Friday, April 4, 2014

Hand Delivered QSL Cards from UX5UO and A New Straight Key from Ukraine

Last year, my elmer and good friend, Dan Keefe W6WU (ex-KS6Z, K6FFF), became a silent key. I very much miss our regular email exchanges that included his stories about his family (one of whom was U.S. Labor Sec'y, his political activities, and his own tales of being a Marine Sgt. who served in Korea at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. He was a remarkable self-made millionaire several times over who also personally brought food to the homeless and ran his own Veterans rehab program from his home, teaching them carprentry skills even while his health was failing.

He was also my QSL manager. As I have not been active lately, however, that hasn't been much of a problem. I figured I better get some new cards, though, since it would be difficult to retrieve the set Dan had been keeping.

QSL cards and the B12 Soviet-era CW key
My new QSL cards and the B12 Soviet-era CW key

Friday, March 21, 2014

One Ham's Experience Obtaining A Reciprocal Permit in Costa Rica

A little over a year ago, the new primary Costa Rica government agency in charge of telecommunications regulation, SUTEL, came out with regulations of a sort for Costa Rican hams and foreigners wishing to operate from TI-Land. I gave an overview of those new ham regulations plus links to the manual (in Spanish) and the required forms to fill out (also in Spanish) in a previous posting.

Costa Rica SUTEL hands controlling marionette stringsThe first of several hams to contact me for assistance in obtaining a permit was Brian, VE3BWP. Besides trying to understand who to contact and how to fill out the forms (Brian doesn't speak Spanish), the main problem was that the regs say you must appear in person in San José and Brian's itinerary put them nowhere near the capital.

Remarkably, they accomodated his situation such that his operating permit was waiting for him at his hotel in Guanacaste! Below I've summarized the process that Brian went through and include email addresses of key contacts so perhaps the next ham wanting to obtain a permit will have an easier time of it.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Costa Rica Call Sign Prefixes and Foreign Operating Requirements

Costa Rica's Call Sign Prefixes

Every once in a while, a radio amateur contacts me about the rules for foreign operators, which leads to the question of which call sign prefix they should use for their final destination. I don't have them memorized, they are hard to find on the Internets and I can never find a file showing them on whatever computer I'm using. So long as I can remember that I put it here, I can access it quickly and send the link to others.

Costa Rican mainland amateur radio call sign prefixes
The seven Costa Rica mainland call sign prefixes. TI9 is Cocos Island. Prefixes may start also with TE.
The new SUTEL radio regulations that I wrote about previously are continuing to be fleshed out. They are silent about the use of TI0 or TI1, but I assume those are reserved for clubs or special events. The latest link to Costa Rica's Amateur and CB radio regulations is here.

Cocos Island - Rare DX and Great Scuba Diving

TI9 is Cocos Island, which is uninhabited except for park rangers. By the way, why such a small country needs all these different prefixes is beyond me.

 It's a dream of mine to operate from Cocos Island someday. My pile-up skills may never be adequate for manning a station at that rare DX however. I can imagine the grumbling by DX spotters already, hihi.

Additionally, it's a logistical difficulty to operate from there because visitors are not allowed to stay overnight and it's a 340 mile boat trip from Costa Rica's Pacific shore. Perhaps one could operate from a boat anchored off the island. Even if I could not manage to operate from there, the diving is supposed to be superb. Cocos Island makes worldwide top ten lists regularly for the best scuba diving destinations.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Final Modifications to My 20 Meter Extended Double Zepp

Nice sunrise, eh? But, wait, what is that funny wire with holes in it at the top of the photo? Well, actually, that is the feed line from my VK2ABQ that sits on a mast at the side of the house, but before I go there in a follow-on post, allow me to digress and return to my EDZ modification that I mentioned previously. As you'll see, the two antennas, though not literally linked to one another, are connected virtually by the new "electrician's nightmare" I have created.

Recall that before I tackle the craziness of the dual element 10 meter EDZ, I wanted to complete a mod to the existing 20 meter EDZ I have in the air, which consists of two parts: 1) add series capacitors to each leg to bring down the SWR curve across the bands (40 to 10 meters), and 2) ditch the coax from the EDZ tuning stub so that I have window line all the way to the station.

One of the caps, made from RG-8/U coax and sealed 8 ways to Sunday, is pictured to the right in place at about 24' in from the far end of one leg of the EDZ. I used 4nec2 to model the effects of placing the caps at different (but equal) locations along the wire legs and as in all things multi-band one must choose among a number of compromise scenarios. For this compromise, I optimized the pattern for 17 meters, since it came out with 10.77 dBi, higher than I could get on 20 meters. The caps essentially turned the antenna into a 17 meter EDZ and I lost about a dB and a half on 20 meters (but gained some beam width). 

