AA8IA Amateur Radio

Archive for October, 2010

CQ WW DX SSB 2010 – Happening Now

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Not much to say except that I really cannot stand to operate in SSB contests. In a CW contest I can be competitive. Hell, even in a RTTY contest I don’t do too bad if I put the time into it. But, with SSB your power has to push out a much wider signal and you can’t filter out adjacent activity. The bands are a mess. I don’t have power; my dipoles are low; I don’t have directional antennas and thus cannot direct my signal to a particular area or relieve some QRM since I have no front-to-back. In an SSB contest one needs directional antennas, power, and last but not least a great headset with good audio output and a footswitch. Also, one needs to make SSB audio files to use with their log for the mundane task of calling CQ or throwing out your call. Your voice goes south very early on in the contest if you don’t.

Anyway, I’m making Qs — slowly and with difficulty. But my heart won’t ever be in an SSB contest unless I am set up for it.

So much easier to work CW or RTTY.

Before I forget, 10m has been totally shut down here in the states — no propogation. I’m hoping that we get an opening to work some 10m, but I’m not counting on it.

Written by Mike

October 30th, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Posted in Contesting,Posts

DXing – An enjoyable pastime

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To be honest, I’m not technically a DXer. I don’t have beams or amps. I don’t plan my schedule around when DXpeditions are operating or when the band might be open to AF or AS.

As time goes on, the idea of adding DX stations to my log is appealing. I run only low wires and 90w or so. I typically am free to operate the radio at times when only 160/80m are useful [i.e. at night]. My work schedule is and has been one where I am awake half the night or more, sleep past sunrise, and go back to work shortly after the higher bands open to the into the US.

This morning I managed to go to sleep early and wake up early, and by 8 AM I was already logging SA, EU, and Carribean stations. I was hearing many places weak but copyable, including Greece and the Ukraine. Contacts were made on SSB and CW on 10/12/15m, including another PJ contact before they tore down and departed for home.

Certainly if I had multielement beams @100 ft and 1.5Kw it would be fun, but it’s also fun with low wires, a weak signal out, and a weak signal in. In fact, there is something mysterious about copying stations at or just above the noise level. I enjoy it.

No doubt there is DX to be had, no matter if you have limited space/abilities for antennas. You just have to use some tricks to work DX at times when the DXers with elaborate stations may do it nearly effortlessly.

Incidentally, yesterday afternoon/early evening a KH6 was booming into East Ohio on 10m. Beautiful sig. I didn’t have the patience to work him since he was ragchewing rather than keeping it simple and short. No problem there… his choice. But I had other fish [DX] to fry [work]. It was great to hear some non-NA stations on 10/12m.

15/12/10m are becoming more and more active now. Tune around, and even if you do not hear anyone or you aren’t seeing anyone spotted, throw out a few CQs and you may be surprised at who returns your call.

Written by Mike

October 20th, 2010 at 11:27 am

Posted in DX

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JARTS RTTY WW 2010 Summary

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There were a lot of contests / QSO Parties this weekend, including NyQP, IlQP, IaQP I think, JARTS RTTY WW. I had to decide which ones I was going to work. Since JARTS started first and since I was jonesing to make some Qs, I started out with JARTS.

I managed a few nice little runs on the different bands. 15m was a really nice band for the contest this weekend. Interestingly, 10m opened up on Sunday and I worked some Qs there. Of course, with activity seen on 15m/10m, I can’t help but to try to make every Q I can on those bands. And JARTS was no exception. Unfortunately, it caused me to get a pretty low score.

I’m very disappointed. Why? Well, although I did enjoy working 10/15m so much, and although I did enjoy sitting for extended periods on one frequency calling CQ when nobody was answering, I completely failed to pay any attention to 20m. Hell, 20m is always open during the daylight hours into late evening, sometimes even longer. But I got so carried away with other bands that I pretty much totally overlooked 20m. Where others with equal stations have 125-150 Qs on 20m, I have 32 or so. And, of course, a lot of the 20m activity would be DX [and thus new mults]. So not only did I miss out on at least 100 Qs on 20m, I also missed out on quite possibly 30-50 new mults.

