ON5ZO – OQ5M

It’s time again for my yearly laid back CW contest: the ARRL DX CW. Laid back indeed. Point yagi to 295-300°. Call CQ on whatever band that is open to the USA at a given time. No stress, no fuss – every QSO is a blessing. The more inland the state, the better it feels. CA, WA, NM, OR always a treat. VA7 or VE6 anyone? Yummie: those fluttery signals!

Today (Friday) I had a day off from work. In the morning I set up the tower and the low band wires. It was cold and wet outside. A quick check in the shack around 09.00 utc showed poor conditions I’m afraid. 9K2/SP4R on 10m was not easy. My ‘neighbour’ ON4AFU was spotted as XU7AFU on 12m but I haven’t put up the WARC antenna. An HS0 had trouble logging a 4X call on 28 MHz. Just after 9AM UTC I worked V44KAI. On 40m! Uh oh… The reported solar numbers are too low for huge runs on 10m. My gut says even 15m won’t shine so it’ll be crowded on 20m. Again. Remember end October last year? A bottomless pit of USA on 10m and hardly a sginal on 20m because everyone was higher. Ain’t gonna happen this weekend I’m afraid. If things really go bad there won’t be anything more than a short weak opening to zone 3 on 20m.

For the rest of the day I tried to sleep a bit and rest a lot. I have no hope for fantastic propagation so I won’t be disappointed. Or at least not too much. It’s 21.30 local time now, watching some TV and waiting for the contest to start. CU on the bands!

Added 48 hours later:

The contest started slow for me. I could not get rate going on 40. Signals were not really loud, there were only the usual suspects and the noise level was pretty high. Memorable fact: my frequency-fight with YT4W. Normally I try to be ‘the better man’ and QSY but this time I fought it out with precision-timed CQ’s.
After a couple of hours I went to 80 which was even worse. Where was everyone? I didn’t think it would be this bad but sunrise propagation on 160m was pathetic. I could only hear and work 3 stations from 1-land. After that back to 80m until it died and it soon was clear that 40m was the better band. By 9 AM local time I took breakfast with the family and hit the couch for a long nap. I assumed the higher bands would not open before my lunch.

Back around 11.30 utc and the usual suspects were worked on 15m. From then on it’s just like any other contest: try to run and achieve high rates. Ten meters was a bust. Why oh why? Fifteen meters was great but only after a slow cold start. And twenty meters closed around 20.30 UTC. I granted myself a break and came back on 80 around midnight. Disappointing propagation there and a lot of noise again so I mainly spent the night on 40m. Things slowed down to the point where I was goofing up – only sleep could cure that. Seeing some OH (Fin) repeatedly spot a bunch of  W6-calls on 28 MHz at midnight with comments like ‘great opening to west coast’ was salt in the wound.

I slept between 2AM and 4AM UTC and immediately tried 160 when I got back in the shack. Better luck this time but the log counts only 41 contacts on Top Band. That’s a dozen less than last year and half of what I worked in 2009. Go figure. Some more 80 and a lot of 40 until 8AM UTC where I threw the proverbial towel and took breakfast and a short nap. I did some household chores to please the XYL, praised her lunch (macaroni and cheese = yummie) and around 12.00 UTC I started out on 20m. Then off to 15, some more trials on on 10, back to a shining fifteen until it gently started fading. I didn’t want to wait too long  so that I would miss out on 20m. I did that band for about two hours until it died which went pretty fast. It didn’t re-open.

Always the same routine in this contest. Although I remember 2001 where that same 20m never closed to the USA, not even for 100W and a low wire. That would limit the breaks I took now when there was a period without propagation to NA.

I ended the contest on 40 which was VERY crowded. Rate was low and I went to 80 for the last 30 minutes hoping to be called by another multiplier but it didn’t happen.

As always the fast hours are fun and the slow hours are boring. I’m surprised I worked so many multipliers on 15. There is quite a few z3 in there and VE7. I claimed my best result ever in this one. I think 10m must be wide open to do better than this.

