Thursday, December 1, 2016

An SWR anomaly....that suddenly popped up!!

SWR on 15m...and hoping to see it again on 20m
During the CQ WW CW contest last weekend the SWR on my K3 was jumping around from 1.4, 1.6, 1.3 and back to 1.6 and so on. This “flutter” has never happened in the past also it was only happening on 20m. All the other bands were just fine, I left this anomaly alone during the contest as most of my contesting was done on 15m. The next day once the contest was over it was time to look into it. I first wanted to check to make sure the issue still existed, as in the past I have had things just “disappear” to never happen again. The issue was still there so it was time to investigate.
My setup is as follows:
-        Elecraft K3 operating at 5 watts.
-        MFJ 1788 mag loop antenna.
-        The coax is 30 feet of RG8X.
-        There is an LDG switch allowing me to switch between the K3 and KX3.
Here is what I did and what I found:
1 - I switched the K3 to antenna B which is my dummy load. I found the SWR was stable as a flat match.
2 - I also have the Elecraft KX3 so I hooked that radio to the same antenna system. The SWR did not flutter as it did with the K3.
3 - I then hooked the antenna up to the antenna “B” connection on the K3 seeing the dummy load worked on antenna B. There was still a flutter in the SWR.
4-  I then took the K3 out of service and opened it up tightening each and every screw I could find. This did not make a difference I still had the SWR flutter.
5-   Even though the SWR was stable when using the KX3 I went ahead and made sure all the PL-259 connectors were tight. They all were good and snug.

I then posted on the Elecraft reflector site what was happening and the results I listed above. To my surprise all the advice that came back echoed the same……RF on the coax and making it back to the rig.  I was informed that just because the KX3 did not have the issue did not rule out the feedline and or antenna. I did rule this out and was not going to look any further into anything other than the K3.
The following was some of the suggestions from the reflector.

1.     If you can move the antenna further away from your shack. I am not able to do this as I am in a condo and the antenna is on the balcony.

2.     Turn the antenna 90 degrees and see if the flutter becomes less.

3.     Add a counterpoise to the ground lug on the K3.

Upon reviewing all this great feedback and wondering where to start, it was very odd that up until this weekend I had NEVER had an issue with the SWR on 20m. Then it occurred to me something I always do when it come to my trouble shooting which is to ask myself “Is there anything I have recently changed or added?” I went over in my head and there was nothing at all I added or took away from the radio setup. I proceeded to go out on the balcony to rotate the antenna 90 degrees as my other advice to myself when trouble shooting is preform the easiest things first and see what happens. The rotation of the antenna did nothing and back out onto the balcony I went to rotate that antenna back. While out there I checked out our balcony Christmas light to see if any had burnt out……….wait a minute the lights were just put up 2 days ago…….this equals a change!!! But could balcony lights funk up 20m??? I unplugged the lights and removed the extension cord I used to plug them in. I checked out the K3 and 20m was just fine now. I then placed the extension cord back out leaving it unplugged and the SWR I found fluttered just a tiny amount. I then plugged the lights in and check, I found the full-fledged SWR flutter returned.  Therefor during the holiday season you will know I’m on the radio when the balcony Christmas lights are off!!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Boy am I rusty!!

The LZ CW contest was on this weekend and the exchange the DX stations have to give out are similar to the exchanges in the CQ WW DX CW contest which is on next weekend. This gave me the idea of sitting down at the rig on Saturday to see how my contest copy skills were coming along. The propagation was good, sunspots were not so great but the band was very busy with DX and North American stations. Before I started I had to be honest with myself that my contest practice times have been far and few. Two weeks ago I started my Morse Runner software program and went to the code practice site to get my ears back in tune with the CW contest music!! As the old saying goes "if you don't use it you loose it" I defiantly noticed that my contest copy speed is not the same as it was in the past. I have only myself to blame in that I have not been on the air both with QSO's, contests as well as practicing with the 2 above mentioned CW programs. Now instead of this experience getting me discouraged it has encouraged me to get back up in the saddle and move in a positive direction. But I did find that just a short time away I can get really rusty!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

DX contact out of the blue!

