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

Sunday, 21 December 2008


My favourite mode is CW. I was asked during a foundation course why CW was so good, and in the following discussion it became apparent that there is an enormous gap in education about what it's like to operate in CW after you've learnt the morse code. Here is my attempt to hopefully inspire more Hams to give it a go.

I've always thought that learning morse code is like learning to ski. At the start it isn't much fun, you look at how effortless everyone else seems to find it, and you wonder if you will ever get to that level. You can see others enjoying themselves, but it seems impossible to get a rythm going at the speeds you are forced to go at. You make lots of mistakes and the effort necessary to complete one run just doesn't seem worth it.

I'm teaching my five year old how to read at the moment and the books she is learning from just aren't that exciting due to language restrictions. TV to her is just so much more accessible, reading simple stories about Dick and Jane just doesn't hack it in comparison. I've tried to tell her that when you read a real book you can let your imagination run riot and suddenly you are there in technicolor. When the film comes out it's never as good as the way you had imagined it.

It's no lie to say that the effort required to ski or to read is immense, neither can be learnt over night. It's only through watching and listening to others that we can tell that learning how to do them is worth the effort.

I think part of the joy of the cw mode is from the fact that it was such a hard won skill. The other part is when you start to realise the added benifits that this new mode brings you.

1) Less background noise.
CW is a narrow bandwidth mode and as such you can reduce the passband of your receiver (using narrow filters) which causes the background noise to fall from the comparitive raging static required for voice mode communication to a quiet, easy listening hiss.

2) More space within the allocation.
You can fit in at least 10 CW stations in the same bandwidth required for 1 SSB station. Imagine having an SSB band allocation increased by a factor of 10. There would be much more room for everyone, meaning more chance of getting that crystal clear frequency on a wide open band to catch that elusive DX. This is the norm in CW mode.

3) More discernable signals.
A CW signal can be copied easily against this hiss and way down into the hiss unlike that of any voice mode. In voice modes, when a weak signal is heard, it is normal to only be able to hear the 'peaks' of the other stations voice, enough to know that they are there, but not enough to understand what they are saying. In the CW mode, each morse code element sent is a 'peak' so in the above case 100% copy is achievable. This is due to the on/off nature of the morse code against the large range of sounds possible in voice modes. It is therefore possible to extend the range of reliable communications that your setup is capable of.

4) Less QRM.
The on/off nature of the morse code allows the receiver to be open/active during off periods of transmission. This allows the sender to partially hear 'through' their own transmission. The advantages of this are many but imagine calling in on a pile-up and being able to tell that continued transmisson was pointless as the DX was now sending back to someone else.

5) Cheaper Equipment
The circuits involved in the creation of a CW transceiver are very much simpler with less components than that of any transceiver with voice capabilities. This allows for easier home construction, less battery current comsumption, smaller more portable transceivers and ultimately therefore cheaper to buy. You can buy a brand new CW transceiver kit for £25.

The above points are only some of the many benefits that make this mode of communication such a joy. All of the above allow more DX to be worked, but the joy of the CW mode goes further than this. Following the reading/TV analogy made earlier, some people find that during a cw conversation your imagination is on full throttle and is filling your mind with clear pictures on the topic allowing you your own version of what the other station is communicating.

I hope that this added information may help inspire someone out there to go that extra mile and make the extra effort learn the morse code.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

SDMO Booster 1000 petrol suitcase generator

I took advantage of a Christmas offer from Screwfix, £100 off if you spend over £450. The generator was listed at £460 so got it for £360, still a lot of money but I'm hoping it will be perfect for portable operations in the summer. It was delivered the next day (great service) and came with oil, spark plug removal tool and battery charging leads.
I topped up the oil, filled it with fuel and started her up. The noise from it is too loud to have it next to the operating position, but walking about 10m away from it dropped the noise to a level that couldn't be heard through a mic. I recon I could run it at the house without bothering my immediate neighbours.
I plugged a power supply into the mains socket on the side of the generator and connected a rig and dummy load. I scanned 1.8 to 30MHz and found no birdies within the amateur bands, the receiver sounded clean and clear.
The transceiver pulls about 20A at 12V at maximum power output of 100W. With the generator on it's 'turtle' (slow rev) position an indicator lamp lights if you exceed it's current capabilities to warn you to switch it to 'hare' (fast rev) position. Whilst looking at this warning lamp I slowly increased the power output of the transceiver whilst transmiting. I could get the full 100W from the rig without having to change up to the louder, faster rev position.
I have a 110A/H leisure battery and I had thought that if the generator couldn't handle the rig on it own, that I would connect the generator and the battery in parallel with the rig. Hopefully the battery will smooth the generated charging voltage sufficiently to allow this configuration. This will be my next test when I get time.