There is some annyoing stuff but since it’s almost 2AM I can’t be bothered to go into details. Mostly it’s people jumping ‘into the void’ when you’re listening to a weak one. Not even ‘QRL?’, just fire away the CQ. And when there are a few callers and you ask for the ‘W1?’ you get the ‘K9’ and ‘AB4’. I expect that from European operators but not from the classy USA ops.

Can’t wait to see the claimed scores, especially OT2A’s…

I totally don’t like CW skimmers and all that stuff, especially in contesting, but I must admit I like the Reverse Beacon Network and its possibilities. After a contest I like to compare signal levels on different bands with my competitors. It also gives an immediate insight in ‘who of them was on what band at what time’. You can also use the website and its infrastructure for real time A/B comparisons. Not the subjective human ear and S-meter way, but an objective S/N measurement in dB.

I’ve been especially impressed by the speed at which the average skimmer picks up a CW CQ and feeds it into the RBN. One (1!) simple and clean CQ CQ DE OQ5M OQ5M is enough to be picked up and decoded by a bunch of skimmers over the whole world. The only mistery to me is: why does W3LPL NOT pass my decoded CQ to the normal packet/telnet DX cluster? It picks me up (see images) but it ends there while some calls are passed. Some calls that the W3LPL system seems to label as ‘DX’ while on the other hand ubiquitous stuff à la ON is not fed into the concentional DX cluster. I understand that this filter is applied but I’d love to see me spotted as much as other do by the W3LPL system  🙂

Another nice tool, although not as useful, is the real time log by HRD. If you work someone and look him/her up on QRZ, sometimes this is what you see:

HRD Web Logbook

The practical use of this is absolutely zero but it’s nice to see how ham radio developers are embracing web technology. I have discovered more of that lately, and it got me thinking. Oh boy, ON5ZO started thinking…

Very hectic times here. Since two weeks there’s another mouth to feed. Yes ON5ZO is homebrewing himself a crew of M/M ops! Shack time has been zero. I just let Windows update itself and let the amp run dry for a few hours. There is plenty in the blog-buffer to write about but I just don’t have the time.

The scarce free time was spent on collecting and accepting the logs for the UBA SSB contest. Along came the ususal problems of people sending empty mails, ADIF i.s.o. Cabrillo, zipped files, unreadable files and sometimes things close to Cabrillo but not quite. The good thing is that the software now catches these mails and rejects the log (if any) and let’s me send a warning. Before the ‘mail-humanoid’ (it’s not a robot since I control it so there is human intervention) all this crap was accepted and then when the log checking began, it turned out all these ‘logs’ were not readable. So in three years time the UBA DX Contest made a giant leap forward on all fronts. Not meaning to honk my own horn here, but it’s a fact. It’s good to team up with Marc ON7SS, a dedicated workhorse. He handles most of the issues with the participants (mostly Belgians) and keeps a close eye on what my software is doing. And keeps calm when I goof up  🙂

About the UBA SSB contest: it seems OS8A beat me (again) in the 12h high power category. He was giving out big numbers and I hoped that he would be in the 24h category. Not so. No plaque this year. I admit to be human and sometimes weak: for a moment I thought to send in the log as 24h HP and win the plaque there. But it didn’t feel right. I would not really ‘steal’ the 24h HP plaque from anyone since I was confident that no one would make enough QSO for a plaque there. Which after the deadline turns out to be true. But that would not be a problem for me: if you can’t make more points in double the time, you don’t really deserve to win.

My issue is that I promote fair play and ham spirit and changing categories to win a plaque is neither of those. Furthermore my competitors and friends know I did 12h HP, so they would also know that I switched categories after the contest just to win a plaque. I would be looking at a plaque I didn’t really win and risk losing the respect of my contesting friends. BTW I assume I have some respect 🙂  That respect and a clean reputation are worth more than a plaque. Which is easy to say if you already have a bunch of plaques, I admit. So I sent in the log as 12h HP which is what I actually did.

