Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Things happening

It has been a busy few months since I hung up my software-spurs.

On deck --

I might be doing consulting work in my main field of expertise anyway.  It was always going to be a "semi-retirement".   I think the prefix "semi" is important.

Then, there is the backlog of projects that need attention.  I'll probably restart them after I get back from LHI.
  • Installation of 60 foot self-supporting tower and beam antenna at the QTH
  • Building a few "French" VDA (Vertical Dipole Array) antenna for a DX colleague.
  • And, due to the up-coming DX'pedition opportunities, re-develop a streamlined "kit" for going on adventures.  The LHI trip has identified a few areas to improve.  But, in terms of equipment setup, I have a good list and worksheet to base the next trip.
  • Establish the fund-raising needed for a DX'p every year.   I think that at least every two years, and perhaps every year (depending on fund-raising), I will be trying to go on a DX'pedition.    When I get back from LHI, I'll have a much better idea of how that should work.

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

7-QP 2024

Now that my ears have stopped ringing, I can write a bit about the last big contest.

The 7-Area QSO Party

Again, as last year Rusty (W6OAT) and I Ran CW only from his marvelous QTH out on the Kitsap Peninsula.

We talked this over a bit at Visalia this year.  The idea we had was -- let's run and run hard on CW only.  My advice was -- let's keep the operations going.   We can always take a break here and there, but someone was always at the key for the entire duration.    The other thing we agreed to was speed -- Last year I was a bit nervous and not yet ready for fast WPM so I ran it about 22-23.   We scored reasonably well, but that was a year ago.   In that time since 2023 7-QP, I've been practicing and running in as many CWT/MST as I could (Until the KPA-500 lost the finals).

This year, with Rusty's advice we turned it up to 27-28.  Yee-Haw.   I didn't have too much anxiety about that speed since he was right there with me.

So it was settled -- as we were waiting for the plane back to Seattle after Visalia this April --

  • CW Only, let's not do SSB
  • Speed up
  • Work it hard.  Keep the seat warm
  • And we're going to try our best to win.
  • But, again as always -- HAVE FUN.

I got the phone call just the week before and Rusty and I ironed out the logistics.    The excitement was there and I felt it too.  This was going to be fun.

(Side note -- I feel like saying that running M/S in any contest is by far one of my favorite things.  You may not win, you may not have a great signal conditions -- but it's always fun to be around your friends when on the radio.   It's about the company.)

Due to some scheduling, I had to wake up Saturday morning at 2 a.m. and then dose up with coffee and hit the road for making the journey AROUND the sound (which means taking I-5 through Tacoma, and then up Highway 3 towards Rusty's place).

About 5:00 a.m. or so I get to Rusty's and the house is dark, but Rusty is up stairs putting on (more) coffee.

We're ready!

The station is switched on and Rusty and I add my Heil Pro-7 to the splitter as well as my N3ZN paddle.

The greyline wall map is turned on and we're watching.  The solar numbers were initially really weird,  K 15, and A 0 (zero).   There was some news about a CME glancing by but the bands were their usual snap-crackle-pop.

At 6:00 a.m. we pressed "F1" on N1MM and began.   We were ramping up the numbers really well.

Within the first hour or so I think we had 8 or 9 of the DX Mults we needed.
Within the first few hours we had pretty much worked all the States except for ND and SD and CT.

Then CT came on, we added that Mult.  Then we had a lull for a while.   A zero call came back to us and Rusty, jokingly said "I hope that's a Dakota."  And sure enough, when we got the exchange it was.

We literally high-fived on that QSO.

The VE Mults proved to be elusive for us.   VE4 VE5 VE6 came later  and it was those YV0  and eastern seaboard stations we really wanted. 

Upstairs food was getting prepared and as the sun was starting to go low, so did our VFO.  20 to
40 then to 80..   Rusty has a really good 160m wire and we were bringing stations to 160 that we had already worked on 80 and 40.

One response was this cryptic  "Let ,, me .. see."

