CQWW CW Contest

dx-listSometime ago I had decided that I should put in the effort and have a red hot go at one of the major contests. The last one I entered and actually tried in was John Moyle Field Day back in 2015. Since then lots of thing have conspired against me, not at least band conditions. No propagation is a real downer when it comes to contests.

Also, I have not had a go at any of the CW contests, being a fan boy of CW, being an F-Call and having a gimped antenna situation and high local noise, CW has become my go to mode for working DX. Narrow filters cuts back the noise, 5 or 10w is not a liability, and weak signals are workable on the high bands, specifically for me, 15m.

The one disappointment for me, is that it was also VKFF Mass Activation weekend, and I did have to choose to seriously focus on the CW contest. Sadly there are not many VK WWFF chasers with enough limited CW to make that side work my while, and its hard to contest CW when calling cq on SSB. But i did go out to one park on the Saturday and activate it for VKFF and during the lulls in activity, I did work some of the other VKFF activators.

So after getting to my park and setting up i tuned up the 40m dipole on 15m, yes I was using a 40m dipole on 15m multi lobes and all, had a quick scan of the band, signals galore, I was happy, my contesting was going to be worth the effort and I was going to work some DX. It was a long day, with plenty of naps, but in the end I had worked about 55 stations. My batteries were just about flat and I was drained.

Day 2 started early and I knew early on that 15 was looking like it might do some good things. USA was coming in at 7am on 15m so it was promising. USA is not a favored direction for my home antenna, so it was slow going, but i managed a few US stations. During the day i floated around 15 and 10m, seeing what i could find and work, sometimes stopping and calling myself when I could not find anyone new to work. Managing a few here and there to keep my count ticking over. Being 5w QRP and using wire antenna there were never going to be a run on, but hey we do what we can do.

Afternoon came and 15m went bonkers, Europe was coming in strong and there were stations from 21.000 to 21.080, they were staked on top of each other, in places 100hz apart. It was here my contest changed and i got a run of countries worked going like I have not have happen before, this turned what would have been an ordinary score into something respectable.
15202645_1495836510430054_4969703196500655321_nI even managed to work a new DXCC entity in Kaliningrad. Oh and I also bagged Moldova on 15m SSB too, so new new ones in one weekend I was pumped. So in the end I ended up making 115 contacts in 34 countries and 15 zones, plus band multipliers. 50% of the contacts were on 15m, 32 countries and all zones were on 15m which still remains my go to band for working dx and having fun.

I operated on 40, 15 and 10 meters, using 5w and a single wire antenna a 40 meter dipole. My log has been submitted and all told at a rough count, I score about 13900 points. I will not be winning any prizes, but for me, its not about winning, it is about giving it a go and having fun. And after 20 hours of CW, i can sure do with not hearing any for a while, and yes, I had fun.

 

Callsign: VK4FFAB

Category-Operator: SINGLE-OP

Category-Transmitter: ONE

Category-Band: ALL

Category-Power: QRP

Category-Assisted: NON-ASSISTED

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Getting Boards Made With PCBWay

So i am getting some boards made with PCBway they are a board manufacturer in China that offer a whole lot of professional services, but also cater for the home brewer. So I thought i would document my experience with them from start to finish.

They offer 10 boards upto 100mm x 100mm in size for $10 US. Which is great for me as most of the projects I build will fit on that size board really easily. The project i was getting build is the board I designed for the Arduno VFO with SI5351a Synth. I designed up the board in Sprint Layout, exported the gerber and excellion files, put them in a zip file and uploaded them to PCBway.

Once a day they have someone check the uploaded files meet with their specifications for track size, drill sizes, board dimensions etc and that you have the correct amount of gerber files etc. About 20mins after uploading i checked and they came back that I was missing the soldermask files. Well the files were in the zip but for some reason I stuffed up something and they contained no data, no big deal, i re-did the files, this time checking for myself that the soldermask contained data by loading them up in Flatcam, and then resubmitted. About an hour later, I got confirmation my files were OK, I could then pay for the job and have it put in the process cue.

This is one really good thing about PCBway, they do not take your money until they have confirmed and checked that they can process your job. Unlike some of the other places that want money without even checking your job is appropriate.

So the rest of this is really just a timeline of how quickly they process the job.

My order date and time was Order time & date: 11/20/2016 6:28:30 PM, from there the job was put in the process and It proceeded as follows.

