Monday, November 26, 2012

CQ World-Wide DX CW Contest - The Morning After

Comparing CQ WW CW 2011 / 2012
This past weekend was the annual CQ World-Wide DX CW contest and from the perspective of many, is the biggest contest of the year. From Multi-Operators to Single, many plan for this past weekend months in advance. Many operators in the US,  still feeling the effects of large amounts of good food on Thanksgiving followed by breaking their bank on Black Friday, hit the airwaves in anticipation of logging many contest QSO's. I for one, wish my holiday calorie to QSO count were much closer to one another. Sadly, it never fails that I consume many more calories on Thanksgiving Day and the days following, than I can put QSO's in my contest log. On the positive side, Thanksgiving leftovers work wonderfully at keeping the body fueled for countless hours of VFO turning and the keyboard pounding fun of this contest. 

ARS KL8DX Claimed Score & Summary
In my previous post, I mentioned working the November Sweepstakes as part of the Multi-Operator effort at KL2R. In looking at how Larry, N1TX had Win-test set up, the previous years effort in the Targets Tracking Window was a great motivator (photo above). I know, I'm one of those operators who is not using my complex software to full advantage and I had never used this function before. It did help me keep focused. I spent a little extra time setting up Win-test the night before (I know, the night before, really? When will I learn?) but I still need to get into using ESM (Enter Sends Message) mode with this software. But, I'm getting there. I'm still an F-Key abuser and it would save time and I'm sure would increase my rate. 

My score breakout summary is listed directly above and it just so happened that I beat my last years effort although, not by much! My claimed score last year was 792,396 and logging 1,852 QSO's. The main difference last year was that 10 meters was my money band but this year, that turned out being 15 meters. Had 10 meters come to life, my numbers would have looked very different. The CME that impacted Earth must have sent 10 meters packing (see graph below from HAARP's Magnetometer). I'm not a propagation guru but I do know 10 meters did not provide a fraction of the contacts it did for me last year. Last year, I worked 971 QSO's on 10 meters alone!

Magnetometer from HAARP
In speaking of the CME that shook up the Ionosphere overhead, it made for a bittersweet weekend. It obviously effected the propagation and it made the polar path on Friday night extremely tough and Saturday night was no picnic either. I'm running low power these days as I have yet to afford getting my AL-1500 repaired. Shipping to and from the lower 48 alone would be costly and that does not include the repair. It just means I have to pass up more multipliers or try harder and longer to get them, or wait until Sunday. Regardless, it was memorable working European stations on Friday night while gazing out my shack window and watching the auroral display dancing overhead! Now mind you, I've experienced the aurora overhead for several years but I still get excited and enjoy photographing it. Friday night was no exception, I had to stop what I was doing in the contest, costing me valuable 3 point QSO's with Europe (surprising we had a path with aurora being so active) to head outdoors at -17F to snap some photographs! I was outdoors for well over an hour just enjoying the light show overhead. I'm easily distracted and I needed Bonnie and Fannie here from team KL2R to keep me focused. 

Auroral display CQ World-Wide DX weekend © KL8DX
Like many hams, I have more than one hobby. My second favorite is photographing our adventures here in Alaska. I love sharing it with friends and family in the lower 48, many of which have never been to Alaska. We arrived in Healy at our friends house (KL1SF & KL1MF) on the 25th of November, 2003. We moved into park housing during December of 2003, and a few months later, we purchased our current home. Now mind you, I did experience the aurora from Northern Ohio and even photographed it a few times but such events were rare. Here, the "Northern Lights" are viewed nearly all winter long. This alone helps ease the pain of winter however, it's normally very cold outdoors during the prime viewing times. 

Auroral display CQ World-Wide DX weekend ©KL8DX
If you dress warm and have an understanding camera and tri-pod, it's not hard to capture these breathtaking events. The photo above and to the left, are those I took on Friday night showing the auroral display over our QTH. Now mind you, this is after it had subsided a bit. Our shack window (shown illuminated in blue on both photos) is the best viewing window for the aurora as I keep the shack mostly dark. I'm not one for enjoying copious amounts of light both at home or at the office. My office for years has been nicknamed, "The Cave." My wife made a rare appearance in the shack over the contest weekend to enjoy the light show to the north while I was chasing European stations on 15 and 20 meters. If only I could get her to upgrade and be interested in a Multi-Single effort. Nah, more fun for me! All kidding aside, her support and supplying necessary nutritional needs goes without saying, these contest weekends would not be successful without her support and understanding. Like many a ham, I'm lucky to have an understanding spouse. 

