Monday, 19 February 2018
I'm just back from doing the above contest. Using a K1EL winkey within the Microham DigikeyerII and Win-test contest logging software. I had the following problems: 1) When setting the Microham software to provide PTT with lead (20ms, to protect hot-switching amp) and constant tail (10ms, minimum allowable setting) I discovered that Win-Test drops the PTT on spaces when sending predetermined cw messages, even though it knows it hasn't sent the complete message. To counter this without lengthening the standard PTT tail, you need to replace spaces with several ^ characters (the halfspace character with 1/2 dot duration). 2) My laptop computer (Dell D630 single processor 2.4GHz processor speed) running cw skimmer, microham router software and Win-Test caused variable cw timing, pauses, burps and stalls when too many Win-Test windows were open (such as instant rate monitor, world map, statistics and other non-essential windows). This is puzzling as the K1EL is meant to be there to offload timing from the processor precisely to get rid of these timing problems. 3) CW sending speed would range every so often between the correct speed and about double that requested, normally at the "tu GM5A" end part of the exchange. 4) The winkey was set up to have independent speed control (alt-v for Win-Test messages and speed control on Microham for hand sent morse). In most cases the two speeds were the same, even when set differently!. A few taps of the escape key would return the hand sent speed to that suggested. 5) When joining a message with hand sent morse, there was always a stall, I think you have to tap the key then start sending with the key. All in all the net performance was far short of the required performance. Everyone hated whatever was causing all these faults, determining which part of the setup is responsible is difficult. The team recon that returning to a simple serial port transistor switched PTT and CW sending method would cure most problems. I am disappointed with the Microham and K1EL keyer for making such a bad job of a simple task!
Saturday, 30 December 2017
I bought one of these antennas at the Lincoln national hamfest from Martyn Lynch. I had bought a 40m OCFD from them before which seemed to work fine, so decided to go for something a bit more expensive. At £200 this antenna isn't cheap, but I bought it for some practical reasons: 1) I wanted an antenna with low noise 2) That would add height to my scaffold pole support (so the antenna would clear my roof line) 3) Multi-band capable as I have a small plot and only one support. 4) Needed something better than my OCFD for CQWW CW contest in 2017. The antenna arrived after an unplanned 3 month wait due to EAantennas not being able to keep up with orders. During the wait I complained to Martyn Lynch who offered a 10% reduction on price, then to EAantennas directly who responded, but failed to get the antenna to me for CQWW CW (It arrived the day after the contest). During assembly I noticed multiple problems: 1) The insulator clamps that hold the elements to the mounting plate are very odd. A clamp in my mind is something with 2 separate parts, these were one solid part with bolts through them. How does this clamp the element? (poor design). 2) The bolts that go through the insulator clamps are just long enough to catch the nut on the opposite side of the mounting plate. After much hassle I ended up flattening the spring washer with pliers to enable 1 turn on adjoining nut (poor design). 3) The balun is secured to the base plate and the element ends to the balun, if the element clamps fail, the elements can rotate and the connection bolts are long enough to short to the base plate (poor design). 4) The elements are too long and heavy for the surface area of the base plate, this means the element clamps are too close together, meaning the antenna is self-detonating in ANY sort of wind. With the antenna assembled I mounted it to the end of the scaffold pole (6m long) and raised the antenna in the sky. Inside I tried the antenna on 10 and sure enough the SWR was around a 2:1 in the cw portion. Jumping to 20m, the SWR was around 1.5:1. Not too shabby! I moved to 30m and used my LDG RM600 remote tuner (directly under the antenna) to bring the antenna into resonance. I was excited to try 30m as my OCFD never allowed me to operate there. I put the linear on and decide to start low at 250w to see how it played (the instructions say maximum potential 1Kw). I made 5x 1min qsos before the SWR started to rise, I could tell straight away it was the balun as after a while to allow it to cool down, the SWR would start behaving again. Maybe the antenna was so far out of resonance on 30m that I could only run 100w there. Oh well, I moved to 40m after an hour or so to let things cool and repeated the above experiment. Unfortunately the same thing occurred. At this point I realised I had bought a pup! The balun was completely useless! Luckily I had a proper 400w 4:1 balun made by GWhip. I went out and swapped out the EAantennas balun and tried the above experiments again and this time no problems (still fine at time of writing). The only downside was that I could no longer tune 30m (2.5:1 swr best case after tuning). The weather deteriorated after a week of having the antenna up and the forecast said 25mph winds. I had my doubts, but the specs said >85mph for the antenna, so I left it up. Big mistake, in what I would call light winds, the antenna started to bend at the base plate. Unfortunately I was at work, so by the time I got home, the antenna was at a 20 degree angle from vertical. I rotated the antenna round into the wind the other way and the wind straightened it up somewhat. What a pile of junk! Totally useless! This antenna is going in the skip (minus the after market gwhip balun, its actually worth keeping as its specifications are truthful and it performs to specification unlike the Delta 7B). Do not buy the Delta 7B unless you live on the moon.
