Sunday, July 28, 2013

2013 RSGB IOTA Contest

I didn't really give this any serious effort, did not even get on the air until after 0200, so I'm not even going to send in a log. But it gave me a chance to give the KPA500 a good shakedown and she performed as well as I could have expected. The screwdriver antenna is still the limiting factor for me -- no amplifier is going to help me work DX that I can't hear. And it was slim pickings for a while. But when 20m opened up to the Pacific after 0330, I cracked a small pile and worked South Cook Is. (E51GC) on the first call.

In all, I only made 20 contacts (16 DXCC, 10 WAZ), picked up a new one (E51), worked Corsica (TK) and Ireland (EI) for the first time since moving to Texas, and the usual assortment of VK, ZL, KH6, and South America/Caribbean stations.

My hearty congratulations...

To for failing to inform me that my domain name was due to expire, and...

To the douchebag in Japan who snatched up within minutes of its expiration, figuring he could sell it back to me. You know what? You can keep it. And suck a bag of dicks while you're at it, too.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

KPA500 Passes Smoke Test

The KPA500 arrived Thursday. I started assembling it after work and got as far as sorting the parts and mounting the tilt bail and feet, power supply module, and left side panel. Finished the job on Friday night... er, Saturday morning, around 2am. Hit the sack after testing into the dummy load. Looks like full 500w takes about 35w drive from the K3 on 20m.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Flex 1500 and DM780

After a long and grueling day yesterday working the NAQP RTTY test (more on that anon), I decided Sunday was going to be spent getting the Flex 1500 working with DM780. Had to install Virtual Serial Port Manager to create (you guessed it) virtual serial ports, then Virtual Audio Cable to create (wait for it...) virtual audio cables, all so I can connect the Flex to the laptop with a single USB cable and run the PowerSDR software and Ham Radio Deluxe *and* pass TX and RX audio through the USB port to DM780 simultaneously.

What a ball buster. The first time I tried doing this, the VAC trial software refused to install. Today I downloaded the most recent version (whether it is the same version I tried previously, I cannot say) and tried again. No problems at all. I read the book of words on the Flex Knowledge Center, and fortune smiled upon me. Transmit and receive appear to be working, just a few issues to look at like long pauses after hitting the Send button, and even longer hangs whenever I seem to to anything at all in the Options panel.

NAQP RTTY July 2013

I worked the whole 12 hours (less 2 hours off time) even though conditions were pretty noisy for me and distractions were aplenty. Used HRD Logbook instead of N1MM since I still do not have MMRTTY installed and figured out. I know I picked up several 15m WAS state/band/mode grids on LOTW since the contest ended (NJ: mixed, digital, and, RTTY; TN: RTTY; WI: mixed, digital, and RTTY). Maybe more that haven't been confirmed yet.

QRV: Approx. 10 hrs, for 175 QSOs
  • 1800-2145 - 20m
  • 2145-2230 - Break
  • 2230-0200 - 20m
  • 0200-0230 - 40m
  • 0230-0345 - Break
  • 0345-0600 - 40m
Final Claimed Score: 14,175
38 States, 4 Canadian provinces, 1 DX.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

KPA500 on the way

There goes the grocery money for the next two months. But it had to be done.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

2013 IARU HF World Championsip

Phone operation only, low power (100w), three bands (40m/20m/15m).

Band conditions were not great, but my local noise level was downright oppressive, as high as S9+20dB on 40m. Bad transformer out on the pole? I dunno. Thankfully the K3 has the best NB system of any radio I've ever used, so I was able to knock it down to a mere (!) S7 or so and manage to hear stations near the noise level (thank you Elecraft!), otherwise it was going to be a short test for me.

N1MM Logger once again makes me wonder how people operated contests before contest logging programs.

DXCC: 26 Countries. Only new one, I think, was the "new" PJ4 Bonaire (PJ4NX on 20 and 40).

WAS: 32 States (per QRZ). Got some needed state/band combinations, I'm sure.

QRV: Approx. 16 hrs, for 176 QSOs -- not exactly big gun performance. Sometimes I felt like I was working QRP. Into a dummy load. With bad coax...
  • 1230-1430 - 20m
  • 1430-1830 - 15m
  • 1830-2115 - Break
  • 2115-0130 - 20m
  • 0130-0300 - 40m
  • 0300-0600 - 20m
  • 0600-0700 - Break
  • 0700-0745 - 40m
Final Claimed Score: 30,876

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Two Needed Islands on LOTW: Saba and Rhode

Woke up to a couple of needed verifications. PJ5/K3TRM, who I worked on 20 RTTY twice (wasn't sure if the first one was a good contact, but I got the QSL for both so I guess it was...). And that's #107 in the bag.

Also in: K2C in Rhode Island on 20m PSK31, a state that I didn't really "need" (I have a paper QSL for RI), but it fills in another grid place for 20m PSK31 on LOTW, so I'll take it.

Three more to go (MS, NE and NH) for WAS 20m PSK31. To do it all on LOTW, I'll also need ME, MN and OK as I have those three verified on paper.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Two more on CW

Worked Greece (SV1CQN) and Nicaragua (H70ORO) on 20m CW this evening. That makes 21 DXCC countries worked on CW for me. Baby steps.

