Over the past months there have been a few attempts to break through my inner force field. I managed to keep all bacteria and viruses out most of the time or at least limit their effect but I never took the time to recover from these attempts of ‘breaking and entering’. So about ten days ago, I had to give in. I fell ill. And I didn’t care to fight back this time. I just let myself crash and burn. I’m not about to expose my entire medical record but believe me it was a bad case of flu. I was very tired and I still am actually.
It’s been a very long and cold winter. We’re not really used to that anymore around here. I’ve lost track of how many times the country was covered in a thick layer of snow this season. Snow falls and is gone after a few days. Sometimes even after one day. My three year old kid has seen more snow already than I have over the decade before he was born. Even last Sunday I woke up to see a layer of snow covering the landscape. Oh no, not again – it’s almost Easter! Yet it remains very cold. It freezes at night and we haven’t seen nor felt much sunlight. It was on the TV news and our doctor confirmed: many people start feeling the effect of being deprived of sunlight. Count me in!
It’s not only on the WX front that the sun lets us down. What’s up with propagation? While thinking of WPX SSB and what to do, I noticed earlier this week that SFI dipped deep below 100 again with high A/K values. Oh come on Sun. Develop spots for RF propagation and let your warm light shine down on us!
With still being very tired and not really boiling with energy and motivation, I decided not to do an all band entry this time. Fifteen meters can be fun in SSB but only when propagation is good. But it doesn’t seem to be. Now what? Do an SOAB just for fun? But I took down the second set of elevated radials for another round of trimming trees. That leaves me without 80. I don’t care about 160 in WPX so that’s not a problem. I guess I’ll just crank up the tower and see what happens on the highest four bands (40 > 10). Oh wait – ten meters? *chuckle*
It won’t be a full time competitive effort, especially not given the mood I’m in and the mode the contest is run in. It’ll be another round of strolling the bands and trying to have some runs. If you hear me, give me a shout!
I haven’t been taking a rain check for a major CW contest in a very long time. But for this one, I did.
Friday afternoon, I was putting the elevated radials back up again after I took ‘m down for tree / hedge cutting the week before. I was ploughing through the remains of a nasty layer of snow, leftovers from a sudden but fierce snowfest earlier last week. The wind was blowing in my face when I headed for the tower to winch it up. I just didn’t want to do it. I’ve done it too many times with the wind blowing and all ropes just get tangled up into a nylon spaghetti. Furthermore the wind plays with one of the ropes controlling a safety flap sixteen meters up and then I can’t lower the flap because the swinging rope is heavy enough to retrieve the flap, which in turn means I can’t secure the tower unless a brief and well timed lull in the wind force allows for the rope to relax and the flap to fall down. And then I would have to get 80/160 up, which in turn is a struggle again when the gales take the copper wire everywhere except where I want it. I knew that on Saturday, the wind would even blow harder, so delaying it was of no use.
But I just couldn’t get myself hyped. The thought of spending yet another twenty four hours in the shack was not appealing. I was already tired from work at work, work at home for work, and work at home for home. And not to forget a busy few days with two rascals demanding my attention. Tired already, I would have to struggle my way through the contest only to be a wreck afterwards. And start yet another workweek as a zombie.
Add to that the announcement I picked up somewhere that during the weekend the propagation could be disturbed, and I decided not to participate.
Which is, believe me, a strange feeling for me. Not that the contest can’t go on without me, but… I can’t describe it. It almost feels like betraying myself or what I stand for. A self declared die hard contester skipping a major contest? Maybe it would be like the pope staying in bed on Easter Sunday for a change? “No urbi et orbi this year guys. I had a rough week at the office and it’s cold out there on the balcony. I’ll take a rain check. CU next year folks!”
But I shouldn’t worry. And neither should you I have been going through this phase before. A brief period where I have had it with the operational side of contesting but not with ham radio. Being fed up with the hobby? Couldn’t even if I wanted to. Yesterday I was in the workshop drilling holes in aluminium for a hardware project. And I’ve been thinking to try a new WARC antenna that can stay up when the tower is down. That way I can still work DX for fun without having to crank the tower up. But no contest for me this weekend…
Finally a week without a contest HI.
