Monday, November 28, 2011

CQ World Wide CW 2011 - 5 Star Weekend!

Log Snapshot ARS KL8DX CQWWCW, 2011
This past weekend was the weekend of all weekends for DX contests. The CQ World Wide CW Contest took place and contesters from all over the world sent the sweet sound of Morse Code across the airwaves in this 48 hour, Indy 500 style, contest. Stations from all corners of the globe prepare their equipment and stations weeks in advance in hopes of achieving DX contest success. From mult-operators to the QRP, this contest has something for everyone who is willing to send and receive CW (Morse Code) in a contest format. Like any contest, this is fast paced fun and when propagation cooperates, there is not a part of the globe you can't hear on the bands.

Contests are many things to many different people. Some use them only to chase new award contacts such as new DXCC countries or even states. Some get on to actually compete with stations on a regional level or even a global level. There is almost a contest involving every mode available to ham radio operators and like many sports, you either love em or you hate em. From a DX'ers standpoint, I love this contest due to the ability to add new countries (dating myself as they are now called Entities) to my DXCC totals. From a contester in training standpoint, this is the chance to hone those skills that push my CW ability to the maximum (which is not fast by any means) along with learning how to deal with QRN, QRM, and using my equipment to the best of it's ability.

To prepare for this contest, I set up my contest program and got my macros the way I needed them on Wednesday evening prior to the contest weekend. I have a small station so that was the extent of my prep work. I started a bit late come Friday afternoon (contest starts in Alaska at 3 PM local time) but not as late as I had first expected with my first contact at 0032 hours. As with any contest, it takes a bit for my nerves to get settled and for my CW decoding speed to function. My only strategy was an attempt to do a bit more S&P (Search and Pounce) for multipliers and not call CQ as much. Being that I'm in CQ Zone 1, as with all of the CQ Zones, we are a multiplier to everyone. And not only are we a CQ Zone multiplier, we are a country multiplier being in Alaska. I think Zone 1 was well represented this past weekend and I doubt was missing from many logs.

Contest Score Summary for KL8DX
As far as the contest for me, I decided it would be an all band effort. I normally enter in a single band in many of these contests but looking back to last year, I operated all band, high power. My operating time in 2010 was 15h43m running high power and I achieved 951 QSO's (minus dupes) for a total claimed score of 245,676. I was out to beat my previous years score but I was a bit worried as this year, I had to enter low power. My amplifier refuses to put any power out on 10 or 15 meters so I was at the mercy the propagation and the other stations receiving ability. I joke that a low power entry this far north is like running QRP in the lower 48. With that said, there were lots of stations who pulled out my low power signal when I didn't think there was a chance of adding them to my log when I was hunting multipliers. So totally impressed with so many great operators and stations out there!

I began Friday night (technically Saturday in contest speak) by doing mostly S&P. I wanted to look for multipliers early on, expecting none to be finding me when I decided to park and call CQ. So I often feel the contest really begins for me on Saturday morning after I roll out of bed. Yes, I don't operate an entire contest weekend and I normally get sleep during Friday and Saturday nights. I think the reason I don't operate an entire weekend is my low band antennas are far from adequate and those would be the antennas I would use to work stations throughout the night time hours. When I woke up Saturday morning, I checked the bands and looked for a small hole that I could call CQ. The same happened Sunday, looked for multipliers toward Europe and then find a place to park for awhile.

