Monday, October 27, 2014

N6GEO & WQ6X use CQ W.W. 2014 for Brentwood station evaluation

This last weekend marked another installment of the worldwide single sideband pandemonium known as the CQ WW phone contest.   The bands were so jammed with cacophony that I actually felt sorry for the non contesters.

I joined up with N6GEO at his home QTH in Brentwood, not with the expectation of winning any operating awards but to test-drive the recently renovated current station setup (FLEX-3000, KPA-500 and his newly acquired 2-el Stepp-IR).

The real goal for this weekend is for us to be ready for the upcoming November Sweepstakes events, where we stand another chance of taking a 1st place as a low power multi-single entry from the East Bay (EB) ARRL section.

Radio contests are all about maximizing operating efficiency; learning to listen, learning to transmit precisely and then making expert use of operating conditions that are sometimes marginal, at best; such as the 7mh yagi in a HOA restricted neighborhood.

As we did in CQP & CQ WW RTTY, we used the recently released N1MM+ software.   The statistical graph facility in N1MM+ is very well done; as you can see from the pictures (below), very colorfully informative.  Now that I am used to the new "check partial" (just called "check") facility in the software I find it quite useful; even though I don't fully understand everything it is telling me.
Overall I like the N1MM+ software; especially the ability to move the individual sub-windows around the PowerSDR screen.

WQ6X focused on success
With N1MM+ we experienced NO software created problems this weekend, and to my knowledge, no software updates were necessary during the contest weekend; all the crashes came from the PowerSDR software.

On Saturday at one point, while restarting the FLEX-3000 out of the blue came a message requiring me to UPDATE the firmware or it would shutdown - no option on that one; the update took less than a minute.

Two hours later another (LONGER to install) update was forced onto our operating position.  The upside of all this weirdness: afterwards, the PowerSDR software no longer randomly crashed - HuH?

A number of things are noteworthy about this weekend's event, beginning with a solar flux (SFI) of 218 - wOw!  Unfortunately, the goeswith was a K-Index of 2 & 3, and in Brentwood a local near-S9 noise source that blanketed 80 & 40 meters.

With the 218 SFI we enjoyed superb band openings on 15 & 10 meters that stayed open until 04:00z both evenings.  I would have remained on those bands longer except there were no new stations to work, even though the openings to JA & VK/ZL were still there.

Because of the noise, our numbers on 80/40 were pathetic, altho at least I had the opportunity to get plenty of sleep during the post midnight periods, with an hour of operating time inserted into the 2am (local) time slot on both mornings.

For 2014 CQ WW there were a number of juicy countries and dozens of incredibly unique new prefixes to be worked.  While we didn't make DXCC, 70 DXCC countries is not bad for a last-minute put together arrangement, with 55 countries each on 10 & 15 meters.   While countries are a nice bonus, for CQ WW it is the Zones that are important, of which we managed only 29; although we heard 38 of them, including Zone 40 - Iceland.

During the operation I made some notes on points foreign operators should be aware of.

Many operators had difficulty getting that there is a "6" in my call.  If I used the phonetic Whiskey-Queen-Six, some thought I was in the 3rd call area.  In an attempt to help them realize WQ6X is in 6-land, I would remind them that I am in California; which unfortunately did not work.  That I reported being in Zone 3 should have been a tip off; but it wasn't.  One of the important aspects of radiosport is that we should be improving our operating skills; listening being the most important one. 
Once you HEAR what I say, then, use your brain to decipher what message I am seeking to convey.

I noticed that stations running a frequency often did not LISTEN after making a contact, instead just blindly calling another CQ after the pause from having made the previous contact.  Had they been listening they would have heard me call them during that pause, making the CQ call unnecessary.  Additionally, some stations thinking they worked me would then move on, ignoring the fact that I don't have their information or that they have my call incorrectly.  I would keep calling and they would now ignore me.  Luckily, the log checking robot (LCR) will give me credit for the contact, but will DING that station for logging ME incorrectly - Oh WELL - their loss.

When a station running a frequency asks for "WQ6", don't fire up on top of me with your W3 callsign, obliterating me - do the ethical thing and wait your turn.  And you, the run station, don't then give up on me and work the other station - that simply rewards poor operating on the part of the W3 station.  Again, start what you finish - it's the proper operating ethic to do so.  To reiterate an above point, a major purpose of radio sport is to improve our operating habits & abilities.  To do that well, it makes a huge difference to have an operating plan (preferably written up) BEFORE the competition even begins.

