Tuesday, November 20, 2012

20M Sweepstakes Heckler

This is one of the more creative hecklers I've heard in recent November Sweepstakes:

And it just begged to be worked into a riff:

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

SS Phone 2012 Prep

Like the last two years, I'll be station-sharing with AD6Z at his mountain shack above Silicon Valley. Kevin and I will be operating two contest efforts simultaneously, utilizing his excellent antenna farm and bandpass filters.

My goal for this year is to make [2000 (nccc kb-2000 award) - 1085 (raw qsos from the cw weekend)] = 915 qsos. Of course, I need to add a stretch goal onto that number, so the real goal is 1065 Qs for this weekend, and I'm assuming a sweep. Given the reduced activity observed during the CW weekend, this might be a real stretch, but it's my goal and I'm sticking to it.

I plan to give my new KPA500 amplifier a workout during the contest. Although I'll be giving away about 3dB relative to Kevin's AL-80B amp, well, hey, it's family.

Strategy updates this year: if I'm not CQing, I'm losing. Keep hitting the damn F1 key, lamer! Other than that, the strategy advice is to be more aggressive, and stick with a run frequency even when you think it's dried up -- it'll come back to life.

Also, devote more attention to 10 meters. While pickings were slim during the CW weekend, there are potentially more SSB contacts to be had from Novice/Technician licensees from 28.3 to 28.5 (so if you're CQing, don't go high).

Hope to work you this weekend!

-- Update Thursday Nov 15

I just got back from Kevin's shack where we got everything plugged in and checked out. We re-fused the KPA500 to run from 220V so it will be using one of the dedicated 220V circuits. A couple of of other random notes:

  • I was seeing very high SWR on all bands, and disconnecting and reconnecting the coax from the bandpass filter to the amplifier remedied the problem. So if that crops up again, that's the cable to replace.
  • Both operating positions share a beverage receive antenna, which is plugged into the AUX antenna input on my K3. To enable diversity receive with the beverage, hold the SUB button until the display reads DIVERSTY. But be aware that any SO2V stuff, like selecting the 2nd entry window, will pull the subreceiver off of diversity duty, and when you go back to VFO A's window, diversity receive will not be restored. I think the way to use this is to just know that, if you've got a weak station calling, to turn on the diversity receive and don't worry about the second VFO.
  • I loaded my rate goals into N1MM, and in the process, noticed just how "lumpy" they are. That reflects some bad operating decisions on my part last year (like, why did my rate drop to 30/hr in the second hour of the contest?). But there are also some puzzling rate bumps in the last few hours of the contest. Depending on those rate bumps again (especially given how hard the last few hours of SSCW were) would be a bad idea. Basically, I should have put some more thought into my rate goals, rather than just taking last years log and multiplying it by a constant.
  • I'll be 3dB down from last year, since I'll be using 500w instead of 1000w. But I'm hoping to make up the difference with more aggressive CQing.

Friday, November 9, 2012

KM6I SSCW 2012 Report

Call: KM6I
Operator(s): KM6I
Station: AD6Z

Class: SO Unlimited HP
QTH: Los Gatos, CA
Operating Time (hrs): 23

 Band  QSOs
  160:    0
   80:   64
   40:  299
   20:  351
   15:  365
   10:    6
Total: 1085  Sections = 83  Total Score = 180,110

Club: Northern California Contest Club


Many many thanks to my station host Kevin, AD6Z, for letting my use his amplifiers and aluminum farm again this year. Like previous years, Kevin provided me a local skimmer to feed me spots. He also heroically pulled a Macgyver when the wireless connectivity to my laptop failed, and built a wireless bridge from a Netgear router and some open-source software. And then when the amplifier failed he built a new one from a coat hanger, some aluminum foil, and a potato. Ok, I made that up. But the wireless bridge thing is true.

Elecraft K3 + AL-1200B
80M dipoles (E/W, N/S) @ 110'
2 el 40 (2)
5 el 20
5/5 el 15
5 el 10

When I sat down to plan for this contest, I looked back at last year's score and noticed that I was 17th place nationally in Single-Op Unlimited HP. Delusions of grandeur led me to calculate that if I could improve my score by 6%, I might crack the top ten and get my call listed in QST. And then I calculated that if I added 130 more QSOs and got an 83-section clean sweep, it would put me at 200,000 points, so I set that as my stretch goal. I created a target rate sheet for the stretch goal so I could track my hour-by-hour progress.