I compete against myself and a few others that I watch who run wires and LP here in the states. I should have been much closer in score to some of those guys, but I wasn’t. And I feel this was a direct result of me overlooking 20 for the mults and Qs. I remember many times where I sat calling CQ into the great abyss with nobody answering. Once in a while somebody would reply and then another immediately after, and this wouldd keep me going calling CQ for another 15 minutes with no productivity. I need to learn that if I’m going to call CQ, I need to abort very quickly if I am not seeing results. Had I managed to do that I most definitely would have ended up on 20m S&Ping and then throwing out some CQs.

All I can say is that the more I think about it, the more pissed off I am at myself for not paying attention to bread and butter bands to get mults. Even if I dont’ stick around to make 150 Qs, I at least need to chase all the mults I need when they are freely available to me on a DX band like 20m.

Weather was great… cool with a little rain, but no thunderstorms. And thunderstorms dictate my operating activities. I was feeling pretty good Saturday, but felt like I had a bug on Sunday with some dizziness and nausea. I did operate on Sunday, but not as much as I would have liked…. and specifically did not operate at a time when 20m would have been rocking. Go figure.

Radio ran perfectly. FSK was working great. Not a single crash or problem with N1MM or the computer. I was feverishly switching between my two wires on 10/15m as there definitely was a difference depending upon the direction I was trying to work.

All in all a great contest. I had no idea it was so popular. Once I realized it was a WW contest I knew it would be popular, but the bands were packed with RTTY. This one will be high on my list next year. Congrats to KB3LIX and K2DSL for their nice LP/Wires scores. I keep an eye on them in RTTY contests. Bill thoroughly whipped my ass this time around.

I worked the PJs quite a few times on RTTY [and SSB]. They were all over, and if you were smart enough to realize they were running split [it wasn’t hard – they would tell you UP or UP 500-1000] you could pick them off in short order. Good signals from PJ-land into the states all weekend on all bands.

My Results:

JARTS WW RTTY Contest

Call: AA8IA
Operator(s): AA8IA
Station: AA8IA

Class: Single Op LP
QTH: EN90QL
Operating Time (hrs): 13

Summary:
Band QSOs Pts Mults
————————
80: 57 114 14
40: 93 191 25
20: 32 67 12
15: 64 136 25
10: 22 46 11
————————
Total: 268 554 87 Total Score = 48,198

Club: Mad River Radio Club

Written by Mike

October 19th, 2010 at 11:57 am

Posted in Contesting,Posts

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New York QSO Party 2010 (NyQP) – Summary

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My Results:

New York QSO Party

Call: AA8IA
Operator(s): AA8IA
Station: AA8IA

Class: SOMixed LP
QTH: Toronto OH
Operating Time (hrs): 1.1

Summary:
Band CW Qs Ph Qs Dig Qs
—————————-
160:
80: 21 7
40: 1
20:
15:
10:
6:
2:
222:
432:
—————————-
Total: 22 7 9 Mults = 19 Total Score = 969

Club: Mad River Radio Club

Comments:

Spent too much time in working JARTS RTTY. By the time I got around to
thinking about NY, it was almost over [and I didn’t realize it]. I had high
hopes of putting some time in on 80/40. I’m disappointed in myself — from
other submitted scores it looks like there was a lot of activity that I missed.
I need to make a note for next year to prioritize this one.

Thanks for the Qs!

Written by Mike

October 17th, 2010 at 3:10 pm

JARTS WW 2010 contest this weekend

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The likelihood of me making a RTTY contact with JA is slim to none. However, we are all fortunate that this contest is open to everyone to work everyone, regardless of where you are at and where they are at. That means that anyone and everyone who operates RTTY or who has thought about it should jump on and makes some contacts in this contest. Details can be found below.

JARTS WW RTTY 2010 – October 16th, 0000Z to October 17th 2400Z

For us folks in the Eastern timezone of the US, that’ll be 8 PM tonight to8 PM Sunday night.

