot more selective for VK0EK, and we were. Bob and I developed a relationship like brothers – we used each other as a sounding board – and since Bob was mostly interested in the Science project – and he knew I was an avid DXer and DXCCer – he handed over most of the ham radio logistics to me. To this day – Bob recognizes my contributions profusely (and you can read about that in all of the fabulous magazine articles that are now history), but the point here is – even though I decided not to go (and my wife said I could go to Heard), my interest was the behind the scenes work. I wanted to be the “technical theater” staff – and not an actor on the stage. The team has always thought of me as “The 5th Beatle” and they have always appreciated my work – and I have been the teams biggest cheerleader. This team is the nicest (and smartest) team I have ever met. And the behind the scenes team – one on the West Coast – one on the East Coast – one in Capetown and one in Perth are all the best people I’ve met in DXing or connected to a DXpedition project – or heck – on ANY big project I’ve ever worked on.

Anyway – with VK0EK I was very much involved in:

  1. Fund Raising
  2. Promotion / marketing
  3. Pilot team lead
  4. Procuring and setting up gear, mostly the IT aspect of the project
  5. Helping build the team
  6. Many weekends packing the gear
  7. Many strategic planning meetings
  8. Managing the behind the scenes West Coast support team, the Diablo DXers
  9. Lots of other odds and ends, it’s amazing how much work it takes to put these on

We did some new things and easily made our budget because we worked hard to have 25% of our gear donated / loaned to the project. Our use of social media was instrumental in raising the needed funds.

We did so many interesting and innovative things – and being a Silicon Valley “lifer” – I was ALWAYS take interesting and innovative over brute force quantity any day. I get bored of the “cookie cutter” approach I see in other DXpedition projects – but that’s just me – and pretty much how the entire VK0EK team felt. In fact, if I ever do this again – I would insist that it be a LOT more focused on those in the Maker community who are hams – I feel that some of the things like what Pete, W6OP did with DXA, Mike, KJ4Z did with VK0LD, Bill, AE0EE did with science and ham  radio, and what Adam did with the WSPR beacon are the kinds of things that will resonate with the younger DX-ers or even as a way to get younger people into DX-ing. I feel that if we don’t attract younger DX-ers into the hobby – that the DX-peditions who just cater to old buggers like me (and older) will be a part of an atrophy of DX-ing in general. In 10 or 20 years – who will be the DX-ers and who will be the DX-peditioners – think about that. In fact – DXCC will fade to black in 20 years if we don’t get new fresh blood on board. I have 2 millenial kids, and frankly, they would not be interested in what us old buggers do. The ARRL is genius to work hard to link Makers with Hams – that is the biggest and best way to keep ham radio and DX-ing alive for as long as young people are attracted to the hobby – which should be “forever”. Ham radio does have the making for longevity – I did see this at Dayton. In fact, the keynote speaker at the SWODXA DX Dinner (Ruth Willet, KM4LAO, a member of the Dave Kalter Memorial Youth DX Adventure) explained how she and her mom both like to try all kinds of new modes and avenues in their hobby and combine them with DX-ing. She is the voice of the future of ham radio and DX-ing. We have Bill, AE0EE on the VK0EK team, and he is in that same cadre as is Mike, KJ4Z. This IS the future – I hope us old buggers listen carefully! I have hope because she received a standing ovation. In fact – they represent the path to breaking what I think is a very “cloistered” DX Community. In her presentation, Ruth really showed what the bridge is between the DX Community and the larger Ham community. And it only has validated the VK0EK approach to DX-peditioning.

I also agree with Bob, KK6EK – if you want to make budget on a polar DX-pedition – you will NOT get fully funded by the ham (DX) community, and need to be more creative than just expecting it to magically happen – especially when there is so much competition. I’m especially proud that 25% was covered by the scientific community because that actually made the difference between making or breaking the budget.

I initially wasn’t going to go to Dayton, but I’m glad I did and had a great time.

Our story was well told in 4 major publications, so I’m very pleased to have been a part of the 2017 SWODXA DXpedition of the year. I now have total validation on our approach to VK0EK – which is certainly a “different” approach to running a DX-pedition, but if I were to do it again I would only go even “more in” on ham radio “Maker” style experiments. And if I could get the science community to foot 25% of the cost – I’d do that in a New York minute. Finally, Ruth’s keynote nailed it as far as creating a new path to keep DX-ing relevant as the old guard moves on and we have this golden opportunity to attract younger DX-ers into the fold. I actually feel way better than ever about what we did – and appreciate and thank SWODXA for the 2017 DX-pedition of the Year Award and for believing that being a bit “different” as a DX-pedition Team and project is not a bad thing!

It certainly is one for the history books now.

Wonderful Dayton

•May 20, 2017 • Leave a Comment

What a fantastic weekend! After visiting the amazing USAF Museum, I’m sitting in a co-op brew pub called the 5th Street Brewpub in the historic (St. Anne’s Hill) district of this fine city. The fellow sitting next to me is from a town 7 miles from where I grew up, and he is a teacher in Newark, NJ and is totally into urban planning and sustainability. We compared notes on the evolution of Newark and Oakland which are very similar in so many ways. My father’s family immigrated to Newark In the 1920’s after my grandfather decided to get out of Germany after WWI. I was born very close to Newark. So it all connects.

You might remember my family story, how my father landed on the beach in Normandy and drove to Stuttgart, where he gave his grandfather and his friends a ride in his jeep.

My mother was in the British version of the USO and ended up in America as a war bride. So, this museum was quite touching.

My father, twin brother and I worked at Lockheed (Space Shuttle tiles) and before that, my father worked at Thiokol on the rocket engine of the Surveyor. He used to go to Cincinnati Milicron, so Dayton is connected.

The brewpub is a neighborhood place.

The nice patio caught during a very brief downpour.

Great beer and food

I feel like I’m doing “The best of Dayton” this weekend – so pleasantly surprised that I’m getting my hammy fix but so much more.