Wednesday, August 16, 2017

WQ6X survives 12 computer crashes to work WAE

The Worked All Europe (WAE) radiosport contest is unique in the way that it operates.
Last year I made a brief attempt to make QSOs in the CW WAE GiG - [CLICK HERE] to read
about my attempt at this contest. Unfortunately, I did not understand how to send what are called QTC messages (described later), so I probably disappointed a lot of European operators.

For the 2017 GiG, I made it a point to study the N1MM+ software documentation describing how to actually send QTC messages. Reading it through a second time it seemed to me that it is really not
as difficult as it initially seemed. After a couple of shaky QTC message transfers I eventually got the hang of it and never looked back.

As it turned out, sending QTC messages
was the least of my problems; frequent station computer crashes (all too often while sending QTC messages) was the biggest challenge of this years WAE CW contest.

Nevertheless, 19 hours of operating time put 231 QSOs and 230 QTC messages in the log resulting in the highest score from W6-land (and about 33rd place for USA) according
to 3830Scores.Com.

Running NX6T remotely, I had access
to an Elecraft K3, and an ACOM 2000a amplifier, along with a C-31 yagi for
the high bands and 2-elements on
40 meters; both 13mh.
Because no QSOs were made on 80 meters (evidently no one heard my calls), the droopy inverted V was
not an issue.

I began the contest @ 01:00 made one QSO and then noticed that the ACOM amplifier display screen was not indicating the output power properly. I stopped operating, lest we had greater problems than expected. With N6KI's assistance we decided that the amp was probably OK but dialed back the input power to 40 watts (resulting in what turned out to be just under 1KW) putting
me back on the air at 03:30z. After midnight another operator checked the hardware configuration
to resolve the display problem. After being assured everything was ok, I ran most of the contest
at the 1.3kw level.

WQ6X spotted on 20 meters
By the time things were up and running smoothly, there wasn't much left in the way of EU stations to work on 40 meters. 80 meters was virtually dead. With 26 40 meter QSOs in the log, I decided it was time to get some sleep. By 13:15z Europe was coming through on 20 meters so I ran a frequency on 14026.26. At 13:51z with 36 QSOs in the log it was time to "cash out" some QTC messages in books of 10. A few minutes later I began another set of 10 QTC messages. Midway through those messages the system CRASHED, requiring an extensive reboot procedure, involving a rebuild of the N1MM.Ini file - YUCK!

Rebooting Station #1
Over the course of the weekend
I counted a DOZEN system CRASHes; over half of them occurring during the sending of QTC messages.

This leads me to wonder if there
is a design flaw in N1MM+, or, as I suspect, the hard drive in Station #1's laptop is failing, one sector at a time.

We will soon know the truth about that.

Throughout the weekend stateside stations would call me after I called "CQ EU".
Several stations persisted so I would then send "EU ONLY" and they would move on. Wassup with that? Do they NoT understand what "CQ EU" means? (They seem to get it when I send "EU ONLY".) Or, do they NoT hear the "EU" in my calling sequence? (Never call a station if you do NoT FULLY understand who their CQ is intended for.) Or, do they just not care? (Poor operating ethics.)

WQ6X Spotted on 40 meters
Some Canadian stations were just WEIRD during WAE. Every couple of hours CG3AT would call me. I would send "EU ONLY" and he would go away. 2 hours later he would again call me and I would AGAIN send "EU ONLY". HuH?
Did you NoT get it the first time?

If so, then you are not listening. If you
DiD get it, then why would you call me a 2nd and 3rd time? Nothing has changed dewd - I'm still ONLY working Europe.

While trying to pull UR5MW thru the noise, a VE3 showed up and started calling him WHILE he was transmitting.  Radio operations 101 teaches us that if we are calling a station WHILE he is transmitting he will not be able to hear us; in fact we will be QRMing him.  I had to ask UR5MW to repeat his info 6 times.