So last week I started working in the garden. The annual job Sisyphus labor of shaving the spruce trees. And I have a lot of those. A three meter high hedge running along half the circumference of the garden for about eighty meters or more. The other half of our lot does have a simple wire fence, no need to trim that. The spruce need to be cut both inside (garden) and outside (street) and of course the tops have to be cut short and leveled. The green waste has to be loaded on my trailer and hauled to the town’s recycling park. No wonder I delayed this chore for a few months this time. But waiting even longer means only more and harder work up to the point where a chainsaw gets involved.
To do this job I need to remove the elevated radials for the 80/160 antenna that I run on top of the hedge. Doing this is pretty convenient since the radials are out of reach for man and animal and no additional supports are needed. But as the trees grow, the wires tend to get tangled up pretty hard.
And this is how I spent three half days last week. Under a blue sky. And kept warm by sun rays. Wearing a T-shirt. It was real spring weather up to 18°C or more. Until Saturday, when the temperature dropped. By Sunday it was plain cold again. And when I woke up, there was snow on the lawn. From almost 20°C last week to -2°C this morning. And there is more snow coming. What’s it gonna be Mother Nature?
My 5B4AGN filter set arrived last week. I didn’t bother to open it up since I saw pictures of the inside on Bob’s website. The box is bigger than anticipated. It has a high quality black finish and cables come with plugs already soldered on one end. Two cables were supplied: for 12V power and in my case 4 bit BCD band info following the ‘Top Ten Devices standard’ established a long time ago. I only needed to terminate the supplied cable with a DB25 male connector. I use the ACC slot of my microHAM MK2R+ SO2R controller. This output has a lot of user configurable pins. The band data output on the K3 is already taken and fed into the MK2R. For the Dunestar filter set on the other radio, I bought a microHAM accessory dongle that goes between their band decoder‘s output and the antenna relay switch. Since they discontinued this device and the decoder altogether, I had to find an alternative. The Dunestar needs a source or sink current per band to drive the relays. The 5B4AGN box has this option too as well as an on board band decoder accepting TTL levels. Which is just what I could get out of the SO2R controller. It worked.
A nice unexpected touch is that the four arrows turn red when the pin has a high TTL level. For those who need more info, you can find a table explaining it on the N1MMLogger site and in the W9XT decoder’s manual. The only downside from this scenario I discovered is that when the PC is off, the MK2R+ does not seem to pass band info on the ACC connector. Not a biggie since I can’t remember making a contact with the computer off and even then: as long as I don’t do SO2R the filter set might just as well be in bypass mode.
Since manual control is a paid option on the Dunstar that I didn’t buy, I never bothered to switch manually but the 5B4AGN filter set has a manual band selection switch on board too. For the first time I could hear the effect of a band pass filter. If you select a band on the filter that does not match the RX, you hear nothing. Nada. Great!
I also played some more with the Netduino board. I needed to come up with code to write to / read from the micro SD cards since one of my students had a hard time doing this. Can’t blame him. This seemed easy but in the end it turned out you cannot simply port normal .NET code to the .NET Micro Framework / Netduino environment. Once again I found that problems and anomalies are reported widely on the net and appropriate forums but useful hints and off the shelf solutions are scarce. Detailed documentation for RTFM and self-teaching is also hard to come by.
Last but not least: there is a new version of CW Freak. I like this program a lot but it never worked on my Vista laptop. Yes I have been and still run Vista on my 2008 laptop. The machine is still very much ok except for the battery but I’ve had it with Vista. I’m planning on moving to Win7 soon. Anyway CW Freak .NET now runs under Vista and I’ve been having fun again. I only play ‘competition mode’ since I’m not planning on going QRQ.
Right now I can copy flawlessly up to 42-44WPM. When it goes faster, I sometimes err which I’m told is human. My biggest problem is that I’m so used to ‘type ahead’ in CW contesting (copy and type prefix, send prefix, complete typing suffix while PC is sending prefix until it catches up – this way there is no silence between callers and my reply). So when CW freak fires a callsign I go Pavlovian and hit enter after the prefix – but CW Freak of course counts this as a busted call since the call’s suffix is missing. Anyway copying 100% first time at 48 WPM is already too much for everyday contesting. Even 32WPM which I consider slow is already too fast for many people. But having some leeway is nice especially in WAE CW when someone bombards you with QTC at 38 WPM.
I really should wear cans when playing my daily routine – the CW with varying pitch drives the dog NUTS. I let my four legged pal in because it was freezing, snowing heavily and blowing 5 Bft. He doesn’t mind that and the dog prefers freezing cold over tropic heat but it makes ME feel better knowing he’s on his blanket next to the pellet stove. Yes it’s winter again in Belgium. And how!