Now getting back on track with the contest, my goal was to log over 2,000 QSO's and beat my previous year score. I did beat my score (claimed) however, I did not break the 2,000 QSO mark. As I had mentioned before, had 10 meters been great, I would have easily manged that goal. As it was, attempts to get a run going on 10 meters was in vain and it worked out best for Search & Pounce only (S&P). The 3 point contacts were nice but I wanted more. But like with any contest, there were highlights and low lights. Me complaining about 10 meters was a low light but I'm thankful for my 199 QSO's on that band. Lots of radio friends encountered along with so many familiar callsigns. My low band antenna's stink and to those who pulled my signal out on 40 and 80 meters, hats off to you and your station! I took some notes during the weekend contest and here are a few unedited I had listed -

  • Getting to hate Saturday and Sunday mornings. I can't seem to get the attention of anyone on the East Coast as they are still pointed to Europe.
  • My morning strategy, chasing "Bleeps" on the Spectrum Scope while consuming copious amounts of decaf coffee. Yea I know, I get more out of the bleeps than I do the coffee. 
  • Saturday morning, 10 meters opened up briefly but then closed back down. 
  • Gray Line propagation working well and added some much needed multipliers.
  • Seriously PY3DX, I've been on this frequency for well over an hour! If you want it that bad, go ahead and take it! I'm working PY's right and left so I know you can hear me! Ugh!
  • Full break-in is a bit tough to get used to but necessary with as quickly as some stations call when I'm CQ'n.
  • Sunday, the return of propagation (somewhat), thank you!!!!!!
  • Is it me or does it seem like CW ops increase their speed by 50% on Sunday? Tryptophan must be wearing off, goodness!
  • EL2A, on 15 meters and logged?!! What just happened? That did!
  • Aurora is beautiful and I'm still able to work Europe? I must be dreaming!
  • Trying to understand why DX stations don't ID more frequently. If you work more than 5 stations and don't ID, I'm gone! If I was Assisted, I might know who you are but for now I don't, and really don't care.
  • Well, here come the DUPES so someone must have spotted me as something other than my callsign. Probably as KL7DX again. Surprising how many click on the band map and pull the trigger!
  • EF8M, you want me in your contest log but just don't know it.
  • Seriously Sunday? Normally I can work these multipliers today and they are no easier than Saturday! WTH?
  • Enjoying Twitter and the #WATwitter Hashtag spearheaded by Connie, NR4CB. She is the Bionic Nerd!  
  • 10 meters, where are you??
  • Pile-up's...I'm trying everyone, please have patience! I'm drinking decaf, remember?
  • It's 1655z and I'm at 1,355 QSO's and 554,222 points! I think I can, I think I can...
  • Damn, there are some strong stations out there! Size does matter!
  • I wish my score could count towards NCC!
  • Contest is over, I need Motrin!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • LOTW will probably need life support after this weekend...and next...and the weekend after that...LOTW might need Motrin!

That is my 2012 summary of the CQ World-Wide DX CW Contest as I experienced it. It was tough but enjoyable. My fellow Alaskan's were out in force and from the preliminary posts on 3830, not many should be missing Zone 1. I on the other hand, missed Zone 1 on 40 meters. I could not break the KL7RA pile-up. A huge thanks to all those that make this contest (and all of them) possible. I would write more but the 5 day deadline for log submission is here and I gotta get to my soapbox and log submission! Thanks for all the contacts, sorry to those I missed, and I appreciate everyone's patience as I still am learning pile-up management. Add many calling at the same time and the effects of the aurora washing out their signal, it can be extremely tough to just get a partial callsign, let alone a full one. I'm thankful for each and every contact and if I'm running and you don't get me the first time, please come back! Like my paycheck, my pileups are normally short lived.  

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Sweepstakes from Two Rivers Contest Club

In the Chair at KL2R
I had the privilege last weekend to participate in the Multi-single effort at the Two Rivers Contest Club north of Fairbanks. I was very excited about the team effort and being able to reunite with Larry, N1TX, Carl, WL7BDO, and Elaine, KL6C. 

I made it up there late on Saturday due to other obligations. The drive is about 2.5 hours from my QTH but as I drove north out of the city of Fairbanks, I could the see aurora overhead. Of course, that view is bittersweet to any ham. Viewing of the aurora is always breathtaking but it does not play well with HF propagation. It had me wondering what type of propagation we would be encountering for the weekend, if any.

