Tuesday, December 31, 2019

WQ6X Contest BLOG #299: Writing a BLOG Entry is Like.....

.....making a radiosport QSO.

When I work a station during a radiosport contest,
with each individual QSO I do not QUIT until the information is properly exchanged; both ways.

Then, when it is done, we move ON,
almost as if it never happened.

Later if we are allowed.; we can repeat
the above procedure, on a different band.

When I compose/publish a [new] BLOG Entry, depending upon the BLOG Topic, I may be researching new ideas to write about; or,
I may be cut/pasting stats and/or the .JPG
files you see in each published entry.

I often write out of an intense flurry of ideas and activity; then when the BLOG is finally published,
it is again, all but forgotten.

This is the 299th Contest BLoG Entry;
I've pretty much forgotten about the other 298.

73, Everybody - C U in 2020.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

WQ6X OK w/OK Dx RTTY & Croatian Cw Contests

When I arrived @W7AYT's QTH in Concord on Friday afternoon, I had no expectations as to what this weekend would be about.  My original plan was to test-install my recently-repaired ICOM 7000 and play around with a recently-acquired Classic 1983 "Moscow Muffler" Blanker device'; with the
OK Dx RTTY contest barely in the back of mind, I had completely forgotten about the Croatian Cw contest.  When the weekend was over, the OK RTTY was run as both NX6T (remotely) and as
WQ6X (@W7AYT); just to show that it can be done.

As the weekend progressed, I realized that no attention had been given to the 9A Croatian DX Cw Contest.  The 9A GiG started @ 14:00z, altho at that time I was catching up on Sleep, after running the OK-RTTY contest all night.  The plan became to run the OK GiG until its official end @ 00:00z, followed by a mode switch to Cw.

While the 2 contests could not have been more different in their exchange, both were world-wide GiGs offering more QSO points for contacts with stations in other continents and countries.

On 20 meters, I purposely ran the Expert 2-K amp into a 3-element Stepp-IR allowing the use of BI-Directional mode, in order to work Asia (mostly JA) and SA (mostly PY & LU).  I was amazed by the number of recognizable stations worked from the previous 3 contest weekends.

The QF1-A and NIR-12 external filters @W7AYT shaped the [after-the-fact] RTTY audio, directing the 915-Hz MARK signal to the left ear and the SPACE signal to the right.  Adjusting the balance between the two ears can make for a more relaxing contest experience.

For Cw, the QF1-A PEAK mode complements the K3/0's R-i-T control, "popping" stations above the audio noise-level.  From the Space-WX perspective the bands were QUITE QUIET in Concord and considerably more noisy atop the hill in Fallbrook.

During any given contest weekend, I scribble notes detailing significant
events that occur during each operating period.  It is from such scribbles
like this one that WQ6X Contest Blog entries are derived.  Using my SNAP-Shot
screen capture software, it is a SNAP to document contest activities as they occur.
While none of the submitted contest scores were anywhere near spectacular, it would seem that the weekend operation may well have resulted in a couple of single-band 1st-place entries; 1st for NA in the 9A contest and 1st for W6 in the OK RTTY GiG.  This is why I ALWAYS submit a log - you never know when it might "accidently" win an award.  Remember: I run radiosport events for the emergency preparedness training, as well as JUST for fun; collecting plaques and "pieces of paper" is just the bonus on top of it all.
Did YOU work the 9A Cw contest or OK DX RTTY?
Is WQ6X or NX6T in YOUR LoG?