Monday, 1 December 2008


Well I found it very difficult. The K3 and the K2 in either ear was easy at the start, but when I got tired it was a nightmare.

I can now see why a lot more automation is helpful for SO2R. Having to change the coaxial stubs over was confusing and tiring, but I didn't get it wrong (thank goodness). There were no knocks on the door this time so I continued through till the end of the contest. I probably got about 24 hrs in and enjoyed most of it.

Things that bugged me:
1) SO2R freq hogs, their not using it, but you can't have it!
2) Running a massive pile up of US stns on 40m only to get my RX obliterated by some non-contest station having a QSK QSO with 10KW and key clicks to match! I have no doubt it's propably the first QSO they've made in the whole year, just to hack contesters off.
3) Having my crystal clear freq stolen by a larger EU stn.
4) Trying to eek out that JA on 20m only to have constant hasstle from people tring to steal the freq because they can't hear the DX i.e. QRL? ? ? QRL etc.
5) Watching all the ridiculous cluster entries go by about LID, squeezing, stole freq etc. The best one was unfortunately from a G4 stn who was warning CW stns to stick to the bandplan. He obviously doesn't know CW covers the whole band in most cases.

Things that were brilliant:
1) Worked HC8N from 80-15m :-)
2) K3 receiver
3) K2 receiver
4) Spiderpole 40m vertical wire antenna
5) Massive pile ups!

The cobweb antenna was playing up due to the frost, I have the wrong string type on the antenna and when it froze up the SWR went sky high.

Contest : CQ World Wide DX Contest
Callsign : MM3T
Mode : CW
Category : Single Operator - Assisted (SOA)
Overlay : ---
Band(s) : All bands (AB)
Class : High Power (HP)
Zone/State/... : 14
Locator : IO75XR
Operating time : 23h12
160 58 5 29 0 60 1.03
80 363 16 55 0 518 1.43
40 402 21 68 1 568 1.41
20 451 20 75 0 784 1.74
15 18 7 8 0 48 2.67
10 0 0 0 0 0 0.00
TOTAL 1292 69 235 1 1978 1.53
TOTAL SCORE : 601 312

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

K3 and K2 SO2R, Early days

I had the thought that before I purchased the K3 second receiver, I would experiment with SO2R using the K3 and the K2. I use WinTest contesting software and this has a dual logging/sending facility (SO2R) that allows 2 rigs to be connected. I had been under the impression that you needed one of those fancy SO2R boxes to get started, but soon realised that there are many different levels of automation in SO2R, from none to completely automated.
The one prerequisit as far as I'm concerned is to be able to hear both radios through 1 set of headphones. I did this with the following bits I had around the shack:

2x stereo headphone jack to two mono sockets
2x mono to stereo adapter
1x 3 way 3 pole switch box

The radios in their current configuration basically output 2 mono channels each. One on the tip and one on the ring of the headphone socket. I used 2x stereo to two mono splitter leads (available from maplin) to allow various combinations of audio at the input of the switch box:
1) Rig 1 tip to headphone tip, rig 2 tip to headphone ring.
2) Rig 1 ring to headphone tip and ring (using mono to stereo adapter).
3) Rig 2 ring to headphone tip and ring (using mono to stereo adapter).

With the headphone plugged into the output of the switch box, I can now select from the above combinations to hear the K3 in my left ear and the K2 in my right ear or the K3 in both ears or the K2 in both ears. I was worried about mixing the earth connections from the headphone sockets of both rigs but in practice this seemed to work fine.

To help prevent interaction between the radios when transmitting from one, I have cut 2x 23' coaxial stubs (one shorted and one open circuit). I have assigned the K3 to operate on 40/15m and the K2 to operate on 20/10m. A tee piece spur from the coaxial line from each rig provides the connection point for each stub. The shorted stub is connected to the k3 coax as it filters 20/10m and passes 40/15m. The open stub is connected to the K2 coax and it filters 40/15m and passes 20/10m. This will hopefully allow me to simultaneously run on one radio and S&P on the other without too much interference.

K2, Z10000-K2 buffer amp and SoftRock V6.2Lite

With the K3 panadapter being so successful, I decided to go back to Clifton Labs to see if they had a solution for my K2. The K2 doesn't have an IF out socket on the rear panel like the the K3, but luckily Clifton Labs sell a complete kit allowing the Z10000-K2 buffer amp to be installed inside the K2 with provision for a rear panel socket.

