Operating Notes: 5/7 – 5/9/2011

I worked parts of three contests this weekend:

  • the 7th Area QSO Party
  • the New England QSO Party, and
  • the Indiana QSO Party

Jim, K8ELR, and I had planned to work the New England QSO Party, but oddly enough, it didn’t start until 4pm EDT. Instead, we worked the 7th Area QSO Party. We just pointed the beam west and racked them up. We only worked it for about four hours, so I doubt we’ll be winning any awards, but it was fun to hand out some Qs.

Later on, here at home, I fired up the rig, intending to work just the New England QSO Party. There were so many Indiana stations still pounding in, though, that I decided to work both of them.

The funny thing is that I ended up using N1MM for the Indiana QSO Party and the N3FJP software for New England QSO Party. I couldn’t figure out how N1MM wanted me to input the exchange for the NEQP, so I just downloaded the N3FJP software and used that.

I didn’t make a lot of contacts in either contest, but I had fun working them.

My First GAL
Last Friday, I got a card from W4GAL. That’s my first QSL from a GAL. In the New England QSO Party, I worked N2AT, while in the Indiana QSO Party, I worked W9GO. More cards for my collection, I hope.

Finally, I wanted to mention working KD8HES Saturday afternoon. Zeke’s a 16-year-old ham who lives just down the road in Jackson. It was great working another kid using CW. He told me he only operates QRP CW on 40m. I joked that he was breaking a rule, and that if you look closely, you’ll see that you need to be at least 50 years old to work CW–at least it seems that way.

 

All l Can Say is WOW!!

To break in the new beam yesterday, down at the museum, we participated in a couple of contests: the CQ Manchester Mineira DX Contest (MM) and the Michigan QSO Party (MIQP).  All I can say is, “WOW!!”

I got there just before 11 am. Jim, K8ELR, was already there making out QSL cards. Since the MIQP didn’t start until noon, I thought I’d tune around and see what bands were open. I first tried 15m CW. That’s how I discovered the MM DX contest. The band was very open to Europe, especially with the new beam. In short order, I worked a dozen or more Europeans and Caribbean stations.

What a difference the beam makes! With the 20m inverted vee, nearly every QSO was a challenge, but with the beam, I worked every station I called, usually on the first try. This was so amazing that I was actually getting a little giddy.

About 11:45 am, I decided that I better get set up for the MIQP. I had brought my WinKeyer (since the Omni VII doesn’t have a memory keyer!), and wanted to hook it up to the N1MM program. I had done this quite easily at home, but I could not, unfortunately, get it to work on the computer down at the museum. The computer seemed to be talking to the keyer, but the function keys didn’t work. (If anyone has any ideas on what I’m doing wrong, I’d be happy to hear them.)

A little after noon, I decided to give up on this, and just program the keyer itself and operate stand-alone. About 12:10, we were working the MIQP on 20m using the callsign W8CWN, the callsign of H. Richard Crane, a distinguished professor of physics at the University of Michigan and one of the founders of the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum.

Again, the performance of the beam was just spectacular, at least compared to our 20m inverted vee. We pointed the beam west and easily worked stations on the West Coast. We pointed the beam east and got calls from Europeans and the East Coast.

Using the beam, our noise level seemed to be lower, too, although not as low as I would like it. We’re going to have to work on that some more.

We worked a lot of 40m, too, using our 40m inverted vee. That antenna has always worked pretty well for us, and the band was in good shape yesterday afternoon. There was a lot of short skip on 40m, allowing us work quite a few Michigan counties.

Overall, we made 195 contacts in nearly five hours. That’s certainly not championship form, but it’s a lot better than we’ve done in the past, and we really had a blast, both operating the contest and explaining what we were doing to the museum visitors. It’s just too bad that the museum closed at 5pm and we had to stop.