I also did a few things to reduce the number of QLFs, including using a full-size keyboard instead of the built-in mini keyboard on the netbook I use for logging. I also used a second, larger monitor to let me have larger bandmaps on screen. Last year I only used the netbook screen and the bandmap was just too short vertically to see new calls unless they were close to my run frequency.
I made sure to find a good run frequency about 15 minutes before the contest and occupied it right up until the bell. That paid off, with rates the first two hours of 94 and 84 vs 76 and 76 last year. I was excited to be slightly ahead of my stretch goal after the first two hours.

I stayed pretty close to my goal rate most of Saturday, and tried to use N1MM's SO2V support to get S&P QSOs queued up on the KRX3 subreceiver during slow times. I actually managed to grab a couple of extra Qs that way, and only lost my run frequency once. It was good to discover that managing the separate audio streams in each ear didn't cause my head to explode.

Saturday night I started to fall behind my goals pretty significantly, and I decided to stop at 12:30am local time instead of 1am like last year, hoping that starting at 5:30 would give me more time on 20 when the east coasters were there. I had 660 Qs in the log and was missing only RI.

When I got started at 1330Z Sunday morning, 20 wasn't happening yet, so I ended up starting on 40 and did pretty well, with 27 QSOs in 30 minutes. Maybe it was still a good choice despite 20 not working. I moved up to 20 at 1400Z and got called by RI for the sweep at 1419.

Later, though, things really started to come apart. The bump in rate I saw at 1600Z last year never materialized, and I kept sliding backwards toward my totals from last year. It really felt like I'd worked everyone, and everything the skimmer was seeing (and that I could find by tuning around) was a dupe. Switching bands every now and then would find a few fresh-meat calls being devoured by bloodthirsty pileups, and CQing on that band would produce little bursts of rate, but it wasn't enough to keep me on track. I kept at it, watching for new calls to pop up on the skimmer and pouncing on them.

Sunday afternoon, Kevin and I noticed that many of the big guns were showing skimmer spots on two bands at once - probably using dueling CQ mode on their SO2R setups.

Finally, at 0200Z after CQing on 80 meters for 10 minutes straight without a call, and staring at a bandmap full of grey, I decided to call it quits. On the bright side, I got home in time to say goodnight to my kids.

In retrospect, having the rate goals was motivating for the most part, and I'm glad I used them, even though it was frustrating on Sunday. I saw some 3830 soapbox comments where people felt like participation was down about 10% from last year. So maybe staying even with last year's rate was actually an improvement. The sweep might be at risk from log-checking, though, as I only have one contact each for NNY, ONN, and PR.

Looking at the 3830 claimed scores, I'm sitting in 13th 14th place right now. Well, there's always next year!

Thanks for the QSOs everyone!



Rate Goals vs. Actual:

Hour 2011 Goal Actual

---- ---- ---- ------
2100   76   85    94
2200  152  169   178
2300  227  254   231
0000  297  331   316
0100  352  392   380
0200  414  462   448
0300  473  527   498    
0400  509  568   551
0500  560  625   595
0600  607  677   640
0700  643  717   660
0800  643  717   660
0900  643  717   660
1000  643  717   660
1100  643  717   660
1200  643  717   660
1300  643  717   687
1400  690  770   738
1500  733  818   776
1600  786  877   823
1700  836  933   855
1800  873  973   896
1900  901 1005   923
2000  933 1041   951
2100  960 1072   975
2200  988 1102  1002
2300 1022 1140  1031
0000 1052 1172  1068
0100 1078 1202  1085
0200 1099 1226  1085

Cabrillo Statistics           (Version 10g)           by K5KA & N6TVhttp://bit.ly/cabstat


