AB1OC Enters The 2013 CQ WPX CW Contest

AB1OC Operating In The 2013 CQ WPX CW Contest

AB1OC Operating In The 2013 CQ WPX CW Contest

I have been working to improve my CW skills for some time now as well as working towards a number of operating awards including the CQ WPX Award of Excellence. The CQ WPX Award of Excellence requires quite a range of confirmed contacts with CQ recognized prefixes including 600 using the CW mode. I was able to move both of these goals forward by operating in the 2013 CQ WPX CW Contest recently.

2013 CQ WPX CW N1MM Setup

N1MM Logger/FLdigi Setup For CW Mode

I again used the N1MM Logger along with FLdigi as a CW decoder in this contest. I am not yet proficient enough with CW to operate without a decoder but I did find that working a contest with the aid of a CW decoder like FLdigi helped me to improve my CW skills by practicing them. I found FLdigi to be a fairly effective CW decoder. I set up FLdigi as a Digital Interface Window in N1MM which allowed me to click on call signs and contest exchange information that it decoded to enter this information directly into the N1MM logging window. This saved time and reduced errors during contest operations.

MorseDec CW Decoder For iPhone

MorseDec CW Decoder For iPhone

I also used the MorseDec CW Decoder on my iPhone as a second decoder and the FLdigi/ MorseDec combination was effective in this contest. In some cases, one would successfully decode the received CW when the other did not.

Online Contest Score Website

Online Contest Score Website

Another tool that I used for the first time in this contest was the Online Contest Server website. This tool allows one to post and compare your score in real-time during the contest to those of other operators. It was very easy to enable this capability using the N1MM Logger – all I had to do was to create an account on the Online Contest Server website and enable N1MM to post my scores which it did every few minutes. Anita (AB1QB) learned about this interesting tool during her participation in Contest University at the 2013 Dayton Hamvention. I found that being able to see how I was doing relative to some of the other operators was good motivation to keep going during the contest. This also gave me an indication of how others with scores close to mine were balancing adding to their score via more QSOs vs. searching for additional prefixes (i.e. multipliers). It also shows each operator’s statistics by band which is helpful for comparison purposes.

2013 CQ WPX CW Band Conditions

Contest Band Conditions

Unfortunately, band conditions were less than ideal during this contest. A series of solar storms started on Friday evening just about the time the contest began and continued through the entire contest period. This made for some challenging operating conditions during most of the contest period.

Countries Worked In The 2013 CQ WPX CW Contest

Countries Worked In The 2013 CQ WPX CW Contest

In spite of my limited CW skills and the band conditions, I was pleased with the results that I was able to obtain working the contest. I probably worked about 60% of the available operating period during this contest. I mostly operated in Search and Pounce mode due to my limited ability to decode CW by ear. I did run briefly on 160m and 40m late at night to get some experience with running in CW mode. As you can see from the above, I was able to work 86 DXCC entities during the contest – not quite a DXCC but I was very happy with these results given my limited CW abilities.

AB1OC FInal Claimed Score In The 2013 CQ WPX CW Contest

AB1OC Final Claimed Score

I was also able to make a little over 500 QSOs and worked 344 prefixes during the contest. This brought my total prefixes worked towards the CQ WPX Award of Excellence in CW mode to 550 of the 600 required. While all of these prefixes will probably not be confirmed, I am now within striking distance of completing this aspect of the award and I should be able to snag the final number of prefixes required to reach 600 confirmed via non-contest operating.

The 2013 CQ WPX CW Contest was a lot of fun and it helped me to improve and build confidence in my CW skills. I would encourage our readers to try CW if you do not currently use this mode. It is challenging to learn CW but there is a great deal of DX available via this mode and I believe that some of the finest operators in the world use CW as their preferred mode.

– Fred (AB1OC)

2013 Dayton Hamvention

ARRL At Dayton 2013

ARRL At The 2013 Dayton Hamvention

Anita and I had the good fortune to attend the 2013 Hamvention in Dayton, Ohio USA again this year. The Dayton Hamvention covers almost everything Amateur Radio that one can image and it has something for everyone. We’d like to share some of the highlights of this year’s Dayton Hamvention that were of interest to us.

Anita, AB1QB, began her Dayton Hamvention experience by spending a day at Contest University where she gathered some ideas and information to forward her knowledge as a contester. Anita put together a nice summary of what she saw and learned at Contest University which can be viewed here. We spent the following two days looking at all of the exhibits on the main show floor. Our first stop was the ARRL Area. Here we looked at the latest books and publications, dropped off a pile of cards going to the US Bureau, and had a couple of hundred cards checked towards endorsements on our DXCC and WAS awards.

Icon At Dayton

Icom At The Dayton Hamvention

All of the major radio manufacturers (Icom, Yaesu, Kenwood, Ten-Tec and Elecraft) had large displays at the show and they were all packed. One of the more interesting things we saw there was a prototype of Elecraft’s new KXPA100, 100w amplifier for use with the KX3 and other QRP transceivers.

