It's been a few years since I've done any CW contesting, mainly because the laptop I have always used became slow and sluggish as well as developing a keying glitch when keying was done via the serial port connection. Apparently it is, or was, a fairly common problem with some operating systems when serial port keying was employed.
Last year I purchased and built the WinKeyer USB keyer, mainly to use as a USB keying interface, and hopefully kill the keying stutter. The stutter would manifest itself in the form of delayed element spacing. For example, the 'C' in a 'CQ' would sound like 'NN'- every once in awhile ... not every time, but often enough to drive me crazy. From lots of 'Googling', I learned that USB keying should solve the problem.
The first thing I did was to download and run 'CCleaner' to scrub the computer of unused files and clean up the registry. My contesting laptop uses Windows XP, which I've always liked but my old system was taking about eight minutes to boot-up from a cold start! Following the CCleaner run, I did a hard drive defragmentation, shut the system down, and pressed the 'on' button. This time the system booted completely in less than two minutes, the fastest in several years!
After, interfacing everything with a half-dozen clip leads (I didn't have the required cables), configuring the WinKeyer and setting up the N1MM logging software for this weekend's NA CW QSO Party, I cautiously waded into the fray.
Like riding a bicycle, it all came back to me quickly. The NA guys are hardcore CW fans and send fast, typically 30WPM or better. I started in the 'Search & Pounce' (S&P) mode to ease into the logging software's required keystrokes but soon felt comfortable enough to change to the 'Run' mode.
Handling the pileups and typing fast enough to keep up was challenging yet exhilarating ... it had been a few years since my last test, the 160m Stew Perry Contest, my favorite. I could only take the heat for so long and after about two hours of steady operating decided to call it a day. It was nice to shake out the new interface and also test my own skills once again. I completed my short test with 137 QSO's and 5891 points ... not much by 'NA' standards but still, for me, a ton of fun and a good 'back-in-the-saddle' re-start.
Now that the software is working well (there were zero keying glitches during the test), I'm looking forward to getting back into some CW contesting again and to improve my ear-brain-computer skills.
Time to get busy and build some interfacing cables and get rid of the clip-lead rat's nest for the next exercise.
Contesting events can be found at WA7BNM's excellent WA7BNM Contest Calender website