Near the end of the contest, we had already passed our 2023 score.  We had literally four hours more to go and we had already reached the same QSO count we had in 2023.    In my mind I was thinking we could crack 1000 Q.    In 2023 during Salmon Run our count was 1033 Q on CW only.   But that was a differently spaced contest.  If I remember, there was a down-time.

But in this year 7-QP we already passed our Q-count and I think we even topped our Mult from 2023.  We had 62 or 63 now.

For the next four hours it was bursts.   We'd run (which we did for most of the contest) and we also S/P a few times to snag a new Mult.    When it was on fire, it was on fire and we were clocking in 4-5 Q per minute.  Then there would be some minutes before we heard a call.  You think it's rapid but after it's all over the rate was about 0.97 Q per minute for the entire contest.

We ended the contest on 40m.  We had already reached the bottom of the peanut butter jar on 160 and 80m.   40m was still good and open and we could tell people were packing it in.   Our last CQ happened about 30 seconds before the end of the contest.   I turned to Rusty and said, I think we did it.

Score wise, I'm sure.

I love the 7-QP contest as much as any other.   And, it was truly an amazing night of good QSO and lots of good practice at the station.   For reasons that I will post about later, the effort is a training ground for some good work on handling pile ups and DX.

My thanks to Rusty and the members of the Western Washington DX Club who worked our Run.
I also want to give my appreciation to the regulars of the MST/CWT contesting ---  learning your calls helped me quite a bit.    

I hope to hear you all again and be part of a great contest.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

LICW Comments

In order to brush up on copying long form QSO, I resumed taking part in the Long Island CW class.

It's a different style of class than those offered by CW-Ops.  In LICW, the classes run all week so it's possible to hop-scotch through two or three classes at the same level during the week for more reinforcement.  No sign ups, just join the Zoom.

One of the questions that was asked during class got me thinking.

The question was (paraphrased) "Is there any scientific study in literature that this method works?" -- The "this" was referring to the method taught by LICW.  For those who haven't done Long Island CW Club classes the method for the most part (at least in the intermediate classes) is based on:

  • Copying long form QSO.   Find a novel, and send the first paragraph.  That sort.
  • Show a picture of a animal in a comical pose and then send (on the fly) some brief sentence about what you see.
  • Listen to recognizable phrases and try to copy (and anticipate) the words that come next.

What made me consider this is my own experience.   What I've come to realize is that there is almost a 1:1 correspondence between an amateur radio operator learning CW and a method that is ideal for him or her.  One size does not fit all.

Seldom do I hear students across the board indicate that the method works uniformly across the class.

My response to the question went along these lines:

For those who like to divide the world in threes, there are three types of copy to deal with.

  1. Contest copy (Call sign, signal report or exchange).  Rapid.  Just call signs, exchange and TU
  2. Abridged QSO (DX'ing or casual CQ'ing for just the basics -- antenna, rig, power, QTH, FB, etc.. nearly all of the 'words' being abbreviated or coded slang.  Goal is simply to get the station in the log and not much else -- except maybe some niceties.
  3. Long form QSO without any urgency to finish the QSO -- long words, full sentences,  the rest.

Whichever style the student gravitates towards, I've noticed that the common element is something that isn't taught but acquired -- confidence.   Confidence to just try -- confidence to work simple contests (K1USN SST) or state QSO parties can lead to confidence to calling CQ and that can lead to confidence to doing long-form QSO -- but there is no road map.  No one has to do contesting, or CQ'ing or long-form QSO.  You end up where you're comfortable.    Whichever way you do go, just doing it -- even with the mistakes -- is really valuable because it builds confidence.   Being on the air, using the CW mode is the point -- that's the goal.   If you'll never be motivated for contesting, then don't contest.  Just call CQ and work the stations as you like.

In my experience, nothing beats just doing it.  Whatever it is.    I do contesting so I can practice Running and copying callsigns for DX.  If I wanted to have rag-chew long form QSO in CW, I would.  But I don't because it doesn't go to my objectives of running DX pile ups.   Contesting is a trial by fire approach -- learning to copy call signs and timing responses to CQ in contests isn't necessarily going to make you better at rag-chew long-form.     

