Guest Opportunities

The excitement builds after meeting and talking to John, W6JZH on Friday at his QTH in Pittsburg (about 10 minutes from my house). After looking over John’s list of “guest operators” I am hoping to add my call sign to that list starting in May with CQWW WPX CW. The 2010 WPX CW was one of my best efforts to date and a contest I prepared diligently for. Of a possible 36 hours I logged nearly 25 hours of “BIC” time. Looking back at my 2010 WPX Goals, it’s easy to see where I failed to meet my goals, but in the end I will still pleased with my final score.

Other possible guest op opportunities for me also include the 7QP in May, as well as RAC Canada Day in July. But more importantly it will be the NAQP that start the second week in July with RTTY, followed in August by CW and SSB. Those are quick and enjoyable contests that I can participate in. September brings CQWW DX RTTY Contest and then October is CQP.

Learning the ins and outs of the station as well as software is an area I will need to put some time into. The software that is current in use at W6JZH is TR4W and N1MM, neither of which I have used. Both are freeware and easily downloaded and installed. I currently favor Win-Test since it was the first and only software I have used since starting contesting at N6RO back in 2008. I have downloaded and installed N1MM and I know many operators really like this software.

I just got done reading some of the documentation for TR4W and using the limited version of SH5. I might actually give this software a test spin for the JIDX CW next week. Looks like a very simple and effective (but powerful) program that provides some great statistics (with the use of SH5 log anaylsis).

The problem usually associated with introducing a new logging program in a contest is the learning curve. It took quite a few contests for me to learn Win-Test, even now I am not using it to its full potential, but I like what the software offers and it’s ease of use. TR4W, like every other program carries it’s own learning curve.

WPX: Goals

Now that I have spent close to 4 weeks studying the numbers, watching the propagation and setting up Win-Test for the logging duties, it is nearly time to begin. I know this is the fourth update for my goals for this contest, but this could be the first time I put in a full 36 hour effort. Winning the club competition is a major goal, one in which I will have a hand in, but it’s my personal effort that is what is more important.

As I have mentioned previously, I am setting goals for final score, number of QSOs, QSO points and prefixes. Originally I was looking to do 250,000 points, but after reconsidering my position and effort I am putting forth 1,000,000 points sounded like a good, round number. With a bit of luck and some sun spots I should be able to achieve, if not exceed all my goals.

Along with the one million points as a final score I am hoping for 1,000 QSOs, 2,000 QSO points and 500 prefixes. Based on how I am going to work in this contest, this equates to a 25 rate. Achievable? YES! Looking at my spread sheet. With N6BV’s propagation forecast and K6MM’s numbers presentation to WPX, I am excited about how this contest it coming together.

As for a band breakdown, 20/40/80M will be the main bands I will operate on, but I do plan on checking 10/15M from time to time, which yields about 112 QSOs out of a total of 927. Those numbers could be made up on 20M, if 10M and 15M don’t materialize.

20M will continue to be my workhorse band, even though domestic contacts will only get me a single point, I am hoping for a combined 225 contacts with countries in North America and other different continents. Domestically, 300 QSOs is easy to achieve.

The big points will be on the lower bands, which leaves 40M and 80M. I will have two options for 40M this weekend as I look to raise my Alpha-Delta DX-EE, which can be used on 10/15/20/40M. I don’t believe I will have it connected to the amp at all and will mainly be used as a second option for 40M. Between the two bands I expect 300 QSOs, 140 on 80M and 160 on 40M.

Looking back on my electronic log I have not had very good luck working DX on either band. Knock that off to the BigIR, not having enough ground radials, which I plan on adding another 10, 60′ radials before the start of the contest. I must also admit that I rarely make it through the early hours during ANY contest, so my numbers being slim on these bands during a contest only seem logical. That will all change this weekend. The more contacts on 40/80M, the fewer I need to make on the high bands to achieve my goal.

While one million is my goal I won’t stop there. I will continue to work the bands until my 36 hours comes up. I am planning an 18 hour run from the start of the contest at 0000z until 1800z (1100am PDT). This should not be too much of a challenge. I will then take 6 hours off, most of the action would be on 20M beaming JA.

I will sit back down at 1700z and it will be back to beaming JA on the primary antenna and working the US. With any luck it will be another 18 hours stretch and my contest could conceivably be over by 1800z on Sunday. From 0500z until 1500z I will be on 40M and 80M, three of which will be 80M, unless 40M closes quickly.

WPX will be a real challenge, but one I am looking forward to knowing I have the entire block of time to put in a real effort. This could be the first contest I exceed 1,000 contacts and score of at least 1 million. Looking forward to the weekend.

Rig Down & Out

How’s that saying go? “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it?” I should have used that advice recently as it applies to my ham radio. I figured I would finally make good use of a PC I built for computer gaming that had been unused for the better part of a year. A simple swap of PCs, no problems right? Wrong.

The old PC that was dedicated to my ham radios was having problems, it also did not have enough memory for all the programs I was running at any given time. I knew it would take some time in order to prep the new PC to be used. I connected the Yaesu FT-1000MP and the Rigblaster Pro up to the new PC and turned it on.

I went about installing Ham Radio Deluxe, Win-Test and AC Log 3, my logging software. I was also hoping to get the interface cable for my SteppIR antenna working as well. After almost two weeks nothing is working. If anything I have taken two steps backwards, as I got so desperate I pull out my backup rig, an ICOM IC-718.

