Wednesday, January 16, 2019

CQP as W6C - After the Fact

October's CQP event presented a unique opportunity for engaging in a Dual-OP weekend; as W6C in Contra Costa county and as part of the team @ NX6T in San Diego county.   During other radiosport events this year WQ6X has dual-OPed from W7AYT's QTH and NX6T in Fallbrook.  CQP was an obvious GiG to go for, putting multiple counties on the radio.

W 6 C  C l o s e u p  @ W 7 A Y T
Before the CQP event, I searched CQP results from previous years, writing a pre-contest BLOG
entry regarding my findings.  With 3 county record events behind me (2014 Multi-OP from CCOS, 2016 Single-OP expedition from TUOL & 2017 Single-OP event from CCOS), I was
looking for a new challenge.  For 2018 N6GEO ran an award-winning operation from Alpine
county.  Taking the easy way out, I ran another event from W7AYT's QTH in Concord.



This CQP operation offered up the opportunity to test-run yet another configuration of the WQ6X Lazy 8jK sloper at the W7AYT QTH.

The Hy-Gain 3-el 10-meter "Long John" yagi contributed
a WHOPPING 6 QSOs to the W6C log, allowing the claim
of 10-meter Cw and Ssb operation during the CQP weekend.

Using the onsite Comet CHA-250 vertical gave low-angle transmit capabilities altho is a considerably more noisy antenna than the 8jK.  Transmitting on the CHA-250 and receiving on the Sloper offered a reasonable compromise.

A surprising discovery is that the 3-el 10-meter yagi not only loaded up on 15-meter Cw but enabled a handful of QSOs as far distant as a W1 station in New Hampshire.


While THE antenna farm @ W7AYT is nothing compared to the towers @ NX6T in Fallbrook, it produced an amazing strong signal to the W0/W9 call areas as well as the surrounding VE5, VE4, VE3 & VE2 provinces.  The WQ6X CQP web section has been upgraded to reflect the 2018 event.

While WQ6X did not set any new county records, my previous records remain intact, preserved
by the county win for Contra Costa and the fact that N6GEO chose to operate from Alpine county,
not Tuolumne.  While this was my 1st dual-OP for CQP, hopefully it won't be the last.

DiD YOU operate the 2018 California QSO Party?
Is W6C or NX6T in YOUR LoG?


Monday, January 14, 2019

WQ6X Rips another Remote RTTY RU 1st place from San Diego

W Q 6 X  L o o K i n g  for I l l u s i v e  M u l t s
Radiosport-wise, my favorite way to start the new year is by way of the ARRL RTTY RU GiG;
run the 1st weekend of each new year.  Altho the WP2/WQ6X worldwide win (with NP2/N6GEO) is now 5 years behind us, that event, followed by our RU wins from EB section since then inspires me every year to do something unique.  For the 2018 RTTY RU GiG, WQ6X took 1st place for San Diego (SDG) section in the HP Unlimited category.
My goal for this year was to duplicate (if not exceed) that section win.

The original plan was to run the Yaesu FT-1000mp from W7AYT's QTH (in Concord) into the recently modified (again!) WQ6X Lazy 8jK Sloper using the recently acquired RigExpert Plus computer/radio interface.  Unfortunately, the "Blue Screen" (after the previous weekend's RAC contest) took the COM ports with it, making RTTY with the Yaesu radio impossible in the 2019 RTTY RU.

E l e c r a f t  K 3 / 0 access to N X 6 T
Luckily, in anticipation of Dual-OP'ing from NX6T and W7AYT, I brought along WQ6X's secret
"black bag" containing the recently acquired Elecraft K3/0, offering quality access to NX6T remotely.  Unfortunately, the K3 connection to Fallbrook's STN-2 was not responding.  After wasting the 1st 5 hours of contest time, a connection to STN-1 (a K3 + ACOM-2000a) finally came online, putting the 1st QSO in the log @22:58z.  Because we are required 6 hours of off time, the late start made that easy.

