A (short) contest free period

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.

4 bit BCD band data output on MK2R+ ACC connector (for both radios)
4 bit BCD band data output on MK2R+ ACC connector (for both radios)

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.

CW Freak is what I am!
CW Freak is what I am!

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!

One reply on “A (short) contest free period”

Good evening from Shell Beach, California and thanks again for a technical yet understandable posting for a guy learning about next level contesting. I like your SO2R description in addition to discussing band pass filtering such as the 5B4AGN filter set. We are making stubs at W6AB and, hopefully soon, they will be on line at the station. I used stubs for the first time during field day last year and haven’t looked back since. I’m really enjoying your blog as one of the finest dedicated to the art of RadioSport.
73, Scot KA3DRR

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