Good afternoon from VE3WDM, it's a Sunday afternoon and the weather is sunny with a high of +10C. It was a nice day for a walk which my wife and I did mid afternoon. Once home it was time to setup for the software for the up coming CQ WW CW contest. There were some bugs I had to workout with the software and I did without issue. Then there were some minor issues that I am just going to forget about for now. For example I have no idea why my Winkeyer USB when N1MM+ is running will allow me to only control the CW speed but for some reason I just can't seem to communicate with the Winkeyer to setup and execute macros?? I'm not going to sweat it as in the past I have found that once you start monkeying around with the different pieces of software things that did not work now work...........BUT things that did work DONT!
While setting things up I did have the K3 on and the P3 waterfall viewing the 20m band. I did notice TL8AO and the HUGE pileup that was "UP" 2 KHz on the band. Funny thing as I was listening I did find an op more often than not calling on TL8AO's calling freq and not splitting "UP" On the waterfall of the P3 I did notice a new strong CW signal appear so I pointed and clicked over to it. It was HI3Y in the Dominican calling CQ and "UP". I listened as I setup the split and he seemed to be calling without a pileup. I threw my call out there and he came back to me with a report. He was in the books just that only if my 5 watts could break the pileup with TL8AO that fast! Time to start dinner now.......Tenderloin steak on the BBQ, mini potatoes on the BBQ with butter and rosemary and finally butternut squash........yum! 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Comparing two CW decoding programs.

LY3H CW decoder logic program

MRP40 compared to CW decoder logic by LY3H

MRP40                                                                       CW decoder
1. Decodes all speeds up to 60wpm                            Decodes but not mention top decode speed.
2. Has good documentation                                         No documentation
3. Auto tracking very smooth                                      Auto tracking hunts between long letter spaces
4. Text formatting-format mode works great              Only option is manual or auto decode
5. Will not decode when APF is on                             Will de-code when using APF
6. Great weak signal decode S1 and below                 Poor weak signal de-code (not using APF)
7. Great email support                                                 Upgrades come out regularly
8. See's noise as code sends radium letters                  Only sends letters not radium noise as code
9. Does have save QSO but awkward to use.             Just added cut and paste QSO to word or clipboard
10. Has “always on top” option                                  Just added “always on top” option.
11. Added a mini log book                                          No log book as of yet 
12. You can send code                                                At this time only able to read code                                                     
A more in-depth look at some of the above comparisons:
A)   Auto tracking- When wanting to decode a CW signal it helps when the program can lock onto a signal. MRP40 will lock onto a CW signal and stay locked on. CW decoder on the other hand once the CW signal stops or has long gap between letter the program starts to hunt small segments on either side of the CW signal for other CW signals. Once the code starts again CW decoder has to relock onto it and you lose some decoding. If slow code is sent you are in a battle of lock and relock of the code.
B)   Text formatting options- with MRP40 you have the option on how you want to decode.
- Correct word spacing…..this will attempt to add spacing between decoded words even if sender is running them together.
- Expand abbreviations…..KN, AR and DE to mention a few.
- Expand Q codes…self-explanatory.
Both of these programs do the job of decoding CW very well, you have more options and customization option with MRP40. CW decoder logic is very easy to setup and in no time you are decoding CW. I have not had a chance to compare both programs in a CW contest situation. The major drawback to each program is…..

MRP40…….no matter what test formatting option I used the program when idling would send radium code as it listened to static were as CW decoder logic would not.

CW decoder Logic……when the receiving code stopped the program would start “hunting” for other CW signals. This created two issues, the first being if you are decoding slow code I found the program between letters words would start to hunt. When it does this it bounces back and forth from decoding and hunting and your decode is not reliable. The second is if I second CW op appears close to the op you are decoding the program will bounce between the two QSO’s.
The major positive of each program is…..

MRP40… will decode CW that is almost down at the noise floor and do a great job of it too.

CW decoder Logic……it will not send random letters when it is not decoding and does a great job of adding the breaks between words and not running them together. Also this program is free.

These code programs will always decode what is sent so you must consider if you are reading odd words and letters it may have to do with poor code sending. CW signals that are close to each other (CW contesting) if your rig cannot filter out the one CW signal your decoder will be confused. CW decoder by LY3H free. MRP40 will cost you 50.00 Euro.
You can download MRP40 HERE and you can download  CW decoder Logic HERE
The picture to the left shows MRP40 trying to decode static. 
The picture to the left shows CW decoder Logic and the nice spacing with very few static decodes.