Last week I sent a mail and ON6CC confirmed my QSO data matched with the busted call in the log. It’s the first time I had to file such a request. Apart from the ‘not in log’ for XR0X 2002. Yes that one will continu to haunt me and I have to bring it up again (quote from here):
I have no experiences with NIL for DXpeditions, except for XR0X in 2002 where two locals heard me work them (we were on the local VHF talking away) but I wasn’t in the online log. QSL manager N7CQQ never wanted to let me know if it was a busted call or not. “Just send your QSL card and we’ll see” he replied to my email. Yeah right, me sending greenstamps to receive my own card back kissed by his ‘Not In Log’ stamp! Or does it take Dollars to get him to check the log for a busted call? I don’t know how a QSL manager works and at what rates.
But not this time. Glad to see they updated the file on Clublog (one out of sixteen QSO with Belgium on 160).
And they have their stuff already taken care of on LotW too!
This makes for the following DXCC score as of today:
There still is some work to be done on Top Band. I guess with some dedication and spending more time there effectively chasing DX, another twenty three entities extra aren’t that hard to work. And I keep six for when I’m retired. If I ever get there ;)
After two serious full time CW contests (ARRL DX CW and UBA DX CW), this was the third weekend in a row with a major contest scheduled. I’ve never done this one seriously, except for a few hundred QSO mostly SB efforts. The reason is simple: after two weekends I’m really tired and the work piles up. And for a CW contest I’d say ‘so what?’ but SSB…
Anyway the plan was to do SOAB seriously this year. But I quickly changed my mind to SB15 after the two previous weekends and the fall out of getting no sleep and ignoring urgent jobs. But when seeing the SFI/A/K values, I changed my mind back again to: ‘just mess around and have some fun’. It would be without 80/160 since I already took these down. I didn’t want to play radio at night. I wanted to sleep when normal people sleep. So knowing myself, I just took the wires down.
I worked some W/VE on 40 around Saturday’s sunrise, just to give my points to The Deserving, along with aiming my RF at TX5K. A day and night contrast with the CW part. Not many signals around and running in this mess on 7 MHz is impossible for me on phone. After lunch and some relaxing, I started what was still planned a SB15 effort. Pretty late, around 1300 utc. I was not in a combative mood. The signals were so-so and rate was absent. I thought it would pick up but it didn’t. There were spots on ten meters but the signals there were so weak I realized running there for fun would be useless so I’d focus on 15. But things were so sloooow I cracked and tried a run on twenty meters. It’s safe to say that if you don’t get spotted on the cluster, the rate is very low. A packet spot makes for a few hot minutes, and the rate can peak for a quarter of an hour, but then it slides back to low numbers when you’re a simple ON.
Since I was doing a casual effort I had time to halt and think/listen things over. I observed the following: two fresh spots in the bandmap for station A and station B, plenty far apart. Both are American calls spotted by EU. The whole continent lands on the spots, and it slows the rate down. In between A and B there is station C, again plenty of space between and in the clear. C too is another casual K from an easy state, nothing rare. C is unspotted and calls CQ. He gets called by some Europeans but in between contacts he launches a few unanswered CQ’s. For a few minutes I jumped back and forth A-C-B-C-A-C-B to see how their situation evolves. A and B get a lot of callers for a few minutes on end, C far less. My conclusion: people really jump from spot to spot in the bandmap and don’t spin the dial and listen what treasures might be hidden in between.
I have operated assisted most of the time since 2001. I don’t jump from spot to spot, except when using the second radio. And even then I turn the VFO knob most of the time. I know that fresh spots are to be avoided during the first minutes. Especially for juicy doubles in CQ WW. I have used the DX cluster as an assistant, telling me what’s up on other bands etc. I have never let the cluster lead me or command my operating strategy. Heck, if you’d see my CQ WW logs with 3000-4000 QSO as assisted and monitor the exact frequencies, you’d think I don’t even use the spots since I run most of the time and sweep the band from bottom to top when S&P. But now there seems to be a number of operators who don’t use the cluster as an assistant but rather as a guide. Not only is this thesis supported by the example I observed but also by my own experience when running. No spot makes for low rates, a spot makes the rate explode. Sometimes the spot effect wears out pretty fast, sometimes you get a new spot before the effect fades. And don’t get me started on busted calls, even on phone!