-------------- Q S O   R a t e   S u m m a r y ---------------------
Hour     160     80     40     20     15     10    Rate Total    Pct
2100       0      0      0      0     94      0     94     94    8.7
2200       0      0      0      0     84      0     84    178   16.4
2300       0      0      0     34     19      0     53    231   21.3
0000       0      0      0     85      0      0     85    316   29.1
0100       0      0     37     27      0      0     64    380   35.0
0200       0      0     68      0      0      0     68    448   41.3
0300       0      0     50      0      0      0     50    498   45.9
0400       0      0     53      0      0      0     53    551   50.8
0500       0     11     33      0      0      0     44    595   54.8
0600       0     40      5      0      0      0     45    640   59.0
0700       0     13      7      0      0      0     20    660   60.8
0800       0      0      0      0      0      0      0    660   60.8
0900       0      0      0      0      0      0      0    660   60.8
1000       0      0      0      0      0      0      0    660   60.8
1100       0      0      0      0      0      0      0    660   60.8
1200       0      0      0      0      0      0      0    660   60.8
1300       0      0     27      0      0      0     27    687   63.3
1400       0      0      0     51      0      0     51    738   68.0
1500       0      0      0     24     14      0     38    776   71.5
1600       0      0      0     30     17      0     47    823   75.9
1700       0      0      0     14     17      1     32    855   78.8
1800       0      0      0      0     41      0     41    896   82.6
1900       0      0      0      1     25      1     27    923   85.1
2000       0      0      0     11     17      0     28    951   87.6
2100       0      0      0     14      6      4     24    975   89.9
2200       0      0      0      1     26      0     27   1002   92.4
2300       0      0      0     24      5      0     29   1031   95.0
0000       0      0      3     34      0      0     37   1068   98.4
0100       0      0     16      1      0      0     17   1085  100.0
0200       0      0      0      0      0      0      0   1085  100.0
Total      0     64    299    351    365      6   1085

Gross QSOs=1095        Dupes=10        Net QSOs=1085

Unique callsigns worked = 1085

The best 60 minute rate was 95/hour from 2342 to 0041
The best 30 minute rate was 104/hour from 2103 to 2132
The best 10 minute rate was 120/hour from 2112 to 2121

The best 1 minute rates were:
 3 QSOs/minute   10 times.
 2 QSOs/minute  204 times.
 1 QSOs/minute  647 times.

There were 30 bandchanges and 1 (0.1%) probable 2nd radio QSOs.

Identify this Antenna?

Can anyone identify this antenna? It's on one of the buildings that's under construction at VMware (where I work). The building was, I think, previously used by Roche Pharmaceuticals, or perhaps SAP.

It'd be pretty cool to be able to use this for contests. But it'll be a real receiver workout - you can probably see W6YX's antennas from that rooftop.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

SSCW 2012 Preparation

I'm excited to be preparing for another solo Sweepstakes CW effort from Kevin, AD6Z's QTH this year. Here are some of the things I'm doing to prepare for this year's event.

New for me this year - SO2V

The last few years, I've gotten a bit frustrated with the pace of the contest on the second day. Since Sweepstakes (SS) rules only allow one contact with each station, regardless of band, SS tends to be an activity-limited event, as opposed to rate limited events like the CQWPX Contest, which allow once-per-band contacts. This means that Sunday afternoon can be pretty slow.

For example, suppose I've been calling CQ on 15 meters for 3 minutes without a response. Should I press on with this run frequency? What's limiting my rate? Should I find a new run frequency?

Listening to my recordings from last year, I think I was probably too quick to give up on a run frequency and start an S&P pass up or down the band. This year, I plan to use N1MM's SO2V (Single Operator 2 VFO) support to keep the run frequency and start tuning with my K3's second receiver for an unworked station (I'll be entering the assisted class, so I should be able to visually tune onto a spot on the VFO B bandmap). If I don't get a response to my current CQ, hitting backslash and Enter will swap VFOs and send my call, and when the S&P contact is finished, another backslash + Enter will pop back to the run frequency and call CQ.

This is not as good as true SO2R (Single Operator 2 Radio), but is a lot easier to implement. You don't need (obviously) a second radio, nor do you need bandpass filters. I'm hopeful that it will help keep the rate a little higher during the latter parts of the contest.

