Tuesday, February 24, 2015

3G0CZ Robinson Crusoe Island

Jaun Fernandez Island is on the air.  I worked him tonight on 30M with a nice little 7-8 khz pileup.  Virtually no DQRM and just a couple duffers who couldn't figure out there might be a pile up with this guy.  My  noise was S0 to S1 (-118dBm and he was peaking as high as S4-5 (-87 dBm) nice signal.  

He was strongest on my 5/8 30M vertical and running at a really nice clip.  It took maybe 20 minutes as he was moving up and down the pileup SnP contest style using single call cadence.  Tail ending was worthless.  

I decided to show a diminutive single screen setup which would be consistent with using a laptop if one was the DX instead of just working the DX.

Here is a shot with WriteLog as a logging program.  

SmartSDR has something called focus helper

This feature keeps Writelog in focus.  If I click around the panadapter or the waterfall, 100ms later Writelog reclaims the focus and is ready for data entry and it's all automatic.  I don't have to touch a mouse and I don't make mistakes.  It really streamlines workflow and works really well.

Last but not least here he is in the log.  He is 4300 miles strait south.  This radio is so much fun to use!

73  W9OY


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Could the 6300 be a light weight DXpedition radio?

The ARRL CW International DX contest is on the air!

I'm not a big contester but Flex is slowly honing its contest chops.  I mostly play around in this kind of contest to look for new DXCC contacts.  Recently on EHAM there was a discussion regarding light weight rigs to take on DX pedition.  I made a little argument for the Flex 6300.  It weighs 10 lbs and is 11.75" x 13" x 3.875".

It's only 1.5 lb heavier than the TS 480.  I also use a Samlex SEC-1223 power supply which is very quiet RF hash-wise, is 8.19" x 7.28" x 2.4" and weighs 3.5 lbs.

The radio puts out 100W and has a very wide range tuner in terms of matching capability.  The real power of the radio of course is its software and its ability to interface with 3rd party software.  I decided to showcase the ARRL contest since this is a high RF, high station count environment similar to a DX pedition.  Here is my contest setup for this contest 

I purposely set this up so it would all fit on one screen like you would have using a laptop in a DXpedition situation.  To run this I am using SmartSDR (SSDR) which is the "radio/panadapter/waterfall box.  Next to SSDR is CW Skimmer, and next to the Skimmer is WriteLog's bandmap.  The bandmap is entirely populated by Skimmer decoded signals, in other words signals strictly taken from my antenna.  I do not have a cluster client active.  Here is a closer look at the skimmer bandmap combo:

Writelog is set up to color DX stations differently from US stations in this contest.  As you work stations the colors change so you can tell at a glance what has already been worked.  Skimmer is not a perfect decoder but it does a pretty good job.  You have to confirm everything by ear.  My logging program is Writelog 

One of the concerns in the EHAM post was related to constantly clicking windows.  Flex has addressed this issue by incorporating an auto focus feature in SmartSDR

What the hell does that mean??  It means that when you click off of writelog to say the panadapter or the waterfall or Skimmer or the bandmap, the focus automatically returns to the Writelog data entry line 100 ms later.  In this shot I am clicking the waterfall in SSDR

Notice how the bottom of the SSDR screen is highlighted.  100ms after I release the click this happens

Notice how the bottom of SSDR is covered by Writelog which is now in focus and how the black cursor in the data entry line is flashing ready for entry.  I also use the FlexControl 

to tune the radio.  The Flex control is always connected to the radio and is focus independent of any window chosen.  

These programs do not use CAT to communicate.  The 6300 (the actual box) is a server.  It connects to the computer via a GB ethernet port.  As a server it can connect to several independent clients on the computer.  Each client has its own IP address.  One such client is the SSDR software we see on the screen.  Another client is SDR-Bridge written by Ed W2RF

This is a piece of free software that integrates other software like Writelog, Skimmer, the ve7cc cluster client into a single set of components and presents that integrated data to the 6300 as an independent client apart from SSDR.   Flex has written an API for its radio which takes communications between programs out of the stone age (CAT) and brings it to present day best practice

A third client I use is DDUTIL V3 written by Steve K5FR.  This software integrates the rest of the station to the 6300 like amps, watt meters, steppir antennas, rotors etc.  It also automatically will set drive levels for up to 2 amps and provides a interface for the FlexControl.  It also acts as a relay station such that you can connect several CAT based programs to the Flex system.  This gives you very powerful legacy access to older CAT based programs.  Suffice it to say the scope of these pieces of software are significant and outstrip the intent of this blog post, but I included URL's so you can review the feature set for yourself.   