The above picture shows the Z10000-K2 daughter board mounted inside the K2 with output IF coaxial connected to the rear panel (top of picture). The input IF is taken from a convienient point on the noise blanker board connection posts.
I then contacted Tony Park for a K2 Softrock (4.898MHz IF). When finished, this was connected to the new IF output from the K2. The AF output from the softrock was then connected to my Delta 44 sound card. Rocky software then uses the sound card inputs to provide the panadapter.

I'm really pleased with the result and it makes a huge difference seeing signals round about you.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

MM3T (CQWW Phone 08)

In preparation for CQWW I bought a BE102 mast support from Lynchy and 2x 5m 16swg ali poles from The plan was to get a Cobweb (multi-band dipole) up at least 9m in the air for 20-15-10m. It was all installed a couple of weeks before the contest and I was getting good reports from the cobweb at around 9m over the ground. I lowered the antenna back down to ground level for safety so that it would be ready for CQWW phone 08.
I got home from work early on the Friday before the contest and put up the cobweb. It was up about 3 hours when the winds started to howl and I decided that since I wasn't using it through the night, I'd lower it and then raise it again on Saturday morning.
Saturday morning came and the winds started to rise yet again. I looked at the weather reports and found it was only going to get worse so rather than risk the antenna I left it at ground level. It was a fearsome gale, about force 7-8 and would definately have brought the antenna down. During all this time I was using my 80m doublet to keep the Qs going.
Sunday morning came and at last the wind died down so I went outside to put the antenna up. Never try and put up an antenna when you are tired! I made so many mistakes it took my twice as long as it usually did, but finally it went up and I hurried indoors to start the scores rolling properly on the higher bands.
I was on 15m and running the full legal limit when I got a knock at the door and a report that I was coming through computer speakers next door. Well, the linear was switched off and I spent the rest of the contest at 100w.
My contest turned out to be a disaster but lessons were learned for the CW leg which is the important one for me anyway.
1) I've ordered a thicker walled pole (10swg) for the bottom 5m mast section, to try and increase it's wind survival spec.
2) I've ordered a 12m spiderpole for a 40m vertical as my 40m score was pityful.
3) Try and get all antennas up before the contest and don't try and change things when I'm tired.
4) Remember to go to 20m early morning for the JA run and not just play on 80/40.
5) Order some ferrite rings for next door.

Hopefully CQWW CW will be better.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

One reason to buy an Elecraft K3

In the past I've bought radios and discovered that they were slightly deaf or off frequency. I found it frustrating that I didn't have the test equipment or the knowledge to align the radio and obtain the specified performance of when the radio was new. I'm not talking about a misused radio, just what happens to all radios through age due to high temperatures slowly changing the tolerances of components.

With the Elecraft K3 I can align the frequency readout at any time with an accurate source like RWM (9.996 or 14.996 MHz). This means that the radio will always be exactly on frequency independant of age. I can do this with no test equipment and in no time at all.

One of the causes of a radio going deaf is the IF wandering outwith the centre of the IF filter passband. With the Elecraft I can use it's internal test resources to measure the response of any roofing filter and I can work out if signals are still central to the filter passband and adjust the IF accordingly.

This means I should be able to maintain my radios performance to a higher degree for as long as I choose to hold on to the radio, without the need for specialist knowledge or elaborate/expensive test equipment.


Sunday, 17 August 2008

K3 Panadapter SoftRock V6.2 Lite

Managed to complete the above project for my K3. I really must recommend this panadapter, now after switching on the K3 the first thing I do is start Rocky and have a 'look' around on 10 and 6m for openings. On several occasions whilst tuning the K3 and hearing a flat band, I've had to reverse tune on seeing a spike jump up on the screen, and as a result completed a contact on what at first seemed like a flat band.

It all started when I came across the following website:
This page gives the details on how to purchase a K3 SoftRock V6.2 lite. In my e-mail to Tony Park's I mentioned that it was for use with the K3 IF and also the offset crystal frequency of 8.191MHz. He will also give you postage costs to your home location but the price of the Softrock is currently around $12. I paid using PayPal which was very convenient.

I also bought the Z10000U (general purpose) buffer amp board from Clifton Laboratories to help with reverse isolation between the SoftRock and the K3. I didn't try the softrock without the Z10000U in-line, but with it there is no evidence on the K3 rx of the panadapter being there. I used the 150 Ohm resistor for R907 to set the gain of the buffer amp to 6.7dB. I haven't experimented with different values as this seemed to work sufficiently for my needs. To this date I haven't bothered with the optional bandpass filter.

The build presented no problems except you have to be capable of working with surface mount components. All in all it took me 5-6 hours to get it all up and working with the K3. I then boxed both boards up in an Altoids tin.

