Should contest rules allow and act upon 599K QRM reports?

Sunday 30 July 2023

MM3T IOTA Contest 2023

 I had heard that Gordon MM0GOR (MM1E) was off to the Isle of Man as part of MD1U effort, so I thought it would be nice to keep the Isle of Bute activated for the contest.

Unfortunately the RSGB has got involved with politics again, last time they thought they knew better than the CMO and felt they had to play about with the rules for COVID.

Now the RSGB wants to get involved directly with world affairs by disallowing Russian and Belarus radio hams to compete (check logs only). Maybe its just me, but I thought that politics was a no go subject for radio hams to discuss on the air and that an important part of amateur radio was to extend the hand of friendship and break down any perceived differences through communication. This stance seems to have been lost on the men and women that are currently running the show at RSGB HQ especially in the contest committee.

Lets just keep ham radio a friendly place for like minded people despite the crazy world around us.

Anyway, back to the IOTA contest. As I blogged earlier during COVID, I'm always at an alternative location other than my home address for the IOTA contest dates, the RSGB stopped me competing even from my own holiday house (EU5) during COVID. Personally speaking I'm now so disenchanted with the IOTA contest and the way it has been run, I missed last year completely and I was also going to boycott it this year due to its world affairs stance, but in the end I made a last minute decision to go across to Bute and air MM3T.

This year due to lack of enthusiasm, I went light with a QRP entry. This was a mistake. In past years the fun factor was definitely affected due to wire antennas, compromised setup, uncomfy operating  positions (car/tent), poor condx and low power. The less effort I made the less fun I had. Over the last decade I have been looking for that perfect effort to fun ratio and I had learnt that the K2 with 100W and an aerial51 light weight off-centre fed dipole on a 12m spiderpole was the sweet point for me. Verticals are pointless from Bute as DX interest in IOTA is sparse compared to EU and there is hardly any clear sea path to anywhere from any point on Bute. High angle radiation takes advantage of being on EU123 and working back to EU5 for maximum point advantage. This year I forgot all those lessons and went QRP with 5w from an Elecraft KX3 to an EFHW in an inverted L format. The results were very predictable, lots of running with very few answers.

I have a contesting weakness in that I enjoy running and hate search and pounce. The reason for this is when I listen to some other operators whilst enduring S&P, their inefficiency is astounding. I get very impatient and end up shouting at the radio in frustration. These inefficiencies are well documented on this blog so I won't rake over that again. When I'm running, I take great pleasure in rattling through a pile-up in the most efficient manner possible. People in the past have commented on my operating style as "rude", no pleasantries, minimalistic and efficient. When a station goes into the noise, I don't ask for repeats I just drop them and carry on. When a station asks for my call I just call CQ again. When the pile-up intensifies my speed goes up to roll off the slow ops and as it becomes sporadic my speed goes down to aid copy. Its a joy to be in control. Listening to others they will hold a 10 deep pile up asking for repeats and struggling for minutes to complete a Q.... crazy, and I seem to always tune onto them just as they start to work someone playing QRP and running 1mw into a coat hanger.... "again again G8 again". I do understand that search and pounce is necessary for the score, but i find it an absolute chore. This maybe because I am not a dxer, I do not collect QSLs and I don't have a per band DXCC country interest. I'm therefore really poor at search and pounce. Also I hardly ever use the cluster as having someone else point you at the DX kind of makes it too easy, its like going fishing without a rod and someone else handing you their rod after hooking a big fish and letting you reel it in... pointless.

Anyway EU123 was on the air until I worked GM7M who had 5x my Q total after only 4 hours. I decided that EU123 was being well aired by that team and that QRP wasn't for me. I did notice an increase in stations asking for the report again and got the feeling they were expecting EU5 and when they got EU123 they needed to confirm....that's what I get for missing a few years IOTA.

There was an extra incentive to pack up, after struggling for 1.5 hours to get the antenna up on the beach, I slumped (sweating) into the shack/driver seat switched on the radio only to hear "brrr brrr brrr brrrrrrrrrrp" repeating over and over at S9 on every band. And no it wasn't all the clangers on .073 it was some other crappy data nonsense. I then noticed a roadside connection cabinet, so probably some kind of botched cable joint or termination. I seriously considered just accepting this bad luck and working round it, but after coffee I worked up enough energy to swing the top horizontal section of the inverted L round the beach to minimise the interference. I got it down to S3 and tied it off there just in time for the contest start.

