30 April 2016

May 2016

<- April's blog

May 1: a good start to the month, I worked A45XR on 80/CW.  I've heard Chris on 80 at dawn during the past week or so but have either been too sleepy, too late or too busy to call, until this morning.  He was working a steady stream of JAs who were mostly zero beat with him and stronger than him, so it was hard to distinguish his call from theirs. S7 to S8 QRN didn't help matters. Eventually, one of the JAs called a bit HF and I followed suit, hoping the rest of the pile would take the hint. A couple of calls later he sent ZL ZL? ... then ZL2IFX ... then ZL2IFB 5NN and we completed a few minutes after ZL dawn, for my first ever A4 on 80m, the 219th DXCC.  Cheers Chris!  The confirmation came through on LoTW later the same day.  Job done.

May 3: two direct QSL cards arrived in the post today, one from a French scientist on Kerguelen Island and another from a Norwegian in Equatorial Guinea. Thank you guys!  Checking through my QSL card album, I'm short of about 30 cards including the dozen or so DXCC countries I haven't worked yet, of course. Some cards from countries that I have worked (some many times, such as 4U1ITU) have been outstanding for years, despite repeated requests - very frustrating.  They have confirmed on LoTW but not on paper. I only want one card per DXCC country to complete the postcard set and gloat over. I'm idly thinking about going to Europe to collect my cards!

May 9: working 90 DXCCs on the low bands in March was enough for 8th place in the CDXC LF Challenge and a certificate:

The winnner, Lionel G5LP, is also leading the CW section of CDXC's annual Marathon Challenge:

I'm trailing Lionel by 4 countries, snapping at his heels, but check the slots: Lionel has filled 500 more band-slots than me this year, very impressive given that he lives in a surburban house with a small garden without the advantage of my ZL callsign. Hats off to Lionel!  Awesome!

Lionel and I are passionate about our hobby, verging on obsessive ... but it could be worse.

I really enjoy the DX challenges, even more than contests these days. It's still fun to blast away at full throttle for a weekend but there's not much finesse to contesting, whereas DXing seriously takes application, skill and oodles of patience.  As I write this, I'm monitoring 20/SSB for CY0/VA1AXC who has been spotted about 4 times in the past 10 minutes, straining my ears for any hint of him. I heard nothing of him on the short path, nor it seems on the long path, although I hear some East coast Americans making easy QSOs. CY0 will be a new DXCC for me this year so I've been stalking him for a few days with the same nil result so far ... but I see from my log that we worked on 15 and 20m last May, so there's still hope that the ionosphere will come up trumps at some point. The A-index at 17 isn't helping. C'est la vie.

My VP8STI card arrived today:

May 10: My VP8SGI card arrived today:

And thanks to QSL manager Tim M0URX, I also received a card for CY9M:

That's my first and only card from Saint Paul Island, which leaves me needing 28 more cards to complete my DXCC postcard collection.

May 11: I've been monitoring the NCDXF beacons on 20-10m today with Faros, mostly using my 80m loop. I don't presently have an omnidirectional antenna for the high bands, though I have the parts to build an amplified wideband vertical when I get the time. Meanwhile, the 80m loop is good enough, apart from 15m it seems where it is so badly mismatched that I didn't hear anything on the band. Despite the poor conditions, 10 and 12m opened today, so tomorrow I will probably spend some time listening or CQing on those bands.

May 15: an email from John K9EL told me my claimed score for the 2015 CQ Marathon has been confirmed unchanged ... but I'll have to wait for the official results to see if I have won anything.  The tension is unbearable, worse than Eurovision!