N X 6 T @ 0 0 : 0 0 z
Similar to last year, thanks to the remote controlled A/C system, the ACOM-2000A could
run comfortably @ around 990 watts.  Ironically, the shack ran cooler when running stations
one-after-the-other because the listening time (to receive the EXCHG) gives the amp just enough
time to "cool off" after sending the WQ6X exchange.  In contrast, CQ calls generate a considerable amount of heat; which is why it is advantageous to alternate between the [F1] (CQ) and the
[F3] (Tu QRZ?) keys.

Because we have not yet emerged from the depths of the bottom of the solar sunspot cycle, commencing operations @3pm (local time) pre-empted beginning with a 15 meter opening;
that had to wait until Sunday morning.

Similar to last year, the secret to 2019's RTTY RU was running frequencies, with an occasional Search & Pounce (S&P).  Because the K3 radio on the Fallbrook end of the connection is not a
dual-receive unit SO2-V was not possible, altho running as Single-OP  assisted allowed using
the spotting networks and skimmers to discover "juicy" multipliers.

Running frequencies in RTTY can be a LoT of fun; especially when it's properly synchronized with the [F-10] NOW key.  However in order for the NOW key to work, stations need to pay attention.  Many times I finish a QSO with the NOW key only to find the next station in line has already disappeared.



After all the work tweaking the WQ6X Lazy 8jK sloper it is a shame I was unable to run the RTTY
from W7AYT's QTH in the East Bay section.
Nevertheless, the antenna work was time well spent. 

The weekend after the ARRL RTTY RU is the North American QSO Party (NAQP) Cw contest. 

With the 8jK sloper in its best configuration ever, I should be able to run a dual-OP operation as WQ6X from W7AYT and as a remote op with NX6T's Multi-2 operation from Fallbrook.

Did YOU work the 2019 ARRL RTTY RU?

Is WQ6X in YOUR log?

For WQ6X NAQP Cw Notably NoT Normal

With the ARRL RTTY RU contest "safely" behind us, the 1st Cw contest of each new year is
the North American QSO Party (NAQP) Cw GiG followed by the SSB event the following weekend.
For this weekend, the goal was for my 1st dual-OP operation, running NX6T STN-1 remotely for approx. 5 hours, with the remaining time to run as WQ6X @ W7AYT'S QTH in Concord, Ca.

Friday evening, just as I was about to checkout the RRC-1258 IP connection to Fallbrook, a text message from N6KI informed me that the microwave dish across the hill providing us fiber-optic internet access was DOA; Sunday evening, the connection is still down.

The upside of all this is that WQ6X was able to operate the entire 10 hours of the 12 hour
contest; the caveat : the COM port problem (from the RTTY RU weekend) had yet to be resolved. 
The RigExpert Plus relies on a solid USB connection to route audio paths and computer CAT control to the Toshiba Windoze-7 laptop.  Luckily, using the Toshiba DynaDock offers 6 USB ports from one cable; unfortunately, not all ports are the same. 

Trying one port after another eventually identified the USB socket which brings the RigExpert
unit to life.  Magically, the RigExpert COM ports (from 3 weeks ago) magically reappeared.  There
is even a useable USB port on the back of the Plus unit, giving back the USB port taken over by the unit itself.  This port is perfect for running the wireless headphone unit; which draws very little power.  Once this problem was resolved WQ6X was ready to run Cw via the N1MM+ contest software.

Next up was to run through the MFJ 949-E tuner settings to verify the WQ6X Lazy 8jK Sloper was still functional after some rain and some heavy Contra Costa winter winds during the previous week. 
While the antenna itself was functional, the tuner settings changed dramatically.

Luckily, a close-up look at the termination resistors on each leg of the Lazy 8jK sloper showed no signs of overheating due to high-SWR or weather-induced deterioration.  The purposely twisted ladder line was also intact.