This is all just a personal observation, of course the Devine Assisted Bashers over at CQ-Contest would more than happy reiterate their views on us lesser god contesters who don’t have to do anything (which is good because they think we actually can’t do anything) because the cluster spots fill our logs with 150 DXCC and 40 zones on each band, just with a click of the mouse. While they move heaven and earth with blood sweat and tears to find a multiplier. I think they forget that these spot-hoppers make the difference between 80/hr and 150/hr rates when the boys are playing with just their radio. And it’s not the cluster that’s the problem, it’s how the cluster is used. Sartre already told us that “L’enfer, c’est les autres”. If he had been a ham, he surely would have come up with that line after hearing some of the East-EU modulation techniques used for SSB contesting.
Back to the contest at hand. I stuck to fifteen meters and went to twenty again on Saturday late afternoon but really, it wasn’t fun since I couldn’t get a run going. To quote W4PA in one of his postings when he was still reporting online: “I’m a rate hog”. The bands closed early for me and I called it a day.
Sunday morning I repeated the 40m routine, but there wasn’t much to work. Rather: there wasn’t much to hear except for the W/VE stations that can top the EU QRM-splatter level. I tried to run again but as much as I can pull that off in CW, it just doesn’t work in SSB. In the afternoon I decided to stick on 15 again because a brief excursion to ten meters didn’t produce anything decent. But later on Ten opened up pretty good as far as Texas and Arizona and I had a ball. I repeated that on 15 meters and late in the afternoon, with only 60-70 contacts on twenty, I decided it was time for my Fifteen Minutes of Fame, and even longer if I could do anything about it. After the rate fest on Ten Meters I officially had given up SB15 so it was time to present myself on a plate as Fresh Meat. Sure enough, the rate on twenty picked up and I was able to keep it high thanks to… *drum roll* packet cluster spots! I decided I had enough though. A competitive score it wasn’t, but there had been some fun in a few fast hours. I can’t remember the last contest I did part time, casual, not competitive and ‘only in it for the fun’. It seemed just like in the early days where I was not trying to be competitive nor serious.
I had a ball hearing the QRO-deprived EU’s give their power. Like Big Italian Multis giving ‘500’. *ON5ZO chuckles* Insertion loss between amp and exchange is about 10dB? Same with Balkan stations. That reminds me of a series of pictures I saw on an Italian multi op website after last year’s CQ WW. I forgot the call, honestly – but there were a dozen pictures of the complete shack: rigs, interfaces, rotator control, antenna switching, the lot. But there was not a single amplifier to be spotted. It seemed to me that the photographer took extreme care in keeping those devices out of the frame. Yes I know, I have too much fantasy and a lack of trust.
ON5ZO’s Seal of Approval goes to DK6XZ who suddenly started CQing darn close to me but boiling over with ham spirit he kindly agreed to move when I politely told him he was jamming me as he just popped up. No harsh words, no hassle, just an ‘OK’ and off he went. Thanks OM!
An all time new one on the air. A pretty rare one too. I’d like to work it but I don’t like spending much time in unruly pile ups. My time is too valuable to get frustrated on what should be fun and relaxing. So I closed a deal with myself: no SSB since I only work towards CW DXCC and not too much chasing band slots. One or two contacts will do. I’ve been spending too much time in the shack already over the last two weeks and a half and I need to get some work done!
I had tried to work them on 30m during a lull in the ARRL DX SSB contest. They were loud even way past our sunrise. The operator showed INCREDIBLE skills. He ID’d almost after every QSO, working only EU at a fast pace. Really: the rate was incredible and he picked full callsigns out of the mud most of the time. Only seldom he had to come back with a partial call. I don’t know who he is, but RESPECT for this guy’s skills. At one moment I figured they were feeding the mega-pile up into a local skimmer so the calls were on display for the operator to pick. I hope my daring and of course utterly imaginary suspicion triggered by envy of this operator’s skills is false. Boy this guy knows how to work a CW pile up! I’m not easily impressed but this guy… WOW!
But the QSO was a no go for me. My self imposed time limit was over. A spot appeared for 40 CW and I managed to work an all time new one pretty soon after the QSY. The op here was very good too. And the signals were very loud for being 10k kilometres away. I guess having the antennas near salt water and a path that goes over sea mostly is the key to success. When the DX is in Central Africa on the equator, things tend to sound differently here.