I like the Single Operator format in this contest as anything goes. No restrictions to speak of when it comes to operating off times, band changes, etc. I normally take notes over the weekend so I can refer back to them when doing my contest summary. These are normally one liners on a piece of scrap paper. Some of those one liners were;

  • Local low temperature -26F to start with on Friday, ended up with a high temperature of +18 on Saturday and +15 on Sunday. Research the effects of hot bands on global warming and local temperatures.
  • Saturday night, echo effect on 20 meters was rough! Many stations sounded like they had twins and both were calling at the same time.
  • I like to type because most people can't read my handwriting. I like to send CW in contests using my keyboard since most probably could not read or copy my manually generated CW. I continuously hit the wrong function keys on my keyboard. There is no hope for the contesting public when I get on the bands.
  • What, no Europe on 10? Hearing a few on Sunday morning but nothing workable. 
  • Wait, scratch my last, just worked G3TXF on 10 meters! Awesome!
  • Holy crap, I just worked OH8X, KL7RA, and TM6M on 10 also! I need oxygen!
  • Hearing Zone 27 on 40 meters but can't work any of the stations I hear. They are strong, but they can't hear me. Time to put in a funding request with the XYL for better low band antenna's. 
  • Wait a minute, scratch my last, I just snagged NH2T along with AH0KT on 40 meters with a side order of VK4KW in Zone 30! Damn, there must be some truth to this grayline propagation stuff! Research when time allows but should not be a problem as funding request mentioned above will most likely be denied. 
  • Wonder if I'm the only one who gets CB'ers on my run frequency? Wonder what all those "Extra Channel" freaks are thinking now with all this beeping stuff going on?
  • Must have been spotted as KL7DX again, getting lots of dupes! Corliss will have to use her reject button again. Make note to send Corliss some Christmas cookies for the overuse of her reject button on QSL requests for KL7DX.
  • Okay, this lower power stuff ain't so bad after all! Having to run the space heater in the shack due to amplifier sitting cold and lonely on the table due to operator abuse. Make note to submit funding request with XYL to get amplifier repaired. Probably will get funded due in part that heating the igloo using the amplifier is much cheaper than using the oil fired furnace especially with heating fuel at $4.24 per gallon. 
  • Need to sign up for a Pile Up Management class! How in the heck do some of these DXpedition operators do it? My nerves are about shot and I could really use an Elixir right now.
  • Wow, best effort EVER! Remember to thank all the operators that called in making it possible!
  • Just made my best rates ever working CW in a contest! An endless flow of callsigns on 10 meters!  I love 10 meters!
CW Run Rates for ARS KL8DX
So that was the highlights of the contest with my one liners on my piece of scrap paper. As it turned out, my fears of running low power were put to rest due to the awesome band conditions. I have highly respected the group at KL2R, lead by Larry, N1TX due to their abilities with their low power efforts. With the solar cycle on the upswing, my amp will finally get a well deserved break once it gets repaired. I have always felt that my station is only as good as my antennas and my Mosley continues to impress the dickens out of me! But either way, achieving a personal best rate of 154 Q's per hour just made my weekend! Yes, it's nothing compared to the seasoned contest operator who can easily pull double that but for me, that's something! CW has been challenging for me since the beginning but I will continue to practice and try to learn from each and every contest experience.

In conclusion, this was my best effort EVER in ANY contest I have participated in. The high bands were awesome (glad they recovered from the radiation storm that effected the bands on Saturday / Sunday) and I am so appreciative of everyone that called me or attempted to log me. I'm in these contests to have fun as my station is not big enough to compete. I had 32 dupes total over the course of the weekend. I have not looked at the DX cluster yet but I assume it was due to being spotted as KL7DX. I DO work dupes just to keep things moving rather than to set up a macro that says "Wrkd B4" and go back to CQ'n.

I must apologize to those that were effected by my keyboarding "WTH" moments, with UP2L coming to mind not to mention my hiccups on 20 meters toward the end of the contest. I appreciate everyone's patience and effort in logging or being logged for ARS KL8DX. I'm still riding high and I can still hear the sweet sound of CW in my head. After the contest, I started to catch up on laundry and I could swear my washing machine was sending me a signal report. I will be uploading my log to LOTW soon but will probably wait to see how LOTW handles this batch of millions of QSO's before doing so. And in speaking of washing, I will sure looking forward to seeing the contest results as once my log has been washed of bad or broken calls to see where I actually ended up. I'm sure there is no "Golden Log" here but with continued efforts, I might actually get there someday.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mixed Bag of Digital & Code and Can I Have a SOTA with That?