Friday, 3 November 2017
1) "my callsign" being sent by a caller...I know my callsign! 2) Unnecessary "tu" reply after my "tu" which covers the next caller....thanks for slowing my rate, agn agn?! 3) "579" rx report rather than just "599" ,does it really matter?...arg tab? space? QRX QRX! 4) "/QRP" ...never do them the favour of repeating back this stupidity...not in log more like! 4) "CFM"...thanks for this needless remark and for slowing my rate! Please note DL especially. 5) "?" covering over callers...you impatient f%^k...just wait till I repeat my call every 20-30secs! 6) "ur call?"...why did you call me if you don't know my call? Just wait till my next cq call you muppet! 7) "pse QRS"...no, you called me, you have all the time in the world to work my callsign out. Did you recognise any of these? An additional note: The reason I am going >30wpm is to role off the pile-up...in short I want to lose your Q...don't call me mid pile-up under 20wpm in this situation, just tune on... I'll get you S&P later at your speed.
Hurray! After 4 years and multiple posts/complaints from cw operators all over the world, Flexradio has finally realised that PTT doesn't work in CW mode. A fix came in v2 of SSDR software and now we can use Flexradio in CW mode (non QSK) for the first time! Flexradio seemed too wrapped up in dealing with QSK ragchew operators and only recently (when looking at contesters needs) finally realised that the customer knew best all along. The fix wasn't well advertised and I was most surprised to find it worked when I tested v2. Now when you unkey you don't have to wait for a QSK delay thus missing the prefix of any return callers. This was the last big bug I have in the basic functionality of SSDR. Now hopefully we can get a noise blanker or some noise reduction functions that work for everyone.
After all the bugs I found on the President Lincoln II for cw operation (see this blog), I was eager to try the II+ to see if President had bothered correcting any of them. Nevada had a flash sale and I decided to pick one up. I shall get straight to the point here.... 0 cw changes...I repeat 0 cw changes. What a massive disappointment. Long DAH problem when initial sent cw element is meant to be a DIT - still there Need to use RIT or split to equalise TX/RX frequencies to make any cw contacts - still the case Initial sent cw DAH frequency change due to RIT being off centre - still there Still the crap double sideband receiver mess - still the case And a new one....when you press and hold the up or down scan button on the microphone, you only hear the frequency you started the scan on. The only way to hear each frequency is to continuously tap either button leaving enough time for the audio to recover between each press. The radio sounds awful, I'm never finished fiddling with the RIT, something in the receiver chain blows big time...voices sound weak and dual tone like a dalek (I'm being kind here). I really cannot express my disappointment in this radio enough. It's not even that I bought an early version (both v3) or a Friday pup, I have two of them and both sound crap. I cannot believe anyone out there who owns an original Lincoln could like this radio. RF engineers at President should hang their heads in shame. Your peers really have showed you a clean pair of heels, the young apprentice has tried to take SMT short cuts and been distracted by DSP trickery and the result is a radio only the newbies could want to like (due to the cost). Any company who has been given free testing resource, free feedback and ignores it all and adds insult to injury by producing an update and calling it "+" as if it is an improvement, then just knocking out the same old crap deserves to go bust. I really do not like President Lincoln II (v3) or President Lincoln II+. I am embarrassed to have recently contributed to their coffers..twice!