So now we’re Monday morning. I’m having a day off from work and my plan was to lower the tower and start working in the garden. It’s cold (-2°C) but sunny and a blue sky. Lowering the tower is a must to keep me focused on all the work I have to do and keep out of the shack. But then there’s TX5K… After bringing the kiddos to school and day-care, I fired up ye olde amp and PC. Wow, 07.30 utc and they’re LOUD again on 30. A snappy operator, and most of all what I was counting on seemed to be the case: much less IDOTS (sic) on frequency. It’s a deliberate typo, since on Saturday and Sunday there was a self-appointed DX cop sending ‘IDOT’ over the DX when some other screwball was QRM’ing the DX. Anyway: with less of these clowns QRV (maybe they do have day jobs?), things should be easier and maybe less frustrating for yours truly. I couldn’t get through today either so I went to listen on 20 CW. Again: loud! A few calls was all it took for QSO #2. Almost no fun (almost!). So back to thirty meters since it was a case of now or never. I’m really reeling the wires in and crank the tower down this morning.
I knew it was a matter of time: the signals were loud, they were focusing on EU, the pile up was not that big, the operator stepped on the gas so everything was favouring me. They could of course always leave 30 and QSY elsewhere. But after I guess about fifteen minutes, I managed to work QSO #3. That makes 40-30-20 CW. That’ll do. I can now lower the tower and not wonder too much about Clipperton.
Great expedition, great signals, great operators, great hobby of ours!
For the first time since I studied transmission line theory (1996-1998) and scribbled my way through Smith diagram application exercises, and for the first time in my ham career I made a stub. And it sure feels good ticking one off the ‘things to do in this life’ list! Especially since they work and solve my problem.
The problem mentioned is simple: two rigs, two amps and only one set of band pass filters. I got away with this as long as radio 2 was barefoot. But now I need a second set of BPF on the other rig as well. The two combinations that result in high RF levels on the RX are TX40-RX80 and TX20-RX40. So I need a stub on the 80m antenna that blocks 7MHz signals, and one on the 40m antenna that blocks 14MHz. The latter is simple since 40m is a monoband antenna. For the 80/160 GP I’ll need to add some switching later on. But maybe the stubs will become obsolete as soon as the BPF is in place. I’ll need to wait for that while it’s engineer/seller is playing pile up in Micronesia. Yes, I ordered the 5B4AGN band pass filters. The price was the same as a Dunestar 600 set would cost me (add S/H, convert to Euro and add 21% VAT). I have one of those and I’m quite pleased as it has done well for over six years already. The OM-Power set, while not doubt very good, is a bit too expensive. Mike SJ2W recommended the 5B4AGN filters and I trust his technical advices almost blindly. The filter gets shipped as soon as Bob is back from V63.
In the mean time, and maybe needed even with the filters: stubs to the rescue. K1TTT has some info. And W2VJN’s book “Managing Interstation Interference “ seems to be the reference for this kind of problems. Now I know I have that book here somewhere. I bought it in 2006 when I was building the SO2R station. But I didn’t find it at first. Maybe some local ham friend took it home to read? Although I can’t think of anyone around here doing SO2R. After some digging I found it fallen behind a shelf.
The book just confirmed the drawing at K1TTT’s site and is a textbook example of transmission line technology. I could see myself again in the school’s RF lab drawing Q lines and SWR circles on A3 sized Smith chart diagrams. From short to open is half a circle is a quarter wave, from short to short is the full circle is a half wavelength. A quarter wave on 80 to short 7MHz and a quarter wave on 40 to short 14MHz. I have some loose ends of coax of various types so I looked up the velocity factor for these and off to the shop.
Hmm, it seems my stock of coax is not so big as anticipated. Either short lengths for jumpers or really long runs which are a shame to cut. I found a length of RG-213 which is most interesting since it has the lowest velocity factor making the needed length of cable much smaller. I recognized the crappy soldered N-plug: my very first piece of coax when I got my VHF / ON1 license in 1999. I learned many things in school but soldering plugs to coax I learned ‘on the job’. Post 1999. I made a short on the other end and connected the AEA analyser. BTW my analyser really gets worn out now. There’s the known problem (link) and now there’s something wrong with the DC receptacle too. I used the analyser to find the lowest impedance around 7000-7100 kHz. Turns out the run was a tad too short. Not wanting to cut a really long cable, I added a jumper with a barrel connector. That shifted the frequencies of open/short down. So in the desired 40m range I had 2.2 ohms resistive. And that made the dummy load look like 49Ω purely resistive on the lower end of 80m. No imaginary friends here!
