Monday, March 29, 2021

Ham Radio STILL Gives Me a Thrill!

Last night provided me with a thrill in Ham Radio that just never seems to get old.   Snagging that elusive DX on a New Band.  Working a New One is only surpassed by working an All-Time New One (ATNO) and it seems several in the West Virginia DX Association (WVDXA) scored one of those "rarest of the rare" contacts with this DX'pedition to A2, Botswana.  CONGRATULATIONS to all those folks!  Hopefully you got your piece of pie as a reward for scoring that QSO!!!

I am reminded of how it was "back in the day" when a New One was worked.  Back then there were no WARC bands (30-M, 17-M and 12-M) so the record keeping was a "little" easier.  Still, it meant having separate PAPER DXCC lists for each band AND for each mode!

Note: at the beginning of my DX'ing career, I had only ONE DXCC List because there were no 5-Band awards.  If I worked A2 on one band, that was all I needed in my mind.  And, if I worked them on SSB, I made no effort to work them on CW let alone RTTY (digital.)

Since there was no PacketCluster spotting system back then, you found the DX by simply tuning your radio and checking out EVERY signal you heard until you could identify that station.  If you happened to run across a pileup on the band, you had to then physically check your list(s) to see if that was a New One.  But I can tell you that if it was an ATNO, that list was kept in your brain and you knew instantly you had never worked that country before!

There were check-boxes in your paper logbook to let you record if a QSL had been sent or received.  But you still needed to keep paper records to record when you sent for a QSL, where you sent for it (bureau, manager, direct, etc.), and what you enclosed ($$$, SAE, etc.)  All this paper-shuffling made you feel more like an accountant than a ham radio operator.  That data can now be easily recorded in your logging program and instantly available to you.  It is simply amazing what an improvement that is.

Plus, today with the PacketCluster, computer logging, Club Log and LoTW - that record-keeping "burden" has been removed.  Today you don't need to tune the bands looking for DX, your logging program will take the incoming PacketCluster spots, check them against your log, then color-code them for you to tell you not only what stations have been spotted but whether or not it is a New One or an ATNO for YOU personally!

On the image at the upper-right, you can see that there are three spots from the PacketCluster that are color-coded Blue.  (Click on any image to see a larger version.) These spots are displayed in my logging program's BandMap.  Those are New Ones for ME.  If they were Red, those would be ATNO's.  If I hover my mouse over any of those (like I did with AP2HA in the above screenshot) I get a pop-up (shown in Yellow) with tons of detail.  BOY, that's so much of an improvement over the "old days" that you just can't believe it unless you were there.

The Green square shown just to the left of most of those calls indicate that station is an LoTW user, as does the "+" sign in the Yellow pop-up.  LoTW has improved the DX'ing hobby beyond measure.  At one time I waited 13 YEARS to get a QSL from an ATNO!  And, when that card came, it was still an ATNO as I had never worked that country again in all those years.  Today, you can sometimes get an LoTW confirmation while the DX'pedition is STILL UNDERWAY!  WOW!

All one needs to do is to click on any spot in the above BandMap and your radio jumps to the exact frequency and mode for the spotted station plus the callsign gets placed in the Call field of the logging program and is ready to be logged once the station is worked.

Your logging program can also tell you where you have and have not worked that particular entity (band/mode/QSL Rcvd or not.)  In the screenshot on the left, I have A2, Botswana, Confirmed (shown in Red text) on 10-M and 20-M SSB plus 30-M and 40-M CW.  The two Yellow "DIG" fields show that I have "Worked" (Blue not Red text) A25RU on 17-M and 30-M Digital Modes.  They are Yellow since I typed A25RU into the Call field to see these Worked/Confirmed records and the Yellow says I have worked "A25RU" (not some other A2 station) on those Bands/Modes.  If I had just typed "A2" in the box, there would have been no Yellow boxes, just the Mode shown in Blue text since it was not confirmed on those QSO's.  Plus the Yellow box for 80-M CW indicates my QSO from last night (as recorded in my log.)  It is SO easy to check what bands/modes you need an entity on now, just enter the prefix for the entity and your Worked/Confirmed window will display all that data!  No need to shuffle through all those PAPER DXCC lists!

From this data I can easily see that from this A25RU DX'pedition I have added two New Bands to my A2 list of stations worked as well as one New Mode.  And, it also shows a gaping hole for 12-M which is one I still need.

If I want to check when I worked those stations, I can just click on any of the above boxes and get a pop-up with my log data.  For instance, if I click on the Red SSB for 20-M, what I see is shown above.

