Tuesday, February 27, 2018

#FT8 Hunting or be hunted

From http://physics.princeton.edu/pulsar/k1jt/DXpedition_Mode_Test.txt

The first public test run for FT8 DXpedition Mode is scheduled as follows:

Date    UTC   Frequency
Mar 6  2300   14.080 MHz
Mar 7  0000   10.141
Mar 7  0100    7.080
Mar 7  0200    3.585

Check back here for possible last-minute changes of USB dial frequency.

Tests will show if hunting like this is changing the way we work DX....

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

TX with CAT

No, this is not about a pet. We had cats in the past but they all died unfortunately. This is about my portable digimode station which I wrote about in several occasions but if I can remember well last time in november last year. I finally made a modem that worked, it uses the internal VOX of the FT-817 to switch to TX. The only problem I had was losing my CAT connection with the radio as soon as I transmit. It didn't matter to me at the time, but the problem is that I would like to have control over the radio when at a remote location. If you're not in the shack and have your radio equipment running for instance with WSPR it even is a need to be able to switch off the station in a emergency remotely. Then I remembered PE1BVQ Hans had problems with the CAT as well and has it running now through Ham Radio DeLuxe CAT control. So I was trying that using the old HRD V4 I still have on my laptop. But it didn't work at all. Then suddenly it occured to me that the CAT control could only be working with the use of the newer version 5. So installed that and finally got the CAT working after a few minutes. I discovered by coincidence that the FT-817 can control the TX switching through the CAT control. That means I don't need the internal VOX at all. Tested it and it works wel actually. Below te settings in the configuration file, Notice I use a old version of JTDX which still have the audio input slider which works very well. First station I received this evening was DP0GVN from Antarctica.

Well, for those that want to build my KISS digimode interface this could be a valuable tip. Because in this case you don't need to use the mike input like I did but you can use the appropriate pin on the mini DIN connector at the back. In that case you can use DIG mode again like with other interfaces and keep your microphone connected. I might reconfigure my interface as it is one lead and connector less taking less room and even more simple.

Why didn't I think of this before....
Hope this will help others....

Monday, February 19, 2018

WSJT-X receive levels

By now everyone knows how you should transmit with a clean signal. That means, low power and adjust audio volume to the radio till you get no ALC reading but almost full adjusted output power. A good signal is not that difficult to make, however I had issues with it in first editions of WSJT-X years ago, these days the problems with audio codecs seems to be solved.

I switched over to Windows 10 lately and since a few days I imagined not all signals in the WSJT-X waterfall were decoded. Sometimes even nothing was decoded even if I clearly saw a few traces! Playing with the input volume didn't improve the decoding much. Then suddenly I remembered something I read in the excellent FT8 operating tips guide from ZL2IFB. Of course a lot of those tips are also valuabe for other digimodes like JT65/JT9/PSK and many more.The default bitrate of a soundcard input is always set at 44100Hz CD quality and for digimode it should be 48000Hz DVD quality. And indeed that was my problem. Regarding the input setting there are also some tips in chapter 5 of the FT8 tips guide. It is indeed something everyone should read as receiving is even more important as transmitting. If you cannot hear a signal you cannot work it. 

If you choose the microphone input of your computer as receiving input make shure (if selectable) the extra amplification and all extras are switched off. Tune your radio to a clear frequency with only noise and set the audio to 30dB that should be a basic setting of the input of your soundcard. However it seems there is a difference in soundcards as mine does not get below or above approx 60dB even not when the radio is off or when a strong station is appearing on frequency it stays at 60dB. I wish I could show a picture of 30dB audio but I can't. However it doesn't seem my soundcard is receiving badly? In previous versions of WSJT-X and JTDX there was also a receive input slider, I never understood why the programmers have removed it as it worked very well here. I don't really know why my sound card is behaving like this and still I have a reasonable reception, if anyone has any idea I would like to know.

I know there are many out there that have this problem and did not discover it yet. Please take a look at your waterfall, Count the traces and see if all traces are decoded. Did you miss a few, please take a look at your soundcard settings!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Hail JT9 for the ultimate DX

Notice the incredible low signal.
New Zealand radioamateurs just have permission to transmit on 60m for 2 weeks now. And since I did read the blog of PA2S Henk, his article made me think about the ultimate DX goal of this year. It had to be done now as long as it is new because when you wait too long the ZL operators are not interested in working Europe anymore. The big challenge is the distance, the low power allowed on both sites (10W in ZL and 15W in PA) and of course the small time frame in the morning when there is a chance of propagation. In the past week radioamateurs in Europe have already made it to New Zealand on both FT8 as JT9, so possible it is. But still it is very difficult and I think JT9 is just the best and most sensitive mode to accomplish the task.

