Monday, February 18, 2013

Weekend Conditions Put The Word TEST in Contest!

2013 CQ WPX RTTY Contest
 My schedule has been pretty busy over the last few weeks so there has been little time for radio. With that said, let me back up to the previous weekend for the CQ World Wide WPX RTTY Contest. 

I had to balance working the weekend, working on a home remodeling project and operating in the RTTY contest. As it turned out, the bands were less than favorable so it was easy for me to be distracted from the contest. I was hopeful NOT to have to work the weekend but as it ended up, I did. So I spent the weekend working on our arctic entry and wrapping up some last minute work related programming. I ended up working only a handful of RTTY contacts all weekend, 51 of which were on 20 meters, 26 of which were on 15 meters and 8 were on 10 meters. And of course, it was a breezy weekend here that weekend, wind gusts in the mid to upper 30's. That lead to more QRN, which made already tough bands even harder since signals were not very strong. My path to Europe was fair considering the conditions with my best DX worked being 5C5W. Most interesting callsign worked in the lower 48 goes to AG1RL. With the WPX weekend a bust for the most part, I was looking forward to this past weekend for the ARRL DX Contest.

ARRL DX 2012
I looked back at my previous scores and found I had focused on 20 meter single band efforts. Last year I remember heading outdoors and photographing the aurora during the contest weekend (see photo at right). Solar activity can sure effect any effort this far north. Even though it was not as pronounced as last year, I was once again effected this year, more specifically on Sunday. My goal was to break 1,000 QSO's and attempt to work more multipliers than in years past, focusing on the Canadian sections that always elude me. The most sections I have worked in this contest with my single band efforts is 58. With the weather forecast calling for little to no wind, my QRN was not predicted to be an issue. As the week progressed, the weekend was shaping up to be a good one. With good weather, no real solar wind to deal with and a few extra days off, things looked promising. 

ARRL DX 2013
My initial strategy was to do nothing but Search & Pounce (S&P) on Friday night. I wanted to search out sections (multipliers) and just take my time slowly moving the VFO up and down the band. When I'm tuning, I start at the bottom and work my way up. Once I get to the top of the band, often times I head all the way to the bottom and work my way back up. That's exactly what I did. My ceremonial QSO number one was with NQ4I at the bottom of the band. As I worked my way up, I found many a familiar callsign and a few personal friends. Propagation was coast to coast at this point as I was picking off states from both the right and left coast. I managed Scot, KA3DRR on the left and team K3LR on the right. Wait, I'm up here in Alaska looking down so, is it my right or their left? Regardless, I continued my quest to manage as many stations as I could before 15 meters closed for the evening. My strategy for Saturday was to find a QRG and call CQ as much as possible in hopes of adding lots of QSO's. I was going to do some S&P on Saturday but I was going to leave Sunday for the 50/50 balance of both running and hunting. My final QSO for Friday night was at 0244z. 

Magnetometer from HAARP
Saturday morning started out very slow. I encountered KL7RA and KL2R, both with respectable local signals, working stations I could not even hear. My first and only QSO early was with an Oregon station at 1752z and I could not muster up another QSO until 1927z! I wrote it off as yet another consequence of "low power, low tower", as I've done in the past. The HAARP Magnetometer showed a bit of activity but nothing that was band deadening. Since there had not been much on 15 early, I pointed my beam to Europe to see if I could hear anything on 10 meters when I first got on. And what do you know, I heard the all elusive "NF" section on 10 meters, several VE3's and K1ESE in Maine with a respectable signal! That had me second guessing wondering if I should have attempted a 10 meter rather than 15 meter single band! Nope, I decided on a strategy and I was sticking with it. It was not long before signals faded away on 10 and it was quiet again. Those hams were probably pointed to Europe and I was hearing them well in Alaska! Propagation, ya just never know.

Rates with previous year targets
Saturday was tough but not a bust. Signals really did not come up and the band did not get busy for me until around 2130z! I was dealing with my typical propagation paths and I only broke the 100 QSO per hour rate once on Saturday (see graph above). Considering my effort last year was an entirely different band, I still loaded my targets in Win-test to keep me motivated. Major differences were obviously the beginning and end of the contest. But again, things became lively and it was standing room only on 15 meters. And when the band becomes lively, I tighten down my CQ filter and dig myself in for the long haul. 

