Monday, January 4, 2016

2016 - Changes Afoot

2015 was a pretty good year for me in amateur radio. I continued to have good success in the major contests running QRP; DX results rolled in; antennas were improved; and multiple purchases of antenna-related hardware put me in good stead for my future plans.

I expect 2016 to, at first, unfold in a predictable fashion. There are contests to enter and DXpeditions to work. The rest is tentative. This may be the year that I move to an acreage and build a proper antenna farm. It is what I've been planning for. Yet there is always more to life than amateur radio, so other priorities may intrude and cause delay. Since those are all no more than possibilities as of now I am free to follow my amateur radio ambitions for the near future. I place the probability of a move this year at 70%.

First a brief recap of 2015 events at VE3VN, in particular how I did in relation to my plans at the start of the year. I'll mostly skip over contest results and the like since that is certainly of little interest to anyone other than me. Should you wish you can compare how I did in comparison to my plans and expectations.

2015 retrospective

My earliest act was to purchase a FT-1000MP so that my daily operations would no longer be QRP. However I continued to operate QRP with the KX3 in major contests. My reasons for this are simple enough:
  • I have lots of QRN from my neighbours lights and other appliances. This is a plague for many hams these days. With QRP there is a virtual guarantee that any station that answers my CQ in a contest is one that I'll be able to hear! At 100 watts or more that is not true, even with good receive filters.
  • With small antennas I can be more competitive in the QRP class. Hams with better antennas rarely operate QRP. It does happen, and when it does I lose badly. But mostly I am able to compete with others similarly equipped.
  • There is virtually no possibility of being an RFI hazard for my neighbours when I operate flat out for 24 or 48 hours contests. Since I appear to have had no issues at 100 watts I expect to do more low power contesting this winter.
I extended my activity to new bands. I returned to 6 meters for the summer sporadic-E season. Even with a small, and compromised yagi I was able to work several countries in Europe and the Caribbean. Using the internal transceiver tuner I made my first QSO on 12 meters at year end, and similarly worked several stations on 6 meter aurora propagation.

As planned I made small but important improvements to my low band antennas. My activity, and results, on 80 and 160 meters increased with my new 80 meter vertical. Although not resonant, the vertical works better on 160 (with the rig's internal tuner) than what I could do before. The new 40 meter inverted vee worked out better than expected since it does better to Europe than the old inverted vee.

Progress toward my future antenna farm went quite well. I now have in storage a 150' commercial-grade guyed tower, a 2-element short yagi for 40 meters and 2,000' of Heliax. I chose to forgo other opportunities since it is too difficult to move and store large amounts of hardware with my current living arrangements. There will always be other opportunities.

2016 plans

There will no new antennas at this QTH in 2016. My energies will be directed toward my next QTH. Tweaks to current antennas are acceptable but that's it. If I do put my house on the market it is likely that the towers and antennas will come down sooner rather than later, and probably no later than early spring. That's only a few months away!

Other than the truly unexpected it is only events in my personal and professional life that are likely to stand in the way of my radio ambitions. There is the possibility that I will have to stay in the city for at least another season if certain matters develop.

Inside the shack I intend a few experiments to pave the way to future improvements. The FT-950 (an interim and adequate rig) is part of that plan since it is better for contest work than the FT-1000MP it replaced. I am deferring the purchase of a top-end transceiver until I am out of the city, since local QRN prevents me from hearing better at this QTH. A good receiver would be wasted. I am leaning toward the Elecraft K3S, but I remain flexible in case something more suitable comes on the market when I am ready to buy.

This year I will experiment with more station automation, such as computer integration and multiple rigs, to bring my contesting abilities to a more modern standard. Constraints I face include my operating desk, which is not computer friendly; for example, there is no good place to mount a monitor. Another constraint in the ancient laptop I use in the shack: it's under-powered for more than basic contest logging; and has only 3 USB ports. But it does have battery backup. Changes may be deferred until after I move.

As for contests, as I hinted after CQ WW SSB my interest in QRP class is waning. For SSB especially but also for CW. I intend to do more contesting with 100 watts even though I have no hope of placing well with my small antennas. Consider it as ongoing training for when I do have better antennas. This is one of several reasons why I replaced the FT-1000MP with a FT-950.

At least I'll be leaving QRP with a bit of a bang. From an early view of my log check report I will repeat as world #1 in SOAB QRP in CQ WW SSB. For the CW weekend I hope to repeat as #1 in North America, and should do so unless my error rate is high (quite possible since I was not at my best that weekend).

While I am not a fervent DXer I very much enjoy chasing rare DX, whether or not they're countries I need. Since returning to the air in early 2013 I have worked 260 countries. I chose to restart my count rather than include what I worked before 1992, including some very rare ones. Not only would the paperwork of doing a combined tally be unpleasant (I also dislike QSLing, and avoid it when I can) I found it interesting and motivating to start over from zero rather than 300+.

Upcoming DXpeditions to VP8, KP5 and possibly P5 are on my calendar for January and February. I hope to work them on as many bands as possible. P5 would definitely be an all-time new one (ATNO) for me.

Blog and contact info

Activity on the blog should continue at a similar pace in 2016. I see that I average one posting a week, and that seems to strike the right balance between use of my time and how often I have anything of interest to say. Should I move this year expect a lengthy interruption.

Although I have no new antennas planned for this QTH (assuming I do move this year) you can still expect antenna articles -- more in the way of modelling rather than construction. Many of these will be focussed on larger antennas for the planned future stations, with excursions to related topics. Expect more about 40 meter yagis in particular.

This year I've resolved to consolidate the diverse email accounts I use for personal and professional activities. Although some of you have seen how one or more of my addresses resolve to another account, you should not use that account. For the present you will get best results using my call sign at There will be no announcement when I discard obsolete email accounts.

In closing

A few days ago, as I was listening to a few of the northeast US super-stations working Asia long path at sunset on 40 and 80, the lights around the neighbourhood turned on and blanketed the DX with the pulsations of cheap switching power supplies. It was very frustrating, even though I had no hope of working those Asians with my small antennas and 100 watts. I hope to leave all (or most) of this behind when I leave the city. It's one more motivation to accelerate my retirement plan.

I was out of the hobby for over 20 years while I pursued other life objectives and ham radio was an unwelcome distraction. Since I've rediscovered my love of the hobby I realize it has to be a bigger part of my life. The passing of friends and family during the past year drives home the message that for all of us time is limited. If I don't pursue my dreams now then when? The golden age of baby-boomer driven amateur radio activity won't last forever. Right now may be as good as it gets for contesting and DXing.

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