How good was that DXpedition?

Posted: February 17, 2017 in Uncategorized

One of the things that DXer’s do when they gather is they discuss various DXpeditions that they worked recently. During these discussions, many of us reflect back on the “thrill of the chase” or how fun and exciting it was to work the various DXpeditions that have recently taken place.

We like to share what aspects of the DXpedition we liked and enjoyed and what the various challenges were. We often discuss what was the best DXpedition and why.

We all have our unique and individual criteria for what was the best. For some of us, just the fact that it was rare and they needed it made it the best. For others, their criteria may include that they were worked on 160 meters or six meters. Some of us will look at the overall performance of the DXpedition including the statistics as provided by Clublog.  The Clublog statistics can give a good indication of how effective the DXpedition was.

Let’s look at three DXpeditions that took place at roughly the same time in early 2016 and let’s look at the Clublog statistics for each and see if a picture emerges as to the performance of each activation.

I was the Co-Leader of the VP8SGI DXpedition to South Georgia Island in January, 2016. At the time, it was ranked the #8 most wanted DXCC entity. We were active from 1-29-16 to 2-7-16. Our team of 13 men made 82,847 contacts. Of those, 21,596 were unique call signs.

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The VP8SGI Team

The significance of uniques: Some feel that the higher number of unique call signs worked by a DXpedition are a good measure of performance. I don’t share that view. You could sit in a row boat off the coast of Japan and easily work a high number of unique call signs, but if you just work Japan and Asia have you really been effective?

A better metric  is the number of Daily QSOs  as seen below.

Daily QSOs VP8SGI

Date Total QSOs Uniques Uniques %
07-02-2016 985 225 22.8
06-02-2016 9632 1644 17.1
05-02-2016 8679 1568 18.1
04-02-2016 6510 1354 20.8
03-02-2016 8485 1749 20.6
02-02-2016 11216 2283 20.4
01-02-2016 10179 2563 25.2
31-01-2016 11329 3098 27.3
30-01-2016 12030 4591 38.2
29-01-2016 3802 2521 66.3
Totals 82847 21596 26.1

 

This gives a breakdown of the contacts for each day. As you can see, there are four days when this team made over 10,000 contacts. That is a very difficult feat and it takes a team of experienced and fast rate operators to make those kinds of numbers. We can also divide the total number of QSOs by the number of days QRV and come up with an average daily number of contacts. For VP8SGI, this number is 8,284. This is a reasonably good measure of how hard the team worked each day to satisfy the need for contacts.

Let’s look at the very successful FT4JA DXpedition to Juan de Nova from 3-30-16 to 4-10-16. This team made 105,643 contacts over 12 days. They made 25,055 unique contacts. This team had four days where they made over 10,000 contacts. Their average daily number of contacts was 8,803.

ft4ja_team

The FT4JA Juan de Nova Team

This figure represents a herculean effort by this team.

 

Daily QSOs FT4JA

Date Total QSOs Uniques Uniques %
10-04-2016 5170 853 16.5
09-04-2016 7227 1156 16.0
08-04-2016 8365 1513 18.1
07-04-2016 8278 1278 15.4
06-04-2016 9072 1519 16.7
05-04-2016 10104 2034 20.1
04-04-2016 8482 1730 20.4
03-04-2016 9687 2215 22.9
02-04-2016 11808 2890 24.5
01-04-2016 11032 2840 25.7
31-03-2016 10781 3710 34.4
30-03-2016 5637 3317 58.8
Totals 105643 25055 23.7

 

The VK0EK Heard Island DXpedition was active from 3-23-16 to 4-11-16 and made 75,189 contacts. Of those, 21,040 of those contacts were with unique DXers. This team did not have any days where they made 10,000 or more contacts. In fact, their highest day was 5,938 contacts. Their average daily number of contacts was 3,759 which is significantly below the other two DXpeditions discussed.