This weekend ARRL DX CW. I received a certificate last week saying #10 World in SOAB (A) HP. I plan to be there again, I just don’t know what to expect because I haven’t done much operating lately and I wonder what’s up with the sun and the propagation?

Since the UBA has its own set of categories, it is usefull for the participants to clearly mark their category. It seems that many participants have troubles doing so. Most of those are from Belgium. ON participants have another problem: they also need to fill in their Belgian province. If they fail to do so, the log will not be processed. Since N1MMLogger is the most used contest logger, I will try to explain how to do so.

FOR EVERY PARTICIPANT REGARDLESS THE SOFTWARE:

First of all, pick your category from the list. The complete list is shown on the rules website.

Overview of the possible categories in the UBA DX Contest

Overview of the possible categories in the UBA DX Contest

Then open your log with your favorite ASCII editor (I use NotePad, which is called ‘Kladblok’ in Dutch). You can do this by clicking on the log file icon with the mouse’s right button:

Right click the icon and look 'Open with...', pick Notepad or whatever ASCII editor you use.

Right click the icon and look ‘Open with…’, pick Notepad or whatever ASCII editor you use.

The log opens, look for the ‘category’ line in the header:

Look for the category field

Look for the category field

Then change the category to the abbreviation from the list: A40HP, DXD, AL… I was CH in my example. This gives the following result:

Change the category into the category you entered (see the list)

Change the category into the category you entered (see the list)

Make sure you leave the ‘CATEGORY:’ intact! Save the file and mail it to us. Please don’t ZIP it or perform other modifications on the log.

 

ONLY FOR BELGIAN PARTICIPANTS USING N1MMLOGGER:

When you open the new contest log and set all parameters, you see this:

Default 'new contest' screen in N1MMLogger. Don't forget to change 'Prov' into the 2 letter abbreviation.

The ‘Prov’ is now changed into VB (my province). Put your own province abbreviation there.

In the ‘sent exchange’ text field, you need to change the ‘Prov’ into the two letter province abbreviation. Possible values are: AN, BW, HT, LB, LG, NM, LU, OV, VB, WV and the region of Brussels: BR. If you fail to do so and keep ‘Prov’ then the Cabrillo output will show ‘??’ where the province goes. This means we cannot process your log.

This gives the following:

The 'Prov' is now changed into VB (my province). Put your own province abbreviation there.

The ‘Prov’ is now changed into VB (my province). Put your own province abbreviation there.

Click ‘OK’ and all is set.

We could of course do all this for you but we’d rather not. We receive a  lot of logs so it would take us a lot of time to edit and fix all the logs. Furthermore we would need to contact you to ask your province of category which in turn is even more work. We hope that prople will pay more attention in the future and this small ‘how to’ guide might help you. 95% of the logs are OK, it’s only the 5% that causes troubles. We hope to be able to reduce this even more in the future.

January has been a very calm month in the shack. In fact I only made my first QSO of the year on Friday 27th. I spent the first month of the year buried under QSL cards. I also wanted to make some changes to the UBA Log Acceptance Software. It needed some fine tuning to reject bad logs. Like logs where the call in the QSO line doesn’t match the used call. Or logs where 59(9) and serial numbers are reversed. Yes it all happens. Some people use software that is not suited for the job.

Four weeks without a single QSO – it’s hard. Especially when ON4BHQ reports daily what he worked which is what I missed. And with a few DXpeditions on the air (HK0NA, VP6T and TN2T), it was itching. Especially TN2T since I know many of the operators in person. So on Friday up went the tower and along the low band wires and the WARC antenna. Then off to the shack. Propagation seemed not too good. But what really disgusted me was the behaviour of the DXers in the pile ups. And if not in the pile up, it’s on the DX QRG. The same shit over and over again. The TN2T boys seem to be plagued by carriers and tuners on their QRG.

