Saturday, February 21, 2015

Contesting Revisited ARRL DX CW

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 which is the "radio/panadapter/waterfall box.  Next to the radio is CW Skimmer, and next to the Skimmer is WriteLogs 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 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.  

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.  One 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.  

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.  Suffice it to say the scope of these pieces of software outstrip the intent of this blog post.   

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 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 view of what is going on while you continue t make contacts.  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.

One of the requirements was low cable count this set up has a power cord, headphones, mic, key and coax/antenna.  You can add a winkey if you like.  The radio allows a seperate 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 software audio 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.  

You of course can use as much or as little of this as you like.  If your a troglodyte and its just 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 onboard 4600 graphics and can run up to 3 monitors.  A reasonable laptop would run this FB  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