Are you kidding me?  1973 for that A2 QSO?  WOW!  Some of you reading this may still have been in diapers or not even born then!

Still, the way things used to be, you were never 100% sure your QSO made it into the DX Station's log until you got his QSL (or not) which would always take 6-months or more and sometimes YEARS!  Today, you just need to check out an online log to see if the DX has recorded your QSO.  Below on the right is a screenshot of Club Log for the log of the A25RU DX'pedition checked against my own call.

Bingo!  All my A25RU QSO's made the log!  That is SUCH a benefit that you can't imagine.  Years ago I was certain I had worked A5, Bhutan, for my very last country.  That would have put me on the Top of the Honor Roll.  Two of my friends heard the QSO and congratulated me on the contact.  BUT, almost a year later I got back a "Not in Log" to my QSL request.  I was CRUSHED!  If I had been able to check online at that time for my contact and seen it was not there, I would have tried for another.

Finally, my logging program, Logger32, even tracks my progress toward various awards.  Looking at my confirmations for Mixed DXCC I can see my totals in the screenshot at the bottom of this Post.

That 80-M QSO with A25RU last night gave me 240 entities worked on 80-M All-Time and 237 Current since I have 3 Deleted entities worked on 80-M.  You can see two Yellow boxes with a "W" in them.  That indicates that A2, Botswana, has been "Worked" on those Bands but not yet Confirmed.

The Green boxes with a "G" in them indicate those QSO's have been Confirmed AND Credit for them has been "Granted" by ARRL.  The Orange "C" box tells me that QSO is "Confirmed" but not yet Granted toward my DXCC.  

This table is a HUGE help in trying to confirm your contacts.  Just scroll through the list and see what contacts are "Worked" but not "Confirmed."  Click on the "W" box and a pop-up will give you the log information on that entity/band QSO.  Below is what I see if I click on the Yellow box for 80-M on the A2, Botswana line.  This gives me the information for ANY station marked as "W" (Worked and NOT Confirmed.)  That will allow me to track when (or if) I sent for a QSL and give me access to all the information regarding that QSO.  Using these tools you can stay up to date on your QSL'ing.  And, we all know, the QSL is supremely important.  Without a QSL or an LoTW Confirmation, you have NO Credit for working that entity.  Anyone can "claim" they worked anything but if you can PROVE it, that makes all the difference.

The Red boxed text in the image below simply shows I've been DX'ing for a LONG time.  I have Worked and Confirmed 18 entities which no longer count for DXCC!  Some of those countries I have worked on as many as 3 modes and NINE bands!  But, none of those QSO's count anymore because those entities have been DELETED from the ARRL DXCC List.  BUMMER!

Below is the list of countries/entities I have Worked and Confirmed in the past that no longer count for DXCC:

  1.  Abu Ail Is.
  2.  Yemen Arab Republic
  3.  Saudi Arabia/Iraq Neutral Zone
  4.  Germany
  5.  German Democratic Republic
  6.  Bajo Nuevo
  7.  Serrana Bank & Roncador Cay
  8.  Kingman Reef
  9.  Canal Zone
10.  Czechoslovakia
11.  Territory of New Guinea
12.  Bonaire, Curacao (Neth. Antilles)
13.  Sint Maarten, Saba, Saint Eustatius
14.  Malyj Vysotskij Island
15.  Southern Sudan
16.  Aldabra
17.  Penguin Islands
18.  Walvis Bay

So, even though I have been DX'ing for over 50 years, I probably enjoy it now more than I ever have.  That is because of all the new technology that makes the hobby easier to enjoy.  For me, this thrill of contacting some far-off country on a band where I have never worked them before, is STILL powerful!  It just does NOT get old!

Please remember this history when your QSO does not show up in an online log as fast as you expect.  Or when you think it is taking too long for LoTW to update after your upload.  Today things are so much better than before so please - have a little patience!  Remember, I waited 13 YEARS for one country to be confirmed!!!  Just enjoy what we have now and keep working the New Ones!

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Replacement for Wire Nuts

First, a disclaimer.  I have never been an advocate of the use of Wire Nuts for connecting together multiple wires.  Too many times I have seen where the nuts have been loose or even fallen off the wires they are supposed to be connecting together.  To combat this I have seen where the installer twisted on the Wire Nut and then taped the connection to keep the nut from falling off!  But, for as long as I can remember, it seems that they have been the standard method used for splicing wires in electrical wiring.  