VA QSO Party – Too much fun and lessons learned

John, KJ4ZFE, first posted this to the HamRadioHelpGroup mailing list. I thought this was such a good post that I asked him for permission to re-post it here. I think that it really captures the spirit of contesting……..73, Dan KB6NU

Just thought I would share my experience from this weekend.

This was my first state QSO party and I had an absolute blast!

Over the 30 hour period, I operated for 18 hours, made 498 contacts, contacted 83 counties, 26 states, and Canada. It was a rush to be in a county with few Hams and I learned a great deal about how to handle pile-ups! Wow! My voice is shot but again, I would do it again right now if it happened again.

So, here’s some of the things I learned and as always, I look forward to hearing everyone’s comments.

My station: Yaesu FT-450 AT, Carolina Windom, Laptop, and I used N3FJP VA QSO Party Software.

  1. Computer Problems. Not sure what happened, but 10 minutes before the contest, I fired up the rig, and got the rig control working. I immediately had a blue screen of death. So, I disconnected the rig, rebooted the computer and decided to troubleshoot after the contest. No answer as to why yet. I’ll do some testing with the software later and report any bugs I have with N3FJP to see if it was just operator error or if there’s a problem. Small thing, so I have to click to change bands on the software. I can handle that.
  2. VOX. I took the time to figure out my VOX settings so I could log and type in the contacts simultaneously. Reports from my contacts determined I had VOX set correctly and they could not tell (no choppy reporting). So, that was good, BUT, when I got a loud signal into the shack, it would trigger the VOX so I found myself turning off the VOX during the contact. I could have worn headphones but I don’t like the ones I have, too uncomfortable for long periods so that’ll be something I need to look into.
  3. Pileups. Pileups are a lot of fun! I think I had one pileup with 10+ contacts. Picking a letter heard worked most of the time. Others resulted in narrowing the pileup down but still had to try to get it down to the one call. I looked for mobiles, portables, and tried really hard to get the faint signals first. That paid dividends as to mobiles and portables were worth more points. Good stuff there.
  4. Foot Pedal. I think instead of VOX for the next time, I’ll either make or buy a foot pedal. I think I will like that instead of the accidental key-up due to a sneeze or popping the can open to a beverage.
  5. Voice Recording. I know how to setup the voice recording but decided against it. Prior to this, the longest I had operated was about four hours and wasn’t a strain on the voice. This one really strained the old vocal cords and although my office crew is enjoying my silence today, I think for the next marathon, I’ll use the voice recorder and set up my CQs.
  6. Patience. I made contacts on 80 & 40 meter. I think I should have had more patience on the other bands. Finding an empty spot to call CQ, staying there longer, and looking for others. I made a couple of passes up and down 20 Meter and when I didn’t hear anyone else for the VA QSO party (lot’s of activity though), I decided to move to 40 and 80 and pretty much camped there. I made a couple of CQ calls on 20 and 6 meter but no returns. Again, I should have probably stayed there longer but with my lack of experience, I was worried. I would miss too much somewhere else. I guess it’s the same as I am on watching TV. I don’t care what’s on the channel I’m watching, I’m more worried about what I’m missing on another channel. :-)

 

Operating Notes: 3/7/11

DX contesting
Saturday night, my XYL was working, and I had nothing else to do, so I turned on the radio. I made a couple of CW contacts on 40m, then remembered there was a big DX phone contest going on.

I tuned around a bit and heard quite a bit of DX as the band was in pretty good shape. I didn’t want to really spend a lot of time doing this, but I did want to play around a little. What I decided to do was to make  one pass through the band 7.200 MHz to 7.125 MHz.

This took me 40 minutes to complete, and in that time, I worked 12 stations: TI5N, IO5O, TA7KW, EI7M, HK1T, EA3BOX, TM6M, PJ2T, S51YI, YT8A, CO8CY, AND ZF2AH. It was amusing, and I think I did alright for just having 100W and dipole. Also, if you notice, I bagged another station whose callsign spells a word (EA3BOX).