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The VK0EK Heard Island Team

Daily QSOs for VK0EK

Date Total QSOs Uniques Uniques %
11-04-2016 13 7 53.8
10-04-2016 1497 242 16.2
09-04-2016 3218 764 23.7
08-04-2016 2955 615 20.8
07-04-2016 3896 602 15.5
06-04-2016 4499 1014 22.5
05-04-2016 4193 771 18.4
04-04-2016 2113 487 23.0
03-04-2016 2113 557 26.4
02-04-2016 5214 1197 23.0
01-04-2016 5573 1432 25.7
31-03-2016 4943 1282 25.9
30-03-2016 5132 1348 26.3
29-03-2016 5938 1634 27.5
28-03-2016 5701 1296 22.7
27-03-2016 5875 1893 32.2
26-03-2016 5353 1851 34.6
25-03-2016 4276 2088 48.8
24-03-2016 1629 1146 70.3
23-03-2016 1058 814 76.9
Totals 75189 21040 28.0

 

In addition to looking at the total number of contacts for each day, we can also divide the total number of contacts by the number of operators on the team to come up with an average number of contacts per team member. This can be used as a further measure of the team’s effort and performance.

For example: VP8SGI’s 82,847 contacts divided by 13 operators equals an average of 6,372 contacts per team member. Using that same formula for FT4JA, we find that their team member average (105,603 divided by 10) is 10,564 contacts per team member. This is a significant number and represents an incredible effort by each and every team member. In contrast, if we look at VK0EK we see (75,189 divided 14) reveals an average number of 5,370 contacts per team member or about half of the average number of contacts made by the FT4JA team members.

Each of these DXpeditions occurred at nearly the same time and similar solar conditions. FT4JA was very near to the equator and was a hot and harsh climate. VP8SGI -South Georgia was on a similar latitude to VK0EK-Heard Island. Probably the most significant difference between these three teams was that VP8SGI and FT4JA teams were comprised of experienced DXpeditioners who are adept at operating at fast rate for long hours. VK0EK had three Science/radio members of their team and only several of the team members were experienced DXpeditioners.

Some of the other factors to consider when trying to decide which DXpedition was the best;

How was their messaging to the DX Community?

Was their news and information clear and concise?

Did the team have pilots and make effective use of them?

Did the team upload logs at least once a day?

Did the team provide for online log checking?

Did they have a website that was updated with relevant information?

Did they use an online QSL request method?

Did the team have an efficient QSL manager?

Did the QSL manager answer questions in a timely manner

Did they operate in a logical style making good use of propagation?

Did they over/underserve any major population areas?

Did they keep their promises?

Did the team publish and follow their stated operating guidelines?

Did the team explain their budget challenges?

As you can see, there are many factors that we can use to judge and evaluate the performance of any given DXpedition. A look at the relevant statistics can help paint a picture of effort and performance. The bottom line is did you work them and was it fun?

What do you think?

DXpedition ethics…Part II

Posted: February 8, 2017 in Uncategorized

Ethics

In this installment of DXpedition ethics Part II, we will explore the subject of DXpeditions being harmed or disrupted by other DXpedition teams. This problem is not often discussed but is a real and emerging problem.

I know that the average DXer wants more DX and they often don’t concern themselves with the behavior and antics of various DXpedition leaders. The time has come for them to pay attention and to care about some of the things that are happening.

There has always been some level of competition among DXpedition groups or teams to make the rare activations. Some teams work together, complement each other and respect each other. My VP8STI/VP8SGI team was greatly assisted by the leading DXpedition leaders Ralph Fedor-K0IR, James Brooks-9V1YC and Gene Spinelli-K5GS.

In turn, I often talk about issues and problems with other DXpedition leaders that approach me. Most of us freely share knowledge, opinions and ideas.

There is a sense of good will and sharing. No one wants to see a team experience disaster or hardship. Well almost no one.

I was chagrined to learn in 2016 that a noted DXpedition Leader approached the owner of a ship I had chartered to take the VP8STI/VP8SGI team to South Sandwich and South Georgia Islands.