Of course I started running first and got very little interest. Its always depressing when a caller comes in on 40m from EU5 (G4IRN) at well over S9 and then nothing.... How can this be, surely there are 1000s of keen EU5 stations searching for elusive IOTA multipliers.... the answer to this today was apparently: NO. If the Radcom "The Last Word" is to be believed and most 80m conversations, most UK operators are anti-contest. The opportunity is there to have a lot of fun collecting all the IOTA offerings round the UK and being extremely competitive, but it seems to be trendy right now to hate contesters and try to insist on have nets and chatting about tomatoes and illnesses through some really cool contest activities. Its frustrating when you go to a lot of effort to activate an island so find the band full of strong signals all disinterested in even giving contesting a chance. The amount of negativity and moaning I hear mostly on 80m SSB from the anti-contest brigade is astounding.... and nothing may I add is being done by the contesters back to this negativity (there exists a gentlemanly silence). It would be nice to hear one of these "all I heard was "CQ contest" and I just reached for the off switch" conversations on 80m and someone to stand up to them and say "well I don't agree, do you know becoming more informed in contesting could better your home station, do you know you can become a better operator, did you know your topics of conversation don't need to be about gardening".

With antenna and radio packed up I headed home through Bute Fest at Ettrick bay to catch an early ferry home. Note to self, never do QRP again with a poor wire antenna in a compromised location. 

Sunday 7 May 2023

No Test? Why?

 Yet again I came across this strange behaviour. A special event station operating in cw during a major contest and taking the time to send "no test". Why do this? Surely the point of running a special event station is to make lots of contacts? Why not just add a 3 digit number to each QSO? You don't need to be interested in the contest and you don't need to register or buy a ticket to enter. You don't need to send in your log, or be super efficient with each qso, but you can make a lot of people happy, and who knows you may even have fun... god forbid? With all that said there will always be the type that feel they need to make a point... "no test".

I have listened and read a lot of real hate towards contesters in recent times and there is very little fight back from contesters. There seems to be no space in the hobby, frequency limited, band limited, weekend limited, it isn't enough for some. The trouble seems to stem from operators who think they "own" a frequency for a regular "net" or bandplans with recommended frequencies for centre of operation for a specific mode like SSTV. When a contest 'intrudes' on these frequencies, non-contest operators feel violated and deliberately QRM the offenders, hardly the ham spirit?

I could be cruel and say I've learned more from an episode of East Enders than I have heard on these "nets". Each to their own, I'm not interested in talking about tomatoes, my health or my audio or how to work my radio (RTFM), am I going to complain about the rubbish these "rag-chewers" talk, no, we are all hams together enjoying our own version of the hobby.

Sunday 11 December 2022

MM3T in CQWW CW 2022

 I soooo much wanted to use the Flexradio 6500 for this contest just to justify its purchase, but in practice sessions before the contest I could not get SO2V, semi SO2R or 2BSIQ to work with N1MM+. The problem was that there are so many guides written for old versions of both SSDR and N1MM+ and the wrong version of radio (ie 6700 or 6600) that only confusion and wasted time results. I tried setting up 2 slices on the same band but annoyingly if I clicked with the mouse on the screen N1MM+ would crazily swap the audio to the wrong VFO meaning I just couldn't use it. After a week of reading every available guide I finally gave in having never been beaten by anything radio/computer related in nearly 40 years.

I packed up the 6500 and instead switched to using my trusty FTDX101D. The difference was instantaneous, I was playing radio rather than fighting interacting software with different authors. The added benefit was that now I had a hope of dealing with ridiculously poor signal quality from the likes of Todor LZ4TX.  Todor hasn't yet realised that with big antennas and big power comes the added responsibility of ensuring a CLEAN TX. On 10m Todor is around 599+30 here but the big problem is the width of his transmission which during the last YO contest reached 25KHz wide on the FTDX101D effectively wiping out 10m. A quick internet search revealed that he uses an Alpin 200 (2.5Kw) linear amplifier and a 7 element yagi on 10m. I guess he hasn't read the manual properly and doesn't know driving it full tilt will cause problems.