Of course, it would be silly to try this for the first time in a contest you want to do well in. I practiced this technique during the California QSO Party, and found that I was able to handle the "mental workload" associated with managing the entry window focus and listening to two receivers at once. So I feel ready.

Ergonomic Tweaks

I'm making a few minor ergonomic tweaks that should help improve my score this year:

Full Size Keyboard - I use an HP Netbook for logging, and while it's a nice little computer, it has a mini keyboard, and in particular, the functions keys are really small. I attribute a few of my busted QSOs to fat-fingering the received exchange, so using a full-size keyboard should help. A full-size keyboard will also make CW speed control easier. On the netbook's keyboard, to do PgUp and PgDown, you need to hold the Fn key, and all three of those keys are really tiny.

Big Function Key Labels - If your function key labels are hard to read, it's really easy to hit the wrong one when handling a fill request. In fact, I was so bad at it last year that I mostly sent fills by hand. This year I'm putting a long strip of cardstock above the Fn keys with big, clear labels.

Two Monitors - last year, I was only using the laptop monitor, and that didn't give me sufficient vertical space for the bandmap. As a result, it was hard to see when an unworked station would show up. This year, I'm planning to use an external monitor for the entry windows and bandmaps, and put the more "strategic" windows like multipliers, score, and rate on the smaller laptop display.

Automate, Automate, Automate

I've found that the more I have to think about mundane tasks, the more likely it is that I'll get distracted and make a mistake. For example, if I've used RIT to tune in an off-frequency caller, if I forget to center the RIT dial, then I may have to fiddle with it on the next QSO. To solve that problem, N1MM has a nifty macro, {CLEARRIT} that I now have in my "TU" message. So there's one less thing to think abiout.

I also finally "get" Enter-Sends-Message (ESM) mode in N1MM. I used to shy away from it, especially in S&P mode, because I didn't understand the relationship beween the selected entry field and what ESM would send. Now that I've had a lot of practice with it, I can do almost all my logging meta-actions with just the Enter key and the Tab key.

Propagation Maps

Stu, K6TU, has developed a really neat Propagation service that produces propagation maps specific to your location and station characteristics. They're a great way to understand which bands are open, and to where. In the past, Dean Straw, N6BV, has produced a map like this and shared it with the club, but Stu's service allows you to customize it. The service does all the heavy lifting with the VOACAP program and generates a plot of expected signal strengths across either the US/Canada or the world.

Here's an example plot for AD6Z for 10 meters at the opening of the contest, assuming a smoothed sunspot number of 79:

I've found these maps to be a big help when planning band change strategies, or chasing that elusive mult. For example, the map above tells me that if I'm looking for high rate, 10 meters might not be the best choice, because it's just not putting a big signal into the heavily populated east coast. The 15 meter map, on the other hand, predicts S9+10 signals into the east coast:

Of course, this doesn't mean that 10 meters isn't worth using, since it will likely be open and stations will go there to spread out and get away from crowded conditions on 15 and 20.

Stu is offering the complete service free of charge to NCCC members for a limited time.  For non-NCCC members, there will be free services as well as enhanced services that are available with a subscription fee. See http://k6tu.net.

Local Skimmer Again

Like last year, Kevin will have his SDR + CW Skimmer running locally, feeding spots to my laptop. This works out really well in practice - you don't end up seeing spots for stations you can't hear, which can happen if you're getting spots from the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN), whose receivers may be far away from you. The only problem was that the SDR was getting desensed by my transmitter, and could only "hear" when I wasn't transmitting. I'm hoping that we can address that issue because there will be much less non-transmitting time if I'm using SO2V effectively. As a backup, I can always switch to a traditional packet cluster node to receive spots from other SS participants and/or the RBN.

Stretch Goal

Last year I had a claimed score (before log-checking) of 1099 QSOs and 80 sections for a score of 175,840, completely SO1R, in the U (assisted, high power) class. I'm hopeful that I can add a hundred or so contacts by using SO2V, so I'm setting a stretch goal of 200,000 points, which works out to 1,205 contacts, assuming I get all 83 sections.

Hope to see you on the air!

-Gordon KM6I