We had secured an ideal window for our charter in the Southern Ocean and we felt fortunate to secure that booking. I would later learn that an unscrupulous DXpedition Leader offered the ship owner considerable sums of money to cancel our booking and give him our advantageous slot for his DXpedition which was without a ship. Fortunately for the VP8STI/VP8SGI team, our ship owner was honest, ethical and beyond approach. He rejected the other DXpedition leader’s offer to “bump” our team from our charter.

This was my first experience with another leader or team trying to disrupt my DXpedition, however it wasn’t the last.

In March, 2016 after a sustained multi-year effort, David -AH6HY and I were able to get permission to bring a “large team” to North Korea for a DXpedition. As part of the conditions for our DXpedition, the North Koreans demanded that we make no publicity until after we made the activation. We agreed to those terms.

We started building a team of world class operators throughout April 2016 as well as procuring equipment and staging it in Beijing for our transit to Pyongyang.

Things were going very well when our DXpedition was suddenly and completely derailed when right after the International DX Convention, our plans were revealed on an Internet Blog. This information made it back to North Korea who then punished us by refusing to issue visas to several key figures leading the DXpedition. That and one other factor caused us to cancel the P5DX DXpedition.

We lost considerable personal funds as we had to abandon most of the gear we had purchased, shipped and staged in Beijing. The P5DX DXpedition was unequivocally sabotaged by another competing DXpedition team and it is due to their actions that a large scale successful DXpedition from North Korea did not take place in 2016.

In March, 2016, the Perseverance DX Group announced their plans to activate Central Kiribati as T31W. This announcement was made after some inquires to see if any other team was planning to make the same activation. In August 2016, five months after the T31 announcement by the Perseverance DX Group, 3Z9DX-Dom announced that his Rebel DX Group would visit Kanton Island in Central Kiribati in late September for a 4-6 week trip.

The Rebel DX Group’s T31T team was active for ten days and made 30,394 contacts from 10-160 meters. Following the T31T activation, the T31W team decided to cancel their planned DXpedition to Kanton Island stating the following: “Seven months after we announced T31W a 3-man team from Europe activated T31 and made a total of 30,000 QSOs. Of the total, 5,000 QSOs were with Europe where T31 is one of the most needed entities. Subsequently, they announced their intention to return to T31 in 2017 to finish the job. Based on these events it makes no sense for us to commit personal or donated funds to continue the project”.

In November, 2016 K0IR, K4UEE and LA6VM announced a major 20 man DXpedition to Bouvet Island scheduled for late 2017 or early 2018. They chartered a ship, complete with a helicopter and pilot to make the arduous and risky activation of Bouvet. The entire DX Community was elated at this news. Based on their proven track record with very extremely successful similar activations, everyone knew that we would be in for a great show with the activation of Bouvet. They began the long and arduous task of raising $600,000 with the team contributing over $300,000 themselves.

In January 2017, rumors began to swirl about another team possibly making an early 2017 Bouvet activation. Myself and other experienced American DXpeditioners were approached by Dom-3Z9DX of the Rebel DX Group. He was planning to charter a 70-foot sailboat and bring a team of 5-6 men to make a sudden activation in advance of the 3Y0Z team.

Later in January and February, Dom’s plans became public and he was actively recruiting amateurs on the Eham.net DX forum to join him for an activation of Bouvet. On January 10th, Dom posted on Eham “ I need 3 more people ( 6 people team) ready and willing to go for up to 7 weeks. Who not ask million questions, who is just ready to go”.

While most of the Eham.net comments seem to support Dom’s efforts to activate Bouvet a year earlier than the 3Y0Z team, one enlightened poster commented “ But isn’t K4UEE and team going to Bouvet in 2018? Why did Dom feel the need to go there too?  We lost one top expedition to T3 last year due to him going there first, I would be afraid to comment on his motivation to try to activate Bouvet even after a top team have announced plans to go there, there is lots of top 10 stuff to be activated there is no need for everyone to go to the same island”.