Nevertheless, doing anything with CW is going to make it easier to do it the next time and so on.   And, if QSO's is your thing, then just call CQ and muddle through.  Or if rag-chew long-form QSO is your thing, then drop your call and get into it.

Unless it's a contest situation where people are just trying to keep up rate, no one is really going to care much if you make mistakes.  In all the time I worked CW, I found that every QSO over CW was greeted with kindness.  "They" want to work you.

I don't know if scholarly papers have been written about methods to teach CW.   My guess is whatever those papers say, they'll likely be with a conclusion of "this is the right way to learn CW because we say so."    Fair enough.  But, no matter what the method is -- gaining confidence is not a lesson plan -- confidence comes from within you.   If you want to learn CW, you will.  

As Tom Berson, ND2T said "Aspiration without allocation is folly."  -- the gist of what is saying is: put the time into leaning and practice those elements that you are weak on.  Practice to your weaknesses.   

Good luck.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

CW Games

After Visalia '23 I got CW on the brain.

Some of the 10m buddies I talk with over the years via SSB were in a rut and so I thought what if we had a CW net, once per week.  Just to practice and gain confidence.  I've noticed that a lot of times, new CW operators are just too nervous.  I've been there so I wanted to fix that for the Northwest 10 Meter Net with a CW Net.

I convinced one of my mentors, Jim Fish, K7NCG to start  the CW net on Tuesday at 7:30 local time.  Based on what I was doing in CW and excited about DX, I really thought what the Northwest 10 Meter Net needed was a reason to break out the paddles and just try CW -- even if it was slow -- really slow.

That went well and the net is on-going still.   

At the same time, I also had a friend who was just a bit timid about using CW so I brain-stormed a way to help build his confidence and one afternoon drafted an article/instructions for a set of CW-games that would have one goal:   Increase confidence and hopefully make the activity of using CW fun.  A recursive goal -- confidence leading to fun, and so on.   He and I worked the games out and practiced them.  If nothing else, he is a lot less timid about trying CW.  That's all I wanted for him.

Well, the ARRL took the article, and it will be in the May 2024 QST.   

I didn't realize that the ARRL would put together a video with David NA2AA, Steve K5ATA, Becky W1BXY and Sierra W5DX working the game through.

What a surprise!   

It may not be the right game for all people learning CW, but the intent was to make it fun and partner with a skilled operator to hands-on coach them through the basics.   I'd be interested if anyone has tried it with their friends who are really new to CW -- what works and doesn't' work about the games.

And here's the video link that I found:


Monday, April 15, 2024

Visalia 2024 - Summary

Back home from Visalia 2024.    It was a really productive convention.  

Here's a brief run-down of some of the talks/sessions that I enjoyed the most

Brian, N9ADG

"How NOT to get into the log" put on by Brian Moran, N9ADG.  A tongue in cheek way of describing exactly how to get in the log, the right way.  Synopsis:

  1. Listen
  2. Listen
  3. and Listen
The talk had a great level of humor and advice and I loved the way Brian wove in bits of advice of what to do.   I hope that Brian is able to publish the synopsis again for the club.  The DX Code of Conduct really is the cornerstone for being a better DX'er.

Tom, ND2T

The next day had a full slate of tutorials and sessions on contesting.  In that subject there were several very important sessions to hear:

"Train for your weaknesses and Compete your strengths" put on by Tom Berson, ND2T

The take home message for that talk is simply to practice and train on the activities that you are least effective -- "Aspiration without allocation is folly." -- By that Tom meant that in order to train and prepare it will require time (allocation) and dedicated effort.  "Put time into the effort that will pay off later" and "A little goes a long way" -- to mean that each iterative session you put into training will accumulate better skill.   

He also made some other notes clear "Strength is mental" -- getting stronger at the things about contesting that seem like your weakness is about strengthening your mental acuity to handle the tasks you will have contesting.