Friday, December 20, 2019

ARRL 10-Meter Contest: It Don't Get any Weirder

The ARRL 10-Meter contest is an interesting paradox.  It feels like we have been languishing in the trough of the solar cycle for the last 7 years; whereas in fact it has been about 4.  Because this year's 10-meter GiG seemed so weird, a trip down memory lane helped put it all in perspective.
I began documenting my 10-meter operations in this contest Blog beginning in 2013:
  • [x] - 2013: WQ6X & N6GEO join up for 2013 ARRL 10-Meter contest
  • [x] - 2014: N6GEO & WQ6X Score another 1st place in the ARRL 10-Meter contest
  • [x] - 2015: WQ6X test drives the 1000MP for 2015 10-meter contest
  • [x] - 2016: WQ6X joins NX6T remotely for ARRL 10-meter contest
  • [x] - 2017: WQ6X Survives 2017 ARRL 10-Meter Contest
  • [x] - 2018: ARRL 10-Meter GiG Fascinates & Frustrates

At the last minute (what else is new) N6KI put together a multi-OP operation from NX6T. 
With no actual B-i-C action, N6KI fired things up at 01:10z remotely.  While we are used to
having 10-meters "fold up" by 01:00.  Amazingly, NX6T kept Ten Meters alive until 04:25z. 
Reading 3830 comments from a dozen W6 stations, they all experienced a strong opening
on Friday evening.  Most of those stations reported extremely POOR conditions on Saturday afternoon/evening, which is surprising as my experience was quite the reverse.

Client commitments kept me off the air until late Saturday afternoon.  At 02:30 I fired up RCForb and VNC Viewer to remotely run NX6T from Alameda.  I opened by putting a couple of QSOs in the log .  Then calling CQ on 28029.29 I was jammed by a Cw "heckler' sending errant Cw tones after my CQ calls, often obliterating weaker stations underneath his obviously local signal. 

While I'm used to this behavior on 40 meters after midnight, encountering this kind of IDIOT on 10-meters is a new experience.  Altho the local QF-1A filter helped notch the intentional-QRM, being audio-based it could not overcome the AGC-induced signal reduction.  N6KI informed me that the QRM-Idiot plagued his operations on Friday evening. 

My solution to this Idiot was to play frequency "Leap-Frog", jumping from the low end of the Cw band, up to the middle and then back again.  Luckily, with 20 minutes the station got bored and gave it up.  Running frequencies on 28016.16 and 28028.28 put 17 QSOs in the log. Like the previous evening,
I gave it up at 04:30z.  By that time, the only spots for NX6T came from N2IC (in NM) and N0OI (Perris Valley, Ca).  I got the message and shut things down, hoping for one more run on Sunday morning.

On Sunday, I was back in the remote chair @18:00z, calling CQ again on 28028.28.  Sensing a
South American opening, point the Stepp-IR to 120-degrees put CX2, LU2, LU7 & XE2 in the log.  Not having a microphone, i could not call CQ on Ssb altho thanks to the K3's Voice Keyer a number of S&P QSOs made it to the log.

While most W6 stations reported a dead 10-meters on Sunday, over the course of 5 hours I managed to add 48 QSOs to the log, 34 from South America - so much for a dead band.  The last QSO made it to the log at 23:22z; the remaining 38 minutes yielded no one new.

At contest end, it would seem that NX6T took 7th place worldwide, 5th place for USA & North America and 1st place for W6 and the Southwest Division; not too bad considering the overall marginal band conditions and only 3 operators.
DiD YOU work the ARRL 10-meter contest?
Is NX6T in YOUR LoG?

Monday, December 9, 2019

WQ6X teams up w/NX6T for Wonderfully Quiet 160 GiG

D F 8 D X  &  N 6 K I
While I long for the days of an SFI = 185 solar flux, being at the other end of solar cycle we can hopefully console ourselves that 160-meter condx. are all that they can be; the "truth" is somewhere in the middle. 

Considering that the last 1/2-dozen contest weekends have been loaded with crappy Space-WX, this weekend was AMAZINGLY Quiet.

This year's ARRL-160 contest began at 23:00z on Friday; 3pm California time.  Being a typical 30-hour ARRL contest,
it ended at 16:00z (9am California time)
on Sunday.  Initially, Dennis (N6KI) could find no other available operators for a Multi-Single setup except WQ6X and
Axel KI6RRN.

