Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Transatlantic on 6m - more thoughts on finding dx

All that talk of 6m dx yesterday :-
brought an interesting response from Richard GI4DOH. This in turn triggered off some more thoughts from me.

Richard is absolutely correct. So I thought it might be worth exploring it all further.

it was nice to have nearly 40 QSOs with NA on 6m yesterday on CW. So now you know :)

Yes thank you, that is useful information.

Firstly 40 QSOs in NA is very creditable. It shows a good station and good technique.

The "now you know" comment is about the comparison between my 125W of JT65 into 2 elements and his 400W of CW into 3 elements. It is a fair comparison and I guess that about 6 times as many contacts could be expected in this race.

I estimate that Richard's signal would be about 6dB stronger than mine at the other end, and he was using probably the most effective mode in the hobby - CW.

On the receive side our stations may be closer, maybe 2dB plus the intangible factor of Richard using a better class of rig.

Signal strengths did not seem to be a big factor during that opening. With five minutes being the standard JT65 QSO length, a good test is the length of the QSO. JT65 QSOs gets longer if information has to repeated (on meteor scatter this can go up to several hours).

My QSOs were - six minutes for the first one (ignoring the power information I sent which took another minute - see the table on the earlier article). Then it was 5 minutes, 6 minutes, 5 minutes, 5 minutes and 3 minutes (the Canadian station used an abbreviated system which is normally only used by meteor scatter operators). So we were all able to copy each other easily enough.

In between those contacts, I was not actually working people for 44 minutes. 30 minutes working, 44 minutes calling CQ or whatever. I had worked all the stations which I could hear here on JT65, and then more than half my time was spent not working anyone. I bet Richard's pile up did not give him 44 minutes free time.

So I only worked 6. I was happy about that. I now know that there were loads of other stations around. Indeed I could easily have gone on to SSB where I had 325 Watts peak available, though I am not sure that 325 peak SSB would have made much difference compared to 125 Watts continuous of JT65. The significant difference made by switching to SSB or CW would have been to produce a lot more stations to work.

There I was, using a mode which often takes 5 minutes to complete a QSO and sometimes more. And there were so few stations that I could work them all. I just sat here watching the screen for more than half the time. I could have turned a knob and gone to SSB to work a lot more but I did not.

I think this shows up a couple of points. Firstly, I like my radio at a nice sedate pace. I seem to avoid pile-ups and if I do create them I come on here and moan about it to you lot. Richard, on the other hand, is a true DX-er and can work a lot more stations than me in a given time. His station set-up helps him and it is tailored to his needs. Secondly, Richard has enough like minded people to keep him really busy in the peak periods, whereas my interests are a bit more ... singular.

I think it is great that we can enjoy our two approaches to this, and still have that common bond which links amateurs. If I ever manage to meet Richard in the future we will no doubt rabbit on about all things radio. I bet that we would not find it necessary to wish that the other could enjoy the hobby their way. That is what I love most about the radio hobby. It is essentially about sharing our common love for the science and the art which we practice. Oh yes, and he will rib me a bit about sitting on my hands for half the opening, and I will take that on the chin. I am not a shrinking violet and I can take it too.

There is of course a third way. First there is the efficient QSO maker, then there is the pondering geek with his theories, and then the "third way". I speak of those who find the whole idea just too difficult. Those who turn on the radio after the event, and content themselves with the knowledge that they have not got a good enough station to work any of this. They often blame the "big guns" for spoiling it for everyone else, but don't even try to see if that is true. Or perhaps they blame their operating technique as not being up to it all. SAYS WHO?

Certainly, if you do not try, you will  not work many stations. If you try and fail then ... why not just try again some other way? If we can see two diverse responses to an opening whereby Richard worked them thick and fast until he ran out of the conditions and I tootled along until I ran out of other similar nerds to work, then why no try your own approach? Why not try a vertical dipole, a multi-band antenna, a mag-loop, a loaded whip, anything. Try that FT-817 sitting in the cupboard. What have you got to lose? Being a radio amateur is not a competition or a beauty contest. There is no prize, just the satisfaction of doing your own thing.

No prize in this life anyway. After that, who knows?

A delightful experience - it really is the magic band.

My own skimmer spotted MD0CCE on 6m and when I listened in I found I could hear the US station he was working. It didn't take long to get a wee pileup going - all good fun indeed.

Here Richard is wisely using his own resources to spot the opening on its way. The skimmer is a device connected to the IF of a rig which can sample a slice of band and look for CW callsigns. It allows the operator to monitor what is on the band and, even more importantly, most skimmers post the results on the DX cluster. Then sites like dxMaps (see side bar link) post them for all to see.

If you watch dxMaps you can often see Richard's postings. Whilst I do not use a skimmer, I use WSPR, which is a large personal beacon network. dxMaps is often only populated by skimmer and WSPR posts, but that does usually give early warnings of openings.

WSPR is not popular at VHF (a touchy subject which is not for discussion here and now) but I use it frequently at 10m. My own style is to follow the MUF up and down the spectrum, and dxMaps is a key factor in that. The recent 6m multi-hop Es opening did not lend itself to my system, as such openings usually only work at one frequency band. So it was dxMaps reporting of contacts from Portugal to North and South America which alterted me.

Richard's point is interesting in another way. He saw someone not-quite-local working someone distant. That can be a great clue. I have my "pickets". Hamish, GM4WJA, calls me his picket for 10 metre conditions. I am far enough away from him for my information to be useful, so he watches my WSPR posts while building up his band information. The purpose of a picket is to hear an opening which you cannot yet hear yourself. You hope it is coming your way.

On 6 metres I have Rob, 2E1IIP and Chris GM4ZJI, on 4 metres Rob also stands in for me, along with Andy GM4JR. On 2 metres Nick G4KUX and David GM4JJJ are the ones I watch. I might be sitting watching Vera on the TV (there seem to be a lot of murders round here), but perhaps I am watching you too via dxMaps on my laptop at the same time.

When I want a quick test of conditions, I listen to the top of the CW section on 6m. Usually that is the best test I have for auroral conditions here. My CW is definitely good enough to pick out the callsigns.

Most of these ideas work well on all bands and in most situations. "Keep your ear to the ground" is the best piecce of advice I can give. "Get up and do something about it" is the second most important piece.

Anyway, whatever gives you the warning, it is worth watching. And it is worth trying. Whatever mode you use, whatever antenna you have, why not just give it a try?

The photo dates from 17 May 2004 in Skiathos. It shows typical Greek rural
transport at the time. Mazda may have gone on to make more exotic vehicles, but for plain practicality I admire this automotive classic.



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