With the tin open you can follow the signal path from the LHS BNC connector (connected to KXV3 IF out) through the Z10000U buffer amp (LHS card) then linked with coax to the SoftRock (RHS card) then finally out on a screened jack3.5mm stereo socket (top right) to the sound card.

Here we can see me writing this article with Rocky software running at the bottom of the screen. I'm listening on the K3 to the small spike shown at the centre of the display. I find it really useful to see what's happening round about where I'm listening to. I've seen huge spikes right next to me and not been able to tell they were there on the K3 :-).

My K3 has the following roofing filter options: 2.7/2.1/1/0.4 KHz.
When using the panadapter it is interesting to listen to the K3 audio output in cw mode and look at the IF output when switching between filters. My 2.7KHz filter has a specified shift of -0.93KHz which is corrected in firmware to correctly line up with the IF. On the panadapter it is clear that the IF actually shifts to correct this error, as all visible signals bounce to the right by approx 1.5KHz in comparison with the 400Hz roofing filter. My Inrad 2.1KHz (0KHz offset) roofing filter also causes signals to bounce to the right but this time by only 500Hz. There is no shift between the 1KHz and 400Hz roofing filters. Whilst switching between these roofing filters, there is no difference in pitch from the audio output. It would seem from these very rough observations that the IF is shifted up by approx 500Hz (plus any offset) when using the 2.7/2.1 filters in comparison to the 1/0.4 IF. I imagine this extra shift for wide filters brings the 700Hz pitch cw signal more to the centre of the filter passband i.e. 1.2KHz. Any thoughts?

The same shift happens on transmit and means that you cannot align your tx and rx on screen. I had thought about buying the INRAD 2.8KHz filter to lose the 0.93KHz offset, but I would still get the 500Hz shift so probably not worth it on cw.

The panadapter is very useful for the identification of noise sources. Without one it's very easy to connect up a new SMPS or Router in the shack and and after a quick tune around believe it to be noise free. With the panadapter it is instantly obvious that noise has appeared, so far I've had to assign a laptop power supply to the bin and can also see the squirmy warble associated with my 2 SMPSs (Alinco DM-330MW and MFJ 4125). Anyone who believes these to be noise free could benefit from a panadapter :-).

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Elecraft K3 sn1293 is born!

The K3 arrived whilst I was preparing for IOTA. I managed to build it to the 10w stage in 12 hours. The 100w stage took an additional 2 hours. The build was straight forward and well documented.

As can be seen from the above picture, there are lots of bits to assemble and close attention has to paid to the types of screws and washers used for each part of the assembly. Other than that, if you have put a computer together in the past then this will present no problems.

Before long you start to see the radio taking shape and the exitement starts building. I had planned to do 6 hours and then have a break, but like a good book, I just couldn't put it down.

The K3 is an excellent transceiver and to date I've yet to find something that doesn't work :-).


Well it's all over now for MM3T on EU8 Islay. I had great fun and managed to make 460Qs over 12hrs on CW with 100w and a doublet.

Here I am sitting near Carraig Fhada Lighthouse (Port Ellen) with the 'singing sands' in the background. I'm out in the open and it's about 22:30BST. I'm using WinTest for logging and the light from the screen was enough to see the keyboard by (just). The midges were biting as there was so little wind, but other than that the conditions were perfect.

Here you can see the Elecraft K2/100 sitting on the trolley I used to get the battery up to this vantage point. The case I use for the carrying the K2 helped bring it up to a convenient level. Out of sight is my WinKey USB and taped to the trolley handle is my LDG Z11 pro and Elecraft BL2 switchable balun. You can just see the 300 Ohm feeder (bottom left) going to a doublet mounted on a 10m fishing pole behind me.

It wasn't all plain sailing though as Murphy visited the station just before the start of the contest. I had been in the K2 menus configuring the PA fan to run on HI continuously and accidentally changed an adjacent menu entry. The result was that there was no sidetone and no rig control! Luckily I had brought a small laminated manual (Nifty K2 manual) and after 20 mins of reading was able to return the K2 to full operation...phew!

There seemed to be a distinct lack of UK stations on air, as when I did find one they were LOUD. I can only imagine that the brilliant weather proved too much for most UK hams to stay indoors for the contest.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

IARU World championships, RSGB HQ entry

Well, I decided that I would work them despite the unfair operator selection practices. They have widened out the net (slightly) for operators by including one of GM's top 160m dxers (who had unbelievably been missed out until now). This suggests that they are at least trying to include ops from outside the HFCC & friends pool that has been used so often in the past.