Skimmer, Writelog and ve7cc interface to SDR-Bridge over a telnet loop bypassing CAT commands, so the system is CAT independent and therefore extremely reliable and extremely fast and extremely customizable.  

Here is an example:

Let's say you're the DX on 7.002.  You don't want that freq to move so you lock VFO A and and set it to be the transmit VFO.  VFO B then is your receiver VFO.  You can tune this by clicking callsigns on the bandmap or by clicking callsigns on skimmer or by tuning the FlexControl as you would with a regular radio, or you can grab the yellow flag in VFO B with a mouse and make a big excursion if desired.  If you click skimmer or the band map the decoded info is automatically loaded into writelog.  As soon as you let go of a click the focus snaps back to the data entry point in writelog and you can enter data.  There is no mad clicking between programs and it is very smooth to use.  

In this shot I have the 2 VFO's in the upper panadapter which is set for moderate granularity of 2 khz per division so things are nicely spaced out.  In the second panadapter the entire involved spectrum is displayed so those Tromelin style pileups can be watched from top to bottom.  In addition you can watch the DQRM on your transmit freq and make adjustments.  You have a complete and constant view of what is going on while you continue to make contacts.  You don't have to do any switching between TX and RX freqs to monitor things.  

What about calling for EU in the face of a wall of NA or vis versa?  Skimmer and band map make it easy to find stations in specific regions.  Skimmer decodes the bandwidth defined in its sampling rate 

In my case that's 96khz of bandwidth.  It however does not display that much bandwidth. That data is there however for display as you move up and down the band.  You just look at the screen K K W N JA JA LZ 9A  all of the prefixes are displayed and you just click on the station (region) you wish to work and ignore those you don't.

One of the requirements in the EHAM post was low cable count, i.e. simple to setup.  This set up has a 6300, flex control, power supply, headphones, mic, key and coax/antenna.  You can add a winkey if you like.  Less than 5 minutes setup.  The radio allows 2 antennas and a separate RX antenna as in beverages or other exotic antennas for low bands as well.  If you want digital like RTTY simply fire up the client of your choice.  The 6300 has audio software to send TX and RX audio signals (called DAX for digital audio exchange) between the radio and your digital client and the control data for the client like freq and PTT are over software serial cables called SmartCAT.

You of course can use as much or as little of this as you like.  If your a troglodyte and it's just you, your knob and your key and a paper log then the radio will do that in spades.  It's up to you to design your experience.  This is but one possible deployment.  There are other possibilities as well.  The latest version of SSDR is very easy on computer clicks.  I run an intel plain vanilla 65w i7 using on-board 4600 graphics and can run up to 3 monitors.  I've run the system on a i3 and a i5 as well.  A reasonable modern laptop would run this FB no need to tune any cores.  Here is how stressed my system is with everything running plus wifi and browser

In other words you don't need a workstation to run this system by any means

73  W9OY

Thursday, February 12, 2015

15M finally

You just have to wait for the propagation gods to smile.  I've been chasing K1N on 15M since they first got on,  The pileups have been prodigious but my ability to hear them dismal.  I'm just too close.  I'm having the same trouble on 12M and 10M.  On 6 I've heard callers but not the Island.

Only 802 miles.  From here (central FL) to Philly is a farther piece.  This morning the pileup on 15 was huge.  I arrived home from work and things were hopping, but as usual I could barely hear K1N.  A couple hours later woofie hungie or whoever the DX god is smiled and he was peaking S8

I put myself in his receive passband 

and took my shot and he replied with a nice crisp W9OY 599 to which I responded 599 TU and it was done.  

K1N out the wazoo!  I have spread out my contacts and have not had to call more than a few times on any band and kept to one contact per band so I don't feel too piggy, and it has been a great joy to wring out my radio station with this DX pedition and try to get some measure of performance.  I'm only running a KW and have only a dipole at 55ft and a vertical and so far I've been holding my own against far greater stations and operators which is very satisfying.  Hellova good time :)

73  W9OY


Tonight I decided to give the K1N  75 M SSB op a listen to see how to manage a 20khz SSB pileup

I had my Anan 100D on and a W5GI mystery antenna.  K1N was quite loud and on 3725 listening 3730-3750 and occasionally down to 3650 for EU.  As can be seen it was a wall of RF.  So how to manage this?  My Anan is connected to a FlexControl through a program called DDUTIL

With DDUTIL it's easy to choose a step size for the knob.  I tried various step sizes but decided 100hz was best for navigating the pileup.  It was easy to understand a callsign if you were 100hz off freq and I could rapidly shoot up and down the pileup in 100hz steps.