And he made a few final comments:

"Study the moves of those you want to emulate" -- a contester you admire and appreciate -- find them on the air and emulate the same methods that you want to aspire to.

As a contest schedule and plan is formed (another thing to do -- plan your attack!  Make a schedule for what contest(s) you want to perform and then work backwards from those dates to plan your training and preparation to peak when those events take place.   Using any of the numerous contests that occur is the best angle to use.   CWT, MST, State QSO Parties, and the CQ WW contests - even the NCCC Sprints -- all good exercises.

Hank and Rusty

Hank W6SX and Rusty W6OAT gave a really lively talk on contesting mechanics and operations.  It was a culmination of a lot of the best ideals to strive for when contesting.   Slicing up the pile up, handling contacts in the contest -- the bottom line is "Be minimal"  DO NOT repeat what is not needed to be repeated.

If the other station comes back to you with their call sign, for instance, there is no need to repeat their call -- they know their own call sign.   Just stick to the exchange and the information that is pertinent to finishing the contact.   Ending the QSO in a contest comes down to a simple TU (thank you) or 73 -- and as much as there is debate among experienced contesters about using TU vs 73 to end the QSO, you will have to decide for yourself.  TU is of course a speedier way to end than 73, but that doesn't mean you are required to use it.   Going back to what Tom ND2T said -- emulate the behaviors that you want to strive for in other experienced contesters.

The best part of Hank and Rusty's talk was the simulation of a live SSB pile up.   

Hank called CQ to the room (emulating SSB contesting) and in the room dozens of attendees tried to shout out their calls (the pile up) and we saw and heard Hank work the room just as if it was on the HF band.  It illustrated a few points that were already discussed:

  1. Use full call signs
  2. Use standard phonetics, (don't mess around with fancy arcane phonetics)
  3. Only give out the information that is new and required, don't repeat what is already confirmed.
  4. End the QSO cleanly with the TU or 73
  5. Reset for the next QSO with the pattern that keeps the rate up.

Mark, K6UFO

In the scheme of things, the digital modes FT-8, FT-4, etc. are appearing (no surprise) as dominant factors in the total Q-counts for DX'peditions.  I don't think I heard a single expedition summary talk show less than 50% of their contacts were using FT-8.   This mode is the way forward for those DX'peditions to elevate rate of Q across the expedition time.  SSB and CW will still be crucial, but the FT-8 mode is dominant and will continue to be so.

For that reason, Mark's talk on FT-8 was a summary of the impact of FT-8 as well as a thumb-nail guide for those who want to use it effectively both from the DX chaser and DX'peditioner side of the fence.  Advancements in the FT-8 exchange will be announced more formally, but the technology that is emerging will include authentication schemes to help suppress pirate operations fouling up the overall DX'pedition.   Technology alone won't really eliminate the DQRM problem, but the authentication schemes for establishing truth about the contacts will definitely help tamp down the problem to an extent.

Mark's talk went through these issues and a highlight of the benefit when FT-8 and FT-4 is used for maximum efficiency.   It was an excellent capsule of knowledge for those using FT-8 -- which it turns out is a majority of the DX chasers if the statistics are followed.

H44WA and H40WA

There were two other talks that the conference had.   I missed the H44WA talk from Robin, WA7CPA (I had seen the presentation at the Western Washington DX Club meeting, but I still wanted to hear Robin's re-telling of the story -- I was in the Contest Academy at the time).   H40WA was reviewed by Rob, N7QT on the Sunday breakfast session and that was a really engaging story about the difficulties for working that province in the Solomon Islands.

I was really glad to see the Western Washington DX Club so well represented at the convention -- both in terms of members being there and also the number of presentations given by our own WWDXC DX'peditioners.

Nice job to Robin, Rob, and shout out to Brian Moran, N9ADG for very effective work and support patching the WSJT-X to allow for streamlined F/H QSO rate.

The Convention

The convention itself had slightly less attendees than last year, but it was still a very rousing and successful convention.   Another highlight were the dinners that occurred during the weekend -- to the side of the convention were a number of fine restaurants and in the evenings, a few people gathered to share a meal and talk DX, and all sorts of things in a smaller setting.  I was glad to be able to attend a couple of these.  I had a great time listening and the engagement was really helpful.