Having read the numerous comments about these DXpeditions, it is clear to me that the average DXer has no concern about one DXpedition team jumping out in front of a previously announced DXpedition. The average DXer seems to feel “the more DX the better”.

For the DXpedition leader, this has become a potentially big problem. When a DXpedition leader signs a boat charter contract there is often a non-refundable deposit to reserve the charter and allotted time. Our nonrefundable deposit for VP8STI/VP8SGI charter was $50,000. That means that if we had cancelled our plans due to another team jumping out in front of us, we the team would be on the hook for that $50,000.

When you have rogue DXpedition leaders boldly jumping out in front of previously announced plans, you basically have a situation where one leader is harming another team and causing potentially significant financial losses. The DXpedition leader can’t go forward with his plans because the need for contacts has been significantly diminished and he can’t get out of a contract because of a non-refundable deposit.

This can create real reluctance for future DXpedition leaders in making expensive and risky activations. Make no mistake, three of the issues I have outlined in my writing stem from one single group. If this nonsense continues, one DXpedition leader could find himself becoming a pariah in the global DX Community.

It’s time for the average DXer to sit up and pay attention to this behavior and not heap their blessings or support on those who would harm others for their own personal quest for glory.

“Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever” Napoleon Bonaparte.

What do you think?

 

 

 

 

The future of Amateur Radio…

Posted: February 6, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

ydxa-logo

I recently got a glimpse of the future of Amateur Radio and I really liked what I saw.

Last year, at the Dayton Hamvention, I bought a raffle ticket to win an Alinco HF radio from the Dave Kalter Youth DX Adventure folks. As unlucky as I usually am, I won the Alinco HF radio. I decided to donate the radio back to them so that they could in turn donate it to one of the youth participants in their program.

I was delighted that they asked me to be part of the group reviewing and evaluating the various essays submitted by the fifteen youth entrants to the contest to win an entire station, HF rig, power supply, coax and antenna.

The essay contest was open to all licensed youth up to age 18. The quality of the essays and the level of thought was surprisingly much better than I would have expected. The essays detailed the author’s entry into amateur radio and their goals and dreams for the future. The selection was very difficult. I wish that there were fifteen HF radios to donate as all of the submissions were quite worthy.

The winner of this year’s essay contest is Bryant Rascoll-KG5HVO of New Orleans, LA.

The Dave Kalter Youth DX Adventure organization is led by Jim Storms-AB8YK, Don Dubon-N6JRL, Tod Dubon-KD4YHY, Keko Diaz-TI5KD, George Nicholson-N4GRN, Wes Lamboley-W3WL and Ron Doyle-N8VAR. DXpedition hosts have included Jeff Jolie-NM1Y and Byron Swainey TI5/WA8NJR.

The Dave Kalter Youth DX Adventure is an organization that sends young hams age 12-17 with a parent on a DXpedition during the summer to operate as DX. The organization is named in remembrance of Dave Kalter-KB8OCP who passed away in November, 2013.

What a great program as a means of exposing our youth to amateur radio and to bolster the future of our great hobby.

You can learn more about the Dave Kalter Youth Adventure at: http://qsl.net/n6jrl/

What do you think?

 

Paul N6PSE

 

 

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The best thing about Amateur Radio…..

I’ve been away from my Blog since August as I have been dealing with the loss of my marriage of twenty years and a deep personal betrayal. This has caused me immeasurable pain and frankly, I was not in the right frame of mind to be thinking about Amateur Radio and putting my thoughts out there on the web.

One of the best aspects of Amateur Radio are the many great and interesting people that are also involved in this hobby. I am always amazed and impressed with the caliber and quality of amateurs and their generosity and willingness to share their wealth of knowledge and ability to help others.