Band-by-band new settings were found.  Unfortunately, 20 & 40 meters produced so much in-shack RFI @ 100 watts the yellow keyboard stopped working (it routinely does this amidst strong RF fields).  The RigExpert plus unit lost its CAT computer connection and N1MM+ lost the ability to send CW.
Ultimately, the decision was made to use the CHA-250 vertical for 40, 20 & 15 meters and the Lazy 8jK for 160 & 80.  Using a wireless keyboard (atop the yellow one) solved the keyboard problem.
Band condx @W7AYT were marginal at best; 10 meters never happened and 15 meters folded
after only 25 QSOs in the log.  That relegated 20 meters as the QSO-volume band, producing a disappointing 76 QSOs for those 4.5 hours.

Hoping for an early 40 meter opening the switch was made at 22:45 with the 1st QSO at 23:05z.  Calling CQ and S&P'ing produced only 17 QSOs in the log.  At this point the decision was made to take over 90 minutes (of the required 2 hour break) off to do other things, while waiting for 40 meters to finally open up to the east.

Back on the air at 02:00z, disappointed by the lack of signals on 40 it was time to move down to 80 meters.  21 QSOs
in an hour is not great, but better than ZERO.  Back to 40 meters, working NO6T he made a request to QSX on 1837.  After working Al, I "setup shop" on 1828.28 and eventually added 4 more 160 QSOs to the log. 

Returning to 160 several times unfortunately yielded no results.


Back and forth between 80 & 40 added a few more QSOs to the log before mandatorily shutting down @ 05:40z.  While band conditions were disappointing it was fun to get back into the CW operating position.

Did YOU work the NAQP Cw Contest?
Is WQ6X in YOUR Log?

Friday, January 11, 2019

WQ6X RAC's one up for Canada and the Stew Perry 160 Contest

K 3 / 0  R e m o t e  O p e r a t I o n
The last weekend of every year brings up the Canadian RAC Winter contest alongside the Stu Perry 160 GiG starting at 00:00z (Fri. afternoon PST) the RAC is essentially over (23:59z on Saturday) just in time for 160 meter signals to waft in from the east into Southern California.

Multiple commitments kept me busy on Friday evening, altho by 07:00z the K3/0 remote connection to NX6T in Fallbrook was up and functional.  Instead of running mixed-mode, WQ6X took the easy route by running Cw only.

The recently acquired wireless headphones brought un-cabled freedom by way of an Autek QF-1A filter to process the audio.  External audio filters provide signal boosting capabilities beyond most APF filters built-in to older HF transceivers.  While the K3/0 DSP is useful, it lacks APF capabilities only an IC-based audio filter can provide.


N 6 K I   O p e n s   S P - 1 6 0   G I G
Having only 3 operators - N6CY & WQ6X (both remote) and N6KI (onsite) - I used the weekend
as an opportunity to test run the Elecraft K3/0 with the MikroBit controller into a higher-speed internet connection.

For WQ6X, the RAC contest did not begin until just before midnight (08:00z).  At such a late hour 80 & 40 meters are wide open to Canada.  While we can work anybody in the RAC GiG, VE/VA/VO/VY stations are worth more points.  Canadian stations with an "RAC" suffix are worth 20 points making RAC stations worth "hunting for".  Because this operation was an assisted CW-only affair the Cw skimmers made it easier to find extra-point stations.  By 11:30z (3:30 AM) there were no new Canadian stations, giving me an excuse to get some sleep.


Restarting @ 17:00z found 20-meters alive with RAC contest participants.  Unfortunately, 10 & 15 meters never materialized for this contest; even 20-meters ran down by 22:00z.  Luckily, (due to the low sunspot cycle) 40 meters was found to be wide open, providing the final 65 QSOs before the contest ended @ 00:00z.

I wrapped things up, by snapshotting the pictures for this BLOG entry and producing a Cabrillo file just in time for 160 meters to open up in time for the Stew Perry Top Band Challenge.  Somewhat unique for 160 contests is the use of our GRID SQUARE as the important part of the exchange.

160 meters was slow to open @ NX6T, however when signals made their way to STN #2 (around 01:00z),  N6KI was in the chair putting QSOs into the log.  WQ6X ran the usual 8:00 - 10:30 "dinner shift" running several frequencies.  By 06:30z, N6KI was back in action until shortly after midnight, giving me a few hours sleep.