So, last week I was calling......and calling......and calling. Then suddenly ZL4OL popped up in my screen, a few minutes later the QSO was made.

JT9 is just incredible for real DX.

Below a screenshot as proof!

From PA2S I heard that ZL on 60m are longpath contacts since the shortpath is in light and so the D-layer absorption is too high. Over the longpath the distance between me and ZL4OL is 21427.6 km and that makes it extra ultimate DX!

More interesting research on this topic can be found on PA2S Henk his website. Henk is researching propagation and DXing on 60m since we are allowed on 60m in the Netherlands.

Monday, February 12, 2018

PACC 2018 contest review

Event: PACC 2018
Section:  Single Operator Low Power  All Band SSB
Logger: N1MM+ newest version
Station: Icom IC-706 MK2G 100W
Antenna: Inverted-V apex 12m + multiband vertical

Well, it was a nice contest again, I think the most important one for us Dutch. Started a little late but that doesn't matter that much. Propagation was not really good. 10m and 15m were closed except for one station (RL4A) which came in here at S9 at sunday as the only foreign station on the band. Because of those closed bands the amount of multipliers was less compared to the last few years. 20m was open but not good enough for a vertical or a wire antenna like my inverted-V although I worked some DX. The first station I worked in this contest was Z60A for the first ATNO of this year. 40m, 80m and 160m were reasonable but not really open for short distances so I guess I miss a lot of QSO's from inside the Netherlands.

DXCC worked during the contest
The last couple of years I always worked at least one station from USA or Canada on 80m but this time nothing was heard. 80m was my best band counting the amount of QSOs, not surprising with a 2x20m inverted-V as antenna. 46 DXCC were worked. I expected more activity from Belgium as they share the Dutch/Flemish language but only 13 were worked in total. I guess they were more interested in the RTTY contest? Or active on CW?

Map from my contacts. ODX was PY with 9760km (20m). K0EA was interesting!
The thick line in the center is something I can't remove...

It is nice to be able to see my on-off times. Best times in for DX are always the greyline periods so I tried to be on the radio at those times. But sometimes propagation is a strange thing. K3ZO (USA) responded on my CQ on 40m almost 2 hours after my sunrise! He has a amazing antenna setup or we were just lucky! You can clearly see when I had dinner saturday, when I stopped en when I started again sundaymorning.

As you can see I started a half hour too late because of visitors. I was off for about 4,5 hours to get a little sleep. Most of my contesting time has been spend running (calling CQ) I did less S&P (searching for multipliers) this time. N1MM+ has a excellent multiplier screen but as soon as sunday nothing much showed up new much. So calling CQ was the best way to go on I think. I aimed for 100 multipliers.... almost got it!

However, the best part is to meet some friends again, the guys that you know personally but are living far away. Most of them participate in the PACC every year, some of them don't but are especially searching for me.

Some operators known personally were: PD2TW Tjip, PB7Z Bernard, PD3OES Andre (at PI4MM), PD1RP Peter (at PA0AA), PE1BVQ Hans, PE1DUG Free, PA3FXT Reinder, PE1FNW Bé, PB7C Bram, PE9DX Johan, SM6VXI Engelhard and OY1R/MM Regin (hopefully I did not forget someone?)

Especially Regin OY1R/MM was a nice encounter on 160m. He was at the ship 130km from the Dutch coast on the Northsea. We met each other while he brought me his QSL personally when his ship was in the  harbour nearby 2 years ago.

Hans PE1BVQ sent me a short video from my last contact as received at his QTH.

Propagation might be not the best but I had a lot of fun after all and that is the most important thing in this contest.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Voicekeyer test via webSDR

Didn't feel well last 2 days. But it went better this morning. To test my voicekeyer and signal as last preparations for the PACC I made a recording from my voicekeyer on 80m. First with my normal voice, just the recording. Second is my recording with a little reverb. Sometimes I hear stations that use a little reverb and they sound very clear to me. But to be honest I like my normal voice and I think I don't need any reverb to have a better sound. Decide for yourself.