WAE RTTY Contest November 2011
As we enter into winter, it's much easier to find time to play on the radio. There are several times throughout the winter contest season that one weekend will play host to a few fun contests. I will try to divide my time to play in as many as possible. This weekend was the WAE DX RTTY Contest followed by the SKCC's Weekend Sprint. I decided early on that I was going to participate in both. The SKCC WES is a 24 hour contest during the last part of the weekend so I planned on starting out working the WAE DX RTTY Contest which was all weekend.

WAE RTTY Score Summary
This was a fun RTTY contest due to being able to send and receive QTC's and also not having any continental limits. Q Codes, commonly used in CW and Digital, and are abbreviated ways of asking or answering a question. In this RTTY contest, stations can send and receive a maximum of 10 QTC's, and if accurately sent and received, both stations receive extra points. QTC's can seem a bit intimidating at first but with today's contesting software, it's actually very easy. I personally use N1MM Logger which makes this process a breeze. In short, all you need to do to send and receive QTC's is set up few macros specific to asking or answering a QTC query. In N1MM, hit Ctrl-Z once to bring up the QTC receive screen and hit Ctrl-Z again to bring up the QTC send screen. If your receiving, as the information is passed, you just click on that information in the data window and it will automatically be placed in the proper QTC line in the QTC reception window. The software is smart enough that if there was a decode error, the problematic line will show up RED alerting you to the issue. You can then ask for a repeat of that specific line. When sending QTC's from the sending screen, it's just as easy. This is a summary of how to do it within N1MM only, but doing a search using "QTC" or "WAE" in the N1MM help fill will bring up a well written explanation of how to set up for QTC's.  As you can see from the graphic to above right, I was able to send and receive a few.

The high bands were fantastic this weekend yet again. I set a goal of at least 500 QSO's (Contacts) and I achieve that. As normal, my polar path was much better in the early mornings. I managed to work into Europe both Saturday and Sunday morning but I found this to be a bit tougher using low power. Often times the AU flutter can hinder decoding signals so adding a bit of power behind my low profile signal will often yield fewer repeats. I made 508 actual QSO's by the time I threw in the towel to begin my late entry into the SKCC Weekend Sprint. My total time on for the RTTY contest was 16:23, which left me well below the 36 hour maximum operating time.  

The SKCC Weekend Sprint began actually on Saturday at 3 PM local time (0000z) for me however, I did not begin my participation until Sunday at just before 8 AM local time. My first contact was at 1652z on 15 meters. I made a few contacts on 15 meters as 10 meters had yet to open. My first contact on 10 meters was at 1738z and my plan was to stay on that band until there were no more contacts to be had. That's exactly how it played out! I was lucky enough that the band was so good that I had a steady stream of contacts after calling CQ until 2336z, when I made my last 10 meter contact. Yep, that's 7 hours of using my straight key (Navy Flameproof) and there was not much left of my wrist when I was done. Due to past injuries, I had to wrap my wrist just to make it through, but it was worth every minute of it. When the dust cleared, I made 116 contacts total. It does not sound like much considering that's easily achieved during a CW contest weekend in 1 hour, but when you're manually sending, trust me, it's a few! The highlights were many but it was great to see so many QRP (Low Power) operators make it into my log. I worked several new SKCC operators and many old friends encountered as well.

The main highlight for me this past Friday was working wG0AT, along with N6UHB and KD0PNK, who were running QRP atop Bald Mountain during SOTA (Summits On the Air). They were atop Bald Mountain, FR-093, 39.1377°N / -104.8489°W. I had the honor or operating with Steve early last year from Mount Herman and it was by far one of the greatest highlights of my ham career. Steve made a great youtube video of the event and it can be found here. Kudos to Steve, Chuck, and Naomi on their successful activation and also, thanks for the QSO's!