I have been deeply touched by those that have reached out to me and who have encouraged me to endure and go forward. My Blog is back as is my interest in amateur radio and adventure travel.

Please join me on this next journey of life and see where our travels take us.

Best wishes,

Paul N6PSE

Keeping balance in our lives…

Posted: August 24, 2016 in Uncategorized

Balance

Keeping balance in our lives….

This Blog topic is a little different than most of my Blogs about amateur radio, a hobby that I have enjoyed for over 30 years.

I am often approached by avid DXers and Contesters when I attend amateur radio conventions and gatherings. I always welcome and enjoy the friendly banter and discussions with the many amateurs throughout the world.

Often times, amateurs like to tell me their DXCC standings, or that they have reached 3,000 in the DXCC Challenge or are in the upper strata of the CQ Marathon. These are all impressive feats and worthy accomplishments for those who enjoy this great hobby.

My life was recently touched by significant family upheaval. My family situation was out of balance and now we are living with significant pain and uncertainty. I thought our lives were balanced but perhaps they were not.

I would just ask those of you who spend considerable time in your shack and away from your family to take time to cherish what you have and enjoy those around you. I’m realizing that maintaining balance in life is more important than that next DXpedition, or the next point or new DXCC entity.

I’ve sincerely enjoyed doing my Blog these past few years. I am going to take a hiatus of unknown duration so that I can find balance and take care of those who love me and need me the most.

I hope to return but if I don’t I am sure you will understand.

Sincerely,

Paul N6PSE

DXpedition ethics…

Posted: August 1, 2016 in Uncategorized

Ethics

There are a number of ethical issues involved in leading and organizing DXpeditions. As the DXpedition collects donations and intends to fill a need, certain “expectations” are made to the DXpedition group.

Some of these are quite normal and to be expected. Almost every DXpedition team intends to do a good job and to fill the need for contacts.

Some DXpedition teams build in various levels of redundancy in their plans to further bolster their pursuit of success. On rare occasions, some DXpedition teams will activate a certain entity mostly paying attention to their “home country” and then they go home barely addressing the needs of others. If such a group has accepted global donations, this kind of practice is highly unethical and should be shunned.

My first ethical quandary came in 2009 when I was fund-raising for our 2010 YI9PSE DXpedition. One of the amateur radio associations offered us a donation with the usual expectations for us to do a good job for their members.

As part of their offer, they asked that we provide them with an electronic copy of our logs and several thousand of our blank QSL cards. They would then provide QSL service to their members. This would create the ability to add or change contacts in the log. Potentially, contacts that were never made could be created and provided to their members. We would have no control or visibility into that.

This request didn’t seem proper and ethical to me and I declined their offer. It seemed so obviously wrong to me almost like it was a “test” of my own ethics.

Communications between the active DXpedition team and their “audience” is best done via HF radio, in the pileups with the intention of making a legitimate contact. We have recently seen a DXpedition where the 160 meter operators were on ON4KST low-band “chat”. The 160 meter operators were communicating in real time with the DXpeditioner and communicating their transmit and receive frequencies to each other. “Good Contact” was often declared over ON4KST chat. While it is not clear if proper contacts were made, prudent DXpeditioners will take steps to avoid the perception of improper or unethical behavior and real time “chat” with the DXpedition operator should not be encouraged.

DXpedition donors have certain expectations of the DXpedition team. There is heightened interest on 160 meters and six meters. If the DXpedition provides details of their plans, these two areas often bring additional support.

“Up front” donations before the DXpedition are very important. This helps the DXpedition organizer budget and know what they can spend before the DXpedition takes place. Many up front donors give freely and generously hoping the DXpedition has good luck and achieves success. Other up front donors have expectations of almost certainty getting into the log.

Then there is the “divine intervention” pleas that we receive. In every single DXpedition that I have organized, I have received various pleas for a contact, when the person pleading to us had no radio or antenna and no hope of making a contact on their own.