The recording is made with the PI4THT webSDR which is one of the best online SDR receivers on the net. You have a couple of tools online for analyzing the signal. Like plotting the signal over time and viewing your signal in the waterfall. Best is of course the recording ability. My transmission was made on 3740KHz LSB. The difference between my vertical and the inverted-V was astonishing, my signal was not received at all when I was transmiiting on the vertical and as good as the recording when on the inverted-V.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

PACC contest 2018 upcoming weekend

Event: PACC 2018 contest
Modes: SSB/CW
Date: 10-11 Febr. 2017 12:00-12:00 UTC (24hrs)
Exchange: RS(T) + Province abbreviation of 2 letters, foreign: RS(T) + serial starting at 001
Foreign rules: https://pacc.veron.nl/foreign-rules/
Dutch rules: https://pacc.veron.nl/dutch-rules/

The PACC contest is the most important contest for Dutch radioamateurs. The nice thing is that everyone has to work the Netherlands so we dutch HAMs finally get a response on a CQ when calling. The only problem is that the CQWW WPX RTTY contest is going on in the same weekend. That means all the important big contest stations outside the Netherlands are not participating in the PACC unfortenately. Anyway, that doesn't matter as the PACC is a fun contest and if you send in a log with your address you will receive a very nice token of merit. I don't know of any contest that sends such a token and it is much appreciated.

Hopefully all of you readers will participate. Although not everyone likes to contest of course. But even if you don't want to really participate you can use this contest to test a antenna setup or just give a point to a known station (like me ;-))...

Lees deze handige tips voor de PACC en voor de setup van N1MM+ met additionele files:

For both Dutch as foreign stations it could be interesting to send your score automatically to http://cqcontest.net so you can compare your own score with others. You need to register at the site first which can be done at the tab "options" ->  "user registering". When a password is obtained you can configure N1MM+ like the picture at the left.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Another CQ parrot idea!

Remember my failed projects post from last year? I built a new modem for the FT-817 when I  couldn't get the USB soundcard modem working correctly. The new modem does what it has to do and works via the internal radio VOX to switch PTT. However I have some issues now with CAT control disconnecting whenever I transmit, but that's another story.

In the past years I use a homemade voicekeyer but always had problems with RFI during the PACC. I tried galvanic separation and a couple of 10nF caps which helped but there is always one band that gives problems. Last year it was 40m, the years before on 15m. In one occassion it was a defective coax cable between radio and tuner, but overall it is just RF disturbing my modulation. Now, last year I took part in the CQWW SSB with my friends on PA6AA. They use N1MM+ as contestlogger and it has a voicekeyer inside which can play a WAV file. Very handy as you can keep your eyes at the screen and fingers on the keyboard and don't have to look at a separate voicekeyer anymore. Since we were transmitting with high power levels it seems this voicekeyer was taking the RF well. But how to interface it with the radio? You can buy very nice appliances for that but normally you can use your digital modes modem for it. However, my PSK-10 modem with built in VOX gets crazy when I modulate SSB myself. So, that is not a option!

Now, I got this USB modem which was not doing the job on my FT-817. It has the same mini DIN plug for connection with the radio as the Icom. So I got a bright idea and connected the modem to my newly configurated W10 desktop. Immidiatly the USB connection was recognized simple as that. Playing some audio activated the VOX and the radio is transmitting. Now, for a reliability test I had to test my audio on all bands and also test it when I modulate myself in contest configuration. It didn't show any problems, as far as I could hear excellent audio on all contest bands on both the Inverted-V as the Vertical. Hopefully it will stay that way so it can support me when contesting in the PACC this weekend.

Some recycling project isn't it!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Commercial versus homemade open line

Previously I wrote about the inverted-V I mounted in the mast as emergency antenna. Since the PACC contest is coming up I wanted to upgrade a little and made myself a more solid open line. The commercial brand I used was 450 Ohm JSC #13AWG open line, I think it is good quality but I connected about 3 or 4 pieces together to get the length I need. The inverted-V was also made from some pieces of wire which were leftovers from another antenna project. Now for this inverted-V I also use 2,5mm2 (#13AWG) but this time there are no connections. The whole antenne is made from 2 pieces of 50m wire. Spreaders for the open line are plastic fruitclips. Unfortunately I could not see any signal increase at receiving compared to the old inverted-V but I think the difference will be the weather impact on the open line and antenna. How it radiates in not certain yet? Have to test it first. The only thing that is different are the tuner settings due to a different impedance. Hopefully it will be good for the PACC next weekend. I'm not really satisfied with this antenna, it has to proof itself first. Compared to my 84m long horizontal loop I used in the previous years I can't say it's good. Compared to my homemade multiband vertical it's about the same on 60-10m and a little better on 80m. I can use it on 160m but the vertical is far better. The horizontal loop couldn't be tuned on 160m but was better compared to my vertical from 80-15m. It's nice to have a comparisation antenna so you can see what a new antenna is doing. Next step will be the moving the vertical from the old mast (9m asl) to the new tower (16m asl). The problem is it is impossible ( impractical)  to attach radials below the vertical. Using the mast as counterpoise is an idea but it will have a strange impact on the radiation pattern at the higher bands. Have to study what the best option is.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