Some of my notes from Saturday included one of my biggest complaints on contest weekends. Yes, here I go! I'm getting increasingly tired of stations moving in and calling CQ contest without even waiting to see if the frequency was in use. This happened more to me this weekend than normal! Obviously is the use of QRL is like a stop sign on a lonely country road meaning there are times to use it and other times not? I had a handful of stations calling me and NP4G decided my frequency was going to be his. He plopped right on frequency and started calling "CQ test." Soon, the stations calling me and the stations calling him became chaotic. I was left to moving on. Now yes, I know contest weekends are going to be busy, you will hear the person next to you, and like a Nascar race, there will be some bumping into each other. But poor operating is what starts non-contesters complaining about contesters. And the biggest complaint I always read from those non-contesting types are contesters who just drop in on a frequency they (non-contesters) were occupying and the contester takes it over. This happened to me on both days, Saturday first with NP4G, followed by NE8P and PY4FQ. No QRL, just hit my frequency and call CQ! My final note for Saturday was, I think most of the snow birds were in Arizona and Florida! I worked lots of stations in those states. With our temperatures below zero, maybe it was an envious observation.

HAARP Riometer
I noticed that Sunday was going to be much harder than Saturday. This got me to thinking that I should have done a bit more S&P for multipliers on Saturday rather than wait until Sunday. Nothing I could do to fix that this late in the game. It was apparent that sunspot AR1675 decided to throw a wrench in the propagation for Sunday by the effects of an M-Class Solar Flare. As you can see from the HAARP Magnetometer graph above and the HAARP Riometer graph to the left, both show the effects of the solar flare. I was getting tired waiting for 15 meters to open so I headed down to 20 meters. I also was doing my usual social interaction on Twitter

JT65A QSO with Peter, 2E0SQL
On twitter, I was conversing with G4BAO and Peter, 2E0SQL. They were talking about JT65A and so I fired up the software and turned my antenna toward Europe. I had seen another 2E0 station calling CQ so I had mentioned it to Peter. The band turned out being pretty busy with JT65 signals so Peter mentioned he would call me on 14.077. I was pleasantly surprised to see Peter's CQ (see graph at the right). I quickly hooked up my digital interface as I was using my CW interface. I attempted to answer him but the software was not keying up my rig. It took me a minute to realize I still had Win-test running in the background and it was using the port that JT65-HF was trying to use therefore, it was unable to transmit. Once I closed out Win-test, I was able to answer Peter's CQ and another JT65A QSO was complete! 

I was Peter's first Alaska QSO on that mode so the morning started off pretty well I'd have to say. Like many a Twitter ham, I've been able to add several that I follow or who follow me, to my logbook. It's always fun when a plan comes together. After our QSO, I fell back to 15 meters, reestablished my CW interface connection and waited for the band to open so I could continue my contest quest.

With being DX in this contest, my antenna remained pointed to the lower 48 and Canada for most of the weekend. It's possible for a lower 48 station to work 100 entities or more on a single band in this contest. The most sections I can get is on a band is 63. With that in mind, it's about getting as many of those mults as possible but more importantly, getting as many QSO's as possible. So in my mind, this was less of a S&P mult hunting contest and more of a "Park & Bark" strategy. 
Win-test: Mults I missed are indicated in White

Sunday in a nutshell was extremely tough. Very much a low but I had a few highs mixed in with that mood. I had more instances of stations hitting my run frequency and not sending QRL and just CQ'n. The first was W5WMU but he realized that the frequency was in use afterwards and moved on (thank you!!) rather than deciding to partake in a CQ battle. W7TJ was another followed by JA8RWU and each of those had me move off onward up or down the band looking for a new home. I was hearing more DX than stateside stuff but toward the end, I had three much needed multipliers call in! The first was W3MLK for Delaware! Martin has helped me in several contests getting that much needed DE multiplier! VY2OX followed by N7NG (WY) which really gave me the boost that I needed to finish the contest. Thank you all!! And of course, thanks to everyone who called and worked me! I've accepted defeat when it comes to the Canadian sections as I've never been close to a clean sweep and they are normally the sections that I get skunked on. But, effort and strategy pays off and I will always continue to get beyond those 58 sections I've been stuck on since I began playing in this contest from up here. 

In conclusion, even though the band was tough this weekend, it was still fun to operate. The mini solar tsunami as I like to refer to it, did put a huge damper on my Sunday and I did leave a few of my eggs in one basket so to speak. In looking back, I should have done a bit more section hunting on Saturday, rather than leaving it to Sunday. But many friends encountered and I was able to make several contacts to stations in my home state of Ohio. This, as with all the contests, tested my patience, my CW ability, my equipment and my strategic ability. Once the logs are washed, it will also test my accuracy ability.  

My score breakout is listed below. I suffered a 3rd degree burn to my left index or forefinger a day before the contest. The band may not have been hot this weekend but I assure you, the piece of metal I had heated up and accidentally touched was! I made a few typing mistakes on callsigns because of it, as it's much harder to type with your finger tip bandaged up. Thanks to all for the contacts and as the sun slowly moves back towards Alaska, I begin to shift my focus from exiting contest season to entering camping season! If all goes right, as March approaches, I will get to enjoy the SSB flavor of this contest at another location, enjoying great company and great operators! 