Carl, WL7BDO working the masses
Each and every time I head to KL2R,  I learn something new. It can be about operating technique, software functions, propagation, equipment, strategy and more. It's also fun to play with a different radio and also hearing what propagation sounds like from a different QTH (location). I have lots of low band QRN (noise) so it was nice to actually hear and work weaker stations on 40 & 80 meters! Of course, superior antennas and equipment helps, too!

Since my close Compadre, KL1SF is no longer in the neighborhood, I don't have anyone nearby that enjoys HF radio contesting. Carl, WL7BDO is the closest and he lives in Nenana, which is about an hours drive north of my location. I've been to KL2R previously, with my last trip being to operate Field Day a few years ago. So, I was long overdue for a trip up north. 

Elaine, KL6C drawing in the contacts!
I was able to operate Saturday night and Sunday and it was fun to find the high bands active for the Sweepstakes weekend. It was also fun running high power as contacts came a bit easier than I'm used to since my amplifier has been mothballed. The antenna system at KL2R is far superior to mine and it was fun having two beam antennas on the high bands to chose from. Larry, N1TX has set the station up wonderfully and is a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to contesting and strategy. Larry is certainly one of those operators that I look up to and have the utmost respect for. Carl and Elaine are both outstanding operators, too. I get as much enjoyment out of watching others operate as I do operating myself. Operating single operator as much as I do from home, the team environment is contesting on steroids for me. We all feed off each other, motivate one an other and you can never go wrong spending countless hours with those who share the same passion as yourself. 

The November Sweepstakes weekend will be one I remember for many years to come. I love the KL2R contesting environment as it's competitive but low stress. Larry, N1TX and his awesome wife Connie, KL1BE are wonderful hosts and I can't thank them enough for their hospitality. I had so much fun hanging out and operating with Elaine and Carl once again. They both are so much fun to watch operate. They can be digging out the new multiplier one minute and have you in stitches the next. It's an honor knowing and operating with each and every one of them. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A JT65A Monday

JT65A 10 Meter Contacts 11/12/2012
I spent some time on 10 meters yesterday with the ever popular mode JT65A. My power output began at 19 watts but I backed it down to 14 watts as I exchanged reports with the stations I worked. It seems this mode on HF is becoming very popular. There is a bit of a learning curve with not only rig settings but the software itself. But once you watch a few exchanges, do a bit of research, it wouldn't take long for anyone who has the ability to do digital communications to be up and running on this mode. I've found it extremely useful for the low bands were my HF antennas are less than adequate. It has helped me work states that I never thought I would get, not to mention some good DX as well.

JT65HF Screen Shot
I won't get into the meat of this program as there is plenty of "How To" articles on the web. Having an Icom 756PRO, the main key is making sure my Compression is off and there is no movement on the ALC meter when transmitting. Depending on the band conditions, I will run no more than 20 watts and normally 15 watts or less. Other key factors are making sure your computer clock is in sync and I use Dimension 4 to keep me "on time." I have found that when using Google Chrome, it very much slows down my computer clock and if I'm on the internet browsing the web, I need to sync my clock before using the JT65HF software. I don't want to overuse the time servers so I adjust my sync times accordingly. I'm familiar enough with my aging computer, I know now how often I need to sync when operating. I only need to sync more often if I'm multitasking but I try to avoid that. 

I think one of my main complaints and it's happened several times, are stations calling me when I'm not done with a QSO. It's pretty easy, once you get the hang of it, to know who is calling who and who called CQ just by the sequence of exchanges. It's also pretty easy to know when the end of the QSO is. JT65HF seems to easily get confused if you have more than one station calling, rightfully so. I also had a station move in directly next to me who was very wide and that left me ending up asking for several repeats until the station moved on. Even with my receiving bandwidth to the lowest setting and using attenuation with my Icom,it was a rough QSO but thankfully the station that called me stuck with it and in the end, the QSO was successful. 

Either way, this is such a fun mode and if you have not given it a try. It's getting popular enough that it can be tough finding a clear place to call CQ. I enjoy using it with the Hamspots website. It plays like the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) in that you can see who is hearing you and how well you're being heard. I use this information to help with awards I'm chasing and also to make any power adjustments on my end. It's surprising how well this mode works for weak signal. If we have aurora, I can see the effects on the waterfall and the software can have some problems decoding the data. This is to be expect but I find it a bit more forgiving with aurora than PSK31 but not as good as let's say, Olivia. There have been several times that my reception reports have been uploaded to Hamspots and the stations calling CQ can see that my station is hearing them. I've returned to the shack to see where stations have called me but I was only receiving and away from the rig. 