3Y0Z Bouvet Island DXpedition aborted

So unfortunate....

From their website:

2000 UTC 3 February 2018

During the last 72 hours we continued to experience the high winds, low clouds, fog, and rough seas that have prevented helicopter operations since our arrival at Bouvet. No improvement was predicted in the weather forecast for the next four days. Then, last night an issue developed in one of the ship’s engines. This morning the captain of the vessel declared it unsafe to continue with our project and aborted the expedition. We are now on our long voyage back to Punta Arenas. As you might imagine the team is deeply disappointed, but safe. There is already talk about rescheduling the DXpedition.

Bob – K4UEE 
Ralph – K0IR 
Erling – LA6VM

Now this Island is going to be even more rare as it was. Curious if they will come back in the future.
A great disappointment but everyone is alive and it's always safety first in these situations.

#60m New Zealand SWL

No matter how hard I tried I did not contact New Zealand yet. ZL is allowed on 60m since last week and there are already a couple of stations that made the contact from Europe to New Zealand on digimode. However I have been heard at ZL2IFB in the greyline. I hope to manage at least one QSO with ZL one of these days. However at the greyline time I am at work at the moment.

Friday, February 2, 2018

#FT8 DXpedition mode

I've not heard about the new "DXpedition" mode development before. But though I am not a member from any facebook or newsgroup related to FT8. I have been writing about digital modes in the future and how I think it will be more and more automated. But I had overlooked this development. However it is interesting especially for upcoming DXpeditions. It will give more people a chance to make contact with a "rare" DXCC. I think when this is implemented and used by DXpeditions it will change the amateurradio (HF) world forever...


Thursday, February 1, 2018


Although I have been tinkering with computers since the early eighties of last century I now just want a computer that does what it has to do and nothing else. Unfortunately I got a message from Dropbox that the software would not work anymore on my 11 year old Windows Vista computer due to security risks. I use Dropbox to store my logbook in the cloud so I can view it on several computers, it is also a very useful back-up medium for me. Actually I can't miss it. Time for a upgrade! Since I have Windows 10 on my laptop which is doing fine I thought I should upgrade my desktop as well. Windows 10 seems to work to my satisfaction so far on my laptop and it seems it does run well on older computers. First I had to check if I could install the 64 bit pro version since I prefer it over the 32 bit version. The main difference is that you can make use of more as 3,5Gb RAM and it handles some processes faster. Luckely my old desktop does support 64 bit so installing this version was no problem. Installing was faster then estimated so I thought I was ready to go.....not! It took a whole night of updates before I could finally begin to install software on my renewed system. First of all all unesseccary apps were removed and all effects switched off. Then first of all Dropbox was installed. Of course I have the installs of HRD V4 and V5 in my dropbox and these were installed as well.

Actually there were no problems at all except I could not load my logbook backup xml file, though a ADIF was no problem. Next was the back up from my macros in DM780, unfortenately I only made a backup of one macro it seems, I always assumed when I made a backup it was of all macros. A lesson for next time, but at least I got one macro back. Connecting the CAT to the radio was no problem at all, I even dared to go back from 4800bps to 9600bps (previously with Vista I had problems with disconnecting all the time). Even installing N1MM+ went without any problem.
Configuring both HRD/DM780 and N1MM+ took me almost more time compared to configuring W10.

I noticed only one thing that is not working correct. It is the popups from HRD logbook not showing correctly. This is definitely a W10 problem as I have exactly the same problem on my laptop. This happens for instance when you upload a QSO in the log from WSJT-X. To send it to HRDlog you get a popup to approve. The solution is easy, just click with your mouse on the remaining part of the popup hold the button and move it a little, the popup will show correctly. I tried to run HRD logbook in vista compatibility mode but the problem did not disappear.

So far everything works fine and hopefully I will not have any problems in the  upcoming weeks. Time will learn...