2014 ARRL Sweepsatakes – Much Fun but no Sweeps

I enjoyed working the ARRL Sweepstakes again this year. I operated in both CW and Phone this year. My major effort was in CW, where I managed a personal high score, finally breaking the 100K point barrier. For several years I have been wishing I was involved with a Club that could use my scores to help their totals. After receiving an invitation, I joined the Potomac Valley Radio Club (PVRC) the week before ARRLSS. So I was happy to give them my scores. Hopefully they will be a small contribution to a winning PVRC effort.

In addition to CW, I also put in a reduced-hours effort for Phone. I did enjoy it but it is just not as much fun to operate a modest 100w station in a Phone contest. You get very little traction when trying to “RUN” on the higher Bands unless you have a superior antenna. My wires and one ground-mounted vertical do not stand out against the beams and towers. I ended up with around 340 QSOs.

Once again – no Sweep. In each of the two weekends I ended up with 82 of 83 Sections worked, lacking VE8 in both CW and Phone. In the CW contest, I only heard a VE8 working other stations in S&P Mode. I tried every trick I could think of, but he never found me. I operated with spotting assistance during the Phone weekend. With about 2 hours remaining, I saw a spot for a VE8. I went to find him and encountered an unbelievable pileup. I probably spent close to an hour trying to get through, but finally gave up. In the end, I think I am better off without getting the Sweep using Spotting. I think I want my first Sweep to be Unassisted. I just think the satisfaction will be much greater.

Maybe next year…

ARRL Sweepstakes CW (SSCW) 2014

Here we go again. Time for ARRL Sweepstakes CW (SSCW) 2014. Same plan as always – main objective is to get a personal high score. Secondary objective is to get that elusive “clean sweep” – all US and Canada Sections in one weekend. I have been within 1 or 2 sections the last several years, with Nebraska being the holdout last year. Never even heard it! Yes, really, NEBRASKA. Oh well..

I always like to try a new antenna or 2 for SS. This year I may  need them as the forecast is for high winds nearly all weekend. Got 4 antennas and two radios for the hunt this year.

  1. 80m dipole, ladder line fed, usable on all other HF Bands as a doublet
  2. ZS6BKW oriented E-W
  3. ZS6BKW offset 45 degrees from antenna #2
  4. 6BTV Vertical on a pier over the Chesapeake Bay

The radios are an ICOM IC-7600 and an Elecraft K2

I have no idea how I will do in terms of score, but I know I will have fun. Hopefully one or two of the antennas will still be standing when Sunday night gets here.

“Updgrading WINDOWS XP” – a Walk Through Hell

Well my main Shack PC was running XP.  It is “no longer supported” by Microsoft – which may mean it is finally stable. I was going to just keep it, but the Microsoft-subservient software vendors do not make updates for XP. This is their part in helping M$ to force you to upgrade. So I decided to go ahead and upgrade to WINDOWS 7. What a nightmare. As is typical of WINDOWS, you lose all of your programs when you “upgrade.” That is because they are more concerned about piracy then they are about the convenience of their user. When you are a monopoly, you can do that. We all use WINDOWS because we have to, not because it is the best product in the marketplace, which of course, it is NOT.

So I bought many new components – may as well update the old hardware at the same time. Once I realized I had to get a more powerful power supply, it all seemed to work fairly well. That is if you can call losing all of your programs “Fairly well.” But it worked fairly well considering it is WINDOWS.

“Fairly well”ended when I connected to the Internet. M$ thought it should do 104 updates to WINDOWS that I had just installed – seriously, there are 104 updates that they consider to be important, since my OS DVD arrived on the shelf of MicroCenter – where you should buy all of your PC hardware and software. Once it was nearly finished with the 104 updates, it decided that it did not properly install them. So now the PC is telling me to please wait, while it undoes all of the changes. Wouldn’t you think they would check something before they start the updates, to see if they can properly install them??? I’ll bet this 104-update fun is not over.

I am sure I will get the “upgrade” done eventually. Took me about 8 hours so far. When (if) they get all the updates right, I will spend 6 hours or so reinstalling all of the important Applications. Somewhere, Bill Gates is laughing …. The good news is that I know the LINUX install will only take about an hour, and it will install everything properly.

Mobile Antenna Testing

I was doing some testing of mobile antennas on my F-150 this weekend. I had a mag mount on the roof, and a door-edge mount on the rear door. Both had NMO mounts, so I could easily move antennas between the mounts. Here is what I found:

I had an HT (Kenwood TH-F6A) connected to an antenna switch, connected to the two antennas. I tuned to a weak repeater. I found that I could hear it with the roof-mounted antenna, but not with the door-mounted antenna. I could switch the antennas between the 2 mounts with the same result, so it was the mount or the mount location making the difference.