I had lots of fun yesterday and the Google Earth photo at the top shows you where I worked with 14 watts on 10 meters. These were the actual QSO locations and it only confirms my normal paths to the lower 48. I'm fortunate enough to be surrounded by beautiful mountains but thankfully, my path to Europe and the Lower 48 is pretty darn good. My location is not as good as if I were living on the Kenai Peninsula but I have no complaints! As mentioned before, I'm addicted to 10 meters so if that band is open and I'm occupying my hamshack, you can more than likely find me on 10 meters! We hams need to enjoy the solar peak while we can as it won't be long before 10 meters becomes ever so silent once again, especially up here.  

Monday, November 12, 2012

Dabbled in the Diddle and then Hit the Club!

WAE RTTY Contest - 2012
This past weekend was the WAE DX RTTY Contest. Another popular contest for this past weekend was the Japan International DX Contest. These obviously were not the only contest activities planned for this past weekend but both normally yield lots of activity world wide. The JIDX Contest was a SSB or voice contest and when I flipped the contesting coin on Friday to determine which contest I was going to operate in, of course, the RTTY contest won.

WAE RTTY Contest Breakdown
It was another busy weekend around our house so I did not have lots of time to dedicate to working the contest. No matter how busy the schedule, if I'm at home, I will always try to squeeze in a few hours anyhow. This weekend was no exception. I wanted to focus again on 10 meters with a side of 15 meters for the bulk of my activity. I know that I'm still missing Hawaii, South Dakota and Maine for my RTTY Worked All States (WAS) on 10 meters. I was hoping to once again attempt to snag those last needed states which upload to LOTW. I'm hoping to wrap that WAS band/mode up this winter. I have worked and confirmed all 50 States on 15 meter RTTY so I'm good there.

The band conditions were pretty fair. Lots of QSB on 10 meters in my neck of the woods. With some of the longer exchanges, that led to me asking for repeats, especially on Sunday. I think Saturday was much better, propagationally speaking. I did encounter a few problems with my older version of N1MM when it came to accepting QTC's from a few stations. The DX station was sending QTC's to me, which in the Ham Radio world references the passing of traffic, such as telegrams. I had specific problems with RA7A and RQ5D as N1MM kept telling me those exchanges were bad. I ended up having to save those QSO's with a temporary callsign and then go back and edit with the correct. Back in the day, (and still used today, even with modern technology) passing of messages was very popular.  QTC's are made up of receiving or sending already completed contacts from ones contest logbook. A successful QTC exchange would be me sending or receiving a previous contact consisting of the time of that contact, the callsign of the station worked and the serial number of that contact. 

For years I avoided the QTC exchange and little did I realize until a few years ago, how easy modern contest software makes exchanging QTC information. I only use N1MM for digital contests but the program is pretty darn smart. You can exchange QTC's with those outside of your continent. It's smart enough to know if I attempt to exchange QTC's with another station, let's say in North America, it would not even allow me to pull up the QTC screen. But, if I wanted to send or receive QTC's from anyone else, a simple use of CTL-Z brings up the QTC receive screen and another click of those same keys brings up the QTC send screen. If one was receiving QTC's, all you need to do is click on the received lines and the information is automatically populated into the log. If there is an error, the program will more than likely let you know this as well and even tell you which lines to repeat. That's a simple explanation but trust me, it's pretty easy and sure adds to the points score. For that which I used to avoid, I now embrace. :0)

Club Log 
 Inspired by Larry, N1TX who has used Club Log for several years, I had decided to give it a try. I must say, I'm once again impressed with hams and their software. Club Log allows an account holder to upload their log and will make available a very nice search feature so others can see if they are in your logbook. There is also some great statistical data available to you, once you upload your logbook. I found that HRD (Ham Radio Deluxe) had incorrectly populated the wrong entity into a handful of my contacts and Club Log identified those and sent me an email telling me! Anyhow, Club Log is my new best friend. If you have not tried it, I could recommend it. 

As we have several inches of snow on the ground and have dipped well below zero on temperatures recently, I have a new source of QRN that has reared it's ugly head. My noise blanker does work in limiting electrical interference  I'm hearing but at least with my Icom, using a NB during a crowded CW contest leads to more "splatter" and reduces the efficiency of the CW filters, making it harder to copy weaker stations. So, I guess it's time to drag my trusty portable AM radio outdoors and take a walk. With the BIG contest looming beginning on the 23rd (actually 24th in UTC time) of November, this is one thing I would like to find and resolve. Our electric company (GVEA) has been awesome to work with regarding power line noise. 

