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?

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