Homebrew Ladder Line for my 200 Foot All-band Doublet

Drilling the Zareba insulators for 14 AWG wire
Drilling the Zareba insulators for 14 AWG wire
After my last post, there was still another day and a half of trimming trees to get a clear path for the doublet. I cut or trimmed at least twice what I thought I was going to when I started, which came to least three pick-up loads of trimmings. It was difficult work to say the least, running up and down rough terrain and tending to the hoists at each end of the antenna, which is about 100 meters long including the support ropes. Finally, Saturday, the rope and wire had a clear shot and I was able to pull it all the way up in the clear. 

In the middle of that, I took a break to start making the homebrew ladder-line with which I would feed the doublet. 

Back of the Zareba fence insulators package
Back of Zareba Package

As I'd mentioned in the previous posting, I ordered some Zareba (which I always remember as Zebra) fin insulators, a tip I'd picked up on an eHam page. These are small, lightweight, made from UV-stabilized polyethylene and just 10 cm long. Perfect. They come in packages of 50 for $4. I set up a quick jig on my drill press and made holes on each end 2 mm wider than the insulated 14 AWG solid conductor copper house wire I would use for the feed-line. Center to center the holes are 86 mm apart.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Ham Radio Wallpaper from 2012 ARRL DX Contest

One year plus about a month's delay in our usual mail forwarding scheme it took for my ARRL DX CW award certificate to arrive! I'd been wondering if I was supposed to make a separate application for the award in addition to having submitted my log.

At that time, I'd racked up over 600 Q's and calculated a max score north of 96,000, all on 40 meters. I didn't learn until later that I needn't have busted my buns quite so hard, since it turned out I was the only participant in my category from Costa Rica! HI HI! A single QSO would have won me the certificate.

2012 CW ARRL DX Award certificate
2012 ARRL DX Award for Single-Band (40M)
No regrets, there, however. It was an experience unlike any I'd had before, working pile-up after pile-up, which tested my endurance (and the patience of those whose calls I had trouble decoding) and improved my skills. Always room for more improvement, of course. One area might be to reduce dups as you can see there's quite a difference in points between my estimate and the 85K I actually received.

I might have tried my hand at it again this year, but the contest snuck up on me before I knew it, so I didn't have time to prepare. Plenty of other contests throughout the year, though, at which I'd like to dip my paddles into.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

WebSDR Server New and Improved Update

A few days ago, Pieter-Tjerk de Boer, PA3FWM, e-mailed an update to the WebSDR server code, and I installed it yesterday. It's now running on my Linux box for my 30 meter Softrock II Lite SDR at the usual place: *. It listens via the 125 meter skyloop antenna.

websdr server waterfall 30 meters
30 meter band on WebSDR server
Besides bug fixes, making the server more CPU-efficient, and a few sysop features, there are a number of new user features that you may like to try:
  • FM demodulation (turned off in my server)
  • Memory channels, so you can store your favorite freqs.
  • Volume control (slider in HTML5 browser, otherwise text)
  • Squelch, which responds to modulation, not signal level, so no threshold to set.
  • Automatic notch filter for SSB
  • Frequencies typed in the chatbox are now clickable
  • Labels on the frequency axis can have a mode and are clickable
  • Option to compact the display of other listeners, so the Chatbox
      is closer to the other controls
  • Removed the Java version test applet, which reduces the number of Java popups
  • Noiseblanker for strong local noise spikes (admin settable)
  • View last 20 log entries is again included
  • Support for RTL-SDRs: cheap USB DVB-T sticks used as general-purpose amateur SDRs
  • There's an experimental feature to invoke an external program to decode and report WSPR signals. (contact PA3FWM for details).
  • Support for 116 kHz samplerate (needed for one specific SDR).
Enjoy and 73!

* it's usually running on weekends, Fri-Sun.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Costa Rica Once Again Has Ham Radio Regulations

Long-time readers of Cloud Warmer have read about the ongoing saga of ham radio regulation here in Costa Rice here, here, and here. Given what appeared to be little or no effort in formulating new regulations by SUTEL to replace the obsoleted regs under a previous agency, an e-mail from AA2UP caught me a bit by surprise.
SUTEL logo
TI7/AA2UP sent me the following link to the new "Radio Handbook" for amateur operators in Costa Rica. It's 125 pages, including a long section they snarfed out of the Panamanian handbook of radio theory. The link goes to a big PDF and it downloads rather slowly, so don't click it, especially if you don't read Spanish:

Of course, AA2UP, myself, and any other expat ham here who is using a prefixed call sign was hoping they'd allow us real Tico calls, but alas. There appears to be nothing specific in the new regulations concerning that situation. They cover Costa Rican license aspirants and "temporary" aspirants. The latter can now officially operate under reciprocal permission if their home country recognizes reciprocity for Costa Rican citizens. There is no specific mention of legal residents, conditional or permanent. 

In any case, all operators are to register via  a form with SUTEL. They also want a full description of all your equipment and its location, in writing. Below the fold are some rough translations of sections relevant to resident hams such as myself. I don't see any mention of fees, but you know that that's coming soon.

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