Anyway with the 6500 safely packed away , I finally got down to selecting my entry category. I'd have loved to do a 10m mono band entry as 10m was in great shape, but Todor could show up and with the resulting 25KHz of key clicks and QRM I would have just had to pack up. I've always dreamed about activating a rare island and experiencing handling big pile-ups and really enjoy short, snappy efficient Qs and trying to get the run rate up. I would be working right up to Christmas and was involved with trying to deliver a new product in a stressful environment so didn't want to completely knacker myself for Monday morning. The 'classic' category being only 24 hours would help and also would ensure high run rates. I wanted all bands to be able to move according to the conditions. No cluster was allowed, but I intended to RUN RUN RUN anyway to see how many Qs I could make. This doesn't make sense if I was trying to win the contest as you need to S&P to get multipliers, but this wasn't going to happen anyway as there are too many retired contesters who have invested in their properties and antenna farms and can therefore run with substantial pile ups for the full 24 hours no matter their skill level. I've listened in to some of my competition and the amount of inefficiency on show should really relegate them into obscurity, but their station always secures the result. With this is mind and my pip-squeak scaffold pole in the garden, I decided to have fun and train for pile-ups instead.

I would be using an Optibeam OB10-5w wire, 5 band yagi (2-3 element on 10m, 2 element on 15m. moxon on 20m) at 5m over the ground. I live in a residential area of a large town and have close neighbours who have been very patient with me over the years. I want a bigger station, but in reality I'd have to move to larger premises to achieve it. At 5m over the ground, if my antenna were to come down the wrong way it would still land in a neighbours garden, so I'm already pushing the envelope. My garden resembles a long strip of land with the house in the middle, so I can just about shoe horn in a straight 40m length from the back garden over the house roof to the front garden. The antenna used for this location was an 80m doublet fed with 300 ohm ribbon feeder but due to the centre proximity to the house bedrooms, I wouldn't be able to use it late at night.

The back garden support for a doublet leg is a 5m light weight aluminium pole. I decided that this could double as the initial vertical section for a centre loaded  quarter wave inverted L for 160m. I designed a coil that would give me the correct inductance that when coupled to the top of the pole and then extended with a 10m wire section would be resonant on the 160m band. The resulting antenna was a real inefficient mess, but I hoped it would allow me some contacts with some of the bigger stations.

The stage was set for an all band effort and with my category picked and strategy decided for me, I got ready for the contest.

The contest started and Todor was no where to be seen (result!), but 10m wasn't in such good shape as it had been during the week lead up to the contest. I operated for 24 or the 48 hours and made 2430 Qs (around 0.6 Qs per minute), peak rate was around 130 Qs per hour on 20m.

The dirtiest signal encountered belonged to DP9A. They moved onto 14.042 at 08:00 (1KHz above me) and instantly wiped me out. I QSY'd up and asked them to QSY (ignored) then later on I asked them to check their linear amp, but just got ignored again. With my run frequency smashed I had no alternative to give them my frequency. At 6KHz wide key clicks, my radio (FTDX101D) just couldn't do anything to allow me to continue on my frequency. A quick look up of the internet on their callsign (DP9A - Callsign Lookup by QRZ Ham Radio) revealed another superstation. Why oh why do they spend so much money on antennas and ignore their transmit IMD? I think we all know why... they are cheats, plain and simple. It is advantageous to make make your transmit signal as dirty as possible to punch a hole in the band where your receiver can survive all the other stations trying to compete. The result is a lovely clear frequency to pick up rare multipliers. It must be fantastic to operate during CQWW CW within a 6KHz window clear of QRM unheard of to most competitor actually playing by their license conditions. Maybe the Bavarian Contest Club can educate them before they do too much damage to the clubs reputation.

Sunday 28 August 2022

Cw contesting and sending /QRP at the end of your call... just don't do it!

 There is no such thing as /QRP.

In a contest its all about efficiency, why in the world would a contest operator want to know you are running QRP? In my 30+ years of contesting I have never written /QRP into my contest log. When someone sends this, I always send back the proper callsign without /QRP. You would think this would be a good clue that he is regarded as a poor operator when no one ever acknowledges the /QRP he sends.

The type of person that normally does this is always sending slow and will repeat this nonsense twice to ensure you get his pip-squeek signal. The effect is normally to slow the contest operators Q-rate and maybe lose other waiting stations due to the length of time it takes him to complete the Q.

If you want to play games during a contest like turning your power down to mW level, please try to at least be efficient with the exchange:

a) Do not sign /QRP

b) Do not repeat your callsign twice ...ever

c) Do not stick in another TU because you want the other op to know you are very grateful, they will not thank you for it.

Wednesday 3 August 2022

IOTA 2022 experience using Flexradio 6300 and v3 SSDR (multiflex)

 After previous years (since inception of IOTA) of hard effort (dxpedition to EU123) and then having the door slammed by the RSGB on any effort during COVID in 2021 (as I was on holiday in EU5 at my own holiday accommodation), I decided not to bother with the contest this year. Instead I would use it test out Flexradio SSDR multiflex capability. For the Flexradio 6300, this allows 2 ops to have apparently separate receivers (using the 2 available slices of the 6300) and also share the transmitter of the 6300.