Hope to see you on!

Written by Mike

October 15th, 2010 at 5:44 pm

Alpha Delta DX-LB Plus – Part 1 : Arrival

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Some preliminary babble…

I had mentioned elsewhere on the site that I’d like to have a 160m antenna. I had given consideration to an inverted-L or a Marconi T, but I came to the conclusion that not only would I not be able to create a vertical section of reasonable height but I also would have difficulty extending the horizontal portion as far as it needs to be and have a proper anchor point for it. And if I could manage to secure the horizontal end, it would be facing a direction that I don’t particularly care about. [It is my understanding that there is some bit of directivity towards the direction that the horizontal portion runs from the vertical portion]

I’d lie if I said I wasn’t interested in 160m DX or working working all states on 160m, but now is not the time to do that. I do, however, want to be able to make my presence known on 160m during the ARRL 160m contest and some of the QSO parties that have 160m as an operational band.

Since I have experience with the 42′ Alpha Delta DX-EE dipole, and since I think it is well constructed and has performed quite well for me, I figured I’d throw down the nearly $200 for the DX-LB Plus dipole. This is shortened 160m/80m (shortened) that will also handle 40/15m, with additional parallel wires for 20m and 10m operation. My DX-EE tunes 30/17/12 and I’m hoping I’ll be able to get a match on these same bands with the DX-LB Plus without too much loss.

The dipole arrived and is still packed up. When I removed it from the box I was surprised at how heavy it was. It’s well constructed. The wire is heavy and of course the addition of the inductors makes it even heavier. I suspect that if I don’t manage to get the dipole erected in a way that the two ends are 180 degrees from one another, it’ll probably cause the top section of my Max Gain Systems mast to bow.

I really can’t stand wiring up the parallel wires. And I really don’t want to think about tuning and pruning it so that it’s resonant inside of the CW sweet spots of 160m and 80m, especially since the 3:1 bandwidth is very narrow.

I’m still debating whether I should put this up as a flattop oriented E/W (broadside N/S) or as an inverted V. Either way the center will be @40 feet. If it is an almost flattop, the ends will be at about 30′. If it is an inverted V, it’ll really be rough to have the ends very far off the ground — probably no more than 10 feet, although I’ll strive for 13-14 feet.

As constructed and delivered, it is intended to be fed with coax. However, I do have the option of feeding it with 450-ohm ladderline (~45 feet) into a DX Engineering 1:1 current balun, through an 8′ piece of RG-213 into the radio. If I have too much trouble tuning the antenna, I may opt for feeding it with ladderline as it will make it easier to tune. Of course, feeding it with a random length of ladderline into a balun is not quite the same as feeding it with only ladderline and tuning it with a tuner that accepts balance feedline.

Already I’m losing ambition, just like I did with the DX-EE. It took me three weeks before I ended up putting the DX-EE together since I had to string the additional parallel wires through their standoffs and secure htem at appropriate points. In this case it’s going to be even more difficult since I’ll be dealing with trying to get it to be resonant in a specific small portion of 160m and 80m.

I’ll write more as things progress

Written by Mike

October 14th, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Posted in Antennas

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Makrothen RTTY Contest 2010 – Summary

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My Results:

Makrothen RTTY Contest

Call: AA8IA
Operator(s): AA8IA
Station: AA8IA

Class: SO/Single Xcvr LP
QTH: Toronto OH
Operating Time (hrs): 3.5

Summary:
Band QSOs
————
80: 2
40: 34
20: 25
15: 5
10:
————
Total: 66 Total Score = 354,654

Club: Mad River Radio Club

Comments:

Scored tallied by N1MM. Fun way to start the weekend while waiting for the
PaQP to commence. Thanks to the sponsors and those who worked me!