I had the pileup on VFO A and K1N on VFO B and I just left that VFO on a step size of 1HZ.  I switched on multi receive and adjusted the volumes so I could easily discern the callsign K1N was calling and the response by the called station.  I then merely scooted up and down the pileup in 100 HZ steps, watching the panadapter.  Not everybody stood by when K1N was calling a station but enough did that it was easy to reliably hone in on the station being called.  Fortunately this is 75M so I could hear about everybody in the skip zone including EU.

The second way to tune around the pileup was click tuning.  

In the pic you can see a grey window that represents the bandwidth of the filter of VFOA.  This window scoots up and down the band using the mouse.  When K1N calls someone I merely scoot the window to the signal still transmitting when everyone stands by and click, and then listen for the station to give a report.  It's very easy to click tune to virtually the exact freq on which to transmit.  You don't always choose the right signal but after a while you kind of get a feel for where the DX likes to listen.  Doing this I heard him call my buddy K3RR as they exchanged reports.  

I did not bother to work him and add to the bedlam.  I already had a 80M CW contact.   I just enjoyed wringing out the radio on phone.  

73  W9OY

They were still calling on 3725 this morning listening on 3770-3780 so I decided to give them a call before I shot out the door for work.  I wasn't even sure the radio would work on SSB since I recently did a fresh install of Windows and PowerSDR_mrx, and I had none of the usual customization of equalization and processing etc.  The thing was dead stock.  I did a "test test" and listened on the mon and looked at the power on my LP-100...pitiable.  I had to make a quick change to the mic configuration and now 1KW peak on the LP-100 and the audio sounded excellent in the headset.  I used the point and shoot method to acquire their listening freq.  I gave them one call and in the log!  To be fair they were S9+20 here so there wasn't really much suspense as to making the contact.  
Jerry WB9Z who was at the mic, sounded totally whipped as I guess he was on all night serving up Navassa to the world.  I heard him stand by for AS and OC up in the DX window at his sunrise but callers would not standby.  He threatened to quit, he got some respect and then persevered.  I stand in admiration and gratitude toward these ops on this expedition.  

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A new DXing gizmo from W2RF

As you can tell I like my DXing.  I also like my software to give me versatility in my DXing.  Ed W2RF developed the SDR-Bridge software that joins several programs together.  It tightly integrates the Flex 6K radios with CWSkimmer, Writelog, VE7CC into a logging and contest program extraordinaire.  My typical set up for contests and big DX is 2 open panadapters, 2 open skimmers, and a logbook and spot program.

With the SDR-Bridge program I am able to link Skimmer with basically a full view of the entire K1N 15M pileup.

In slice A you can see K1N's freq.  This corresponds to the upper panadapter and the right skimmerfall.  In slice B is where my transmitter is parked.  This corresponds to the lower panadapter and the left skimmer fall.  Once I tune in the DX I lock that slice so if I click the wrong thing nothing changes my RX freq.  I can change my TX freq simply by clicking the lower panadapter, or by clicking on the leftward skimmerfall.  The advantage of this setup is you have 2 skimmers  decoding the band and you can set up skimmer B, when combined with skimmer A so you can view and decode about 25 khz of a pileup.  The 2 skimmers decode independently so you get a larger subset of call signs decoded and gives you a better chance of discovering the freq of the station the DX is calling.  A distinct advantage in one of these huge pileups.   If the pileup runs to greater than 25khz no problemo.  You simply click Skimmerfall B to a higher freq

Now I am looking at the highest upper end of the pileup.  If you click the pic and look closely you see a whole bunch of 599 around 21.029.  This means K1N is working people near this freq.  The 23 khz between 21.029 and 21.006 are at the moment irrelevant as far as the DX is concerned.    If 599's start showing up lower than 21.029 it means the DX has started listening down the band as in this shot

The 6300 allows for varying the amount of spectrum displayed on a given panadapter

Simply by grabbing the freq bar (see the cursor in slice B) you can expand or contract the amount of band displayed at will.  When you move this, the waterfall tracks along as well (very useful for example on 6M when you are trying to see if the band is open and you see a white blicp.  Click and you are on freq).  While VERY powerful setting everything to get this takes a bit of time.  You have to call up 2 skimmers (SDR-Bridge does this for you by checking a box) adjust which slice is transmit, adjust panadapter bandwidth, set up the DAX channels etc.  So what about a smaller pileup?