I used a laptop running N1MM+ and connected to the 6300 using Smart CAT for frequency and mode for the log and also to emulate a winkey for CW transmission of N1MM+ macro messages. I also had a Flexradio Maestro, so I connected that to the 6300 so I didn't need to run SSDR on the laptop (to keep the load on the laptop to a minimum).

My fellow tester (MM0GBK) used a laptop running N1MM+, but this time used Smart CAT and SSDR software as his interface to the 6300.

Both stations were located in the same room and were connected to the 6300 via the same ethernet switch. I was using CW and MM0GBK/P was using SSB

Multiflex is automatically invoked by the 6300 when detecting multiple connections (6300 is capable of having 2 connections: in this case Maestro hardware and SSDR software running on a laptop). Transmission capability is allowed on a first come first served basis and the other connected user is 'locked out' whilst the transmission is in progress.

This type of operation is best suited to S&P which allows both users to search for unworked stations and then take turns at working them sharing the same transmitter. This worked perfectly during the contest and seemed to handle the occasional time we would both try to transmit at the same time (no power out indicated to the loser). Running leads to the other user having too little time between transmissions to find stations.

All in all zero lock ups were observed by both users however, cw generation via Smart CAT emulator wasn't well timed with occasional sidetone audio aberrations (not sure whether they were transmitted or not) even though an Intel i5 8 core was in charge without SSDR running (Maestro doing the heavy lifting). This led to me to think I'd be better off with a real winkey or some other keying method.

I would not recommend Flexradio, SSDR or multiflex to any serious contester due to rx latency, inaccurate cw generation, cost, hardware reliability, complexity, etc, etc, etc. However interesting the concept, it just took too long for the company to get it right and as a result has lost all momentum and user base (especially in CW contesting).

Currently the majority of Flexradio users are digital and SSB mode users. CW has never been implemented well, with the company mainly listening to the American full break-in casual ops instead of world wide serious contesters. Casual CW ops may like the Flexradio offering, but this should not be confused with serious contesting equipment.

Saturday 12 February 2022

FTDX10 headphone receive audio hiss problem and solution

 The FTDX10 is a great radio, but the audio through the front headphones socket is awful. Listening through the headphones, if you turn the volume to minimum there is an annoying hiss within my hearing range (approx 200Hz -> 12KHz). When the volume is turned up slowly you start to hear the real receiver noise come up, but you can still hear the false hiss above the real audio. If you keep turning the volume up the receiver noise then completely overcomes the false hiss, but the volume is now too loud for comfortable listening.

My problem is that I am predominantly a CW operator and am therefore only interested in sound <1KHz in frequency coming from the headphones (normal specification 20Hz to 20KHz). Non music, communication headphones (20Hz to 10KHz) help with this problem, but I couldn't find a pair of communication headphones that would get rid of the annoying false hiss from the FTDX10, suggesting that the false hiss frequency content was below 10KHz.

I thought about audio filtering solutions out there like Timewave DSP-599ZX or MFJ-751B but the last thing I wanted to do was spend more money on another box after shelling out over a grand for the radio. I also wanted to use the radio portable and wanted to keep any solution as simple as possible. I therefore opted to make one myself. I wasn't completely sure what part of the audio spectrum was causing my discomfort, but it was likely that an annoying hiss would be caused by frequencies above 1KHz and as I only needed frequencies below this for CW this seemed like a good target frequency to begin attenuation from.

Remembering that headphone audio is stereo, I would need 2 identical low pass filter circuits, one for the left and one for the right audio channel. Most headphone leads consist of 2 wires for each channel audio (L&R) each of which has an individual screen, but the screen is common from the 'S' part of a TRS (TipRingScreen) audio jack.

I wanted to be able to swap headphones but the keep the low pass filter in line, so the solution was to create a 15cm stub of audio cable terminated at one end with a male TRS audio jack (3.5mm male TRS audio jack in the case of the FTDX10) to go into the radio. The other end of the stub would be open wire for connection into the twin low pass filter circuit, the output of which would then go to a female TRS audio socket which my headphones would plug into. The picture above shows my headphones jack plug on the left hand side, the twin low pass filter circuit in the centre and the open wire end of the stub going to the radio on the right hand side.

The picture has enough detail to get the component values, but the calculation for the cut off frequency goes as follows:

f = 1/2 x pi x R x C


1/2 x 3.14 x 1500 x 0.1uF

= 1061Hz

Its only a single stage audio filter so the roll off is gentle as the audio frequency goes up, but it achieves total attenuation of the annoying audio hiss without too much wanted audio drop.