Unfortunately, an internet failure kept me off the air until around 11:00z.  Surprisingly, we had experienced an opening to JA; considering previous JA contest turnout, this was something I
was hardly expecting.  I found it useful to keep the Grid square map centered around Japan
and Southeast Asia.  Rick (N6CY) took over remotely at 13:00z allowing me to go back to bed. 
By 15:00z the band faded and the contest was over.

Did YOU work the 160 GiG or the RAC Winter contests?

Is WQ6X or NX6T in YOUR Log?

Sunday, December 23, 2018

WQ6X SOUND PROCESSING: SOUNDING OFF about SOUND

I C O M  R - 7 1 A + M F J  7 5 2 - B / 1 0 2 0 / 1 0 2 6

 
When you think about it, radio, and radio communication is ALL about sound; yet amazingly,
this is an area all too frequently overlooked, even with some of the "name brand" Super Stations across the country (you know who you are).  Amateurs and contest groups spend10's & 100's of thousands of dollars on more-gain antennas at 200' to pull the weakest signals into the receiver and super-KW amplifiers (powered by buffalo-driven treadmill generators) to be heard across the galaxy.   They follow all that with artifact-creating DSP signal shaping with horriblly filtered or distorted audio; obliterating proper copy of that weak signal they spent $1,000's of dollar$ to bring into the receiver's front-end.


Over the decades there have been evolving solutions to the poor audio
and noisy-audio "problem". 

As far back as the early 1950's, National's Select-O-Ject audio Q-multiplier provided significant audio improvements.  You may also remember the I-F based Q-multipliers, like the Heathkit QF-1 & GD-125 units.

In the 1970's, a number of external audio filters were produced by various manufacturers; my favorites of course being the Autek QF-1A and the MFJ-752 models.


When we fast forward to the mid-80's the size-reduction in CMOS devices and DSP chips heralded
a clear path for DSP units to appear in amateur radio; first in the AF-world, eventually working its way toward the IF (and even RF) circuits.  Be these circuits analog or digital, any attempt at "processing"  a signal (be it RF, IF or AF) we run the risk of artifact (I.e. some unintended alteration or distortion of the signal).

Noise-blanking is a perfect example of artifact introduction.  With many transceivers in the last 20 years the NB1/NB2 style of noise-blanking often exhibit signal "distortion" when turned past the 10 O'clock position (or thereabouts).  Surprisingly, the early 80's noise-blanking circuits are amazingly effective with virtually NO artifact; one of the reasons I loved my ICOM 740 "back in the day".



During sailboat trips from L.A. to Catalina island and back, running the 740 into a vertical wire up the main mast made the radio susceptible to QRN from distant lightrning storms.  In most cases the 740 NB blanker rooted the noise out completely.



Today, my vintage Icom R-71A receiver being from that era enjoys the same noise blanking success; who knows,
it may well be a near-identical circuit. 

When my current R71-A makes its way into "daily" service, it will be matched with an MFJ 1020 (Active Antenna),
an MFJ-752C, and of course, my favorite, an Autek QF-1A; all currently sitting on the auxiliary backup shelf.

Preliminary tests of the R-71A and the 752-C/QF-1A show them to be quite compatible, the same as with my FT-1000mp (@W7AYT).  Bottom-line: "audio out" is audio out, be the source an Icom R-71A, an ICOM-7000 or an FT-1000mp; it ALL processes the same.



You may remember one of the earliest noise-blanking devices - AEA's "Moscow Muffler" from the early 1980's. 

What is AMAZING about the Moscow Muffler is its design for operation in the FRONT-END of the radio/receiver; not the A-F or even I-F for that matter (as most noise blankers currently do). 

There is a 6db receiver preamp as well as dual blanking widths to knock rhythmic noise pulses out of the front-end BEFORE those pulses have an opportunity to overload the receiver's pre-amp and mixer stages.