I wish I could show you nice pictures of the stub’s frequency response made with Rohde & Schwarz network or spectrum analysers with tracking generators, but unlike SJ2W I have no access to such nice toys. Not anymore. Pour la petit histoire: in my pre-ham life I have worked for R&S Belgium in their service shop, repairing and calibrating RF T&M goodies. Little did I know then! Anyway while a bit cumbersome to handle with the defects and intermittent keyboard, the AEA did its magic and helped me make another stub to pass 7 MHz and short 14 MHz. Since I ran out of 50Ω coax, I took a length of 75Ω “made in Belgium” cable TV distribution coax. Velocity factor 0.88. The initial length turned out to be seventy two centimeters too long. I calculated this by making the difference between quarter wave length for the desired frequency minus actual measured quarter wave length. Of course quarter wave derived from [300/(f/2)] where f was the frequency where the shorted stub presented a short to the analyser. So I cut away 68 cm and cut another 2 cm away to make the short. Repeat measuring procedure et voilà: spot on!
I was all racked, stacked and wired for serious SO2R in the UBA DX CW contest. These stubs have effectively solved the problem while not introducing other problems – at least not that I have noticed so far. I hope the stubs won’t be needed anymore when the second set of band pass filters is in place. Or I will need to provide yet another interface to switch the stub in / out on 80. And the to do list is as long enough as it is already…
Just a short note for the records…
I was very tired starting the contest. I didn’t recover from the ARRL CW contest the week before as on Wednesday I got ill which made for sleepless nights and nauseous days. The virus spreads around and it was only logical that I would get it too.
The lousy propagation didn’t help either. I had good rates on 15 but 10 was nothing. When K4BAI called in on 15 I had to move him to 10. He was loud so it could work, I know he copies CW so he’d understand my ‘PSE QSY 10?’ and I assumed he’d be willing to make the move since he’d be playing in this one for fun. And so I got my K mult on 10. There would follow three more USA’s on ten meters but better safe than sorry. I tried the same with a VE but that didn’t work out. So no VE on 10 and not even on 80! Bummer because I got spotted there by VE2GU…
The rates were around 100 averaged over the first hours but that soon drops to 70 when the daylight bands close and you worked down the initial pile ups on 40/80. I have noticed this for a few years straight: it’s pure chaos. I like it very much that there is a modest pile up. And I like a few 150/hr periods. But the problem is that the rate drops significantly because there is total chaos. I RIT about 150-200Hz up to listen on the sides of the pile up so I copy smart ops and non-zero beat stations. But the folks just DO NOT listen to whom I’m returning. While I could work ‘m all really fast of they cooperated, I just need to repeat partials over and over again. The worst is this scenario: I copy a LY2 and a slightly weaker UA3:
[many people calling but no LY2]
me: LY2? LY2?
[less people calling]
me: LY2? LY2?
[no one calling anymore]
me: UA3? UA3?
And THEN UA3 answers but is QRM’ed by LY2 who now decided to answer, so I’m back to square one: two calls over each other, rendering full copy impossible. People are rude and especially some big gun Eastern EU just think they can blast away anyone. Some people might not copy CW apart from their own call, others just don’t care and have a ‘me me me first’ attitude. And I’m only a simple Belgian station in a small contest. What if you’re a double mult in CQ WW?
I see ‘DX code of conduct’ endorsements everywhere but I tell you: it’s useless. It’s the way society works today: no time to smell the roses, stress, hurry up, impatient, me-me-me-first, minimal effort for maximum result, I want it ALL and I want it NOW. You see it in stores when you go out shopping, you see it in traffic and thus it infiltrates in our hobby too. No I’m not a great philanthropist. Never was, never will be.
And so the contest came to a slow period. It was time to try something new: duelling CQ. Fun to see the RBN listing spots on alternating bands each time the CQing band toggles. But this contest doesn’t really have the right format for that. Serial numbers and a loooong exchange from my side (serial AND province). A lot of fills are needed because casual CW operators don’t seem to copy 5NN 1234 VB at 32WPM (not even at 30 for that matter). But it kinda worked and with tailored CQ messages and come practicing, I see many periods in smaller contests where this might be useful. But soon even this didn’t produce enough rate so I went to bed for a couple of hours. In the morning I had a rush on 20 with UA9 and to my surprise even JA. Even on 15 I worked quite far. Ten meters did only open for EU with light signals and the occasional DX to the far east.