Late Saturday afternoon a visit from DF8DX brought B-I-C (Butt-in-Chair) action to the NX6T shack.  Bodo ran STN-2 during the 7:00 to 10:30 "dinner hour"; I usually run STN-1 remotely during that time-period.  Thanks to DF8DX, I was confident that NX6T was in capable hands, giving me the freedom to put 22 QSOs in the WQ6X ARRL-160 Log.

N6KI and WQ6X ran NX6T remotely Friday evening; Ron running STN-1 via RCForb and Dennis running STN-2 via an Elecraft K3/0.  KI6RRN also put some QSOs in the log, but we never crossed paths so I dunno when he was actually on the air.  Space WX-wise, 160-meters was incredibly quiet; both in Fallbrook (SDG section) and Concord (EB section).  Unfortunately signal levels were often weaker than usual.  Then again, one of the weak-signal surprises was from IK0XBX; not bad from San Diego using only an Inverted Vee.

While we got a late start (03:45z), N6KI quickly made over 160 QSOs in just under 2 hours.  It's a nice feeling to start an operating session knowing that team members have been keeping the NX6T call in bandmaps all over North America, as well as around the world.  Continuing to run on 1805.71 found me keeping alive a busy frequency, interspersed with "popping" multipliers from the bandmap.
Amazingly, by contest-end we managed to work all sections except NT.

At 07:25z a W4 in TN out of nowhere began calling CQ on my run frequency.  Ignoring him (NX6T was louder) I continued making QSOs and calling CQ.  After one of my CQ's the W4 station moved right ON TOP of me and sent "L-i-D" several times and moved down frequency just enough that the stereo Cw put his high-pitched signal in my right ear while I worked stations heard in the left ear.
A move to 1806.06 put his puny (but annoying) signal out of the passband; not working anybody
he eventually disappeared.

For this weekend I accomplished what I set out to do; run NX6T remotely from Concord via my Elecraft K3/0 and test-run the recently devised WQ6X Lazy 8JK Inverted Vee (converted from the original Lazy 8JK Sloper).  As a Lazy 8JK Sloper, on 160-meters the antenna could barely work N6RO (5-mi away); as a Lazy 8JK Inverted Vee, the WQ6X signal was able to work nearly
all of the Northwest states and as far as Colorado.  As a sloper, the 8JK was a noisier antenna
than the CH-250 Vertical next to it; as an Inverted Vee it is now much quieter than the vertical.

Around 03:00z on Saturday, I noticed on the webcam that N6KI and DF8DX had arrived @NX6T putting B-i-C for 3 hours.  It was during this time that WQ6X managed to make 22 QSOS; one of which was a reply to my CQ call from NX6T (manned by DF8DX).  Around 06:30z NX6T was again dark; the only "light on" being from Station #1 being run by me remotely until N6KI returned to San Diego (07:30z) to run Station #2 until I took over at 10:30z to wrap things up.

WQ6x scribbled contest projections .VS. 3830Scores.Com
You have heard me say ALWAYS submit a log because no matter how small your score is.  If no one else in your section/division/power-class submits a valid logfile then you win by default.  For this year, listening to the other W6 stations during the ARRL 160 contest, it would seem that NX6T may well be the front runner; not only for San Diego Section, W6  & IARU Zone 6, but for Southwestern Division as well - Just barely slipping by the Arizona Outlaws (AOCC).

Based on scores reported (or should we say, scores NoT reported) to the 3830Scores website, it would seem that WQ6X took 2nd place for W6 and IARU Zone 6, 1st place for East Bay section
and surprisingly, 1st place for Pacific Division.

While the solar flux for this year's ARRL 160 contest was depressingly low, I need to remember that low-SFI's make for GREAT 160 contests; we'll know more after the upcoming Stew Perry 160 contest.

DiD You work the ARRL 160 Meter contest?
What band condx. did you encounter?

Is WQ6X or NX6T in YOUR LoG?

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Analog or Digital Audio - Which should we choose?