Cayman Islands
I’ve worked several Cayman Islands stations in the past, but you don’t really hear all that many on the air.  There are more PJ stations on the air than there are ZF stations, for example.

That’s why I was kind of surprised to work another ZF2—ZF2LC—this evening. The signals were quite strong on 30m tonight, though, and maybe this guy was winding down from the contest over the weekend.

Sable Island
There was a station on from Sable Island this evening, too. There was a huge pileup on 30m the other night when a Sable Island station came on the air. So big that I couldn’t break in.

Tonight, though, it was a different story. I worked him on my second call.

I don’t know what all the fuss is about, though. Sable Island is really not that far away, nor is it very hard to work.

DXCC
As I reported the other day, I now  have 89 countries confirmed via Logbook of the World (LOTW). Tonight, I checked my paper cards against the LOTW confirmations.

I came  up with 16 more, including Samoa, the Slovak Republic, and Bolivia. That brings me to 105 confirmed, enough for DXCC! I know that’s not a big deal to a lot of you, but it’s something. :)

Build a TX for the 1929 QSO Party

This from VE7SL via the qrp-l mailing list:

If any of you were thinking about putting something together for the Antique Wireless Association’s 1929-style QSO party, there is still time to throw together a little Hartley or TNT!

The 1929 QSO party runs Dec 05/06 and Dec 10/11 (2300z-2300z). This is the contest where entrants are required to use a tube and tx circuit design that was only available in 1929 or earlier (210, 245, 27….there’s a bunch of them, mostly triodes). No xtals are allowed …..self-excited oscillators only! Your transmitter doesn’t have to look pretty either! Most of the activity is on 80m (3550-3580) but there are always a handfull of brave soles venturing way up to 40m (7040-7060) as well.

There has been a significant rule change this year that allows the ’29 member stations to work non-’29ers for points (previously these QSO’s could not be scored) so even if you don’t put a transmitter together, please join in the fun and listen to the chirps and buzzes of what the bands once sounded like….and then call them!

For inspiration, I have posted a gallery of eligible transmitters. The AWA has a ‘quick-build’ plan on their website, and a page on replica vintage transmitters.

Hope to hear you in the contest.

73 / Steve

Jumping the Gun?

This Friday evening, I’m hearing a bunch of stations calling CQ SS between 7.040 and 7.050 MHz. The way I read the rules, though, the contest isn’t supposed to start until 2100 UTC Saturday. Am I crazy or are these contesters jumping the gun?

Batteries Just Cost Me Some Points!

Down at the museum today, I got sucked into working the PA QSO Party. I made 35 contacts before packing it in for the day.

This evening, I thought I’d get on and make a few more contacts. So, I set about programming my WinKeyer.

Normally, this is a no-brainer, but tonight, the keyer started acting up on me. I would get halfway through programming one of the memories, and the thing would just quit on me. It was all very puzzling. I plugged and unplugged the key without success. I had it play back its status to me, but that gave me no clue.

Then, it dawned on me that I had never changed the batteries in the thing. In fact, I couldn’t even remember what kind of batteries it used. So, I opened up the case and found that it used three, AAA batteries.

I changed them and got the thing working again, but by that time, the band had changed and there were no PA stations to be found! So, I guess the moral of the story is change your keyer batteries before the next big contest.

While I’m miffed that I missed a few points, I can’t really complain about the battery life. I built this keyer in December 2008, and this is the first time I’ve changed the batteries, so they’ve lasted nearly two years.

If a Nine-Year-Old Girl Can Do It….

….shouldn’t all of you?

Thanks to Jim, W8JPM, for sending me a link to this YouTube video of RZ9UMA working the recent WPX CW contest:

More Morse
And, while we’re on the subject of Morse Code, here’s another video that I found while surfing around YouTube. It’s a video of how to use a simple microcontroller to decode Morse Code. I will grant that since the input to the microcontroller in this example is a pushbutton switch, the practicality of this example is somewhat limited, but it should get you started on making your own Morse decoder, if you’d like to give it a try.