May 17: while patiently listening to and sporadically calling an extremely weak station in the Congo via the long path on 20m this evening, my eardrums were repeatedly assaulted by a local with a very strong signal, calling out of time and often simplex on top of the Congolese chap (who was working split). At first I thought maybe he just made a simple mistake, forgetting to split, but then I heard him calling up about 500 Hz, then up about 1kHz or 1.5kHz before returning to simplex ... so I can only presume he was doing it deliberately.  A couple of Europeans in the pile took it upon themselves to send "UP" at him, one sending his callsign twice to be sure he knew he was the one they were telling off, but that had only a temporary effect.  At one point, he proceeded to send the TN station a report, several times on simplex, and then started sending his callsign or the suffix repeatedly with "CFM?" because, I presume, the DX was working someone else (thanks to the QRM and my rig's AGC, I couldn't actually hear the TN during this episode).  Looking at the well appointed shack on his QRZ page and his association with some local DXpeditions, I'm reminded of the phrase "All the gear but no idea ...".  Oh well, we all had to start somewhere.  I just hope one of his pals reads this, figures out who I mean, and has a quiet word with him about his technique.  He needs a mentor, a session with the clue fairy.

May 20: a nice certificate turned up in the post for winning the Oceania section in the REF contest.
Despite referring to 2015, I think it is actually for the 2016 event since I already received the 2015 certificate, last year.  Oops.

This evening I finally caught TN2MP. I've been stalking them for about 2 weeks. Previously when they were spotted on DX Cluster, all I could hear was their pileups, maybe the odd ESP hint of someone in there but far too weak to copy and hence to call. Tonight, for a change, I heard them marginally above the noise floor on 20/CW calling CQ VK, via long path, simplex. Best of all, the EU zoo were behaving themselves so we had our shot. It took several calls to make him realise there was a ZL calling, and several more to get my full call across. I gave him 519 and received 559 with QSB - nice! I've worked TN on 20/CW before but only the once - it was TN2T back in 2012. This was my first TN QSO for 2016 ... and probably my last!

May 29: I had a play in WPX CW this weekend, rather half-heartedly due to having to work too.  I discovered that the WinKeyer USB memory trigger keys don't work when N1MM is connected to the keyer. So, I can't simply minimise N1MM to catch up with emails, pressing a keyer button occasionally to send CQ or send my callsign and quickly restoring N1MM to log a QSO. I'm not sure whether this is a limitation (a 'feature') of N1MM or the keyer, possibly both. Annoying anyway. 

May 30: K1EL Steve emailed me to say the keyer memory button lockout issue is not an inherent limitation of the WinKeyer itself, so I guess it must be something in the N1MM software.  I'll pester the N1MM support krew about it.

Despite that, I made about 200 half-hearted QSOs in WPX, 150 on 15m using my contest call ZM4G and another 50 on various bands under ZL2iFB.  I heard Ixi ZL4YL doing nicely on 15m: she's Holger ZL2IO's teenage daughter and I guess has her dad's CW contesting genes.

01 April 2016

April 2016

April 1: right at the end of March, FT4JA on Juan de Nova made a big splash on the bands with several stations QRV simultaneously on different bands and modes. I've worked them on 3 bands and 2 modes already so the pressure's off.

April 2: this morning I had my toughest but most rewarding DX QSO of the year so far.  I dragged myself reluctantly out of bed at 5am (16z) in hope of catching VK0EK or FT4JA on 80 or 40m. At about 1630z VK0EK was spotted on 3534 kHz so I tuned-in and listened patiently on the big wire loop. About an hour later (!) he eventually became audible but was barely reaching the noise floor on QSB peaks: mostly he was submerged under continuous over-the-horizon radar QRM plus SSB QRM (pirate fishermen chatting for over an hour) and, to cap it all, a ‘numbers’ spy station sending five-figure-groups to double-oh-sevens.

I continued listening on 3534 while sipping coffee and catching up with emails. Slowly VK0EK's signal crept up in strength (just about audible on QSB peaks, that is) until I thought I might be lucky enough to hear him sending my call & report, so I started sporadically calling him … and in due course I caught a snatch of “FB” coming back. From that point, it took roughly 5 minutes more to complete our QSO at about 1815z, 15 minutes before our dawn. I thought he’d got everything OK after about 2 minutes but the DXA website showed he’d logged ZL2FB so I carried on calling/correcting until finally he got ZL2IFB and confirmed my full call on-air. I think he gave me 559. I gave him 259 at first, then 359 towards the end. 

See if you can even make him out at all on this nearly 8 minute long stereo recording. He’s transmitting on 3534 on the right channel, QSX down 1 on the left channel. My sidetone is silent on the recording but maybe you can guess roughly what I’m sending from the QSK gaps in the received signals.