I'm starting to feel more comfortable dropping my call when I hear a DX station. I think my biggest problem at this point is being able to hear the DX. I mean, I might hear something when I pull up a cluster spot, but I ask myself whether I could really be able to copy my own call if he sent it back to me. Most of the time the answer is no. The noise level here is debilitating, a constant S8 or S9 with the noise blanker off. DSP noise reduction doesn't offer much help with that kind of noise level. Copying CW is difficult enough for me without having the double-handicap of competing with my neighbor's plasma TV and the noisy power lines and transformer that are just 10-20 feet away from my antenna. So I pick my battles carefully, try to go for the stations which are relatively pile-up free and easily copyable, and do the Happy Dance every time I put a new one in the log.

Sunday, July 7, 2013


Hmm. This CW thing might just be worth the effort.

Friday, July 5, 2013

June 2013 Wrap-Up

DX - I worked just 28 countries from June 12 through June 30, giving me four new DXCC (BV, DU,YB, and ZD7) and three new CQ Zones (24, 27, and 28).

So with DXCC behind me Triple Play has become my short-term goal. Digital is done, all 50 states confirmed on LOTW. Thirteen states are needed on phone, I should be able to close that column out with a few contests. CW... OK, this will require real commitment.

DXCC count as of 05-July
CW - To this end, I've been working some DX on 20m CW, which is great since "TU 5NN 5NN 73 DE WW2PT" is about the extent of my CW vocabulary at the relativistic speeds typically found at the extreme low ends of the bands. I'm getting more comfortable venturing into that territory, however. I can copy my own call at ludicrous speed, and that's pretty much all that's needed 90% of the time.

I've also been listening a lot to the QRP guys up around 14060; they usually operate inside my 15-20 wpm comfort zone. Haven't worked any of them, mind you -- I seem to get paddle shy at the prospect of having someone starting an honest to God conversation, sending me into a panic spiral once the QSO strays from the signal report exchange. It's completely psychological; if I'm not working a station, I can comfortably copy a CW QSO at this speed. Only when it's my QSO does the brain meltdown occur. This too shall pass.

Flex 1500 - Loving the new toy, for the most part. Still messing around with the settings, trying to get the noise blankers set to best handle the electrical noise ever present at my QTH. Unless I'm just not finding the optimum settings, I have to say the noise blankers are no match for those in the K3. The filtering, on the other hand, is simply amazing. Clean sounding CW right down to 25 hz. At times some distortion of signals starts to occur, gradually increasing until I have to reduce the size of the audio and DSP buffers. This makes the distortion go away, but also limits the minimum passband width, apparently. Not sure why this is happening, since CPU usage doesn't seem to be excessive (usually hums along in the 15-25% range while running PowerSDR, Ham Radio Deluxe, and Chrome). It's a clean install of Windows 8 (yeah, I know...) with a minimum of junk installed. Hasn't happened in a while, however, so maybe operator retardation is to blame.

I've been unable to install the trial version of VAC, and I've not yet wired up cabling for audio I/O, so no digital ops with the Flex as of yet. Really was hoping to run both control and audio through a single USB cable just to simplify things. But VAC simply refuses to install (I forget the error message). Compatibility issue with Windoze 8?

Also ran into latency issues with the CW keyer. Messing again with the buffers fixed the problem at the time. I've since set all buffers back to max size and there no longer seems to be any issue with sending CW. So again, maybe something I did.

So I continue to play with the Flex. Some CW contacts, but haven't been able to work anyone on phone. Patience is not one of my virtues, so if I don't get through after 5 or 6 calls, I switch over to the K3 and almost always get through at 100 watts. I remind myself that I didn't buy the Flex 1500 to work DX on phone.

Hardware - When putting the shack back together I discovered three pieces of gear were not working: the MFJ-267 wattmeter/dummy load is now just a dummy load; the meter is completely inoperative, as it the meter's light. My KX1 appears to have gone belly-up on me; just a very faint "0" on the display and no audio output at all. And my NCS-3230 Multi-RX audio console had no audio output, even though it powered up just fine and the input peak lights would flash when I turned the volume up on the radios.

Getting this last issue sorted out was No. 1 priority because the Multi-RX is a central fixture of my station -- audio from all radios go through it and feed a single set of speakers -- so having it out of action was not good. I emailed NCS to ask about possible repair suggestions and got a response from Doug, K4SWJ who told me he sold the company and the new company no longer supports the ham equipment, but he did offer some ideas about the cause. Sure enough, it was an internal fuse on the input of the audio output amp chip.

Since the chip manufacturer later determined that there is no need for the fuse, Doug advised simply soldering a jumper wire across the blown fuse. I did just that, and everything is working again. Image below shows the location of the fuse, in case anyone stumbles upon this page while Googling about their deaf Multi-RX.

The dead KX1 is more troubling, I have no test equipment anymore other than a voltmeter and honestly don't even know where to start. I suppose I'll apply power and start measuring voltages to see if I can find something obvious. If not, I guess off to Elecraft it goes. I really was hoping to finally building and adding the 80/30m board that I've been sitting on for years. Oh well.

As for the MFJ-267... I'll deal with it later. The SWR-Wattmeter never really worked that well anyway, the dummy load still works, and I have a Daiwa 410 meter that I've been using in its stead. From what I've been able to discover online, I'm not the only one who has had issues with this unit.

And that's June in a nutshell.