And so ends this year’s UBA DX CW. It was fun but it could have been better if the sun would have cooperated. My guess is that I will have the best score in the 24h high power category. I’m not aware of anyone else as a single operator having done the full period (or most of it). Participation from ON side will have been low. You Majesty, there just aren’t a lot of CW contesters in Belgium. 73 Your Highness!
DXCC lost its appeal to me soon after I discovered the joys of contesting. And for my shot of DX I’d rather work a bunch of W6 on 30m with fluttery signals than spend the same amount of time in an unruly pile up. Once in a while I still jump in but I always set myself a time limit. Life’s too short to call and not log. But sometimes the reward is not the new one itself. Like 9U4U. Belgian operators and active in CW. I know most of them in person. So I feel a moral duty to work them, just like I did in the past. So I took the opportunity to work them while the tower and low band antennas were up for the contests.
I was on a roll but there were some hurdles to jump. The lack of WARC antenna since both wires for 80 and 160 were up. And a nasty virus rearing its ugly head from Wednesday on. I can put up an extra antenna but I can’t take out a virus. If only I could have! Soon I had quite some band / mode slots checked. Even 80 CW went quite easy. But I was determined to get them on 160. It had to be after the ARRL DX CW weekend, because they avoided the CW part of the regular bands. I was too tired on Monday but I was all set on Tuesday. Sure they were there. Weak but I heard ‘m calling ‘UP JA JA’. Japan? Darn. My “Catch of the day” post last week tells the story. The morning after their website said:
We understand there was some frustration about the 160m operation last night. We fully understand that Europe was a bit frustrated about the fact that we only called for Japan.
So my plan was to roll ‘m in on Wednesday. Yeah right. I commuted between couch and toilet and was so nauseous I couldn’t care less for DX. I had to stay home on Thursday because I was really ill. Time for DX you say? No way, catch sleep and feel sick. Darn virus. Reading this didn’t make me feel better:
GOOD OPENINGS ON 160 AND 80M LAST NIGHT
The effect of the virus was much less by Thursday night so I wanted to try once more. The last spot was more than half an hour old but sure enough they were there and working EU. Cool. Things were hectic and the Clublog stats told me the ‘peak’ of ON contacts on Top Band was yet to come. So I jumped in a pile up for an OD5. Told you already: sometimes I do. He was loud of course (backyard range in DX perspective) and signed QRT after about ten minutes. So back to 9U4U. Ah, a bit stronger already and still there and not spotted. Great! Then someone threw a spot on the DX cluster and literally ten seconds later the pile up exploded and some SoB started jamming 9U4U with intent to kill. A crying shame and the main reason for me to abandon DXing. Game over for me and time to go to bed. It was way past bedtime anyway.
I tried the same thing on Friday night. There was an extra obstacle: the CQ 160 SSB contest flooding the CW sub-band. Sure enough 9U4U was QRV low in the band but off and on. I think they had a hard time copying signals in the SSB swamp. I lost interest and was catching up on emails after being sick for two days. I left the VFO parked and suddenly they were back so I threw in my call. The operator was persistent in logging me as OK5M. No matter how much I emphasized the Q. No a K it was. Now what? There were zero contacts for OK5M in the online log, which was a good thing. Sure enough, the next update of the online QSO data showed exactly one QSO for OK5M: 160 CW. Well cut of my legs and call me shorty! What a bust!
I ended up with 12+1 QSO. I don’t care for digi-modes and it’s a pitty I missed them on 30. But I would never have spent so much time if it weren’t for the operators. Once again I heard some stupid things. I can understand it takes a devious mind to put a carrier on top. And a slip of attention makes for simplex calling. But if the DX asks for “AX1?” and you hear the whole alphabet coming back, it’s clear that: people don’t listen, people don’t care, people don’t copy nor understand CW or they don’t hear the DX. Some guys send their call so many times in a row that the snappy DX operator has logged two contacts in that time frame. Those things seem to become standard operating practice. Also in contesting, as I witnessed this past weekend. More on that later…
This one should be filed under “it’s complicated” but I kept the title for archiving pruposes.