Ever since I got access to a 1939 Hammarlund Super-PRO (SP-210 LX) receiver when I was 13,
I always loved bigger radios and add-on units w/all kinds of knobs to twiddle.  A few years back
I jumped at the chance to buy one of N6VR's filter-laden FT-1000mp's.  He was retiring the Yaesu radios from SO2-R operation and switching to a pair of (much smaller) Elecraft K3's.  Ergonomically,
I way-prefer the FT-1000mp over the K3.  I really appreciate the BiG main tuning knob w/shuttle jog.  Having access to dual-receive in the FT-1000mp makes knob-twiddling infinitely more fun.

In addition to a series of reasonably sharp I-F filters, the Main RX sports a reasonably effective
e-DSP-facility.  Even tho the e-DSP is not I-F based (like its successor - the FT-1000mp MK-V),
minus agc-pumping, the 1000mp's eDSP allows shaping the audio in a number of different ways
to peak the audio passband in such a way that muddied-signals often "PoP" a few db ABOVE the
ramble-mud; and, of course the auto-notch facility is, shall we say, "top notch".

While I LoVe the FT-1000mp design overall, what is often overlooked is the fact that the e-DSP
facility works ONLY with the Main-RX (VFO-A).  The Sub-RX is in reality, relatively wide-open. 
Prior to bringing the MP into my WQ6X operation, the JPS NIR-12 DSP and the MFJ-752c analog filters had been shelved in the storeroom.

During the 5-contest weekend in May 2017 (where I took 3rd place for 7QP QSO party and 1st-place for the INQP GiG), amongst other experiments, I devised a cabling-trick allowing the NIR-12 and 752c to be cascaded in the Sub-RX audio line.  Right after that weekend 2 BLOGs were posted describing what was done and how it turned out.  [CLICK HERE] to read that picture-laden description.

In time for 2017's Cw All Asia contest, I brought a languishing Autek Research QF-1A off the dusty storeroom shelf, inserting it in the laptop audio line for running NX6T remotely.  After I got the right-feel for the different filter configurations and settings w/the QF-1A, I was amazed at the peaking effects of the Peak & High-Pass filter settings of that vintage analog filter.  [CLICK HERE] to read about that.

Because the All Asia GiG was a Cw contest, I got a "quick-learn" about all the things 25+ year-old analog technology can still bring us, in an overly-DSP'd society.  As you can see, the QF-1A is equipped with Low-pass/High-pass filters, a pair of audio-notch controls and most important, an
audio peak filter (APF) that is as good as the inboard APF controls that came with the high-end transceivers released during the time-period the QF-1A was on the market.

The Autek filter design is of course an audio emulation of the classic I-F based Q-Multiplier circuitry; without the caveat of having to TAP the I-F signal line.  Except during moments of extreme agc-keying (when a strong station is near the RX passband) the Autek QF-1A is as good as ANY Q-Multiplier.
Because the audio passband is processing is analog, the operator can "fine tune" the passband shape characteristics more precisely than most DSP methods allow us to do.

A filter you may not be aware of is the WW-II Navy "BEAM" filter (or FL-8), initially intended for on board aircraft receivers.  Think of the "RANGE" switch position as a CW filter and the "PHONE" position as a medium-skirted SSB filter.  As I recall, the "BOTH" position effectively bypasses the filter.

Technically, there is enough room
inside the box to mount a small IC-based filter/amplifier.  I have seen a modified Beam filter with the one of headphone jacks removed and replaced with a filter adjustment pot.

A major advantage of external filters is their plug-in and play operation; no circuit modifications to the receiving equipment are necessary.  The major disadvantage is that most external filters are usually relatively worthless in the presence of adjacent signals down-pumping the receiver's AGC.  Nevertheless, while most analog audio-processing is vintage "old school", your ears don't
care about that.

Altho Digital Signal Processing is for the most part here to stay, you pay a premium price to purchase a DSP-laden radio.  In most cases, external analog and digital external filters do a near-equivalent filtering job, and quite frequently for well under $100.  Another advantage of external filters is that
with an audio cable switch box, they can be used with a multitude of transceiver and receiver units.

What approach do YOU take?

ANALOG?  DSP?  BOTH?  OR?.....