Monday, May 15, 2017

WQ6X operations: the Weekend of BEACONS and RTTY

WQ6X remote operation of NX6T

In a way, I could say.... this was a weekend of Beacons and RTTY;
the beacons belonging to the
Russian military and the RTTY
aspect of it all being the VOLTA
RTTY Dx contest that happens
every May.

Mother's Day weekend is usually
slow radio contest wise, but as a BioFeedback therapist, it was a busy one; making it a challenge to some-how fit radiosport into the schedule.

Luckily, because this was a remote operation I didn't have to make the drive to Fallbrook,
or even to W7AYT in Concord.  Rather than having to deal with excess traffic en route to
a contest operation, the [so-called] traffic jams I had to look out for were internet related. 
Luckily, this weekend offered up near perfect internet access speeds. 
Internet latency was not an issue for this operation.

Performance-wise there were no hardware failures during the weekend.
This is rare because there is almost always something that can go wrong.
The only difficulties encountered were software based. 
The radio and antennas work perfectly.

Tower-2: 2-elements on 40 & Tower-1: C-31 Yagi

Due to potential heat generation problems, for RTTY, I ran the Elecraft K3 @ 62 Watts,

upping it to a full 100 watts for CW operations. The antennas were the usual C-31 Yagi
for the higher bands and a 2-element yagi on 40-meters; both approx. 13mh high.

Space WX wise, all the numbers were down; the A-Index, the K-Index, and unfortunately an SFI = 69. 

While I contend we are at the bottom
of solar cycle 24, those "in the know" say the bottom won't be for up to 2 years. 2 Years?  REALLY? 
You mean it gets WORSE?

Unfortunately 10 meters was another no-show and 15 meters produced only 1 QSO. Had there been another 6 - 12 hours of contest time I might have had another shot at 15, altho 10 meters was destined to continue its D-O-A status. Yeah I know - Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda.

For this weekend there were 4 publicized worldwide events:

  1. The VOLTA RTTY Contest 
  2. The CQ-M Contest
  3. The Arkansas QSO Party (ARQP)
  4. The brand new Jakarta (SSB) Contest

As I happened onto them (mostly by way of the WA7BNM Contest Calendar), I published links to that contest's relevant web page on my personal Facebilk (er, Facebook) timeline.

I often use my FB timeline as a sort of public book mark system for things that
I am currently involved with, or working
on long-term.

Being a "slow" contest weekend gave me the opportunity to test drive various RTTY techniques.

Normally when I operate RTTY via NX6T remotely, for simplicity I tend to just RUN frequencies (unless the internet latency is HORRIBLE!).

Because I STILL can't figure out how to run the R.I.T. thing remotely via RCForb, when stations

call-in WAY OFF frequency, I press the F-11 key (pre-defined with: "UR OFF FREQ - Tune me in")

followed by the F-3 key ("TU de WQ6X QRZ?"). While most stations get it and zero-beat the run frequency, some stations would remain confused and quietly disappear.

A solution needed to be found.

For this contest weekend, to obtain the equivalent of R.I.T., VFOs A & B were first synched. Putting the radio in "SPLIT" mode allowed tuning around the VFO-B frequency using VFO-A. Diddling a BiG tuning knob instead of a little (by comparison) R.I.T. knob is far more preferable.
Then again, two unique situations arose:
  • The frequency recorded in the N1MM+ log file is the RECEIVE frequency (which varies); not the static Transmit frequency. (Time to submit a software change request to the N1MM design team.)
  • There is no immediate Reset/Clear button (as there usually is with most R.I.T. facilities). Returning to the RUN frequency is either done by turning the tuning knob manually, or,
    by swapping VFOs and copying VFO-A ==> VFO-B; burdensome, yet effective.

A recurring theme this weekend was FLDIGI (the RTTY demodulator being used) locking up.
When in a hurry, it's easy to accidently invoke 2 copies of FLDIGI, which together, can SWAMP
the CPU, effectively shutting out the rest of the XP-based computer Station #1 is run on.

Several times after "settling in" on a run frequency, 2 copies of FLDIGI attempting to decipher complex RTTY patterns would eventually lock-out the VNC viewer, effectively preventing me
from terminating the extra FLDIGI copy or invoking a Windoze restart.

At times like this, the only solution is to web-remote to a control panel allowing me to effectively
"cold boot" that Toshiba laptop. During the 5 - 7 minutes waiting for VNC Viewer to come back
alive gave me a breather to refresh the coffee mug.

Unfortunately, this happened several times while mid-QSO on a run frequency effectively stranding" that calling station.

The amazing things is that most of the time I came back to a still open run frequency, enabling me to continue from where I was so abruptly displaced from.

Now that I understand this problem is caused by dual-FLDIGI(s), I ensure
that there are never 2 copies running simultaneously before starting a RUN frequency.

Running frequencies have become FUN again; nothing worse than busily running a frequency,
only to have it suddenly come to a Halt - WHAM!

