Sunday, November 30, 2014

CQ World wide CW contest and my station

You can see where the 15m band starts! 
This weekend I dipped my toes into the CQ world wide DX CW contest and by dipping my toes I mean very casual contesting. With my station being a QRP setup I rarely ever jump in the contest on the Friday evening. I find the CW speed is fast and very rare is a QRP station ever heard in the pile ups, so rather getting frustrated I relax and do other things on the Friday evening.  I was on for a few hours on Saturday morning and afternoon. The propagation conditions looked good and I was hearing lots of
20m action Saturday afternoon

European stations booming in…..BUT……it was hard to raise a contact either on 15m or 20m. I have the MFJ 1788 loop antenna so 10m is not an option, I did hear that 10m was booming with great signals and propagation. I took Saturday evening off from the contest and decided to give things a go on Sunday. I had some running around to do Sunday morning so the contest time came early afternoon and I must say the conditions were still good and I was delighted my signal was being heard in Europe with some repeats but it was being heard. Some of the highlights were contacts into Hawaii, Canary island's off Africa and Jersey island.  I was able to net 25 contacts in the contest so as you can tell I was not on all that much but I did enjoy the time. More important was the way I was able to set the station up for contesting. I plan on doing more contesting both local and DX so to get the software and hardware working well together was one of my plans for this contest. As you can see from the picture all my radio gear is nicely tucked away in a roll top desk. For me it's a great setup I only have to roll the top up, pull out a keyboard, pull out some side shelves, moves some accessories onto the shelves and presto Im on the air! Lets get back to my contesting setup….
The contest desk
Below are the programs and hardware I use and why they are great for my setup.
The software programs:
N4PY's radio control program. This program allows me to control my K3 and KX3 with very fast and convenient mouse clicks. As an added bonus the program has virtual com ports and it's simple to incorporate other programs and hardware. Also the support that is offered with N4PY is great and most questions I have had are dealt with same day.

N1MM contest software There are other software programs out there for contesting but this is the only one I have used from day one of my contesting. N1MM has come out with a new program called N1MM Plus, I have not tried it as of yet and a rule I have is to not try new programs or upgraded programs just before a contest. N1MM supports most if not all contests, it's very easy to use
 works great and that's good enough for me.  N4PY's program has virtual com ports and it allow me to setup N1MM so it seamlessly works with N4PY's program.

MRP40 CW decoder Yes you read it correctly I have a CW decoder program, this is not a free program but I have found it works the best of any I have ever tried out. So why do I use a decoder…..well I have found that in contests there are op's who for some reason send at speeds that only a decoder program can read. This program has helped me with making a contact that never would had happened if I was decoding by ear. 

The hardware I use for contesting:
Elecraft P3 This is one of the best investments I have made it's a stand alone pan adapter that uses no PC memory. I have found it's nice to see how the band is doing and this piece of equipment does just that. For contests  I can tuned from contact to contact. I am able to see 100, 50, 10 or 3 hz segments of the band. With my narrow band width MFJ 1788 I set the P3 to 10 hz and I can see a detailed segment of the band I can work before having to retune the loop.

Elecraft K3 What can I say it's a great contest and general QSO rig and to not get into boring details about the rig…..for contesting I have installed the following Inrad 8 pole filters 500 Hz, 400 Hz and 250 Hz and with the width control on the K3 I can narrow the filtering to 10 Hz!!

Winkeyer USB This unit came as a kit and was fun to build and is great for contesting. I have the keyer directly hooked into the K3. You can control it with N1MM software but as far as I know there is a latency issue with the keyer being used with N1MM, for that reason I hook it up directly to the K3. There are 4 programable buttons on the top (very easy to program via PC software) I program in my call, contest exchange, TU and the last button has a repeat of the exchange only less the 599. I place the Winkeyer beside my keyboard for very easy access to send my call and exchange, my hands are never to far away from the keyboard.

Flex Radio's Flexcontrol In the picture it's located in the white paper. N4PY's program again through a virtual port allows me to have VFO control of the K3. There are also 3 programable buttons as well to control the K3. I have programmed one of the buttons to the K3's spot function and in CW contests it's a great option to have.