It is POOR operating ethics to try and STEAL a QSO away from the original caller.  When I sent "QRL LID", he sent back "Get an RX".  I HAVE a receiver.

However when another station (the VE3) is transmitting on EXACTLY the same frequency as a weak noise-obliterated signal, NO receiver will be able to pull the weak UR5 station through.

Some operators need to clean up their act. Because Europe was gone on 40 meters by 07:00z
I never had to put up with the usual intentional 40 meter QRM.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, the sending of QTC messages is what sets the WAE contest apart from all others.

In WAE, a QTC message is a piece of traffic detailing one or more QSOs previously made.

For each QSO previously made I send the time-of-day, the callsign of the station I worked and the serial # I received from that station.

Non-EU stations are allowed to send up to 10 QTC messages to any EU station that is willing to receive the info. We BOTH get a QSO point for each QTC message sent/received.

Frequently while running a frequency a station will send "QTC?"; meaning, "do you have QTC traffic for me?". With N1MM+ I press Ctrl-Z and up pops a special sub-screen allowing me to send the QTC messages quickly, one at a time. Were it not for the EXCELLENT design of this facility I would not have been willing to play the QTC game. For the 2017 WAE GiG I made 231 QSOs and sent 230 QTC messages for a combined total of 461 QSO points.

The propagation for WAE was WEIRD. While the K-Index was a 2, on 40-meters the noise level was S-7+; something I would expect from a K-Index of 4.

Overall, 20 meters was relatively quiet noise-wise, altho many of the signals had the usual "polar flutter" which can make copying serial #'s a bit tricky.

On 15 meters, I made numerous CQ EU calls and was immediately spotted by the skimmers. Unfortunately I managed only 1 QSO, with OH0Z. On 10 meters my CQs were also spotted,
but only in N. America - bummer dewd.

WAE Ending Screen - Calling CQ EU on 15 meters
Despite the dozen computer crashes I found the WAE contest a LoT of fun. I now rate WAE in my top 5 radiosport events. Because of the QTC messages, I felt like a player in a poker tournament who had a bounty over his head; except my bounty renewed itself every 10 QSOs I made; right up to the end of the contest.

Did YOU play in the Worked All Europe contest?

Is WQ6X in YOUR Log?

Monday, August 7, 2017

WQ6X Teams up for the NAQP CW contest

NX6T (stations #1 & #2) being revamped
During this past week, serendipity has continuously tiptoed thru virtually everything I did. 
As Friday rolled around, serendipity was caught LooKing the other way as a solar storm embedded itself in the upper atmosphere, adding more challenge to an already challenging event: NAQP CW.

WQ6X's remote operation from SF bay area
In between client obligations and a trip with W7AYT to HRO in Oakland, I managed just under 10 hoiurs of OP-
time (the maximum for single-OP entries).

Because all the other NX6T OPs were operating elsewhere, I had access to the entire NX6T station facility;
whether I needed it or not.

With the new air conditioning in the shack, the heat-related computer crashes seem to be a thing of the past; except for a random crash @00:25z.

On Saturday morning I was actually ready 2 hours before the contest; a shocker if you know how
I operate. I managed to snag several unique DX contacts while editing the N1MM keyboard macros. Pointing the C-31 yagi in several directions I noticed the received signals were over 6db stronger
than on the Stepp-IR on tower #2 at the same height.

I began NAQP promptly at 18:00z. In years past I often scrificed the 1st hour. This year I just got
right on with it. After a brief flurry S&P contacts I settled in on 14031.31, quickly filling the log with
contacts from all over North America.

Eventually I worked everything hearable with the C-31 yagi pointed northeast. When it came time
to look in other directions, unfortunately, the rotor seemed to have failed (later confirmed by K6AM & N6KI after a shack inspection on Sunda). Fortunately, I had access to the Stepp-IR yagi (on Tower 2) relegating it to other directions than just northeast.