I still feel a lot more attention and support would be evident from the rest of the UK, if there was a public call for operators and then, as a result, a publicised decision making process about the final team selection. I don't know about you, but I'd be very interested in the thought process behind the team selection that was made to represent the RSGB.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

RSGB VHF Field Day 2008

I took part with interested members from our local club (Mid-Lanark ARS). A location had previously been found near sea level on the Solway Firth (West coast Scotland) which eliminated some of the hills between our home location and a S - SE direction and afforded us a bit of a sea path for the West side of England. The SE direction was partially blocked by a spit of land approx 1 mile away and then the peak district (only 30 miles away over sea) and was still a major thorn in our sides from having a clear path to the SE. Our path was also majorly blocked to the North by several mountain ranges. Using stacked yagis on 2m probably wasn't a good idea for this reason. We changed over to a single 9 element yagi mid contest (pointing SE) and signals dramatically improved, although some of the team thought that it may have been down to bad coax (time will tell).
As usual the weather oscillated between glorious and awful and we were soaked and dried many times throughout the weekend. I tried out my Carp umbrella for the first time and was happily making tea and admiring the view in the dry even through the biggest downpours, but it did bounce around rather too vigorously on it's guys during some spells of high wind.
I also used my new fishing trolley to cart my leisure cell around trying to find a good spot for the WIFI network we used to link WinTest together between the various stations (6/4m, 2m and 70cm). I'm pleased to say that WinTest and the network were solid and trouble free for the whole weekend.
Getting a group of people to use the more advanced features of WinTest is always very difficult when no practice sessions have been arranged beforehand. We did however manage some passing of stations between the 2m and 70cm operators which hopefully will spur the others into using this facility in the future.
I did feel saddened that the same effort was not afforded to the HF field days, but the majority of the Mid-Lanark ARS seem to be more interested in VHF and above.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Friedrichshafen 2008

Just back from Friedrichshafen Hamfest 2008 and have to say that the prices for 2nd hand gear were ridiculous eg. FT290 in poor condition, 250 Euro (£200 ????). Previously I had thought that we Brits were hard done by in terms of the cost of amateur gear, but now I know we aren't the worst.

Out of the 3 days at the show I only bought a bit of wire (10 Euro) and a mains filter (10 Euro). I held off buying, thinking that the prices must drop by the Sunday, but unfortunately it was not to be. Everything you could want was for sale, I just couldn't find anything to buy that was a reasonable price let alone a bargain.

As the show went on, another amateur and I started trying to out do one another with examples of ludicrous prices such as 25 Euro for a broken tape recorder and 200 Euro for a Cobra 148GTLDX (it looked like it had been recovered from a skip).

On the plus side I saw a K3 in the flesh for the first time, but unfortunately it was in a glass case and not connected to an antenna. It was turned on though and the display was very stricking and well laid out. TenTec were represented and I got the chance to play with the TenTec Orion II and the OMNI VII. I can normally walk straight up to any make of transceiver and start sussing out how drive it within a minute or so. Not so with these puppies! I found it very difficult to know what was happening and even after 10 mins of twiddling I was still none the wiser. I did however find several things I didn't like during that time such as wobbly, cheap feeling controls, awful display and lag between front panel control adjustments and the associated control display icon.
The friedrichshafen hamfest is really about meeting other hams and browsing through the present product offerings from all the main manufacturers. Most are on show and can be connected up to give you a fair idea if the product is for you or not.

Friedrichshafen and the surrounding area is a beautiful location for a holiday with the possibility of visiting 2 other very different countries only a short train/ferry trip away. We may go back for another holiday but not to coincide with the hamfest.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

All Asian DX Contest

Tried the radio this morning to see if I could bag any dx in the All Asia contest. It seemed that 20m was in better shape than 40m and unfortunately my only antennas at the moment are an 80m doublet and a quarter wave GP for 40m. The GP was performing better than the doublet for DX but wasn't resonant for 20m. I decided to whip up a 20m vertical dipole on a 10m fishing rod in the back garden.
I tried comparing the main 40m GP with the 20m Vdipole but as usual I found too many different cases where one would outperform the other and then on the next stn the situation would reverse so no real conclusions. Also the 40m GP was 20m away from the house and the vertical dipole was 10m away from the house. The 40m GP was therefore less noisy than the Vdipole. On some occasions though the Vdipole was 3-4 S points better than the 40m GP.
I think the Vdipole will be very useful for IOTA as it is extremely easy to setup and performed reasonably well.
Managed to work 8 JAs, 1 HS0 and a VU within 2 hours with it, so the experiment was well worthwhile.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

IARU World HF championship

Another group of hams have been picked to represent the RSGB in the IARU World HF championship for 2008. The first thing us normal RSGB members hear about it, is the already chosen team. The team is typically a mix of present and past RSGB HF committee members and their friends. Most are accomplished contesters, but some are along for the ride on the basis of locality and being well connected.