I admit: at least two times I was the monkey keying simplex. I find the K3 very vague about being split mode or not. I blame the 2nd RX. You hear the pile up and the DX in each one ear, but sometimes the rig is reset to simplex (after a keyboard triggered QSY). Then I feel bad adding to the mayhem. But it’s an accident. What can’t be said about tuning right on the DX or deliberate jamming.

At one point there was one guy constantly sending ‘NW MORE QRM NW MORE QRM’ (on top of VP6T I believe). I can understand the frustration. We all have lost a QSO or missed a confirmation because some idiot was keying or talking right when you THINK the DX calls you. ‘Abyssus abyssum invocat’ as we say, it’s only human and sometimes hard to resist to seek vengeance.

I gave myself the weekend to work the expeditions on 80 and 40 CW. I forgot that the contest was SSB so I had to adjust the 80m vertical for the SSB subband. So I had only one sunrise. On Friday night things were a ‘no go’ so I ended the day with an hour in the CQ 160 CW contest. Made 105 QSO in 1 hour but only EU. I think the DX days of 160 are numbered with the rising SFI. I set the alarm to 06.00 utc on Saturday. I heard VP6T on 80m. Weak but workable and he was working z14 EU. Then he quit. Chance missed. HK0NA was VERY loud which attracted a huge crowd as well. Didn’t work them either. Here’s what I did work:

  • HK0NA: 10 CW, 30 CW, 40 CW
  • VP6T: 20 CW, 40 CW
  • TN2T: 10 CW + SSB, 15 CW + SSB, 20 CW + SSB, 40 CW + SSB, 17 CW

Then came the UBA DX SSB contest. I don’t like this one as opposed to CW but somehow I feel obliged to participate. The XYL doesn’t understand that. Why do something you don’t like? Yes why? It’s the timing (January, many other contests) and the mode that make it less appealing to me. Although it seems the contest had better ‘ation’ this year. Better propagation. Better participation. The operator on the contrary lacked concentration. My wife’s due to give birth to our second kid this very weekend so it could be that I had to quit the chair right in the middle of the contest…

It didn’t happen (still waiting!) but the contest result is only so-so. I took many breaks and a long nap. Before going to sleep on Sunday morning I spent another hour in the CQ 160 CW contest. This time I was able to cross the EU borders. VY2ZM (loudest), a couple of East Coasters and UP2L and P33W for Asia. I heard Nebraska covered under a loud EU. If not for the EU I might have worked a new state on 160. There were several weak Americans that I could hear in between CQ’s of loud EU’s on top of them. Useless to call them because the EU always thought I was calling him. I was thinking to drop 160 in the ARRL CW contest next month. But there you go: it’s still possible to work transatlantic DX on 160 with my poor Top Band antenna. And each QSO there is a possible multiplier! I must say these were the weakest USA signals I heard on 160 since 2009.

Saturday’s sunrise was a big zero on 80m SSB in the UBA contest. Suddenly HK0NA was spotted right beside me. Loud! He was listening ‘3801 and also 3798’. But I didn’t get through the packet spot’s induced pileup. It was useless to listen on 80 CW since the antenna was shortened for SSB.

Of course there was the traditional clash with the British rag chewers. Not the Germans this time. The Brit came whining that I totally devastated the American he was talking to ‘1kHz up’. I had asked 3x if the frequency was free, honestly I didn’t hear him nor the American so I fired a CQ. But apparently I was QRM’ing him. I left him whining on my QRG and QSY’d 1kHz up where he said he was before. There I asked 3x if the frequency was free (no reply of course) and started CQ’ing. He came back and was not amused when I told him again that here too no one replied to my triple fold question if the QRG was free. He concluded that “there is something wrong with your ear then”. He didn’t share my sense of humour when I replied my rear is working just fine. Oh well, ragchewers and their shoe size conversations…

It became clear that I needed to move up the bands for the UBA contest. I had a huge gap on 20m where nothing worked on Saturday. I filled the gap and then did the 10/15/20 shuffle for the remaining hours. I was glad when it was over. I went outside and took tower and antennas down again. Three weeks until ARRL CW. Three weeks that will be full of anything but ham radio…