With the 180 & BI-directional features
of the antenna's control box I was able
to cover all other compass directions.  Because the Stepp-IR is 90 degrees ahead of the 40 meter yagi, to keep track of where to point it, I drew a
chart on the white board.

By 19:15z I was able to take advantage of a 15 meter opening, putting over 2 dozen QSOs into the log before taking time off to join W7AYT to pick out a rotator @ HRO in Oakland and lunch
at the local Sushi King in Alameda.

This took care of the required two hours of single-OP off time; I was free to operate the remainder
of the NAQP thru to it's 06:00z ending.

Restarting @ 22:00z I gave a long CQ NAQP call on 10 meters, to no avail. After putting another bunch of QSOs in the log on 15 meters it was back to 20 running another frequency (14059.59).

This put over 200 QSOs in the log, until 00:00z when running out of new stations prompted me into S&P (Search & Pounce) mode. For 25 minutes I made QSOs from the top of the CW band moving downward until a computer crash ended that action at 00:25z.

After a thorough computer reboot and verification of internet path efficacy I was back in action with only a 15 minute loss. After a few more S&P QSOs, it was down to 40 meters to repeat the 20 meter success (but in reverse). After nearly an hour of top -> bottom S&P activity I settled in on another
run frequency (7020.20). 
40 meter spots for WQ6X

While we are not allowed to use internet spotting networks to make contacts, because I was running frequencies most of the time,
internet spots were not needed.

During the Search & Pounce (S&P) periods, I simply set the VFO up to
60-khz into the band and tuned downward in frequency, working each station as I encountered them. When a station could not hear me for some reason or the pileups were too great, I stored that callsign in the bandmap for later and continued on down the band.

After 90 minutes of filling up the log on 40 meters I made a move to 80 meters (3535.35) giving new stations to work, all over again. With a fixed semi-droopy inverted Vee for 80 meters, I never expect much to happen, however the "free" QSOs and new band-multipliers are worth the CQ time.

80 meter spots for WQ6X
 By 04:00z WQ6X slid right back
into the 7020.20 slot, continuing
the momentum experienced
before the move to 80.

At 05:30z another run on 3535.35 put another 13 QSOs in the log to end the NAQP CW contest.

While I managed several hours of productive runtime, atmospheric noise on 40 (even worse on 80) made signal copy tricky.

That noise, coupled with occasional random, momentary internet drop outs would clip letters from callsigns.

Careful tuning with the outboard Autek QF-1A helped sort out the QRM from multiple calling stations.
However, because of internet clipping, stations that called CQ signing their callsign only once many times required me to sit thru several CQ cycles JUST to get their callsign.

Consider the difference between "CQ NAQP WQ%X" or "CQ NAQP W@6X" versus "CQ NAQP WQ%X WQ6X" and "CQ NAQP "%Q6X WQ6X". I ALWAYS sign WQ6X TWICE on EVERY CQ call
to reduce confusion on the receiving end.  Doing this actually reduces the actual number of CQ
calls per dozen QSOs worked.

An interesting phenomenon I have
been dealing with goes by the callsign
of N5ZO.
In recent contests, Marko loves to work me and then move 200hz off frequency
to call CQ contest. For this NAQP in the last 10 minutes of my running 3535.35
he suddenly appeared on 3535.55
calling CQ.

Sending QRL QSY a bunch of times did no good, so, running split I dialed the TX frequency up 200hz and sent QRL QSY
5 times before he shut up. In looking at the log I didn't even get the benefit of
a QSO with him on 80 meters.
WTF was THAT all about?

Overall, this was one of the better running NAQP events I have participatted in for many a year.
While the Space WX numbers were not encouraging, I managed over 500 QSOs in the log.
Because the GiG ends at 06:00z, I was not subjected to the usual intentional QRM barrage
that usually occurs after 08:00z; N5ZO was as bad as it got.

Submitting the log to the 3830 Scores website, I see that WQ6X took 9th place for W6 - California.

Did YOU work the NAQP CW contest?
Is WQ6X in YOUR Log?