Contest         : ARRL International DX Contest
Callsign        : KL8DX
Mode            : CW
Category        : Single Operator (SO)
Overlay         : ---
Band(s)         : Single band (SB) 15 m
Class           : Low Power (LP)
Zone/State/...  : 100
Locator         : BP53LU
Operating time  : 13h01
  160     0   0   0       0  0.00
   80     0   0   0       0  0.00
   40     0   0   0       0  0.00
   20     0   0   0       0  0.00
   15   568  53   7    1704  3.00
   10     0   0   0       0  0.00
TOTAL   568  53   7    1704  3.00
       TOTAL SCORE : 90 312
Dupes are not included in QSO counts neither avg calculations

Monday, February 4, 2013

Living a Week in the BIG City While Murphy Visits My House

Downtown Anchorage
I spent last week in Anchorage for a work related trip. I must admit, it's fun to experience things like traffic lights, people, numerous places to grab a bit to eat, the mall and more!   This was the view last week from the 5th floor of the National Park Service Regional Office, where I spent most of last week. Off in the distance you can see Knik Arm and I must say, there is nothing bad about being close to salt water even during the winter months! The 5th Avenue Mall is on the left and I spent every evening walking the mall and doing some window shopping. The only time I can window shop in Denali is when the shops are open in Glitter Gulch, which is normally from late May or early June through early September. I very much enjoy my remote lifestyle but these trips south are always a trip back into reality. Living where we do, it's easy being oblivious to what's going on elsewhere, unless we log onto the internet or watch satellite TV. Fairbanks is my most favorite city here in Alaska but Anchorage is pretty neat as well.

Prior to my departure to Anchorage, Murphy decided to visit our QTH. As I spent a large part of the weekend getting ready for my trip south, it just so happened our furnace decided to fail. And of course, our temperatures were a bit on the chilly side last weekend as we hit lows of -37F on my Monday morning departure. We stuck around -33F all last weekend. So, having to leave my wife behind on Monday was a bit tough. Thankfully, I installed a back-up heat source about 4 years ago, so we relied on that to keep the house warm. And should that have failed, there was always the wood stove and I made sure a nice stockpile of wood was indoors just in case. In the end, a coworker was able to repair our oil fired force air furnace (the transformer went bad) and he also replaced the nozzle as it was time. It took a few days to get the parts down from Fairbanks but the furnace is once again operational and equally warming our igloo as of last Thursday evening. 

The bands have been a bit tough this past weekend but a welcomed surprise was a brief 10 meter opening on both days. I made a few Ten Ten contest QSO's and it seemed the normal path of propagation was Texas and some points on the West Coast. I also managed a nice QSO with Martin, W3MLK (15 meters SSB, a mode I don't operate very often) who was working the Delaware QSO Party. Martin is always looking for me during contest weekends so it was nice to be able to return the "Mult Favor" this past weekend.  Martin's neighbor Joe, W3SJT had a great signal into Alaska on 15 meters as well. Joe needed Alaska on 15, so it was a pleasure to add him to the logbook. After working them, I also had a nice chat with Frank, WA6KHK and fellow 8'lander Denny, WA8NSS. 

5th Avenue Mall and my Hotel in the background
So, from my adventures in the city of Anchorage, to browsing the floors of the 5th Avenue Mall, to playing a bit on 10 meters this weekend, this past week was eventful. I did manage my way into the AT&T store as I've been experiencing problems with my Samsung Infuse cellphone. Sadly, it won't be able to be repaired but I have found my next cell purchase! Hams and our electronic gadgets! I'm glad I hung onto my old Blackberry Curve as I'm using it now until I decide to take the plunge into a new phone. But some home improvement projects take the financial front seat and by the time I'm ready, the S4 might be available. When I look at what I pay a year for my cellular plan, the cellphone purchase is the cheap part. But I gotta have a smartphone! I mean really, I need to be able to Tweet, Facebook, browse the DXcluster, log contacts, decode PSK31 signals, and check the latest solar data! Not sure why I call it a phone as I spend most of my time texting, surfing, and using Apps than I do talking on the darn thing. And with my visit to the city being so close to Valentines Day, I now have that one covered. When you live 2 hours from the nearest store, it's hard to cover those romantic holidays. I must not forget such days as February 14th as that makes up for long contest weekends sequestered in the shack. And what happens the weekend before and the weekend after Valentines Day? You guessed it, contest weekends! I'll be looking forward to some RTTY and CW action and hopefully I'll see ya then, assuming my wife likes what I got her. I think she will...