With our travel trailer deep into its winter slumber, it's great to stay warm by making hundreds of contacts with old and new friends via the HF airwaves on any mode. My next effort will be for CQ World Wide CW at the end of the month. I'm not too far from making my 50,000th QSO since operating here in Alaska. I expect the logbook to reach that milestone sometime before summer of 2012. Sounds worthy of a special QSO confirmation, Alaskan style.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

SS - Can You Give Me Some Space?

Sweepstakes Fun
Last weekend was the ARRL Sweepstakes and I took advantage of the high bands to work a few stations. This contest has a format that can be intimidating due to the required exchange. Stations must accurately copy a consecutive serial number, precedence, callsign, check, and ARRL/RAC section. All this must be copied accurately to obtain credit. It's very hard to "guess" and fill in the blanks if you missed any part of the exchange so it really presses an operator to get it right before moving on. And when you listen to the contest, you will find there are many high speed CW operators that send and receive this data at a mind boggling speed. So when you add speed to a long exchange, it takes contesting to the next level. I'm glad this contest does not sport the normal "5-9-9" useless signal report but it actually throws a curve with the extra exchange information.

My CW (Morse Code) is far from fast so I normally have to ease myself into this contest. It takes me more time to get my flow going on the keyboard between all the fields than it does anything else. The callsign kinda gives you a buffer if you're running a bit behind, more so on S&P (Search and Pounce). I use the default Win-test settings which utilizes the Space Bar to jump between fields. I'm so used to using the tab button, it takes me a few QSO's to just get my mind and fingers to communicate correctly with the Space Bar. But once I get my rhythm, it's all about copying the exchange accurately.

I only had a few stations that sent their exchange data other than what is suggested in the rules. It can throw me off when I'm Space Bar hopping across the fields entering data especially if the other station is sending quickly. But you're gonna have these variables in contesting and in a way, it's good to expect the unexpected from time to time. It's kinda like working a contest at 3 AM and there is not much on the band. You've been calling CQ for what seems like hours with no response and then out of nowhere, a station calls you so loudly that it almost knocks the headphones off of your head and you off your chair.

I did have one station that after I sent my information, he immediately went back to CQ'n. I was left with that empty feeling of, "Am I in his log or am I not." A simple "TU" or "73" or something would of made me feel a bit better before tuning up the band. 

My main personal peeve was when stations would not space between their serial number and their precedence. A cut number is not uncommon in a contest and the most frequently used in this contest was "T" for the number Zero. But when you have the letter "A", which is a possible precedence letter and you don't space between your serial number and precedence, my brain wants to think it as the number 1 rather than the letter A. My brain recovers when the station sends their callsign and I realize the letter was not a number but actually a letter.  For a seasoned CW operator it's probably not a problem but for me, I need some space between those darn things!

I really like the work only once format of this contest as well. Again, something out of the norm as you normally can work the same station more than once as long as it's on a different band or mode. For me, this contest was all about working on my CW skills and trying to get better on the mode I enjoy the most.
I enjoy this contest more and more, especially now since I have participated. I used to avoid it like the plague thinking I would get run over by the contesting freight train. But, the operators are very skilled and repeats are a-okay! It's better to ask and make sure you get it right otherwise, it's a point-less QSO. It may have just been me but my personal observation was that the operators who were sending more my speed hung out a bit higher on the bands. I was not in the contest to work hundreds of QSO's but just to see if I could work all the sections. As the graphic here shows, I missed the following sections;
RI, AR,WI, NL, NE, SD, and NT. I can
understand NT and NL but the rest? Not sure how they escaped me but without using the cluster, it can be like finding a needle in a haystack. The band was there but I once again came up plenty short of a clean sweep! A humble congratulations to all those stations that did manage a full clean sweep. A great accomplishment for sure, especially hard if it was a single band effort! I know I made some errors but with continued practice and participation, I can only get better!