I'm very grateful for the patient op on Heard Island who persisted doggedly until we completed the QSO.  He deserves a medal for that little green tick over on the right:

Through the VK0EK website, I sent them a message asking them not to stick slavishly to their published frequencies which may be unusuable in some locations due to local QRM. They will soon be spotted on DXcluster wherever they transmit anyway. Isn't it time for DXpeditions to stop using predetermined fixed frequencies?  Just like the rest of us, they should listen carefully for a clear frequency before transmitting but even if the frequency is clear their end, they are unlikely to hear local QRM at the far ends such as QRM from computer gear, switchmode supplies, broadband, grow-lights, plasma TVs, receiver sproggies and whatever - some of which will be there 24x7. On top of that, they ought to be listening on their TX frequency for DQRMers or accidental QRM from other pileups,and should shift away accordingly.

April 8: I was thrilled to make a RTTY QSO with VK0EK on 30m this evening, or at least I thought I made a QSO - they were very weak with me at the time and marginal copy even with GRITTY:

However the QSO didn't appear in their online log so an hour later I gave it another bash on 30/RTTY and this time was rewarded with this friendly DXA message:

I have been quite cynical about real-time online logging but thanks to this little incident, I'm now a fan - provided the system is sufficiently reliable not to lose QSOs anyway.

April 9: CQ Mag's report on my entry in the 2015 CQ WW CW contest shows that I did pretty well, though not perfectly:

     563 Claimed QSO before checking (does not include duplicates)
     555 Final   QSO after  checking reductions  8 QSOs deducted 

    1592 Claimed QSO points
    1520 Final   QSO points   72 points lost

     305 Claimed countries
     305 Final   countries

     127 Claimed zones
     127 Final   zones

     432 Claimed mults
     432 Final   mults   Yay!  No mults lost this year

  687744 Claimed score
  656640 Final   score

    4.5% Score reduction
    1.4% Error Rate based on claimed and final qso counts
       3 (0.5%) calls copied incorrectly
       0 (0.0%) exchanges copied incorrectly
       5 (0.9%) not in log
       1 (0.2%) duplicates (Removed without penalty)
       2 (0.4%) calls unique to this log only (not removed)

I'm pretty happy with that. Not sure what happened with those 5 not-in-log QSOs: perhaps I need to invest a few extra milliseconds checking that the other guy confirms/completes the QSO, and fair enough. When in full flow in the heat of a contest, there's a natural tendency to press ahead as fast as possible. I should be more careful next time.
April 13: I've received a batch of QSL cards from the ZL bureau including quite a few from the UK. Oh boy, the bureau system can be slow! I'm currently looking at a card from John G3WZT for the first of our many 80m QSOs way back in October 2007. According to my log, I sent him a card via the bureaux on the day of our QSO, so the round trip has taken 8½ years!
April 14 is a yellow-dot day.  I've stuck another yellow dot on my world map because Nicolas FT4XU confirmed our 20/SSB QSO on LoTW, my first and so far only QSO with Kerguelen Island. Thanks Nicolas, that's current DXCC country 326 confirmed, hopefully soon to be 328 when VK0EK and FT4JA confirm.
For definitive answers to the most common questions about radials, I refer to the following series of articles written by Rudy N6LF:
Whereas most amateur articles and books offer subjective impressions, modelling of uncertain quality, and folk-lore, Rudy has painstakingly completed full-scale scientific experiments and careful analysis – a very impressive body of work. It takes a bit of effort to study each article but, hey, we’re supposed to be self-training engineers!
April 15 is another yellow-dotter thanks to Tim M0URX, QSL manager for VK0EK, who kindly uploaded my QSOs to LoTW today:
That's 327 of the 340 current DXCCs confirmed and another step closer to Honor Roll for me.  Not too long ago, I could have expected to wait several months, maybe a year or more for my Heard Island QSL card/s, and a few dollars of my donation would have gone towards the postal costs.  I'm still hoping for a single postcard from Heard to add to my QSL card album, but to be honest I'd be perfectly happy with an electronic image that I can print myself.
April 21: a few times while chasing EP2A for new band-slots the past couple of days, I've noticed their signal strength suddenly drop. I guess they might be changing antenna directions, tripping amplifiers or have a fault somewhere, or is it something to do with propagation?  Conditions are poor and their signals generally weak or very weak with me, but thanks to them I've worked Iran on 30 and 15m.  I heard them on 80 just after dawn this morning, then on 40m too, working Europe ... but maybe tomorrow I'll get up early enough to catch them. 
April 23: FT4JA has confirmed on LoTW, so I'm now at 328 current ...