Several times, I have received email from a person pleading for our help in placing them in our logs.  They claim that a hurricane took down their antenna or that they are living in a senior center without any radio. They plead that they only need one more contact to achieve some award, usually “Honor Roll”.

We always ignore the “divine intervention” pleas that we receive. After the VP8STI/VP8SGI DXpeditions, I received an email from a prominent amateur. He said that he was unable to make a contact with us and he offered to make a donation of $1000 if I would insert some contacts into our logs for him. Of course, this request was rejected.

Adjustments to the DXpedition log are a sensitive subject with certain ethical concerns. Typically, the DXpedition considers the master copy of their log as “sacred” and only the QSL Manager is empowered to investigate and resolve log issues and errors. These “busted call” and logging error investigations are typically done after the DXpedition has concluded.

Recently, we have seen on a major DXpedition where the “back office” team was making daily log changes and corrections in almost real time while the DXpedition was still taking place. This opens up a literal “Pandora’s box” of ethical concerns.

There is some debate currently about the ethics of various teams QSL policies. Some “old school” proponents feel that all DXpeditions must provide some free means of obtaining a QSL card, such as the “bureau card” approach.

As DXpedition leaders try to address ever increasing costs to carry out DXpeditions, they are looking at non typical ways to cover DXpedition costs. Some groups wish to charge a fee for the convenience of OQRS (online QSL Request System) or a OQRS bureau card. Some funding organizations are balking at changes in this area. I feel that it is appropriately ethical to announce your need to recover your costs by asking for a $1.00 for a bureau card or other such convenience.

We have recently seen some DXpeditions use ploys or schemes to raise money for their DXpedition. When DXpeditions use schemes, gimmicks and ploys to bolster their success, I feel that extra scrutiny by the major funding organizations is needed.

Organizing major DXpeditions is fraught with risk. DXpedition organizers need to find new and better ways to obtain funding. Ethics should always be considered when trying various approaches. The DXpedition leader needs to be empowered to do what is needed within ethical boundaries to achieve success. The DX community also needs to examine the various methods used and make note of who follows proper ethical considerations and who does not.

What do you think?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A visit to Elecraft…

Posted: July 26, 2016 in Uncategorized
At a time in our hobby where many businesses are consolidating, closing their doors or failing to innovate, Elecraft is one of the few bright and innovative companies in our hobby. Elecraft is located in Watsonville, California and today, Ned Sterns AA7A and I had the pleasure to visit the factory and take a tour.
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The Elecraft Headquarters in Watsonville, California.
Elecraft was formed in 1998 by Eric Swartz-WA6HQQ and Wayne Burdick-N6KR.
Since that time, they have brought well engineered and highly successful products to market year after year. Elecraft is most known for their fabulous customer support and their ethic to “get it right” As an Elecraft product owner, you do not feel like a beta tester finding their bugs for them. Their products are available in either kit-form at a reduced price or fresh from the factory.
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You know you are getting close when you see the cars in the lot with the big antennas.
Their first products were the QRP ready K2 and the K2/100 watt model. In 2008 they brought to market their highly successful K3 transceiver. Last year, the K3 was upgraded to the K3S. Elecraft also has a highly respected amplifier (KPA500) and tuner (KAT500).
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Ned-AA7A discusses upgrades to his K3 with David Shoaf of Elecraft.
IMG_0858
The magic happens behind these walls.
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KPA-500 amplifiers going through the “burn in” process.
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Elecraft KX2s in the burn in process. Everything is thoroughly tested before being shipped to the customer.
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Elecraft P3 Panadapters in the production process.
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David shows completed products ready to ship.
The tour of Elecraft was fascinating. This is a small, highly efficient operation. Some components such as cables are manufactured in house, while some boards and other components are built by contract manufacturers. Much of the Engineering also takes place offsite with Engineers working from home and collaborating together to design and implement new products.
I have always been very impressed with Elecraft and my tour of their factory today only served to increase my appreciation for what they do and how they do it.
What do you think?