Because the signal "processing" is done PRIOR to the Ant-IN socket, no "modification" to the equipment is needed; as is the case with IF-based NB's and Q-MULT's.  It recently occurred to
me that the WB-1, MFJ-1026 and the JPS ANC-4 "noise canceller" units may well be operating on different but co-operative approaches to removing the noise PRIOR to the radio - Absolutely GENIUS!

I've extoled the virtues of "Stereo CW" for shifting the audio "inside my head"
as an aspect of audio-QRM reduction.  ([CLICK HERE] to re-read that.)

I have learned to incorporate Q-Filtering into my SO2-V operations from W7AYT.  This is what I said about it in this last summer.

And then of course my favorite: Q-Filtering for Fun and Profit: Part-1 and Part-2.

Most of todays HF amateur transceivers are so complex and loaded with convoluted CMOS CPUs there is little we AMATEURS can do (internally) to improve radio performance.  However we DO have control over what comes IN to the radio and what goes OUT the audio exit lines.

What do YOU DO  to improve signal intelligibility?

Inquiring modems want to KNOW!


Sunday, December 16, 2018

2018 OK RTTY - the contest that never made it


I have a habit of checking the WA7BNM Contest Calendar at the last minute on Friday evenings
when looking for some last-minute radiosport action.  This Friday evening I noticed the 24-hour OK RTTY contest had just started.  With client commitments all weekend live operation from W7AYT
(in Concord) was not practical; however running WQ6X remotely from NX6T was available to me.

Piecing together the Elecraft K3/0, RRC-1258 (internet interface) and the MikroBit internet hotspot was easy this time around; I guess practice DOES make "perfect".  In 20 minutes I was ready to go; unfortunately the Common.Net router used for direct IP connection to Fallbrook was down, making K3/0 operations impossible.  Fortunately, I had access to another internet router; while it isn't capable of enabling K3/0 communication, all other internet access works perfectly.

It is important to always have a backup plan for things.  For this weekend the backup plan came
in the form of RCForb to run the remote K3 radio and VNC viewer to giving access to the desktop
on the remote computer.  For RTTY contests I prefer N1MM+ along with the MMTY demodulator (w/FLDIGI as a backup decoder).

Remote operations have two sets of variables to deal with:
  1. The remote location itself (in this case, NX6T).
  2. The remote access location (in this case WQ6X)
In the past, internet outages in the fiber-optic network (we access thru a satellite) has been either
out or overloaded.  Even when K3/0 radio access DOES work, we are still using VNC viewer to run the logging software.

It is not uncommon to see the logging screen FREEZE while the K3/0 audio continues streaming perfectly.  The problem with this is that I can HEAR stations calling me and yet (because of the frozen logging screen) I can't use the function keys to respond. 

Recently, I resurrected a circa-1982 Hamkey HK-1 for use with the K3/0.  Now when outages  occur,
I can hand-send the needed information and write down (remember how to do that?) the received information on a yellow-pad.  Then, when N1MM+ comes back to life the information can be quickly entered.

With the backup plan well laid out, RCForb and VNC Viewer started up quietly, the OK RTTY
log opened w/o a problem.  Turning the 2-element shorty-forty towards Europe brought a FLOOD
of strong signals on 40; one of the benefits of a Solar FLUX Index (SFI) of 70.

Testing the radio on CW showed a FULL 100 watts out.  Switching to AFSK mode I setout to call an EA8 station (Canary Islands).  The MMTTY screen showed dual tones being generated by the laptop; unfortunately, no AFSK audio made it out of the radio.

An hour+ spent troubleshooting the RCForb software (on both ends of the connection) found no problems.  All of the port settings under N1MM+ were the way I left them after the WAE RTTY contest.  I finally put in a call to N6KI for assistance and went to bed.

Dennis and John (K6AM) looked into the problem, eventually discovering a hardware gain control had been turned down to 0. OOOPs.  I tested the installation and was producing 75 watts of clean AFSK audio.  Unfortunately, by the this time (01:15z) the OK RTTY contest was long over.  Dennis correctly reminded me that I should have tested the installation on Thursday nite, rather than waiting until Friday.  True enough, except I had no idea on Thursday there was a RTTY GiG on Friday.