Remember, avoid directly grounding either of the audio channels to the screen. Please test with a DVM to make sure you haven't made a mistake before connecting to your expensive radio.

Try it, however you do so at your own risk. I think you will like it! 

Wednesday 29 December 2021

FT8 and the death of ham radio as I knew it

If you are an FT8 troll then please just move on, this is not for you.

I've been a Ham radio operator since 1986 so you could say I'm an experienced ham radio operator in comparison to all 'FT8 only' operators. I know that I can get more contacts and get further using FT8.

Q) Why don't I use FT8 all the time then?

There is the potential for an exponential gain in pleasure and satisfaction through using other richer communication modes. I know 'FT8 only' operators will enjoy them more than FT8 because I have experienced FT8 and other modes with all types of setup ranging from simple to contest grade.

Q) Why do I hear other experienced hams using FT8?

They are using them only when conditions necessitate i.e. marginal conditions where you cannot properly hear any desired signals on the band. It's also tempting for an experienced operator to be lazy and switch off the brain and leave the computer to have fun whilst doing something more interesting instead. 

Q) FT8 can hear signals that other modes cannot. I can get further on a very meagre setup due to power, antenna, noise problems. Why therefore wouldn't I use this all the time?

Firstly due to lack of experience 'FT8 only' operators do not understand that if you can hear an FT8 signal with your own ears, you are in the wrong mode. If you can hear FT8, then you will be able to make CW contacts and listen to SSB signals. What percentage of FT8 contacts did you make where you couldn't hear any signal coming back (10%??). Most operators would not use FT8 all the time because compared to other modes its NOT a proper communication mode. A simple report is NOT communication, but 'FT8 only' operators wouldn't know this because most are inexperienced. Believe me an exponential gain is to be had by trying out ANY real communication mode.

Q) When I listen to the SSB or CW portions of the 10m band they are dead, but I can always HEAR FT8.

Join the club. It's frustrating isn't it? If you can HEAR FT8 it means the band is open for all modes. The vast majority of those using FT8 don't know this and through lack of education or shear laziness continue to use a weak signal mode even when conditions are excellent. It's not unusual for me to tune an entire 10m band and hear nothing except a solid 3KHz window of S9 FT8 signals and the entire beacon section bursting S9 with every country in Europe....and for the FT8 smart asses - yes, I did call CQ in both CW and SSB to no avail. Between 1986-2010 this was unheard of. So again take it from experience, FT8 has killed ham radio as I knew it.  

Q) It's a real challenge to get FT8 working correctly and there is a science behind getting good results

Bollocks. Most 'FT8 only' operators don't even understand how to improve the sensitivity/selectivity of their receiver. This is made painfully obvious by the majority of FT8 users who use SSB and 3KHz filters and inject tones into the transmit audio chain. Its odd that you strive for the best your meagre setup can achieve by using FT8, then use the general convenience of an audio based setup and ignore all the available facilities your receiver provides??? There is no way you should be using 3KHz SSB for these marginal contacts. DSP alone won't hack it when FT8 is being as misused as it is today (due to lack of strong signal handling performance). You should be using a mode that can select a narrow filter and the VFO to place the FT8 signal within the passband of the narrowest filter possible i.e. digital mode with 300Hz roofing filter, for increased signal to noise ratio. This is difficult to get right but yields better results in crowded misused FT8 band conditions. Which is it then? Just being lazy/uneducated or striving for the best for you meagre set up???

Q) Why don't you just get on with your hobby and not comment on mine?

Because we have a shared hobby (i.e. communication??? kind of infers more than one person???) and a lack of understanding by a majority of new operators therefore directly affects my hobby.

When a good skier chats to a novice skier and they tell you to stick with it because the hobby comes into its own if you persevere and get past the 'snow plough' technique, do you tell him to mind his own business, as you want to do the snow plough forever because its easier... no, probably because you've seen good skiers on the TV doing parallel turns and can see how awesome it looks you'll realise you would gain by making an effort to get better. Trouble is there is no equivalent in the ham radio world. The nearest we come is education (or elmering), so take it from me, if you are doing nothing but FT8 you are missing out on a lot of fun and also you are not contributing in a positive way to the rest of the hobby.

More and more lazy 'FT8 only' operators are joining the hobby and a lot of good 'all mode' operators are dying of old age. This is causing the death of ham radio as I knew it.

Please contribute to the continuation of ham radio by educating yourself in the use of your receiver and use other modes.