Operating plans will certainly make ALL the difference for the upcoming November Sweepstakes.
Because SS utilizes a REAL 4-part contest exchange (not just a robotic 59 - 03) we are simulating ACTUAL traffic handling.  Thanks to this weekend, we have a PLAN for NEXT weekend in the November Sweepstakes, where it REALLY counts.

You can view our CQ WW SSB results HERE and HERE.
Are you going to play Sweepstakes next weekend?
Did you play CQ WW THIS weekend?
If so, is WQ6X in your log?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

WQ6X & N6GEO as K6U in CQP 2014 is full of surprises.

Next to Sweepstakes, CQP is my favorite operating event, followed of course by Field Day.  The 2014 CQP was no exception.  In CQP, California stations are the sought after entities.  To some degree all that is needed is a "clear" frequency and the stamina to work a pile-up; if the conditions hold up, of course.  Then again, working all the multipliers requires diligent search-and-pouncing;
something we did not do enough of on 40-meters.
In preparation for a semi-expedition to Twain Harte (Tuolumne county) I reserved the 1x1 callsign K6U (the 1x1 "T" calls were already reserved) and made a special CQP page for that location.  As it turned out, at the last minute, an SK in the family of George's XYL relegated us to cancelling the expedition and operating from N6GEO's home QTH in Brentwood, N/E of  SF, in Contra Costa county (CCOS).  There is a link on the current CQP 2014 K6U page to the Tuolumne page.
In the end, we may well have put together a better operation than we would have in Tuolumne.

We ran as a low power multi-mult operation, to avoid competing with N6O (aka N6RO).  Running the amps at a cool 190 watts allowed us to compete as a low power entry.  Because the KPA-500 faults at an SWR of 2:1, we put an old Kenwood AT-130 antenna matcher in line when operating in the SSB portions of the bands.
According to the 3830 Scores website being a low power entry may well give us a 1st place in the Multi-Multi LP category - go figure. 1st-Place may salve the sting of missing a section sweep by 2 sections: ID & SK.  VE5 was a problem for numerous California stations.  I was feeling pretty good when we snagged VE1, VE8 & VE9 early on, not realizing that what should be easy was actually impossible.  Vermont usually comes late in the gig - this year in the last 3 hours.  ID would probably have not been missed if we had run more 40-SSB.  In place of 40, I ran a lot of the NW stations on 80; unfortunately, ID was not one of them.

Score-wise, we just missed beating our 2013 160k score from Modoc (971 QSOs versus 1107 last year).  However we ran a considerably higher CW-to-SSB ratio for the contacts we did make giving us a score of just over 150k points.

This year the hardware failures were in the form of traps and bandpass filters. We managed to smoke out the 10-meter bandpass filter twice.  I smoked it, then George rebuilt it and promptly finished it off less than 90 minutes later.  The bandpass filters allowed us to use the N6GEO homebrew yagi multiplexer giving us the ability to share the TH-3 jr yagi - both of us on a different band.  W/o multiplexing one station was relegated to using the 6-BTV vertical.

To operate 80-meters on Saturday evening George front-ended the vertical with a KW Dentron antenna tuner for operating a more effective match.  Unfortunately, when I bypassed the tuner and returned to 40-meters, I couldn't get a match that would stay.  As soon as it was tuned, it would drift out of resonance, ad nauseum.  So much for 40 meters,

I spent too much time after 07:00z trying to eek our QSO total to 700 - which I did at 09:30z.
Instead, I should have been in Z-Z-Z land so as not to miss the 6am 40/15/10 greyline opening.

The atmospheric noise this weekend was still pretty high (from earlier flare activity), made worse of course with the 6-BTV vertical.  Some of the atmospheric noise "enhancement" made strong signals sound like they had key-clicks, which of course I knew was not true.  It makes me wonder what OUR CW signal sounded like.  The noise also distorted weak-signal SSB stations, making unnecessary repeats necessary.

Speaking of repeats.  This weekend approx. 1/2 the stations who worked me included "599" in their exchange.  Read the rules folks - only Serial # and QTH are part of the exchange.  When working W1AW stations a 599 is necessary, but not during CQP.  Next, when I ask you to repeat your Serial # (NR) - do NOT send 599 again; not only is it unnecessary in the first place, if the QSB is heavy, by the time you get to sending your NR, you will have faded out again, requiring yet another repeat - simple logic right? - evidently not, because I bring this up every year.

While this year's CQP operation turned out quite differently than we had intended, George and I are quite flexible (with two FLEX radios no less).  CQP like Field Day is an exercise wherein we lash together an efficient operation.  In the 5 years N6GEO & WQ6X have run CQP together, no two have been alike; each earning some sort of award for our efforts.
Hopefully 2014 will be another award winner.