Elecraft KXPA100

Elecraft KXPA100 Amplifier

The unit is a compact and highly portable package and should be a very nice complement to the KX3 for higher power portable operations.

FlexRadio 6700

FlexRadio Flex-6700

We also spent quite a bit of time at the FlexRadio Systems booth. Anita and I have a new Flex-6700 Software Defined Radio on order and we wanted to learn as much about the Flex-6700 as we could. Fortunately, we had a chance to talk with Steve Hicks, VP of Engineering at FlexRadio to gain a much better understanding of the design, architecture and evolution plans for the Flex 6000 series. I expect that this will be one very impressive radio! Unlike previous designs, the 6000 series radios directly sample signals in the RF domain and do all processing and detection of signals digitally. This eliminates the need for roofing and other RF band filtering and allows the radio to operate on multiple frequencies/bands at the same time. The Flex-6700 can implement up to 8 separate receivers simultaneously allowing multiple bands to be monitored. It should also make a great contest radio as its capable of up to SO8V operation. The direct RF sampling approach coupled with the radio’s dynamic range of 140 dB creates a radio that has much lower distortion products and better selectivity that anything else which is currently available. Steve gave an excellent presentation on the architecture of the 6000 series which includes some very good information as part of one of the Forum sessions at the Dayton Hamvention. Creating a new radio and all new software for it is a very large project and it appears that the folks at FlexRadio are almost ready to begin shipping the Flex 6000 series radios. We are hoping to have our Flex-6700 by the end of the summer and we will provide a post here on the new radio once we have it in place in our shack.

Begali Keys At Dayton

Begali Keys At Dayton

As you may know from reading our Blog, I have been working on my CW skills for the past several months. I am beginning to get pretty serious about CW operation and I wanted to get a really good set of paddles. After looking around at many options at Dayton, I decided to purchase a Begali Sculpture Key.

Begali Sculpture Paddles

Begali Sculpture Paddles

Begali makes some of the finest CW keys and paddles in the world. I really like the feel of the Sculpture. It is very solid, heavy and has a very short “throw” during operation. Mr. Begali spent some time with me to show me how to properly setup and maintain my new paddles.

Mr. Begali

Mr. Begali

I cannot wait to get home and get the Sculpture key setup in the shack. It will surely provide more good motivation to continue to improve my CW skills!

DXLab Software Suite

DXLab Software Suite

While a big part of the displays at Dayton are about hardware equipment (radios, antennas, accessories, etc.), I have noticed an increasing trend towards software vendors at Dayton over the last two years. Anita and I have recently switched to the DXLab Suite of software for logging, award tracking, rig control, QSL’ing, etc. DXLab had a nice display at Dayton. We spent some time with Dave Bernstein,  AA6YQ who showed us several features of the DXLab Suite that we did not know about. One cool one was the ability to use Google Earth to plot all kinds of QSO information on a world map. You can see an example of this feature in our Blog by clicking here. Dave also gave an excellent presentation on the DXLab Suite as part of one of the forums at Dayton.

FreeDV Software - HF Digital Voice

FreeDV Software – HF Digital Voice

Another interesting piece of software we saw was FreeDV. This software implements a royalty free codec inside a software program which can be used to send and receive digital voice transmissions on the HF bands. The royalty free codec aspect of this software is a key element as the licensing fees associated with the codecs used by other digital voice systems from Icom, Yaesu, etc. make up a significant portion of the cost of a digital voice enabled radio. The FreeDV folks are also working on a 2M HT which will have their codec built-in. This should be a very interesting product when it comes to market. I plan to try FreeDV in the near future and I am planning a Blog post to share more information about it sometime in the future.

Buddipole At Dayton

Buddipole At Dayton

Anita and I spent quite a bit of time with Chris and Budd Drummond and the gang at Buddipole. Anita and I are big fans of the Buddipole System and we have used it in numerous portable operations including Field Day and a DXpedition to Bora Bora Island in French Polynesia. We heard a lot about various portable operations and DXpeditions that Chris and the gang have done using their portable antenna system. We also talked about some projects that are underway related to yagi’s built using the Buddipole system. Stay tuned for more on this topic in future Blog posts.

Green Heron AZ-EL Rotar Controller

New Green Heron AZ-EL Rotator Controller

The folks at Green Heron Engineering have a new Az-El Rotator Controller in the works which should be very useful for controlling Satellite and EME antenna systems. Green Heron Engineering is also continuing to expand the capabilities of their GH Everywhere remote control hardware and software lineup. We use the Green Heron RT-21D Rotator Controllers in our shack and have been very happy with them.

