Friday, January 31, 2014

January 2014 Wrap-Up

DXCC -- Five new countries in January: S. Korea (DS5), Namibia (V5), Antarctica (DP1), Moldova (ER4), and Ogasawara (JD1). Of these, only DP1POL has QSL'd so far. I logged sixteen new ones on CW and a couple on SSB in January.
  • Mixed: 140 confirmed (176 worked)
  • CW: 89 (135) -- Marching along to CW DXCC, adding 16 new countries worked (total 135) worked and 16 confirmed (total 89) since the beginning of the month.
  • Phone: 101 (130) -- DXCC Phone reached! Just need to get some cards checked by the ARRL to make it official.
  • Digital: 58 (82) -- No change. Can barely bring myself to work digital these days. Will try to bring myself to work NAQP RTTY in February...
WAS -- Guess I'll start counting some single-band WAS numbers now, since I'm almost there on a couple of bands. Only counting LOTW for WAS.
  • CW: 42 confirmed (45 worked) -- Between NAQP CW and the W1AW/n Centennial special event stations I managed to add CO, MN, NE, NM, RI and SD. Still need GA, IA, KY, MI, ND, OH, WV and WY confirmed on LOTW,
  • Phone: 47 (49) -- Picked up AK, DE and VT in the NAQP contest. IA, MI and RI still needed on LOTW. (Delaware was my first ever (and to date only) 12m QSO, with W1AW/3 on phone. Quickly verified on LOTW allowing me to cross DE off my Triple Play list!)
  • 40m: 49 (50) -- I have all except RI confirmed on LOTW. I do have a card from RI, though, so if I can't find someone who uses LOTW I may cash it in for credit.
  • 20m: 48 (50) -- MS and OK still holding out on me. 
  • 15m: 37 (40) -- Thirteen to go (CO, DE, IA, KS, LA, MO, MS, MT, ND, NE, NM, RI and WY)
WPX -- Hadn't even though much about CQ's WPX award until now, but it turns out I'm closing in on the 400 confirmed prefixes I need for the basic Mixed award and nearly two-thirds of the way there for CW. Again, I'm only counting LOTW for WPX; I probably have a bunch more on paper.
  • Mixed: 355 confirmed (400 needed)
  • CW: 199 (300)
  • Phone: 144 (300)
  • Digital: 126 (300)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

NAQP SSB January 2014

I set a goal for myself to break 20,000 points and I just barely did it -- 20,503 points with 203 QSOs and 101 mults, working the full 10 hours allowed albeit with a ton of short breaks for snacks, smokes, cat herding, phone calls, and the like. The band breakdown went something like this:

  • 1800-1930: 15m (45 QSOs)
  • 1930-2000: 10m (3 QSOs)
  • 2000-2030: 15m (13 QSOs)
  • 2030-2100: OFF (30 min)
  • 2100-2215: 20m (38 QSOs)
  • 2215-2230: 40m (5 QSOs)
  • 2230-2300 15m  (11 QSOs)
  • 2300-0030: 20m (34 QSOs)
  • 0030-0100: 40m (11 QSOs)
  • 0100-0130: 20m (8 QSOs)
  • 0130-0200: OFF (30 min)
  • 0200-0315: 80m: (14 QSOs)
  • 0315-0400: 40m (14 QSOs)
  • 0400-0500: OFF (60 min)
  • 0500-0600: 80m (7 QSOs)

Electrical noise continues to plague me, and it seems like it gets worse on contest weekends, No joke, S9+20dB npose on 40m during the 0030 stint, though it lessened a bit later on. So I was only able to work the strongest signals on the band, and that was only when they could hear me!

Of the six states I need confirmed on LOTW for the Phone portion of Triple play, I only worked AK and VT. Not a trace of the others (DE, IA, MI, or RI). I search-and-pounced the whole ten hours, don't see much point of attempting a run until I get then noise and/or antenna troubles sorted out.

Your humble narrator and big-shot
contester wanabee with his latest
and greatest ham shack layout.
A major tactical error probably cost me a half dozen multipliers on 80m -- I took my last break between 0400 and 0500, and by the time I came back on for the final hour nearly all the stations I was monitoring and flagging in N1MM to work at 0500 were either QRT or lost to QSB. C6AEA who was pounding in here at 0445 was starting to fade out by 0500; he could almost hear me but gave up on me, and he was gone altogether a few minutes later. Same for a bunch of mid-west states that I could have used (for the contest Qs and mults as well as 80m WAS). Need to rethink my strategy next time -- or at least have a strategy to rethink!

The new shack layout (rig and amp off the shelf and down on the desk in front of the keyboard) made a huge difference in fatigue reduction, since my arm no longer has to be elevated for tuning. Everything is right at my fingertips now. Wish I had done this sooner.

Next up: ARRL International DX Contest (CW)  on February 15/16. Valentine's Day weekend. Great.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

K3 Noise Blanker Magic

So many things to love about the K3, but chief among them is the noise blanker. I have an almost constant S7 to S9 noise level (from the power transformer that is about 30 feet away from my antenna, I suspect) and the K3 takes it pretty much in stride.

This example was recorded earlier this morning (UTC; last night local time) listening to IS0HFE in Sardinia calling CQ on 40m. I worked him a few minutes later before I lost him to QSB. I honestly don't know that I'd have even heard him on most other radios I've used in the past -- certainly not the JST-245 which despite being my second favorite rig ever had a noise blanker that was practically useless.

In hindsight I wish I'd done a side-by-side comparison with the Flex 1500. I've had no luck finding a NB setting with the Flex that removes this level of noise without completely distorting the signal. I'll chalk it up to operator incompetence until I know for sure, but I'm pretty sure I've tried every imaginable setting in PowerSDR and it hasn't come close to the K3 yet.

The more pressing question is, how do I get rid of this noise? There are times it goes away all on its own (when it's raining a lot, it seems... unless that's just a coincidence). It was quiet a few weeks ago until (of course) NAQP CW weekend, and I had to deal with this for the entire contest. I've been meaning to head outside with a portable receiver and a loop antenna to see if I can't get a fix on the noise and confirm that it's the transformer but I've had other pressing matters of late. And if it is the transformer, how do I approach the utility company in order to get results?

But for now, I just push the NB button and the noise drops to a level at which I can at least hear some of the weaker signals, though the noise level remains S5-S6 at the best of times.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Last Continent

Antarctica has eluded me for years. I'd see cluster spots for various Antarctic operations but never heard anything other than the pileups of stations calling and working them. Blame it on poor propagation or crappy antennas or both, it just never happened for me. Until last night.

I noticed a lot of spots by stateside ops for DP1POL at Neumayer Station on the web cluster while surfing the web (do people still say that?) in the living room around 0300. He was QRV on 40m CW where I've had a lot of success these past few months working and hearing southern South America in the evenings, so I thought it might be a good idea to check it out.

As soon as I clicked the spot on the shack PC, I heard him 57 to 59. Found where he was listening, tuned the K3's XIT up about 1.4 kHz, got him on my second call, and proceeded to do the happy dance (thank you, Felix!). Eight hours later I woke up to find his QSL in my LOTW account -- DXCC #122 in the books!

ClubLog's Geographic Propagation Wizard suggests I stumbled upon DP1POL at the best possible time:

Neumayer Station II is not quite due south from my QTH, about 155° beam heading (which means little to me as I have no beam). Just interesting that I heard little other DX on the band other than ZS1JX in South Africa after working DP1POL; WWV propagation report for 07-Jan-2014 at 0300 was SFI-204, A=4, K=1,  Minor w/S1 -> Minor w/S1 R1.