Written by Mike

October 11th, 2010 at 11:09 pm

Posted in Contesting

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PaQP 2010 – Summary and Results

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Great contest. Lots of stations. Quite a few mobiles (two of them being the W3USA pair and K8RYU from Ohio and the MRRC). I worked a lot of SSB, and I CQd quite a few times — sometimes with some results. For me, only 80m/40m were available for operation being that I am right next door to PA. I did manage to work K3MJW (the bonus station) on 20m RTTY as well as on 160m SSB. My 80m doublet would not tune 75m, but I threw caution to the wind like I always do and made some 75m SSB contacts anyway. Of course the antenna wouldn’t tune on 160m either, so the 160m contact with K3MJW was a 5-watter with an SWR probably about 50:1 hah.

In general, the PA ops were great. They were plentiful, seemed to respect the bandplans more than ops in many QSO parties, and provided a lot of fun for us out-of-staters.

Was a beautiful weekend. The fam was over on Sunday, and I managed to spend time with everyone, do a little fall work, and still operate many hours on Sunday. I was feeling good. I had some problems with the new G4ZLP Digimaster PRO+ interface and N1MM today. Not sure what the cause was. It shouldn’t have been an RF-in-the-shack problem, but it may have been. Randomly, and thankfully not too often, I’d go to throw out a CQ via N1MM or respond with an exchange — and it would lock up with the radio keyed and I’d have to turn off the Digimaster PRO+. Of course, at that point N1MM would just shit itself, hanging on the CW IF exe. While troubleshooting I had noticed that the CW IF exe uses 50% CPU any time I’m transmitting CW, which doesn’t seem like something that should be happening on a P4 3.2 HT. I don’t know if it was because the keying interface was hooked up via a USB-to-Serial converter [the G4ZLP serial port] or if it was for some other reason. At any rate, I had to shutdown/reboot the machine about five times. Oh well, gave me a chance to relieve myself and refill the coffee mug.

I heard very few AZ stations during my time working the PaQP, which was surprising since the AzQP was happening this weekend as well. Of course, I bet I would have heard activity on 20m had I tuned there. There were too many contests this weekend, and I had to pick the ones i wanted to operate in. PaQP was priority, and I also made some Qs in the Makrothen RTTY contest. That was fun, but it was just to pass the time while waiting for the PaQP to start.

The PaQP was not a letdown by any means. I had an absolute blast. But, there were a few things that got me.

1. I had recently participated in the California QSO Party and was definitely spoiled by all of the 20m activity. Well, when you live one state away from the QSO Party you’re working, you’re only hope is ground wave for the most part. PA is pretty big, and I suppose at some point there could have been some propogation over to EPA, but I didn’t bother to look and don’t think it happens from EOH.

2. Quite a few of the PA ops didn’t identify very frequently, leaving everyone guessing. Aside from myself, I heard quite a few other ops who were waiting to contact a PA station and who had to ask for the call. You shouldn’t have to ask for a call. If you’re CQing, then ID.

3. Regardless of whether you submit your logs electronically or not, the rules state that you must send a Summary Sheet in via postal mail if you want your log to be counted. In the same breath the rules state that a $3.00 donation would be appreciated to offset the cost. Well, I don’t have a printer. [i know what you’re probably thinking… but back off]

Hell, I had a lot of fun and would have been glad to donate $5 if they made an option available via Paypal. I think it’s baloney that you have to turn in a summary sheet via email, and the whole process smells really bad – requiring a summary sheet via postal mail is to get money from you. I’ll send in my log though, and I’ll send the $3. I’ll be interested to see if my logs make it into the list or if they disappear because I pissed and moaned about the perceived extortion :)

My Results

Pennsylvania QSO Party

Call: AA8IA
Operator(s): AA8IA
Station: AA8IA

Class: Single Op LP
QTH: Toronto OH
Operating Time (hrs): 12.5

Summary:
Band CW Qs Ph Qs RTTY Qs PSK31 Qs
—————————————
160: 0 1 0 0
80: 53 40 0 0
40: 87 97 1 0
20: 0 0 1 0
15: 0 0 0 0
10: 0 0 0 0
6: 0 0 0 0
2: 0 0 0 0
—————————————
Total: 140 138 2 0 Mults = 59 Total Score = 26,098

Written by Mike

October 11th, 2010 at 12:14 am

Too many contests this weekend!