I expressed an interest in the team back in 2005, but my questions about operator selection criterion in the following months drew fierce criticism and even personal insults from the more insecure team members. In 2006 after not being 'invited', I again attempted to break the wall of secrecy and was nearly successful after several months of e-mails with an invite to come along on a non-operational basis to a nearby stn. Unfortunately the offer was made only a week or so before the contest and I was unable to rearrange other plans I had made for the weekend (my birthday party). Apart from the offer being made too late, there was already too much bad blood to feel I'd really be welcome. The refusal of this offer was then used by the team to sink any chance I might of had of influencing change.

Some of the correspondence about the above was supportive and came from some of the UK's excluded top DXers (not HFCC committee members) who were as perplexed as I was about operator selection criteria. One good thing that happened as a result of my questioning the norm, was that a top UK DXer was 'invited' after me passing on his callsign as example of how insular/nepotistic their selection process was.

I think the main problem is that if you are not known by the chosen few, you will not be 'invited'. Even if you apply and you are not know by the chosen few you will not be 'invited'. This leads to a very private affair suitable for a private contest team or a DXpedition but is hardly suitable for a selection criterion for a national organisation with thousands of members.

It would seem the RSGB is quite happy with the "Win at all costs, tight knit, secretive society of 'best of breed stns' and friends" approach to representation, rather than a fairer, more open mix of suitably experienced RSGB members interested in taking part. It's certainly easier to organise as it is. It would also seem the RSGB are more interested in winning than in the future of the contesting 'sport' by allowing a fair selection to be made of their whole membership. The crowning glory then comes in the form of being asked each year to work them.

Why don't the RSGB think up a fairer, more open selection process, such as a call for operators in the Radcom or as a prize for winning RSGB contests. So what if thousands of 'unsuitable' members apply, at least the RSGB will be operating as an open society again in this respect.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Field Day Cludge

Just back from a very enjoyable field day, but it had some low points:

1) Arrived on site to find no lighting or chairs. Luckily I had brought a deck chair and everyone had torches.

2) The generator died 2 hours into the contest and could not be fixed.

3) A leisure cell and FT897 was used to replace the FT1000MP and generator. The FT1000MP can't be configured quickly to accept 12v. The FT897 needed a special lead for rig control which we didn't have.

4) The laptop that held the log was windows 98 and could not be run from 12v. Being 98 we could not use a pen drive to transfer the log. The wireless router ran from 12v so the log was transferred wirelessly before the laptop battery died. The new laptop was configured for 12v and the log was recovered.

5) The winkey we were using required drivers to work with the new laptop and the key plug was the wrong size for the FT897. We didn't have a parallel keying lead. We had a memory keyer but it took an hour to remember how to program it properly for the contest.

6) The leisure cell would only last 12hrs tops. Luckily one member was joining us the following day so he could bring a second.

7) The plug on the memory keyer was the wrong size for the FT897. An adapter was found but the shell of the adapter prevented it from fitting into the socket recess. A suitable lead was found to allow the adapter to be remote from the rig. The overall length of the new cludged lead was around 5m long.

8) When we fired up the rig and transmitted through the top band doublet, RF got into the long keying lead and caused the rig to go key down. A choke was cludged by winding the long keying cludge lead round a coke can.

We were on the air again......PHEW!

The above problems curtailed operation for most of the first night. Being a relatively new contester I am used to operating with computer aid so the thought of having to do most of the keying using a paddle was a bit daunting. Never the less I managed and actually got into a rhythm and started to enjoy the added involvement. I'll maybe consider doing some /p work now without the computer to weigh me down and therefore less battery weight required.

Anyway it was a first hand insight into how contesting used to be...bring it on :-)

Sunday, 1 June 2008

IOTA 08 preparation

I bought a 'match trolley' , a 'carp umbrella' and some ordnance survey maps of Islay today at a local fishing emporium. Fishing shops are great when looking for equipment for going portable, as comfort and rain proof are high on the design criterion of most of the products, and that's exactly what's needed here in GM for portable work.

I'll need the trolley as I don't want to be limited to operation from the car and the 110A/H leisure cell I'm taking weighs enough to give me a hernia. The trolley has big puenumatic tyres on it to soak up any rough terrain and as an added bonus it will also double up as a rather comfortable chair.