It's heard to believe the holiday season is upon us! I'm not sure where this year went and time sure does feel like it goes faster the older I get. I have CQ World Wide CW and the ARRL 10 Meter Contest in my sights! December involves the first day of winter and our shortest day, yielding approximately 5 hours or less of daylight. Our temperatures will be dropping well below zero and staying there, except during the occasional Chinook that blows through. Ham Radio is my savior when it comes to mentally surviving Alaskan winters. I enjoy contest season almost as much as the summer season here in Alaska. Almost... 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Sweepstakes Baby...Literally!

10 Meter CB band?  NOT!
This past weekend was the ARRL November Sweepstakes (CW) Contest. I had very limited time but with the high bands being so active recently, I knew I wanted to focus any activity there. Anyone who has followed my blog would know that if 10 meters is open, you will more than likely find me there! This past weekend was no exception. For the few short hours I had to operate, 10 was my main focus followed by 15 meters. I find the Sweepstakes very challenging as it's more than the canned 599 01 type of contest exchange. The exchange requires a serial number, precedence (power level & class), your callsign, check (year first licensed) and your ARRL Section. Shew! Adds a bit of stress as I'm CW challenged anyway and at the speed that some were send this weekend, it takes a sharp ear and fast fingers to get it right the first time. My favorite band was just "okay" as there was lots of QSB so with the longer exchange, it led to me asking for a few more repeats. 

Most of my time was Search & Pounce (S&P) and did so while doing other household duties. I think of the 7 hours or so my contest program reported me working, I probably actually worked less than 5 of those hours. It was due to large amounts of open air time in between contacts so with the 30 minute required off times, my log would be nothing more than a checklog. More on the main reason soon. I also must congratulate team KL2R for there sweep this past weekend! It was down to the wire but they pulled it off! Also a great job by several of my Alaskan contesting neighbors! 

Contest         : ARRL Sweepstakes
Callsign        : KL8DX
Mode            : CW
Category        : Single Operator (SO)
Overlay         : ---
Band(s)         : All bands (AB)
Class           : Low Power (LP)
Zone/State/...  : AK
Locator         : BP53LU
Operating time  : 7h22

  160     0      0       0       0 
   80      0      0       0       0 
   40      0      0       0       0 
   20     14     0      10      28 
   15     83     1      33     166 
   10    111     1      24     222 
TOTAL   208   2      67     416 
    TOTAL SCORE : 27,872 

One of the annoying parts of operating 10 meters is the CB chatter one will encounter and often times, it's around 28.050 or normally in the area I run during contests. This past weekend was no different! I actually heard some CB'ers talking about their radio knowing full well they were in the ham band. This was on Sunday, first beginning on 28.306 and then they ended up on 28.295 beginning around 2120z. I recorded a small snippet of their conversation. You may have to turn your volume up a bit.

10 Meter CB Recording as .wav file.
10 Meter CB Recording as .wma file.

One of the main reasons I did not have lots of time this past weekend as my oldest made us grandparents for the second time! So, we have a Sweepstakes Baby in the family! I love living in Alaska but it's times like these that I wished I lived much closer. Logistics to and from Alaska is expensive and lengthy.
Our Grand Daughter Born Sweepstakes Saturday

So with the arrival of our second grandchild I'm hopeful that since she was on a contest weekend, I might have a chance of making her a future ham! It was not long ago that my kids were this small and I'm still trying to figure out where the time went. I'm also finding it hard to believe that next month will be the 25th anniversary of my studying and passing my Novice Exam! I took the theory and code tests mid December and passed with flying colors. I plan on doing a blog entry on that later. QCWA membership will probably happen sometime after the first of the year. I've been looking for my original licenses which I believe survived move up here. Need to get find them, scan them and make sure I don't miss place them...again. 

One of my most favorite contests of the year is coming up in late November, the CQ World Wide CW Contest! I'm looking forward to operating as much as possible and I'm hopeful that any solar outbursts don't arrive on that weekend. I would love to break 2,000 QSO's for that weekend, which would be a personal best.  My main logbook is fast approaching that 50,000 QSO mark and I'm getting excited about that milestone. It will be fun to see who that lucky ham will be. I'm not sure it will happen over that contest weekend but if it doesn't, it won't be long there afterwards. I think I'm gonna send that lucky ham not only my QSL card, but something Alaskan maybe?  I have a few ideas but I will have to wait until it happens to decide. November marks our 9th anniversary on our arrival to the great state of Alaska. As we head into our 10th year, we have to wonder what our future may hold. Something tells me our visits to see our grandchildren will hopefully not be as infrequent.