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There’s too much going on. My goal is to put a lot of effort into the Pennsylvania QSO Party, but there are too many other contests enticing me to test the waters.

http://www.hornucopia.com/contestcal/weeklycont.php

Pennsylvania QSO Party – I’m hoping to keep this one as a priority. However, I’m too close to do anything useful on 20m/15m. 40m to EPA will be alright and 80m to WPA.

Arizona QSO Party – I’m not sure about activity in this one, but I am much more likely to be able to make contacts on 80m/40m/20m and even 15m/10m if one or both of those bands are open. I wish this didn’t fall on the same weekend as the PaQP. I might end up working this contest as a priority, not only because I’ll find contacts on more bands but also because the big QSO party participants around the East Coast and PA will probably be focusing on the PaQP. And if this were true, I’d probably end up ranking higher in the AzQP than the PaQP.

Oceania DX, CW – Now, this might be interesting. Again, more DX from places I don’t usually hear from. If I hear em I’ll try and work em.

CQ SA SSB – No way. They spammed me with about 50 “invites” to participate. That annoyed the hell out of me. Besides, I seem to have a pathway to SA any time I want it.

North American Sprint, RTTY – Short deal. I’d like to jump in this one, but it’ll interfere with the PaQP and AzQP.

Worked All Britain, Phone – If I hear em I might give em a Q, but I have no interest in actually entering any British contest because the rules in the UK area contests are way too much for me to deal with. K.I.S.S.

Makrothen RTTY Contest – I have no clue about this one. Maybe there’ll be a bit of activity, or maybe it’s just one guy sitting back hoping he can generate interest. Who knows. I’m not ambitious enough to look up further details. With that said, if I happen to hear RTTY while I’m tuning the bands I’ll try and throw out my call.

SAC, SSB – I’m not much for SSB contests, but if I’m becoming too confused with all of the QPs I’m trying to operate in, I might throw out my call. The bonus here is that it’s DX.

YLRL DX/NA – This one doesn’t even belong on my list, but it’s here so that I could comment on it. The last thing I want to do is participate in a contest where the goal is for women to work the radio. Why? Because every guy [with the exception of me of course] seems to melt at the sound of a woman’s [donald duck] SSB voice. Totally pathetic. If one thinks about the average ham, this isn’t all that suprising. At any rate, in any other contest that I hear women operating, they always have huge [undeserved] pileups just because there are so many lonely, horny, homely ham guys out there who fantasize about a day when they may actually be able to talk to a woman on the air. I’ll let those guys and gals have their little cyberaffairs :)

Written by Mike

October 8th, 2010 at 7:45 pm

USB-to-Serial Adapters

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This info might seem off-topic for a ham blog, but (1) this is my blog and isn’t restricted to ham radio just because it bears my callsign and (2) there is relevance in my presented data.

For those of you who want to use a USB-to-Serial adapter to work FSK RTTY, this article is for you. To operate FSK RTTY, your serial interface must support 5-bit data and low baud rates [45.5 / 75 baud]. Well, I’ve got bad news for you — many USB-to-Serial adapters fail on one or both counts.

USB-to-Serial adapters generally rely upon a chip provided by FTDI ( http://www.ftdichip.com ) or Prolific ( http://www.prolific.com.tw ). You may find one using a Cypress programmable chip. I haven’t found the specs on what the Cypress option can or cannot do, but below is some information regarding the FTDI and Prolific products.

Current generation FTDI products

None of the current FTDI products will support direct-keyed FSK on USB-to-Serial adapters that employ these chips. FTDI products do not support 5-bit data and do not support baud rates below 300 baud.

FT2232D / FT232R

  • 7-bit and 8-bit data
  • 300 bps to 3 Mbps

FT2232H / FT4232H

  • 7-bit and 8-bit data
  • 183 bps to 12 Mbps

FT232B(L)

  • 7-bit and 8-bit data
  • 300 bps to 1 Mbps

Current generation Prolific products

USB-to-Serial interfaces utilizing the Prolific PL-2303 series do support 5-bit data, but according to product literature they are limited to a low of 75 baud.