The reason for the umbrella instead of a tent is to get round any objections to 'camping'. With the umbrella I can sit down and operate in any remote spot without any possible land owner getting worried about it turning into a camp site. The umbrella is huge at 2.5M in diameter and has an extendable pole with a spike on the end for ground mounting. There is also a guying point on the apex if the wind gets up. I should be able to sit under it on the trolley with the laptop on my lap and the rig beside me. Imagine a fisherman on a riverbank and substitute an antenna for the rod, a K2 for the tackle box and a laptop and logging software for the keep net. I'll even be wearing wellies for goodness sake! They can sit there for hours in comfort so I'm gambling I'll be able to do the same.

My only worry now is the Midge. Midges are a small biting insect which we have in GM (especially the west coast where I'm headed) which can drive you a man to insanity, a cloud of the little blighters can decend on you and all you can do is run for cover. The fishing shop had some mosquito nets, but the mesh was really too large to deter them. I'll maybe have to make do with a midge hat and repellant.

I hope that a better solution will present itself when I arrive on the island, but I think it's always better to prepare for the worst.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

K2 noise

Had an extended play on the K2 this evening enjoying 10m :-). Noticed a birdie on 28.020 and traced it to rig control. It sounds like a tone which dies in strength when the software polls the radio for frequency etc. It's easily identified by varying the software polling rate on the computer. The tone makes an appearance on discrete frequencies on most bands above 30m. There is an extract in the K2 manual on how to disable the square wave signal generator in the rig and instead use the timing source derived from the computer. Unfortunately this seems only to apply to the KIO2 unit and not the one integrated in the KPA100. I'll have to do some web research on how to eliminate it.

While I was at it, I disconnected the antenna and tried to find any noise from my Alinco DM-330MW SMPS. Sure enough I came across a low squirming warble noise on a discrete frequency and was able to move it about with the noise offset knob on the front panel. The noise isn't really a problem for me, it's remembering to try and shift it on the PSU before QSYing.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

K2 problem soved

A bit of a lessons learned here I'm afraid.

Took the K2 apart looking for the deaf 10m problem. The symptoms were:
10m tx fine
10m rx deaf
12m tx fine
12m rx fine

A really puzzling set of symptoms because 10 and 12m share the same BPF and LPF. The only difference being the addition of 2 capacitors to the BPF by relay when the 12m band was selected. I hunted around these areas looking for solder splashes that would keep these caps connected when 10m was selected but found nothing.

In desperation I tried injecting signals direct from the antenna though a 480pf cap to various points before and after the LPF/BPF. When connecting to the start of the BPF the rx sprang to life...haha I thought it's the LPF! But even when connecting to the very last component of the LPF the rx was deaf. I followed the circuit diagram and noticed that the signal path went through the 160m optional module. On connection before the 160m module the rx was deaf. On connection after the 160m module the rx sprang to life. What on earth was happening on the 160m optional module that was causing 10m rx to be deaf? Then it dawned on me, the 160m optional module allows a separate rx antenna to be used on ANY band. A quick look in RANT menu selection confirmed that 10m was selected to use the rx antenna! A quick couple of key presses and hey presto all was well.

Ok, it would be nice if the firmware let you know that the rx antenna was selected for that band by showing some symbol on the LCD but I really shouldn't have left it in that condition in the first place. I had been fooling around with a 2m transverter with a 10m IF and had left the rx ant option selected on the 10m band...easy to do I suppose.

Anyway the long and the short of it is that the K2 is 100% healthy and ready for IOTA :-).

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

CQ WPX CW 2008

I happened to be in Tignabruaich for this contest on a Family holiday but managed to get on and make some Qs.. I am eager to 'air' MM3T as much as possible in this way to get the call into K5ZD and other such databases. Currently the call is still a bit raw and I get quite a large percentage of requested confirmations and even a response from GJ saying that the call was illegal. Hopefully in a year or so the call will be bedded in and can be used seriously.

Anyway, I made 270Qs between 20m and 15m over a period of 6 hours. The highlight of the contest was being called by 7Q7ww on 15m. I was using the K2/100 and the tactical mast described previously. I think it was acting as a 5/8 wave vertical on 15m, but I forgot to take wire for radials and had to make do with a couple of loaned off-cuts. Still, everything I could hear, I could work so I was well chuffed. I learned the following:

1) My K2 is deaf on 10m. Fault?
2) It took me 1 hour to deploy the tactical mast, more practice needed.
3) I can go 6hrs straight on CW before feeling a bit 'head tired'.
4) I can run the laptop and rig off the same 12V leisure cell (110 A/H) without interference.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Recent History

I thought I'd fill in some history between 2004 and 2008. After discovering morse-runner and hence contesting, I decided to try and compete in the RSGB club championships. I tried CW, SSB and finally RTTY. I only ever managed to win 1 event and that time the conditions just seemed to favour Scotland and not the rest of the UK. Luckily I was there to take advantage of it and got the win. I also started doing RSGB field day events with my local club and enjoyed the outdoors and the companionship.