Ed has developed a system usingSDR-Bridge to display the TX and RX info on one panadapter

Here is K1N on 20  

Much smaller pileup  

I would still like the ability to click around the pileup so I set things up like this

I hit +RX in the most leftward flag on the panadapter and a second VFO slice opens on the screen.  I then right click Slice A in SDR-Bridge and the little popup appears and I hit split

Immediately I can click anywhere on the skimmer fall to change my TX freq when split is checked and zero in on where my quarry is listening.  Super efficient.  Last night there was a little 10 guy pileup on KG4HI on 160.  He was there for only a couple minutes.  I click +RX and turned on a second VFO slice right clicked split on SDR-Bridge, zeroed my TX freq with a skimmer click, gave him a call and he was in the log.  Took me a lot longer to type this than do it!  2 calls later he was QRT.  If I had to do all the setup like I did for the 15M K1N op above, he would not be in my log.  My thanks to W2RF for his hard work in setting up this new method to rapidly deploy my DX weapon.  I only have 2 panadapters in the 6300, but in the 6700 with 2 SCU's you can run basically 2 DX weapons out of one computer window on different bands.  So you can work the split on 2 bands of K1N at once.  Like you could work 15 and 20 essentially simultaneously.  Let that bubble around in your cerebral saucepan for a minute or 2 Kemosabbe!  Last but not least I can open a second panadapter and watch the band or another band like 6 meters while I'm working DX using the SDR-Bridge method because it frees up a panadapter for another use

73  W9OY

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

K1N works EU

I'm sitting here tonight listening to K1N working EU on 40M.  Here is what I see

If you click the pic you can see virtually 100% EU.  I've been listening for about an hour and before he started calling EU it was the typical free for all.  I think this is a testament to NA standing by.  Compared to the EP6T DXpedition where one could hardly work the DX because EU refused to stand by this pileup is a thing of harmony.

The pile up is spread out and the pace is not frenetic in the least.  K1N is like a shark leisurely gorging on a big school.  He's just moving up and down the pile running at 43 wpm or so, real clean signal.  Virtually NO QRM.  In fact I havet he AGC turned off in the 6300 so I can hear the natural ebb and flow of the ether.  He peaks S9 and the band noise is S2.  It would appear they have the QRM thing figured out.  It's almost a symphonic call and response.  

Another day and time this would almost be like those old time QST articles where the master op is trolling the ether to the soft blue glow of the 866's and the fiery plates of a pair of class C 833's heating up the joint on a cold winter night.  Just as I'm about to hit publish he switches back to a general pileup 

and I work him in 1 call 22 khz up the band.  Way too much fun!

73  W9OY   

Monday, February 2, 2015

K1N on SSB

I never operate SSB.  I have exactly one DX contact on SSB.  I decided to see how the Flex 6300 does SSB DX.  They were on 17M with N2TU at the mic.  This guy knows how to run a pileup!  Here is the pic

Notice the wall of RF! 

I've never seen a pileup run like this before.  K1N is in the upper passband at 18.155 and he is working down from 18.150 to 18.140 and he does not go out of that boundary.  Everybody is packed into 10 khz.  He has no problem knocking them off one by one.  About three minutes of my arrival on freq and getting the lay of the "band" so to speak he goes to west of the Mississippi.  The propagation is strong into FL from Navassa so he is using this technique to work some of the weaker brethren.  Since I'm back east  decide to play with the features of the 6300.  By grabbing the yellow triangle on the flag I can virtually instantly swing the passband of the transmit VFO onto the calling station as he answers K1N's report very easy for tail-ending.  I'm waiting for a shot when he decides to go to Caribbean only,  Another technique to see the many are worked.  The Caribbean stations are weaker here so it was good to see a shot given to them because they were clearly weaker there as well.  Some SA tried to sneak in but it was only a few and he put them n the log with a reprimand, another technique to keep the pile from getting out of control.  Some NA pigs were trying to encroach and he clearly told them they were NOT IN THE LOG!!!  Very cool!  This guy had complete control.  The pile was very well behaved.   He had to go put up some "real" antennas.  Apparently every thing worked to date had been worked off some sloping wires hanging from the light house.  I can't wait to hear how they work with directional antennas because their signals have been astounding.

I've heard EU is bitching about being ignored but I have also heard them working every EU they can hear.  On 80 last night they went QRX for 5 and when they came back they worked every EU they could until the rate dropped way way down and then resumed to all comers.  Thus far extremely fair IMHO given they have been working off wires flung from the lighthouse.