I have troubleshot everything I can. The port on the mainboard of the new PC works. The two serial cables I am using work. The new PCI serial controller I bought work. The serial to USB bridge that came with the Rigblaster Pro works. The only part of the equation that stands out is the CAT port on the rig, which is used for rig control.

I did have one final transmission a few weeks ago during the operation of the 13 colonies special event. I answered a CQ call on 20m and when I keyed up (SSB) to transmit the Yaesu reset to 14.000. I dialed back to the frequency I was on and called again. For a second time the rig exhibited the same characteristic, it reset to 14.000. I did notice the ALC was off the scale, for reasons I cannot explain. I had been using SSB on 20m and the level was dialed in correctly.

I have a feeling this resetting of the rig caused a possible power surge that could have damaged the CAT port. Possible? I guess anything is. No one I have talked to has really provided me with much information. Of course when interface three pieces of hardware and numerous software programs there is bound to be issues or conflicts. Yet everything was working very well on the old.

So you are asking, “Well dumb ass, hook up the old PC?” I did and I was met with no better results. Logic tells me I should be able to plug the cables in as they were and without anything else changed or modified everything should work. Well, it doesn’t. In fact, nothing works on the old PC when connected to the radio.

*sigh* So with NAQP RTTY on the horizon this weekend, it looks like I will have to miss out on a favorite contest of mine. I am still not sure where the problems lie or what caused them. I contacted a ham in Illinois who works on Yaesu radios and maybe he can shed some light on my problem. Until I get this resolved I am not able to operate to my full potential.

Another Weekend. Another Contest.

With a rather inept attempt last weekend during the ARRL International DX (CW) Contest, this weekend brings enlightened hope and excitement on the start of the North American QSO Party – RTTY. I have put the failures of last weekend behind me and get ready for what I hope will be my best showing (QSOs logged) since I have started participating in contests.

I have given up the IC-718 for the FT-1000MP, which should be noticeable advantage on my end, especially when it comes to receiving signals. For the first time I will have the opportunity to use filters. Recall I spoke of that a few weeks back in What I Learned: Part 1 . Of course it would be wonderful to have a better antenna setup or more room to run longer radials. But in the hobby of ham radio you make use of what you do have instead of what you wished you had.

After three days of connecting cables and configuring the FT-1000MP and the RIGblaster Pro I believe I am ready for a good showing. By “good” I don’t mean I will be winning any contests, but rather logging more contacts than in previous contests. RTTY seems to be my best contest mode when it comes to operating. One problem I still have, which I only realized this morning (wondering why I didn’t correct it last night) is a power output issue.

The funny thing is I made a QSO with WA1NVV a few days ago and was driving the rig with approximately 75 watts and no movement on the ALC meter. This morning I was not able to put out more than 25 watts without an increase on the ALC meter. I only had a few minutes to try and resolve the issue, which I was not able to do. I will do my best to give it another shot before I start active participation when I get home from work.

In the meantime, I might try to make a few contacts remotely from work using Real VNC to connect to the computer running Win-Test. I do believe I have all the “gremlins” worked out of Win-Test and all the pieces that make up my display are ready to be put to the test, literally! Hopefully my son and I will be able to “play radio” for 3-4 hours today. Like some of the other contests, this is a short 12-hour run to the finish. The contest begins at 18z (10PST) and ends at 06z (22PST).

NAQP – SSB

I should have taken Saturday off to play radio. I missed most of the NAQP, SSB Contest because of time spent at work, not necessarily working (all of 90 minutes at the console). I was able to VNC to my ham shack and get some of the prep work done prior to the start of the contest. This was the first contest I used Win-Test to tabulate my QSOs and score. I was introduced to the software during 2008 RAC Winter Contest at N6RO. I am rather impressed with the program and what it offers, so much so I purchased a full copy of it yesterday. Thankfully my 2 week trial period was not expired and I was able to finish out the contest using Win-Test.

As for the NAQP this was the first time I spent more than a few minutes spinning the dial looking for SSB contacts. Up to this point SSB was one of my least used modes of operation mainly because of the small station I operate. With that said, I had a great time trying to dig out some of those hard to hear stations. Although the propagation was up and down, I did come back to a few contacts I could not hear as I went through the phone portion of the band on 20M. With only a few hours of sunlight by the time I arrived at home, the band was not all that productive for me. I wish I could have spent a few more hours prior to loosing it.

On the other hand, 40M was great and yielded the majority of my QSOs. Using the spotting software I was able to see where my next contact was coming from, which aided me, as I started low and spun the dial from 7.125MHz to 7.300MHz. Many of the contacts I made on 20M I was able to make on 40M, which was nice, as well as adding some states, like Alaska only after sunset.

I did pass up the opportunity to work at N6RO using N6ML. I really wanted to get a good start on my SSB contacts for the ARRL Triple Play award. Looking at the results I believe I only worked 27 states and 3 provinces. N6RO had plenty of operators, so I took a pass on operating there. I guess I am somewhat torn during a contest weekend. I want to work on my personal achievements and goals, but at the same time I want to participate with a great group of contesters. Guess I will need to get weekends off again.

All in all I had a great time! I was able to use my new Alpha Delta DX-EE multi-band wire antenna. Wow! What a difference it made for some contacts. The antenna was much quieter than the 6-BTV and I would find myself switching back and forth during transmission to get the best signal going out and quieter conditions so I could hear the receiving station. It worked rather well and I was able to dig a few states out that I would not have otherwise scored.