Piglet  And PigRemote - Remote Control Via iPad

Piglet Remote Control Via iPad

Anita has long been interested in the idea of operating our station remotely via her iPad. We visited Pignology at Dayton to learn about their Piglet and PigRemote devices which enable this sort of operation with the Elecraft KX3 and other radios. We decided to try the PigRemote and we are planning a post on our Blog sometime in the future which shares our experiences with the product.

Yemen DXpedition Presentation

7O6T Yemen DXpedition Presentation

There were also some great Forum Presentations at the Dayton Hamvention and one of our favorites is the DX Forum. We listened to several presentations on recent DXpeditions including the 7O6T Operation in Yemen and the PT0S Operation on St. Peter & Paul Rocks. It is always fun to hear about the planning and work that goes into a DXpedition and these talks were no exception.

We also attended the Top Band Dinner at the Dayton Hamvention where we met some very nice folks and heard some great presentations from a few of the top 160m DX’ers.

All of this  just barely scratches the surface of  what there is to see and learn at the Dayton Hamvention. We hope that you have enjoyed this post and we hope to see you at the Dayton Hamvention sometime in the near future.

– Fred (AB1OC)

AB1OC Learns CW, Enters The 2012 CQ WW CW Contest QRP

CW Paddles

Bencher CW Paddles

The past few weeks have been good ones in terms of progress on some of my operating goals. An important one since the very beginning of my involvement in Amateur Radio has been to learn morse code and to operate CW. Many folks have made good suggestions on how to go about learning the code and I used a combination of these suggestions to get to the point where I am now. The first tool that I used was Code Quick to learn the alphabet and get some initial practice. This course is a good one because it uses the Farnsworth Method to teach the sounds of the letters and discourages thinking in terms of “dots” and “dashes” which severely limits one’s ability to copy code at speed. The second tool that I used was Gordon West’s Morse Code CDs to get some practice copying sentences and words. The final tool that I used was W1AW’s Practice Code Files to get some additional training on copying sentences and words.

The Thanksgiving Holiday here in the U.S. afforded me some time to really practice hard for several straight days and I finally got to the point where I was able to make a few QSO’s on the air. My first was CW QSO was with K4JYS, Bill in North Carolina on 160m. Bill must be one very patient Op as a combination of nerves and very limited CW skills made my first QSO pretty difficult. I did a few more QSOs over the next few days after some more practice, I improved my skills a bit more (I also completed about 30 QSOs with my dummy load to practice my sending skills. I am awaiting QSL cards from these QSOs to complete my WADL – Worded All Dummy Loads – Hi Hi).

Anita (AB1QB), my XYL after observing all of this, suggested that I enter the CQ WW CW Contest. At first, I thought that this was not practical given my limited CW skills. Later that evening, I was reading through the manual for my Elecraft KX3 Transceiver and noticed that it had a built-in CW decoder. I headed to the shack to try this out and found the KX3’s CW decoder to be excellent. After a little thought, I decided to enter the contest with the assistance of the KX3’s decoder to get some more practice copying CW on the air. After some thought, I settled on entering the contest in the single band 10m QRP category unassisted. I chose this category for several reasons. First, 10m only operation was positive in two respects – if the band was open it would make my 5 watts QRP go much further than 5 watts on the lower frequency bands and second 10m would be out at night which would give me a chance to take a break from my crash course in CW and get some sleep. I choose the unassisted category because I wanted to learn to tune through the band looking for CW signals and I choose QRP in the hopes that the contest would help me towards my goal of working a DXCC Award QRP.

CQ Zones (Courtesy CQWW website)

CQ Zones (Courtesy CQWW website)

The CW WW CW Contest score is a combination of points from QSOs worked, Countries worked, and CQ Zones worked. My final count for the contest  (all on 10m using 5 watts) was 125 QSOs, 49 Countries and 20 CQ Zones worked. This brought my total DXCC QRP Count to 83 Countries worked – within striking distance of the award. I worked 24 new Countries’ QRP that I did not have before the contest, with several being all-time new ones!

The best part of working the contest was the practice I got listening to higher-speed CW. Most contest operators work at about 25 words per minute or higher speeds and it was a real challenge to copy code this fast in the beginning so I had to rely on the KX3’s decoder. After a while, I learned to “hear” the sound of commonly used words in the QSOs like “CQ”, “5NN”, “TU”, and my call sign. I think the practice from the contest really helped my ability to copy CW at more realistic speeds. While it probably seems like diving into the deep end of the pool, I can recommend working a CW contest with the aid of a decoder as a good tool to help learn CW. There is nothing like running a lot of QSOs to help improve operating skills and I doubt that I would have 150+ CW QSOs under my belt at this point without participating in the contest.

I am continuing to practice CW and complete QSOs on the air. While I am a long way from where I want to be as a CW Op, I am very happy to have gotten to this point. Interested in some history of Morse Code? Check out this article that Nicole, a student in Wyoming has created.

– Fred (AB1OC).