Saturday, 20 May 2017
I have discovered that the 6300 does indeed hold the output PTT on as requested by the PC. Unfortunately there is a firmware bug which ignores the input PTT to the 6300 and allows it to unmute the rx as if in semi break-in mode complying to the set delay. This leads to hearing rx hiss between transmitted cw words as the linear is in tx mode and therefore the 6300 rx isn't connected to the antenna. This leads to very tired ears during a 24hr contest with audio hiss chopping in and out during transmit. Flexradio support aren't listening even although they have been told about this problem for years now. I myself have had 2 support tickets ignored. Their beta team cw guys must exclusively use full-break-in and probably don't contest much and are happy with the way it is. I know one flex owner who has thrown the towel in over this issue already. I'm enjoying contesting with the 6300 and although the rx noise during tx is annoying, I can put up with it for now...
Sunday, 5 March 2017
Could it be that we are finally there? The focus return issue between SSDR and N1MM+ was my finger trouble and I was helped by an flex elmer to get it working. The experience of using this functionality for contesting filled me with hope that there was a future where SDR would take over from conventional rigs for contesting. The automatic focus return functionality is essential in SDR contesting as this allows you to make adjustments in SSDR (such as RF gain) and then not have to point the mouse and click back into the N1MM+ call field before you can type in a call sign. This functionality seems fairly benign, but it is essential when under pressure to efficiently work through any pile-up. I'm using the current version of SSDR v1.10.16 (at the time of writing) and have completed several contests (including the ARRL DX CW as MM3T) with it, without being able to complain about funnies. Ok, that's not quite true, I reported a bug (lack of PTT in CW) about 5 months ago and then lost interest for a while. When I realised it still hadn't been fixed in a recent update, I went back and asked the question again only to be told it had been fixed (which of course it hasn't). Here's a quick resume of the bug - Using N1MM+ to pass PTT to SSDR CAT which then should apply PTT on the radio doesn't work in CW mode (whilst using SSDRs winkey emulator functionality). Instead, the Flex is in semi break-in mode and ignores the PTT command allowing the tx to rx switch-over after a predefined delay. To avoid this happening, you have to increase the delay which has the annoying side effect of holding tx on after the message has been sent (effectively masking the first letter of any fast returning stations). If you set up the delay to avoid tx/rx switch-over at a specific key speed (say 32 wpm) and you get a slow speed caller and you reduce the sending speed accordingly you are rewarded with tx/rx popping as it switches to tx on every letter. The practical solution for the meantime is to never play with the sending speed and just put up with missing the occasional fast return. You'd imagine this would be a simple bug to identify and fix if you were a radio ham and a developer of SSDR but alas no... After my last finger trouble (ahem!) I'm still hoping that some kind elmer will show me the error of my ways, but still no fix 8 months on). However, I have to honest with you, I am so much happier with the stability of the basic functions of SSDR (the NR, NB etc still don't function as well as the big three) I am beginning to enjoy the experience of contesting with the Flex. An opportunity came up to purchase a 6500 and in a moment of sheer madness (due to it being a bargain) I sprang the cash! The good news is that this is the radio I should have got in the first place. I'm very much happier with the receive performance during contests (note: not worth the price difference between the 6300 and the 6500 however) and the K3 now hasn't been out the box in a few months. I guess I would now have trouble going back to a conventional rig without a good panadapter. I still wouldn't trust SDRs in a multi-multi contesting environment with RF flying around, but for casual contesting from home, I recon it now could beat conventional set-ups.