We didn't have a huge number of third parties at the vendor area.  It was reduced somewhat from the last convention in 2023.  However, it was good to see representation from the Flex Radio company as well as Elecraft -- who put out some demos of their products.  The new hand-held KH1 CW transceiver was remarkable.  Wayne, N6KR very enthusiastically showed all of the features of the KH1 and the physical design that went into the device -- it's a really compact HF radio (80-15m).   The picnic-table operators or SOTA folks will appreciate it.

The convention was organized by an integrated cooperation between the Northern California DX Club and the Southern California DX club and they pulled off a great convention -- well organized and really satisfying.

I met a few friends who were first-timers to the convention.   I want to mention a couple:

Jim, N7AUE -- I had worked Jim many times on MST and CWT so it was fun to meet him F2F.  I think he had a great time at the convention.  The only advice I gave him was "For this convention especially, become an extrovert and talk to as many DX'ers as you can -- you'll find they want to help and the connections you make will be really important."  

Danny, KX7DX -- His first IDXC.  I carpooled with Danny and Rusty from the Fresno airport to the convention and it was great to hear Danny remark about what he enjoyed about the convention.

New Friends

It was a whirlwind of meeting new people this year.  At the after-hours dinners especially.

I got to know better some of the active DX'ers and contesters that I have read about before.

End Notes

Just the same message -- if you haven't gone to IDXC, go.  If you are into chasing DX, or being the DX, go.  And if you enjoy the company of friendly amateur radio operators who live and work in that field (DX and Contesting), then go.   You will have a great time.

See you next year!

Picture of the author at the special event station K6V handing out signal reports

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

QST + Visalia 2024

I was informed in February 2024 that my article I wrote for QST last Spring is going to be in the May edition of the QST.  A fun article with some ideas on CW practicing and training.  I hope you enjoy it.

In the article, I needed to use call-signs to demonstrate an idea.  I decided to use the call sign of my XYL's great uncle, WA6SLI -- Art Rutledge.   He no longer is able to operate his superb station, but the memory of showing how amateur radio works first hand, and visits to the "Candy Store" (Ham Radio Outlet) in Burbank, CA are unforgettable.   Get well Art!

(Above:  1525 W Magnolia Blvd, Burbank, CA -- now closed.  Next closest shop is in Anaheim on 933 N Euclid St)

About Visalia 2024 --

The itinerary is setting up nicely!

Meet-ups and gatherings are being formed via email -- looking forward to the opportunity to see old/new friends again for a good eye-ball QSO.

Instead of camping-down the whole way to the convention, I'll be flying in.  Saves me a bit of time.  

I really (really) liked the camp-out aspect last year, but I'll have to leave the van behind this time.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Yes, time for radio!

Recently I decided to go into semi-retirement. I used to work for Blue Origin.

I've left Blue Origin and the aerospace world. As some colleagues would call it, 'turned in my space boots'.

I have plans -- one is to go back to college and earn my master's degree in electrical engineering (MSEE) because eventually I want to teach/instruct college students the ways of embedded software and systems. A mix of hardware and software that involve direct access to the 'magic sand'. That'll take me a couple years I suppose.

In the mean time, carve out a web-shingle that reads in part 'Embedded Software Blacksmith' and do consulting for enterprises trying to unravel the issues that tangle up a lot of programs -- safety critical software, processes, requirements, and board bring-up, and how to mentor and grow burgeoning software teams from scratch.

I'm thrilled about the new opportunities I have and look forward to making great things happen.

It also means my involvement with the Western Washington DX Club will increase as well as my endeavors with chasing DX stations and working on antenna designs for colleagues who are doing expeditions.

A lot of fun things to do.  

I'm very excited for the opportunity.

Things happening

It has been a busy few months since I hung up my software-spurs. On deck -- DX'pedition for Lord Howe Island Lord Howe Island (July 202...