Furthermore it’s been almost a week since the contest so things are a bit blurry. Most of that because of what happened after the contest.
Of course it’s not the contest that’s complicated. After all these years I’ve mastered the tricks of the trade. Call CQ, log what you hear – IF you hear anything at all and repeat. After some time, repeat sequence X times on another band. That’s pretty much it. When this gets boring, add another TRX to the mix. And that’s when it gets complicated, especially when you go QRO.
By now the contest itself has become a blur. I remember a few key items:
- The contest was made up of two halves: a slow Saturday and a hot Sunday.
- Saturday night fever: strong signals on 80, monster signals at my sunrise on Top Band. N7JW called in so loud my reflex was “naah it’s a /1” but he gave me UT! Now in my mind I placed Utah much more north-west than it actually is, which would have been more DX but still: I never got beyond Texas on Top Band. And this Utah dude was L.O.U.D.
- I never thought I could top last year’s score the way the contest progressed. It wasn’t until ten meters opened up big time and the rate jumped through the roof that the score got boosted. A repeat on 15 made things even better.
- I worked many friends-never-met in this one, like AE5X on 80, CW QRP guru K3WWP, W1EBI my mail-pal and a shocker: K7GK (whom I actually have met) on 10m from CA. I would never have guessed to work West Coast on 28 MHz the way the band behaved on Saturday. And at first on Sunday. But sometimes we’re in for a treat!
- Of course there were the ususal suspects around, like N4YDU, K3OO who reminds me I was once young, N2IC who even threw in a ‘loud’ for me (forgot what band though – might have been any band HI).
- More than eight clock hours of +100 rate! Lots of 90ies too.
- I had some observations about casual operators seemingly translating their RTTY macros to CW but Gerry GI4RTN@G6PZ summed it up pretty nice in his 3830 report:
Operating is changing. Lots of people are using macros and computers in big CW contests now, are operating them like an RTTY contest, and clearly don’t copy Morse well. Thatâ??s cool, but if you’re doing that then please set your macros to be short contest style not “G6PZ DE NZ1XYZ NZ1XYZ UR 599 599 (in long numbers) NY NY 73 ES TU K”. And set them for 30 wpm, not 12.
All in all I’m very happy with the result. As always, might have taken naps on the wrong moment or should have been on band X and not on band Y etc. But I would never have guessed the outcome at my sunrise on Sunday. Things weren’t looking great but the afternoon made it all good.
So where does it get complicated? One rig is fine (2001-2005), even when you add QRO (2006). Then you add another rig for SO2R, barefoot (2007). You provide a single set of band pass filters on the barefoot rig since you’ll be using this the least and is likely to be troubled by the other rig’s QRO. You add a 10/15/20 vertical as an addition to the yagi for SO2R purposes. All is fine, as long as you stay away from harmonics which makes sense.
Then you add a modest amp for radio #2. Not a powerhouse, a modest five hundred watts. Then the brown stuff hits the fan. There are specific combinations that make the K3 show ‘HI RFI’. This means the RX picks up excessive amounts of power. So the front end is at the frying point. I have this when I’m running on 80 and send 150W or more on the second rig. And when sending on 20 using the yagi and listen on 40. Which makes sense since yagi and dipole are only two meters apart. And it’s always when listening on the rig without filters.
I have done SO2R for years with the other rig barefoot at 100W and this proves my theory that you can get away with everything at 100W but skeletons fall out of the closet when using QRO. The K3 warns me of strong RF pickup from about 150W on, so there you go. I noticed the problem in the UBA SSB contest a few weeks ago but I used the second radio much more last weekend so the problem occurred more often. And it’s not a case of harmonics since TX40-RX80 and TX20-RX40 are exactly the opposite. And it’s always the rig without BPF that is troubled, not the other way round with even more TX power.
After the problem popped up in the UBA contest I decided to add a set of band pass filters to the other rig as well. More on that later. But awaiting these I have to find a solution (and found it easily in the form of a stub). But in the mean time there was a lot of drop out to be fixed. I had to repair-but-in-the-end-replace a vital kitchen appliance (kitchen hood) that went south during the contest (luckily the XYL doesn’t know about RFI HI) and two days ago a virus decided to mess up stomach and bowels, taking me out…
Stay tuned for writing about 9U4U@160, band pass filters, stubs and of course the UBA DX CW contest.