The photo at the upper left is a cut-away view of a Wire Nut and you can see the imprecise way this method of connection is supposed to work.  (Click on any image to see a larger version.)  Standard wire nuts are roughly conical in shape and usually have ridges on their sides so your fingers can get a good grip. Some types have little side wings instead of ridges. Inside the plastic cone is a little square-cut spring that provides tension on the wires to hold them securely.  As you tighten the wire connector by twisting it, the spring draws tighter around the wires.

But recently I have found what I think is a superior way to join together 2 or more electrical conductors.  It is the Wago line of  LEVER-NUTS® which is available at Amazon, Lowe's, Home Depot, etc.  In the photo at the right you can see how the Wago 221 model compares to a Wire Nut.  The Wago connector is smaller, faster to install, able to accomodate multiple wire sizes including solid and stranded conductors, and in my opinion, MUCH more secure!

Wago Connectors were designed to make the splicing process easier without needing tools. The Wago clamp technology makes for faster installation and eliminates maintenance. All these connectors use clamps to terminate stranded, fine stranded and solid conductors.

Once the wire is inserted into the connector, the Wago clamp secures the conductor and encloses its insulation. This guarantees that the conductor does not come into contact with any live parts, which in turn increases safety.

Installation is simple, pull the orange lever up, insert a stripped conductor, and push the lever back down - done. WAGO's 221 Series compact splicing connectors easily, quickly, and safely connect solid, stranded, and fine stranded wires ranging from 24-10 AWG.  The connectors come in two sizes with the 221-412, 221-413 and 221-415 (for connecting 2, 3 or 5 wires) able to accept all wire types from 24 to 12 AWG.  The "6" series (221-612, 221-613, or 221-615) is capable of connecting conductors from 20 to 10 AWG.

There is an older model called the "222" which is not made of transparent material.  I prefer the Model 221 which is transparent and you can clearly see whether your wire is properly positioned inside the clamping compartment.  But, the 222 model does accommodate wire sizes as small as 28 AWG so those could be useful to connect smaller conductors.

If there is a downside to the Wago connectors, it appears that you can only install ONE conductor per section.  Wire Nuts and Terminal Strips can accommodate more that one conductor for each connection but these Wago LEVER-NUTS® (for me) will replace the Wire Nuts for everything except the applications where I need a Terminal Strip.

One MAJOR advantage I see for the Wago Lever-Nut® is that the conductors are not deformed by twisting them when you connect them with Wire Nuts.  If you ever want to change that connection, it usually means you need to cut back the conductor and strip the insulation again.  With the Wago connectors, the conductors are NOT deformed and can be reconnected with no issues.  Simply lift up the lever and pull out the conductor.

Each Lever-Nut® has two test slots (or ports) that allows you to connect a meter test probe on the connection.  COOL!  You can see in the photo on the right how a Green test probe is able to slide right into the test slot to test the connection.

As I understand, Wago pioneered lever nuts and received UL certification on the first such device in 2003.  Obviously I was a bit "late to the party" in discovering this product!  Generic 221 and 222 style lever nut connectors can be found, but Wago is such a leader in this space that the term “Wago connector” is now applied as a general term.  In reading the comments from various users it appears that some of the "knock off" or imitator connectors are missing some of the features or the quality of the Wago brand.

As you can see on the bottom left image, there are also "mounting carriers" available for all 221 Series Splicing Connectors (2, 3 and 5 conductors) and can be installed either vertically or horizontally. Secure the carrier by simply snapping it onto the DIN-rail or using screws on smooth surfaces. Flexible mounting clamps simplify both connector insertion and removal.

The "mounting carriers" also allow you to mount 2, 3, and 5 conductor Wago connectors to any flat surface by just screwing down the mounting carrier.  You can mount them vertically or horizontally and the Wago connectors simply snap into the carrier.

The photo on the bottom right shows a cut-away view of the Wago 222 connectors.  Both the 222 and the 221 models are UL approved and rated for 600 volts at 20 amps. 

From my research, I would choose to ONLY use the Wago brand because of the quality issues I noted for the "look-alike" knock-off brands.  As in most circumstances in life, "You Get What You Pay For!

To check these out I purchased an assortment containing 10 of the 2-port, 10 of the 3 port, and 5 of the 5 port from Amazon.  My cost was $16.43 including tax (free shipping with Prime.)  That is about $0.66 per connector for this assortment.  If you were to buy a higher quantity, the price, of course, goes down.  For example, an order of 100 of the 2-Port model runs about $0.29 per connector.

Here is a 3-minute VIDEO that demonstrates and describes the 221 Series of Wago LEVER-NUTS®.

I will be passing some of my assortment of Wago connectors off to my Grandsons for them to put in their tool box for future use.  That's just what a Grandpa does!