When I opened the door with the antenna on it (moving the antenna and mount away from the chassis), I suddenly could copy the repeater with either antenna. I had the bottom of the door-mounted antenna about 4 inches below the roof line. moving it up about 2.5 inches made a huge difference in reception.

So if you are using one of the door-edge mounts, you may want to experiment with the placement.

IC-7000 and N1MM Interfacing

Getting prepared for the upcoming VA QSO Party (check it out if you want to work a great contest this March). My plan is to operate mobile this year using an IC-7000. I used it in the past with N1MM just for frequency control. This year I plan to use N1MM again, but adding the full CW/SSB/PTT interface. Stay tuned.

Sweepstakes – Close Again

Well, had a good time in the ARRL CW Sweeps this year. Still no sweep. It was the curse of the ‘askas. With a couple hours to go I needed Alaska and Nebraska. Surprisingly enough, I got Alaska but never heard Nebraska. Oh well. At least I am convinced that poor antennas is no longer the limitation. Biggest issue this year was having to quit several hours early. The good news – the rigs, software, etc. worked flawlessly.

 

November Sweepstakes: Is this the year?

I have been operating in the ARRL CW November Sweepstakes for several years. It is the ultimate contest – long exchange, many stations active, and a fast pace. If you like contesting, there are many enjoyable contests, but this one is special in my book.

One thing that continues to elude me in ARRL CWSS is the “Clean Sweep.” That means a confirmed QSO with every Section in the US and Canada. I have come up a couple short every year. Maybe I will finally get them all this year. I will be going for a personal high score but will be looking to finally get the Sweep.

My station for this year’s Contest:
SO2R (single operator, two radio) with an Icom IC-7600 and an Elecraft K2
Antennas – Two ZS6BKW antennas in orthogonal orientation (one hung East-to-West and one North-to-South), and an all-Band dipole/doublet
SO2R ControllerDX Doubler by TopTen – this is a great station controller for contest and casual use
Contesting softwareN1MM – just the best Contesting software you can get, and also the best free software I have seen for any application

Hope to C U in ARRL CWSS this weekend

LOTW – Stepping Up to the Challenge

I see the ARRL really is serious about making LOTW a user-friendly, main-stream QSO confirmation tool. Recent delays have been disconcerting, and the infrequent status reports have made it difficult to know what is happening when you submit a Log. As I recently asked (and I am sure many others did too), they are now making frequent LOTW queue status reports available. I see mention of hourly updates on the Site. This is great, as we will no longer have to wonder what is happening with our submitted QSLs.

ARRL also reports that they are employing more developers to make LOTW a much faster service overall. We have seen recently that LOTW really needs a step up to a higher class of hardware and/or software (probably the latter) to sustain the growing numbers of QSL submissions by Amateurs worldwide. If you are a C Language developer, ARRL is also looking for more volunteers to help with the LOTW Programming efforts.

 

 

Sweepstakes Results for 2012

Well I kept up the time-honored tradition of missing 1 or 2 Sections in the CW SS contest this year. Had about 575 QSOs (a personal best) and all but 2 Sections – MB and NNY. I never had trouble with a New York section before. I guess the monster storm Sandy may have been the reason, as they were all trying to get their lives back together and probably had little time for playing with radios.

I did not make any further adjustments of my ZS6BKW (ref: earlier posts on this subject). The SWR was well within usable range for the CW Band segments and I did not want to jeopardize that just before the Contest. Now that CWSS is over, I may get back to some final tweaking of this antenna to see if I can get 80m Phone in the 3:1 range needed by the IC-7600’s internal tuner.

I did try the 20m 4-element colinear antenna this year. I can’t say I was real impressed. I guess a fixed antenna with higher gain is not really what I want. Next year I may go to something rotatable. I did pickup a couple sections with the colinear that I could not get with my other wire antennas, but overall I am not sure it was worth the trouble.

LOTW – Ready for Prime Time??

I have been using the ARRL Logbook of the World (LOTW) recently for confirmation of my radio contacts. I like the basic idea very much but I have been having some issues. After a recent contest, I uploaded a Log File. I waited 3 or 4 days and nothing happened. I uploaded again, waited a few days (actually over a week now), and still nothing. The contacts have not been added to my LOTW account.

I see that the ARRL LOTW Site says that LOTW is about 4 days behind but is processing files. When I hit “refresh” on my browser, it appears that they are only adding a few contacts per second to the LOTW database. If this is the case, I just do not see how this can be a tool that is used by tens-of-thousands of Hams around the world. I would expect a total meltdown of this system after the upcoming ARRL SSB Sweepstakes this weekend.

I have been trying to get my recent log file uploaded for about 2 weeks now, with no luck. This is really not a critical thing to me. I can wait. But I have to wonder if it is not time for a major upgrade of the LOTW system, if it is to really be used as a primary tool for confirming QSOs by the Ham community at large.

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