I joined the local contest group GM0B and took part in CQWW SSB events in 2005/6 as a multi-multi team and managing to persuade a few members to do CQWW CW 2005/6 as a multi-single team. In 2006/7 I organised GM0B for IOTA as a multi-2 and we activated Bute and had a great laugh, but only scratched the surface of getting to grips with being competitive. GM0B missed CQWW in 2007 due to lack of operators and didn't look like it would ever do a CW contest again due to lack of a shack. I decided to try and organise a club and contest group to ensure in the event of GM0B backing out of CQWW SSB or CQWW CW contests, I could still compete without soiling GM0B's pedigree with my poultry score. The new club's contest call is MM3T and will predominantly be used for CW contests. The next outing for MM3T will be IOTA when I'm off to Islay off the west coast of Scotland.

Well that's us up to date, and where it goes from here we'll have to wait and see.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Magnum Rally

I went to the magnum rally in Irvine on Sunday. I was hoping that some kind sole would have have brought along their Elecraft K3 to show off. It's really too late to find I don't like the K3 as I have already ordered one (due to arrive before IOTA). I also wanted to sell an old VHF multi-mode transceiver to fund the outstanding balance of the K3. It wasn't to be my day as the K3 didn't make an appearance and no one wanted the old VHF transceiver. The reason for this blog wasn't for these failures but to document a find.

I'm off to the isle of Islay for IOTA on 25-28/7/08 so have been thinking about what antenna to take. I'm going with family, but will be setting up and operating alone. I don't want to be spending a lot of effort/time setting up, but still want to put out a potent signal. There, on an army surplus stand at the magnum rally, a friend spotted an 18ft fibreglass mast made by a company called Thales, neatly wrapped up in a waterproof army green shoulder bag. On inspecting it, I discovered it was not only a mast but a field antenna system. There was a reel of wire which when mounted at the top of the mast could be pulled out and wrapped round and down the mast to a feed point. The reel itself also had an integral socket connected to the reel wire which allowed a collapsible metal 7ft whip to be inserted thus increasing the overall length of the antenna to around 30ft. All in all, a 25ft stucture as light as could be hoped for and designed with attention to detail that only the MOD could orignally afford. I scooped it up complete for £40, so the day wasn't a failure after all.

On getting home I errected it in the back garden with a friend and stuck an LDG Z-11 pro antenna tuning unit at the bottom and managed to tune it from 40-10m. It wouldn't tune on 80m as expected, but I didn't have any radials fitted and could still hear A61 and W3,4,7,8 and 0 coming in on 20m. I recon with some practice I'll be able to deploy the antenna alone and therefore it could be the one for IOTA.


The purpose of this blog will be to track events in my ham radio hobby until I get bored or forget to blog. I'll try and include some photos of what I'm talking about as we go along to make for easier reading. I'm new to the whole blog concept, but hopefully you will be patient while I find a writing style and get to know my way around.

I was born in the summer of 69 and I've been a ham since 1986 and although I've taken a few breaks along the way, I have enjoyed the hobby immensely. I would describe myself as a traveller in the hobby as I haven't settled into any particular niche of activities and instead like to to learn, play then move on to the next area of interest. As such, I've become an expert in nothing but have a base understanding about a large area of the hobby.

Between 86 and 96 I enjoyed peak conditions on 10m and managed to put together a resonable station despite living at my parents house. I passed my 'A' class exam in 86 and said goodbye to CW and hello to SSB DX.

Between 1996 and 2000 I successfully completed a degree in Electronics, then between 2000 and 2004 changed job, moved house, got married, was made redundant, got new job and had a family. During all this time I was all but absent from the ham radio scene.

Since 2004 several things have happened. My Ham radio hobby was more closely merged with my computer by using an electronic log book and electronic QSLs (gone was the drudgery of the hobby!) and data modes became a possibilty for me. My interest in CW (morse code) made a surprise come back and this time I had the computer to use for training, which really made the difference. Instead of calling for hours on my limited radio setup, I could train with programs like morse-runner. This had a two fold effect, firstly my receiving speed very quickly went up and also an interest in contesting was developed.

Anyway this completes the 'introduction' part of the bog. Now to blog what's happening as it happens.