After N2TU left I switched to 15M.  K1N was on 21.205 and was listening up.  took me a few minutes to determine whether they were at the top listening down or at the bottom listening up.  Here is the pic

K1N is on the left bandpass.  Note how VFO B which is at the top of the pileup is off the screen.  Here is another amazing feature of the 6300.  I can merely re-size the panadapter until the entire pile up is contained on the screen

The pileup is roughly 35khz wide.  This once again allows me to zip around the entire pile up to determine what station is presently communicating with K1N.  I already have them on 3 bands and he is weak here and I decide to not give the contact a try and add to the QRM  I'm content to discover the versatility of Flex's panadapter.

73  W9OY

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Navassa is on the air!!!

Stopped in the shack to see what was going on around 00:00Z and K1N was banging away on 40M.  The first call was reported at 18:52 and by the time I got there at 00:00 things were bedlam in the pileup

They were strong Peaking over S9 

By 00:10 they were in the log!  

The op W2GD was smooth as butter flying up and down the pileup knocking them off right and left.  I was able to discern a ascent as he climbed the freq ladder with his receiver and placed myself directly on a collision course so my signal would hit his ears.  Took not more than 10 calls.  I worked him on my dipole with about 1200W.  

I had to run to the drug store and the bank and when I returned 80M had exploded.  They promised to try and get two or three rigs running tonight and they kept their promise.  It took me a little longer to sort out this pileup

But in about 4 calls they were in the log

Also a very good S9+ signal on 80M

The op on 80 was as butter smooth as the op on 40 had been.  When the QRM-ing got bad he shut down for 5 minutes and the pileup dissipated.  He was working high up in the pile maybe 3537 when he stopped and came back to 3525 when he returned.  When he got back he was calling EU and he worked some EU.  Amazingly NA stood by while he worked what EU he could hear.  Eventually he ran out of EU takers and reverted to all comers.  It was then I got him in the log.  There were tuner uppers all over the place but the Flex has a secret weapon for tuner uppers.  It's called TNF or tracking notch filter.  I tuned on this missal and zap the bastards like zapping a but.  K1N was perfectly Q5 but the QRM was virtually gone, even though the QRM was 10dB stronger than the DX.  The filter acts like a tune-able notch.  Stop bandwidth and freq are tune-able and you just zero such that the DX can be heard and the QRM can't

This radio never fails to impress!  I'm already a happy camper.  I hope to pick them up on 30M and then I'll be satisfied and give someone else a shot.  I'm pretty sure I could fill all band slots.  They are only 800 miles from my doorstep.  I may also try 160 but my antennas suck there so I don't hold out much hope for that band.  Give Navassa a whirl.  The last DXpedition there was 22 years and it will be a minimum of 10 years till the next window opens.  I think panning for this trip started in 1999.  Do not miss!!

73  W9OY


Got them on 20!   Never expected to do that since I'm only running a dipole.  Another great OP with a rate around 100/hr   

I used the radio set up slightly differently 

I had only one panadapter and one skimmer fired up.  I can still click around the pileup for tail ending but that wasn't how this OP was working the pile.  He was rapidly ascending and descending in the pileup and the only way I got him given all the strong 20M signals was to run ahead of his ascent or descent and try to have him pick me off as he passed by.  Very dynamic action and took maybe 25 minutes to work him even with my puny 20M sig.  You could tell where he was by the series of bold red 599's he left in his wake as well as looking for the call signs on the skimmer fall as he worked them.   Still hope to catch them on 30M

73 W9OY


30M is in the log  

This was the hardest yet.  They were louder on the vertical compared to the dipole.  The OP was working S&P contest style often making 2-3 khz jumps as he zipped up and down the pileup but sometimes just a few hz so you couldn't tell exactly how to position yourself.  Also he was basically working contest style as far as calls go.  It was bang bang and if you tried to call more than once he was long gone by the time you started to listen.  His technique maintained a high rate of contacts.  He was also quite well known by the pileup stopping to say HI to stations as he made the QSO with them  Makes for a very friendly sounding pileup.  He was using a move up the band technique.  When deliberate QRM started he would nudge himself up the band a dab and continue working the pileup while the QRMers were left looking like the dumb asses they are.  I'm very much enjoying this DXpedition.  I may give 160 a whirl.

73  W9OY


I can not freakin believe it, 160 is in the log!!  He was about S8 here, excellent signal.

I worked him on my 101 foot long W5GI mystery antenna tuned up on 160 and running 500W.   I worked him in 5 calls unbelievable.

73  W9OY