MI (Manufacture Instruction)    11/21/2016 9:55:02 PM
Board Cutting    11/21/2016 10:25:30 PM
Drill    11/22/2016 4:01:02 AM
Plated Through Hole    11/22/2016 5:39:16 AM
Circuit    11/22/2016 8:25:54 AM
Etching    11/22/2016 10:04:25 AM
AOI    11/22/2016 2:42:58 PM
Solder Mask    11/22/2016 7:16:54 PM
Silkscreen    11/23/2016 12:30:48 AM
Surface Treatment    11/23/2016 1:58:30 AM
Double Drilling    11/23/2016 5:58:25 AM
Routing    11/23/2016 5:58:35 AM
Testing    11/23/2016 7:18:08 AM
Package    11/23/2016 8:41:50 AM
Delivery Ready    11/23/2016 11:48:54 AM

You can follow online on the website the process of your job as it proceeds through each manufacturing process. All up, from when I booked the job to when it was put in the post, 4 days. Super fast, and when you take DHL as the postage method, a few more days and you will have the boards in your hand. So after receiving the email confirmation that my job has been posted, I checked the tracking number on the DHL website and it shows the job has been picked up, so i expect i will have boards in my hand some Friday this week. So I am estimating, a total of 7 days from order to receipt of the boards. One cannot complain at that.

I will upload this post with pictures of the boards and my thoughts on the quality once I have them in my hands. So far, so good though. Cant wait to see the boards.

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Quality of the boards is certainly high. I cannot find any flaw other than the once I made in the design. Its not like PCBway can read my mind, understand my project and fix those things for me HAHAHA.

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The board kind of assembled.

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And thats the final assembled board. I am one happy customer, and will be going back to PCBway very soon to have more boards made, for some other projects i have in the works. 10 boards, 100mm x 100mm for $10. WIN.

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Arduino SI5351A VFO

Ok, by popular demand, here are my project files for the Arduino SI5351A VFO. The board layout was done in SprintLayout and I do have some boards being fabbed up in China and should have them here within a week, as I need a few for my own projects. So the board uses an Arduino Nano and the SI5351A breakout board from Hans Summers QRP-LABS. The other things needed are LCD 16×2 and an I2C LCD board so that you only need to use 4 wires to connect the LCD, power, ground, SDA and SCL. The only other thing is a rotary encoder. There is no schematic of how to wire these things up, there is only 1 place each thing can go, SDA, SCL for the LCD and INT0 and INT1 for the rotary encoder, its not rocket science, just google the pinout for the nano and you can work it out. And in all reality, you should be able to do and understand these things anyway, just by reading the code.

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multifeaturedvfo  This code was mostly written by NT7S , SQ9NJE and AK2B. All I have done to this is changed a few things to make the VFO work correctly with the BIYx 40m SSB. Please acknowledge them for their work and contribution by emailing them and thanking them. The 3 libraries used are also included in the archive. Place them into your Arduino Library folder. Also read through the code, I have added some comments that will help in getting the thing aligned and on frequency. Remember every breakout will be slightly different because the xtal will be slightly different so you have to calibrate the SI5351a to get it perfect.

si5361 These are the Gerber files so you can fab your own boards. Either send them to a fab house in China, load them into your own software and CNC route or ink transfer and make your own. The board on the left in the image below is one i made on my CNC router to ensure it is correct and working. The signal out of the SI5351a breakout can be taken from the 3 pin headers or from the SMA on the board, depending on how you need to deliver the signal into your own project. You can also see that I have used SIP Headers to connect everything, rather than soldering direct to the board. Its always nice to be to able to pill things out if they go wrong.
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WWFF/VKFF Beachmere Conservation Park

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So today I went out to Beachmere Conservation Park for a quick activation. Had to walk a small ways into the park to find a nice location to setup and operate from. I was kind of hoping for a picnic table or something, but alas the carpark was tiny and there was no room there to setup. So off i went in search of somewhere to setup.

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Found a nice log that would serve as both table and chair and squid pole mount, setup the dipole and plugged the antenna into the radio and got to calling CQ.
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Started out on CW with the HB1B YouKits radio and in quick succession worked 3 stations, then nothing. A whole lot of calling and no one home to work me. Such is life.
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So, I packed the CW rig away and fired up the Bitx 40m thinking SSB would be my savior and was quickly disappointed. Propagation was good, all the way down to the VK3 boarder, but there was just no one about to work. That and the LO in the radio was drifting madly all over the place, the direct sun on the case, causing the LO to heat up and just never get stable. Lesson learned, the next job will be to stick a DDS/Synth in there and make it rock solid.

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Anyway, I cannot complain about my office, this is what it looked like when I arrived.

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And this is what it looked like when I left 1 hour later. Boy that tide came up quickly. All up I did not make many contacts, just 10, enough to qualify the park, so it is one I will have to go back to at some point and finish up for the 44. But, hey, I had fun and I learned somethings about my gear that I can now improve on. And well that is what really matters.

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Heat Shrink, KILL IT!

Here is something home brewing pet owners will understand. Anything that looks like a snake needs to be killed if you are a cat and with two Bengals in our house a lot of my supplies get killed. Wire, heat shrink it is all fair game. One of our cats like to collect Dupont Jumpers i use for bread boarding and Arduino projects. Nothing is safe 🙂

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