This Weekend on the Air at KB6NU/WA2HOM: Contest Mania!

This weekend was a busy one here in Ann Arbor. I got down to the museum, turned on the rig, tuned to 20m, and almost immediately started hearing stations in the Seventh Area QSO Party. If you’re a regular reader, you know that I regularly get sucked into contests like this.

Of course, I had to see how many of these stations I could work, even though we’re not really set up for contesting down at the museum. Over a couple of hours, I worked 24 stations in WA, OR, AZ, and MT.

Tuning to 40m, I immediately started hearing stations working the Indiana QSO Party. I worked about 17 of those stations before leaving the museum about 1 p.m.

Saturday evening, I got on the air at my home station about 2330 UTC. Right off the bat, I heard a bunch of Italian stations operating the ARI International DX Contest. I also heard some stations working the New England QSO Party. I was interested to see how well I was getting into Italy, but after making five contacts, I switched over to working the NE QP.

In 2006, I had the highest score from Michigan in the NE QP. I have the certificate to prove it, but in the intervening years, I either haven’t worked it or haven’t done so well, so that certificate is getting a bit dated.

Since I had the evening to myself, I thought I’d give it a try. Starting at 0015 UTC, and operating until about 0430 UTC, I made 50 contacts. I made about ten of those contacts by camping on a frequency and calling CQ NEQP.

The NEQP is one of those contests that has operating hours on both Saturday and Sunday, so at 9am Sunday morning, I was back at it. During the course of the day, I made 41 more contacts, bringing my total to 91. My claimed score is 7,216. Considering that I placed first in Michigan with a score of just over 3,000, I think that I have a decent chance of scoring first this year.

Overall, I had a lot of fun working the contests this weekend. We need to get a memory keyer for the museum, though. That would make operating these contests a lot easier.

Finally, I have some new “stations whose callsigns spell words” to report. I worked K7EAR in the Seventh Area QSO Party and W9JUG. I actually thought W9JUG was working the Indiana QSO Party at first, but he lives in IL. So we had a nice little ragchew before the band changed on us.

This Weekend on the Air at KB6NU/WA2HOM

This weekend, I got sucked into two contests. The first—the MI QSO Party—I operated on Saturday down at the Hands-On Museum.

I got to the museum around 10 am, and the contest didn’t start until noon, so I fiddled around a bit, trying to figure out how the bands were. I made three contacts on 40m and a couple of contacts on 20m, so it looked like band conditions were going to cooperate.

When noon hit, I was off and running. Switching back and forth between 40m and 20m, I made a total of 90 contacts in the next two hours, including three DX contacts. Not stellar, but not bad, either.

Having my WinKeyer certainly helped. As I’ve mentioned, the Omni VII doesn’t have a built-in memory keyer, meaning that in previous contests, I had to bang out the CQs myself. The WinKeyer improved the process immensely.

When Pigs Fly…
Sunday evening, I participated in the Flying Pigs QRP Club’s monthly “Run for the Bacon.” This is a two-hour “sprint” that takes place on the third Sunday of every month. Since my KX-1 was already set up (my IC-746PRO is still in the shop), it was easy enough to get into this contest.

Band conditions on 40m were great! I was able to camp on a frequency and even run stations for a while. I worked as far west as Nebraska and South Dakota and all up and down the East Coast. In just more than one hour, I made 18 contacts, scoring 616 points.

Scoring is on the honor system and is done online. You enter your data into a Web page on the Flying Pigs website. Contacting members of the FP-QRP Club counts for three points, while contacting non-members counts for one point. After you’ve entered your data, the website automatically calculates your score and ranks you. As of 2 pm this afternoon, I’m still in the top ten, even though I only operated the first hour, and because my KX-1 doesn’t have 80m capability, only 40m.

I really like operating in these smaller contests. They’re way less chaotic and intense than the big contests, and can be just as much fun.