PL-2303HX / PL-2303HX-Edition(Rev D)

  • 5-bit, 6-bit,7-bit and 8-bit
  • 75 bps to 6 Mbps (12 Mbps or the -Edition(Rev D))

There are rumors [and I say this because I can’t verify the claim] that Belkin sells a USB-to-Serial adapter F5U103EA that some RTTY folks claim work for FSK. The data sheet provided by Belkin matches, almost verbatim that of a PL-2303HX, which leads me to believe that the Belkin adapter uses the Prolific PL-2303HX or some older Prolific chip for which they don’t have product information on their website.

Summary

Based upon specs provided by these two manufacturers, I have come to the conclusion that you’ll never get a USB-to-Serial adapter based upon one of the FTDI chips above to support FSK RTTY. But, you may very well get an adapter employing a Prolific chip to do FSK RTTY. I will attempt to test this.

I have a couple USB-to-Serial cables with a Prolific chip. One of them definitely “gets farther” when I try to run FSK RTTY with it, as compared to an FTDI-based adapter that i have. With the FTDI-based adapter that I have, when I try to do FSK RTTY my software claims to not even be able to find the comport. With the Prolific-based adapters the software I’m using sees the serial port, keys, and I can hear the RTTY data. The FSK signal doesn’t sound the same as if I were running AFSK RTTY or FSK RTTY through a bonafide serial port, and when I try to actual send data [vs just diddling], it locks up the computer. Further testing is needed.

I tested the Prolific-based adapter on 45.5 baud RTTY. Based upon product documentation for the Prolific chip, it would only go down to 75 baud. So I’ll test and see if I am successful at running 75 baud.

NOTE: I’ve been able to get every USB-to-Serial adapter I have tried to run FSK RTTY when using EXTFSK in MMTTY. EXTFSK is a DLL that is loaded by MMTTY to perform software-generated FSK. It’s very nice to have this available. However, EXTFSK only support 45.5 baud RTTY, not 75 baud. BUT, if my tests bear out that the Prolific-based adapters will run 75 baud FSK RTTY, then you can run FSK RTTY direct from within your RTTY software using a USB-to-Serial adapter and then, if you want to run 45.5 baud FSK you can just use EXTFSK inside MTTY. I don’t use any other FSK RTTY software, so I can’t comment on what other software may be able to do. Ham Radio Deluxe doesn’t support FSK RTTY, and when I want to run RTTY outside of a contest I simply use HRD for AFSK RTTY. When I contest, I use N1MM / MMTTY and run FSK when possible, AFSK when not.

ADDENDUM: I have tested my Prolific-based USB-to-Serial adapter with an FSK keying circuit and was able to operate 75 baud FSK RTTY. I also tested 45.5 baud FSK, but I didn’t test it thoroughly and it seemed kind of “iffy” — meaning that sometimes it would lock my computer up. Prolific documentation states that the low limit for baud rates is 75, so if people are actually using a Belkin and the Belkin uses a Prolific chip, then I would question if they actually have reliable 45.5 baud FSK RTTY comms. Outside of contests I do not do much RTTY, and at the times I’m available to try it out there usually isn’t anybody on RTTY 20m to test with. But, this test is positive nonetheless.

With a Prolific-based adapter, you should be able to do 75 baud FSK RTTY with a certain degree of confidence. For 45.5 baud FSK RTTY using a Prolific-based adapter, your mileage may vary. Give it a try, but be prepared for trouble because you may experience some.

These are good findings though. At least with the Prolific-based USB-to-Serial adapter that I’m using, I can operate 75 baud FSK RTTY and 45.5 baud FSK RTTY (with EXTFSK for sure, possibly without EXTFSK). So I can run FSK for both baud rates on my FT-950 and take advantage of the better RTTY mode filtering on the radio.

Here is a link to the exact Prolific-based USB-to-Serial adapters I have been using and testing with:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000K069AK/ref=oss_product

Written by Mike

October 7th, 2010 at 9:21 pm