Begali Contour Key I find with all the software ways to send CW it's very important to also have to old fashion key handy. Many times I have had a station asking for a repeat of my call or report, to send it with the key allows me to leave a longer spaces between letters of my call. This method has had my call or report get through to finalize the contact.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Armchair ham radio at it's best!

The armchair setup
There have been evenings when Im relaxing and icing on the cake to the evening would be the added flavour of ham radio. Having said that I do have a "shack" in the condo but there are times when you are in the Lazy boy chair and sitting in the cold hard wooden chair at the radio desk just does not turn my crank! While relaxing in the chair and thinking of radio I came up with a nice solution to bringing ham radio to the Lazy boy chair. On a side table I am able to comfortably place my Elecraft KX3 and the MFJ 1788 control head. I ran a shorter piece of RG8X coax from the MFJ 1788 loop to it's control box. From the control box to the KX3 the RG8X is rather bulky so I used a piece of RG58U coax that came with BNC connectors on each end. The MFJ control box require a voltage source from 9 to 16 volts to work. To make things more simple I used a 13 volt DC power pack that I can recharge. The KX3 is powered by my Astron power supply back at the radio desk, in the condo that is not to far
A closer look 
away. The key Im using is my Palm radio mini Paddle since the KX3 is on a side table to my left using the KX3 paddle would be awkward. The Palm paddle can nicely sit in front of me and I have a 3 ring binder with a metal plate on it the palm paddles magnets hold it secure. I brought along my iPad mini as I can look calls up on QRZ.COM and am looking into a logging program for it, one that I can upload to LOTW and club log.  During my short operation on Saturday evening I was able to contact VE1BA in Nova Scotia my RST was 589 with some QSB and our QSO was a KX3 x KX3 and QRP x QRP contact. It was a nice QSO as we chatted about the weather, antennas and rigs. On Sunday I was almost able to complete a contact with W9MIC as the conditions on 20m were not all that great. I really can't log W9MIC as the contact really was not completed as we both faded into the noise floor. Another benefit of this setup is I have the opportunity to use my KX3 and become more familiar with it. There have been times when I have been using my KX3 out in the park and forgot how to do certain functions……maybe those moments will be far and few between.
The op desk with Palm paddle

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Searching the log for familiar faces

I have been using LOTW as my online logging program for some time now and for the most part have liked using it. The logging programs I have on my PC are N3FJP's AClog and DXlabs log and both logs have made uploading to LOTW very easy with just the push of a button. For some reason I was on LOTW and I decided to search my log for possible fellow bloggers I made contact with. Low and behold it turns out that I contacted the following fellow bloggers…….W2LJ, EI9KC,AE5X and KL8DX. It's not many and may not be all but I sure was surprised that at some time in the past (some contacts were made before I got into blogging) I made on air contact with these fellow bloggers.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Weather VS MFJ 1788 loop

Outcome of my damp MFJ 1788
The weather has been up and down up this way from snow and minus 2C then up to plus 14C it's the top end of the temp scale that I enjoy but that will soon come to an end as winter is on it's way! While on the subject of the warmer weather also comes showers and damp weather, for some reason this has an affect on my MFJ 1788 isoloop. In past I have found my antenna to be SWR sensitive to the damp and or humid weather. I had posted on some of the mag loop user groups to see if  others had the same issue. I was not able to get lots of responses but the consensus was that weather really had no effect on others loop! I ended up taking my loop apart and just checking out the insides and all looked good.
The work of the internal tuner
Once the damp and or humid weather changed all was well with the loop. The effect on the antenna is the SWR will not go below 2.7:1 on any given band but any other time the SWR would be either flat or close to it. I posted about this very problem this past summer on my blog and it really was not a humid summer so the problem did not arise that often. Now that it has happened again my own conclusion is the damp weather has an effect on the dielectric characteristics of the air that separates the capacitor plates in the antenna. This by no means is a scientific conclusion but as for simple old me it's the conclusion I am leaning toward. I do have an internal antenna tuner in the Elecraft K3 and my Elecraft KX3,
The SWR of the antenna
this allows me to lower the SWR so the rig does not see the high SWR.