A unique feature available when running RTTY contests is to make use of the "Call Stack".
The call stack is maintained by the interface screen back-ending the RTTY demodulator.
When there are legitimate calls on the callstack, pressing the F-10 key (defined as:
F10 NOW,{TX}{ENTER} ! TU {LOGTHENGRAB} NoW {F5}{F2}{RX}) sends a "TU"
message to the current QSO, logs that contact, grabs the next station from the callstack,
sends "NoW" to that station followed by the Exchange (by way of F2).
All of that happens, simply by pressing F-10 - technology is AmaZing!

Additionally, I would get calls from stations who (to me) were CLEARLY DUPES.
To solve THIS problem I designated function key F-12
(pre-defined as: F12 QSO-B4,! QSO-B4{WIPE} - QRZ? WQ6X).

These callers thought I was a NEW station because either they originally logged me incorrectly, OR, their current encounter of my signal was garbled and presented by the demodulator as some other callsign.  In the event that F-12 doesn't accomplish its intended function, then I just work the station; dupes don't cost anything more than removal from the log after the contest is over.

With contest exchanges made in RTTY, some people try to be "creative" in how they send the data. Several contests back, one station attempted to have his callsign stand out by putting it in parenthesis; Ex.: (WQ6X) unfortunately, this transfers the call AND the parenthesis to the
callsign window requiring ME to manually remove the parens.  The CORRECT way to
accomplish the above is: ( WQ6X ) - the callsign is still isolated and the parens are left behind.

This weekend a station sent he the QSO number with a "#" attached: "#017".
This time the # became part of the QSO-Nr. Either sending it as NR 017, OR, as # 017
will isolate the numeric portion from the non-numeric part.

I had another station send me # 101, which I mouse-clicked into the data entry window. He then changed it to #102" which required a manual change. Rather then wait 3 seconds for me to correct HIS mistake and press F3, by the time i made the change and was about to press F3, he sent me the exchange (which I had already since corrected) yet again, requiring me to now wait 7+ seconds before I could move on. While it is important to be quick, impatience can actually triple the unnecessary down time. Pay attention people.

Originally, I said this weekend was about RTTY and Beacons. Friday evening as I was scoping the bands to ascertain propagation conditions I encountered the usual 2am appearance of the Russian military beacons that center around 7.039.75 mhz.

Some weekends I cannot hear them; often they are actually WEAKER from W7AYT's QTH than from NX6T. This weekend, 3 of the beacons were most certainly heard ("M", "D" & "F") and possibly the "A" or "K" beacons, altho they were mostly noise-obscured.

The "F" code speed is so fast that I often heard it as "S". The "D" beacon uses slower CW and the "M" beacon was using much SLOWer code. This beacon would often operate intermittently; it would ID several times and then after what seemed like a random time-pause ID again.
The "F" and "D" beacons use the same 2-second pause between IDs.

For worldwide regions 1 & 3 the 7.040 frequency marks the beginning of the 41-meter SSB segment; which is also shared worldwide with CW and RTTY operations. For this weekend's VOLTA RTTY event, the operating window seemed to be approx. 7.037 to about 7.052. I spent a considerable amount of time on 7.045.45 and 7.043.43. Above 7.052 were LoTs of CW stations ragchewing throughout the weekend (how DARE they), until about 09:00z when the Asian SSB stations
start drifting in.

For some reason, at NX6T there seems to be an RFI carrier consistently on 7.041. Going below 7.040 subjected me to the beacons and more CW. Going above 7.052 and above put me in competition with SSB stations; often WAY stronger than the CW or RTTTY. Taking refuge at 7.046.46 found me contending with some IDIOT sending random PSK-31 (packet) signals EXACTLY after every CQ.
Either the propagation changed or the child finally went to bed.

Earlier in the evening I encountered something
I rarely hear: a CW and RTTY station conversing with one another. Once I tuned in the RTTY, the CW note was perfectly audible in the passband.

It was a brief QSO between two friends who happened onto the same frequency spectrum around the same time. While contests don't allow cross-mode contacts, for ragchewing, just about anything goes. Around this time, I heard a station call "CQ MARAC". I have NO idea who/what "MARAC" is.

Somehow around 06:00z I found a noticeable break in the RTTY activity and switched N1MM over to the CQ-M log to work CW. For a moment there, I ALMOST forgot what to do.

Over the course of 1 hour I managed to put a WHOPPing 10 QSOs in the log, beginning with I2VXJ, who called me out of the blue. Throughout the evening, European stations made their way into the RTTY log; it was fitting that should happen on CW as well. While the log isn't much, I WILL send it in to the contest committee, just as I do for all contest activities. What's the point of engaging in radiosport, if I don't submit a log afterwards?
While this weekend's radiosport activity won no awards, it DiD offer me the opportunity to learn new operating techniques. While the FLDIGI problem disrupted things in the beginning, once resolved the operation settled down quite nicely. My only wish is that both contests had been 30-36 hour affairs
not just 24.

Unfortunately, by the time I had things going smoothly, the ARQP was already over; another QSO party that should last MORE than JUST 12 hours. Because the Jakarta contest was SSB only, running it remotely made no sense, Possibly next year it will be on the operations list.

Did you play around in the CQO-M or VOLTA RTTY contests?

Is WQ6X in YOUR log?

Recently, I received a 1st placed certificate for my 24-point 40-meter log submission in the CQ-M contest; proof once again that we should ALWAYS submit a log, no matter how pathetic the score may seem.

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