Will I do CQP 2015?  Of course!

Did you play in CQP 2014?
If so, is K6U in your log?

Friday, October 3, 2014

N6GEO & WQ6X as W6R WoW the CQ W.W. RTTY contest for 2014

During the last 5 years I have teamed up with N6GEO for the California QSO Party (CQP) as well as other contests such as Sweepstakes and various RTTY contests.  In the last 3 years we have run as Multi-OP in the CQ W.W. RTTY contest, which occurs the weekend before CQP.

For California stations CQP marks the beginning of the Autumn contest season, however if you are a RTTY enthusiast the W.W. RTTY gig marks the REAL beginning of the Fall contest season.

In 2012  running W6R as a multi-OP netted us a 2nd place for W6-land (17th in the U.S.); not bad for our 1st attempt.  In 2013 business obligations for me and social obligations for George allowed us less than 24 hours of OP time (as WQ6X) resulting in a whopping 217 QSOs making it into the contest log.

 For 2014 N6GEO has upgraded his Brentwood QTH from a FLEX 1500 (in 2013) to a FLEX 3000, with an 8-core 3.2Ghz Windoze 8.1 computer behind it all. We ran it into a just-acquired Elecraft KPA-500 amplifier putting us in the lower end of the HP category at about 360 - 420 watts (depending on the operator and band). The result was a 501 QSO increase over last year, ending up with 718 QSOs resulting and a 468k point score.

In all honesty due to work commitments again this year, my contribution to the score was probably exactly equivalent to last year's 217 Q's. Both days George did some fabulous operating on 20, 15 and 10 meters. I managed some 10, 15 & 20 meter activity to open the contest as well as early each morning. The rest of my evening time was spent jumping between 80, 40 & 20.

For this contest we used the just released N1MM PLUS logging software.  The pictures are from the new PLUS screens.  Overall this new software is really great, altho we do suspect a latency problem with MMTTY - sometimes after XMIT the CPU takes off, preventing the Power SDR software from switching back to receive. George discovered by trial-and-error that by almost exiting N1MM and then coming back in "resets" the problem.

Thanks to the use of dual monitors we were able to spread out the N1MM sub-windows across both screens making it easier to navigate between Power SDR and N1MM. This is where N1MM totally surpasses the WINTEST software. While WINTEST is a great piece of software, all of its sub-windows can ONLY exist INSIDE the main Wintest window. The Power SDR screen is big enough that it can not co-exist with the rather large WINTEST screen.

Other than a couple of Windoze 8.1 "Blue Screens" and the earlier mentioned after-XMIT software hangup, the station at N6GEO performed nearly flawlessly.  Our biggest nemesis for this contest event was the atmospheric noise (mostly noticeable on 80 & 40 meters) from the F-Layer ionization caused by an M5 class solar flare which occurred shortly before CQ W.W. began.

Atmospheric noise levels on 40 meters ranged from a low of S-7 to a high of S-9 on Friday nite and then a steady S-7 on Saturday evening; then again with weaker signals on 80, S-7 was more than enough to make things tough.  George was the lucky one - during the daytime, noise on 20-15-10 was almost non-existent.

While not really noisy, 20 meters experienced a number of signal dropouts on Friday evening, while producing little in the way of workable signals after 05:00z on Saturday evening.  Signal levels from Asia & Oceania (what few stations were actually on) were very questionable, partly due to weird propagation characteristics and the 2nd story house blockage of the TH3-jr yagi to the West & Southwest.  Signals to/from middle Asia had to be directed by way of Alaska from our Northern California location.

According to the 3830 Scores website, W6R placed 21st worldwide, 8th place U.S. and 1st place for W6-Land.  After the Log checking Robots (LCR) scrutinize all the logs and ding us for our log-blunders, these numbers can and will easily POOF into something else.

As was noticed in January's RTTY RU contest, activity in the W.W. RTTY contest spread way beyond the 1st 100 Khz of 20 & 15 meters.  As I have said before, this frequency spectrum is little used making it fair game during RTTY contests.  I even spent some time above "100" running a frequency.  The REAL RTTY operators knew to come above 100 looking for new/rare ones.

In some ways, this 2014 event seemed almost like a WPX contest with scores of exotic callsigns and prefixes; W6R being one of those unique calls. 
QSLs from the 2012 W6R W.W. RTTY event just recently arrived, so how fitting that we resurrect W6R for another GO, working some of those same stations once again.

Did you play in 2014's CQ W.W. RTTY contest?

Is W6R in your log?