Thanks lads!

April 24: more shack wallpaper!

Last night I read about the HG225 special event stations currently on-air, celebrating 225 years since Samuel Morse's birth on April 27th 1791. There is an award for contacting HG225 stations whose suffixes spell out SAMUEL MORSE. I've logged all but A already, so I'm hunting for HG225A to complete the set. He was spotted on 17m this evening but far too weak to work. I could barely even tell that he was there at all - just the feintest whiff of a carrier.

April 25: bingo!  With HG225A safely in the log on 20m SSB (!), that completes the full house for SAMUEL MORSE. Odd that they weren't all running CW exclusively but never mind: it was a fun little challenge, achieved in 1½ days. Happy birthday Sam! Cool that his middle initials are FB.

April 28: a WinKeyer3 chip from K1EL arrived today to replace the WK2 in my WinKey USB. It was a doddle to swap the chips: earth myself with an antistatic wrist band, remove 4 screws and open the case, open the battery box cover and remove a battery, gently lever out the WK2 chip and press in the new one, replace the battery and cover, re-assemble the case and test it. The WK3MGR utility makes it easy to set it up including the memories. For good measure, I printed out and read the WK3 datasheet to find out what it can do. Of all the changes from WK2, one alone made it well worth the few dollars and time it cost me. Now if I want to interrupt a message being sent, I just tap either paddle and it immediately stops sending: previously hitting the dot paddle achieved nothing - I had to press and hold the dash paddle, waiting for the keyer to finish sending a character before it would stop. It doesn't sound like much but it was frustrating in practice. I use QSK all the time so I soon hear if the DX station starts to transmit while the keyer is sending a message. Now, I can tap the paddle to interrupt sending and catch more of his transmission ... always in the hope it's me he's calling!

April 29: what a pleasant surprise!  Today the postie delivered a fancy engraved metal plaque for winning the assisted low-band high-power CW section of the Scandinavian Activity Contest 2015:

Thanks SAC!

Another nice surprise this evening was catching Bob 9H4RH on 30m.  Bob is a retired Yorkshireman who runs just 3 watts output.  We've had 4 QSOs so far on 30m since 2011, every one quite remarkable due to his QRP setup. Maybe next time I'll try calling barefoot.  As a card-carrying member of the G-QRP-Club I really ought to try going below 5 watts.

April 30: having unsuccessfully stalked him on RTTY all week, Harald XT2AW was spotted on 20/CW this afternoon ... and this time I could hear him OK. I was straight in there, ahead of the cluster crabs but beaming due North when usually the band is wide open to the South through East. Still, I called and surprise surprise Harald heard me first call. I gave him 559 and received 599 in return. Brilliant, thanks very much Harald! We swapped a few brief words of greeting and parted company. Straight after our QSO, Harald called CQ VK/ZL and worked a VK I think, then the frequency went quiet. I spotted him and emailed my KiwDXer pals. Several VKs and ZLs went through in quick succession, thanks to (most) others on the frequency waiting patiently on the side.

Shortly after, I saw an unusual spot for D90HE/3. Logger32 wrongly identified the DXCC as Angola (D3) whereas I soon caught his IOTA reference and figured he was using a special call on an island in Korea (HL3). He was quite weak with me and suffering severe interference from Mike F5IN CQing nearby, evidently oblivious to the Korean. I called him a few times, confusing poor Mike who I guess eventually twigged why I was unsynchronised and apparently ignoring him (sorry Mike!). Although I didn't contact the Korean, it was a pleasant diversion from the usual slog to complete my month's work.