Thursday, December 24, 2015

Winter Doldrums

Winter has been delayed. As I type this it is 17° C and sunny. There is also a gale blowing from the southwest, bringing this warm and moist air to this northern region. To give you an idea how anomalous this is, the normal high for today is -3° C and the previous record high is 8° C. Instead of being knee deep in snow the lawn is green and lush. If I had antenna work to do this would be ideal weather for it. Well, except for the wind. Except that I'm done with that for 2015 so all I can do is enjoy the warmth. It won't last.

On the bands the activity is there but not too much of great interest. It's possible to tune for many kilohertz without hearing a single signal, even when the band is certainly open. There is also the recent CME (coronal mass ejection) and subsequent series of X flares that have dampened HF conditions, discouraging for DXing. The Christmas season also brings a temporary lull in activity. There are no major contests right now and a few major DXpeditions will not take to the air until January. Dom, P5/3Z9DX, was impossible from here with the CME obliterating the over-the-pole path.

This is a good time to catch up on a few things that are not related to intense on-air activity. These winter doldrums have their uses. Not all has been quiet at VE3VN.

The RAC Winter contest was a nice way to spend part of last weekend. For me it was a relaxed way to spend some hours handing out contacts and saying hello to many acquaintances. I had no competitive objectives. Running 100 watts rather than QRP, and being worth 10 points, made for some decent runs on both CW and SSB. It was a low pressure opportunity to practice running and managing multiple simultaneous callers, with rates at times peaking at 5 QSOs per minute.

As it turned out this contest operation was the last for the FT-1000MP I purchased less than one year ago. On Sunday I delivered it to its new owner. In its place I have a Yaesu FT-950. Like the FT-1000MP this, too, is a temporary rig. I am delaying purchase of a new, top end transceiver until I am in a situation where I can do better than with my current QTH and station. Although things can change this is likely to happen in 2016.

As to why I went with the 950 in lieu of the 1000, I have several reasons, despite the loss of some valuable features.
  • The FT-1000MP (Mark V Field) I bought has no optional filters. Just the 2.7 kHz filters in both receivers and a 500 Hz CW filter in the main receiver. Purchasing Yaesu or INRAD filters to meet my operating needs is not inexpensive, even if bought used. I do not want to invest more into this rig, with its 20-year old technology. The DSP filtering in particular is poor; a full complement of crystal filters are necessary to achieve good performance.
  • The FT-950 has poor roofing filters (typical with an up-conversion superhet receiver) but does have decent DSP filtering. There is ringing at its narrowest 100 Hz bandwidth, though it is not very objectionable at 200 Hz and higher. In contrast, the more modern Elecraft KX3, my QRP rig, has ring-free DSP.
  • The FT-950 receiver tests better than the FT-1000MP and many other, even more expensive rigs. Under duress, with narrow spacing from a strong interfering signal its measured performance is less impressive. This is likely due in part to the wide 3 kHz roofing filter. Even with W8JI's IMD mod I am not convinced the FT-1000MP does as well as the FT-950. I could be wrong.
  • It is convenient to have 6 meters included. This way I don't need to switch to the KX3 and external amplifier, and put up with the poor behaviour of the KX3 on that band. The first few QSOs I made with the FT-950 were 6 meter aurora to the HF tri-band yagi, using the internal tuner.
Features of the FT-1000MP I most miss include: second receiver and more features accessible from the front panel rather than hidden in menus. I accept the trade off.

The noise blankers in both rigs are less than great, with the one in the 950 not reducing much of the impulse noise I experience and the 1000 causing unacceptable distortion. The 15 choices of noise reduction in the 950 tell me that Yaesu has no idea which ones are worth keeping, leaving that up to you. A few are useful, most are not. CAT on the 950 is faster and integrates slightly better with the logging software I use.

Apart from that I have been doing some maintenance on the mechanical drive for the prop pitch rotator. It's in generally good shape and so is almost ready for use. Its years of use and subsequent outdoor storage took a toll that requires some work before being called upon for more years of service.

There may be one more article for this blog before year end. Early in January I plan my usual retrospective on the year past and plans for the new year. If all goes well 2016 will bring significant change. Enjoy the holidays, have a merry Xmas and perhaps I'll run into some of you on the air.

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