While the OK RTTY contest never materialized I learned a lot from all of the troubleshooting
and experimentation.

Did YOU work the OK RTTY contest?

How well did YOUR operation GO?


Thursday, December 13, 2018

ARRL 10-Meter GiG Fascinates & Frustrates


The final month of every contest year brings us the ARRL160 meter contest (last weekend) followed by the 10-Meter contest (at the opposite end of the HF spectrum).  For the 160 GiG I joined up with
the NX6T crew remotely.  For this weekend's 10-meter GiG the goal was to run from W7AYT's QTH, taking advantage of the onsite Hy-Gain "Long John" 3-element 10-meter yagi, waiting patiently to be put back into radio service.

The continuously low Solar Flux Index (SFI) will of course be a challenge, however it is amazing how band openings can be "created" just by showing up and calling CQ. Similar to FD and state QSO parties, the 10-meter contest is a multi-mode affair (Ssb & Cw); digital QSOs don't count in this contest.

Recently on the SCCC contest reflector several OPs have said they will use FT8 contacts to determine band opening details.  The 10-meter beacon signals between 28.200 and 28.300is another way to monitor band openings, beginning with the NCDXF beacons on 28.200.  Another approach is to call CQ, paying attention to the signal level reports on the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) website.


On Friday, I arrived in Concord shortly after the 00:00z starting time. enabling the sorting out of 8-X coax cable intertwined with Yaesu rotor cable to the 3-element yagi.  A quick check with the MFJ-259b antenna analyzer demonstrated the yagi capable of tuning the lower 500khz of the 28 Mhz spectrum.

Beginning @02:00z, tuning the band (while swinging the antenna) put a whopping 14 contacts in
the log over 3.5 hours.  At 05:30z, calling CQ with the antenna pointed S-E, a QSO with N7EPD (in Washington state) made it to the log. Huh?  Am I missing something?  A probable contributing factor in this weekend's weird 10-meter contest is the K-Index of 3 which contributed to the quiet but quick fading of signals throughout the weekend.

Saturday morning while waiting for the 10-meter band to open up, a retrofit was made to the latest incarnation of the WQ6X Lazy 8JK sloper, replacing the EXPLODED 1.5 watt 100-ohm terminating resistors with custom-made 6-watt units.  This seemingly "minor" change turned the 8JK sloper configuration into a super sloper that easily tuned all HF bands; even 160 meters.

At 11am (19:00z) 10-meters seemed to spring to life across the country.  Over the next 90 minutes 33 QSOs made it to the log, including LW7, PY5 & P4.  Reading the 3830 Scores comments from other W6 stations confirms that the 18:00z opening was not a fluke, but a nation-wide phenomenon . The rest of the afternoon produced only 6 more contacts; all of them "local" to California. The last contact for the day was at 03:34z; another local.

Like Saturday, Sunday didn't begin until 19:00z.  Operating all day produced only 12 more QSOs; 3 locals on 28.400 Ssb, resulted in a mixed-mode assisted log submission.


This contest weekend was full of weird anomalies, culminating in a visit from the local cable technician who visited last year.  In the 2017 event it seemed that every time I pointed the yagi southwest it would overload a cable patch unit suspended from the 20-ft high cable pole. In all their wisdom, they chose an operating frequency of ~ 55.8 mhz; essentially a 2nd harmonic of 10-meters (28.0mhz).

This year the cable-tech said my signal was tearing up cable installations up and down the block.
Last I checked, "Electronics 101" dictates that when risk of harmonic-interference is a problem a simple $5 BANDPASS filter will solve that problem.  Also last I checked, the tech guy makes well over $20/hr.  He spent hours on Saturday and Sunday tracking down a problem that could have been fixed last year with a $5 filter.  Will they learn their lesson for 2019?   In all honesty, I really doubt it.


Did YOU work the 2018 ARRL 10-meter contest?

Is WQ6X in YOUR log?