August 20, 2008Editor: Ward Silver, NØAX
IN THIS ISSUE
NEW HF OPERATORS - THINGS TO DO
In between bouts of chasing KH6 in the Hawaii QSO Party for your Worked All States, check out the evening propagation on 20 meters, particularly in the CW bands where low power signals are easier to receive. As we get closer to the autumnal equinox, the DX bands will awaken. If you have an antenna for 160 meters, get up early and listen before dawn - the Southern Hemisphere's operators are experiencing their late winter conditions and can hear our signals free of the summertime local QRN. All good practice for the upcoming contest season.
Due to split weekends at the beginning and end of February, the 2009 CQ WW SSB contest will run from Feb 27th through Mar 1st. Similarly, the NAQP RTTY contest also moves to Feb 28th. These moves avoid a collision with the ARRL DX CW contest on the third (and last) full weekend in February. Watch other contest Web sites for likely changes in scheduling as this oddly-weekended month rattles the contest calendar. (Thanks, Andy N2NT, Al K0AD, and Shelby K4WW)
A golden issue last time!
Rules follow Commentary section
The rules for the 2008 CQ WW DX contest have been released, including several noteworthy updates. First, the Single-Op rules now address use of CW Skimmer and Skimmer-like technologies. Self-spotting and requesting to be spotted are clearly banned in all categories. Multi-single stations are required to identify each QSO in the log as having been made by the run or multiplier station. Remote operation is briefly addressed, as well. Finally, disqualification (DQ) criteria have been expanded and elaborated. It would be worth a careful read of the rules before the year's biggest contest begins, don't you think?
This week's photos feature youthful contest operators from around the globe.
WinCAP Wizard 5 provides a "Contest-Log Manager" to import Cabrillo-formatted logs from 55 different HF contests; more contests can easily be added upon request. The logs can then be plotted to the "Coverage-Analysis View" with or without predictions. The logs can be filtered and plotted by day, band, hour and any combination of these. Once imported, the Coverage-Analysis-Animator Preview provides the ability to create animated pictures from any Coverage-Analysis View. You can select the frequency then create and save an animated picture. The resulting animated picture files are small enough to share via email. WinCAP Wizard's basic - and substantial - functionality is free, by the way. (Thanks, Jim KU5S)
Scott W5WZ writes with the news of a new contest organization - the Louisiana Contest Club was formally organized at the Leesville, LA hamfest. The LCC has chosen to mark the center of its circle near Marksville, LA. Consequently, the entire populated area of Louisiana, along with much of southwestern west-central Mississippi, and southeastern Texas fall within the 175-mile radius circle limit of many contest rules. As their mascot Chomps Boo-TAY states, "laissez lez Contest roulez!" (Let the Contest roll!)
Many contesters first encounter satellite operation in their relentless quest for Field Day bonus points. Afterwards, having found out that "squirting a bird" is within their reach, more satellite QSOs are attempted. For hams new to satellite operation (even grizzled veterans of HF campaigns) AMSAT has a nice set of awards to encourage us to point our antennas skyward.
Not being at the same computer all the time is no longer a reason not to use a CW training program. Point the up-and-coming CW operators at Fabian DJ1YFK's new online CW trainer Web page. From the site, "You don't need to install a program on your computer, and you always have your personal settings available, from any computer on the globe with an internet connection. You can also easily track your progress by means of different statistical functions." (Thanks, Chris KL9A)
Several portals to the ham radio blogosphere can be found on KA3DRR's blog, featuring a short interview with Toby DH1TW on software-defined-radio as mentioned in the previous issue.
The cover of the August CQ magazine features a photo of a fellow that holds one of contesting's most recognizable calls - Frank W3LPL. The short description on page 88 gives the reader a taste of what's making all those QSOs from Maryland. Google 'W3LPL' for a number of mouth-watering photo essays and other information on the W3LPL station.
If some of the other folks at the multi-op have a bit of an "Ee-yew" factor, maybe something between your auditory lobules and theirs would be welcome? Bob N6TV recommends the following protective sanitary covers that just slip right on!
From the Montana section newsletter by SM Doug K7YD, "(if you) have an old Vibroplex laying around the shack, the Vibroplex Company has a program to refurbish that old bug, clean it up and make it as much like new as they can. I sent in one of my older bugs and just got it back in super condition. It runs like a dream. If you are interested, just send it in (very well packed) to them and mark the package for "Betsy". She'll take it apart, shine it up and replace any worn or damaged parts." You might want to call first, of course. (Relayed by Ken K0PP)
Fans of the contest and CW training program RUFZXP can now upload their scoreboard file and receive a graphical analysis of how they did. Felipe PY1NP developed the analyzer and notes that it is a beta-test version.
The National Radio Club's Web site is full of interesting articles and reports, particularly for low-band operators. For example, the original paper on Beverage antennas resides in the Articles section. They have an extensive array of publications for sale, as well. Until the sunspots awaken, we all need those low-band tips and tricks. (Thanks, Larry N6NC)
Back to school sales are prime hunting grounds for contest shoppers - look for great deals on those plastic storage boxes, closet organizers, office supplies, small printers, and so forth. In the Olde Days, contesters would be elbowing their way to the mechanical pencils, but times have changed. And don't forget about the end-of-season sporting goods sales with great deals on portable gear!
Web Site of the Week - Glenn K6NA found a new Google mashup toy for finding out what IS that mystery tower you drive by every day? I entered my street address and a search within the default 4-mile radius found 68 towers and 235 antennas. Who knew?
WORD TO THE WISE
Fill - When a contester (or a traffic handler, for that matter) refers to a "fill", they need some of the information in a message or exchange, not a complete repeat. If during Sweepstakes you're asked for a fill of "all after the precedence", just send the call, check, and section - don't give the entire exchange again.
Here's an interesting archival site - the Online Air Defense Radar Museum. For any radar tech or designer, there's lots of photos and information about the many sites and installations around the world. Microwavers and UHF ops will enjoy the photos of substantial antennas - what would it be like to use one of these in the contests? (Thanks, Bruce WW1M)
This URL for quite an enjoyable short BBC video featuring Morse code and ham radio was forwarded by George K5TR. The video spends a lot of time showing hams putting up an antenna and sending snappy CW.
Are the big ship-to-shore stations history? Yes, but they're not forgotten and the Maritime Radio Historical Society keeps their filaments warm with videos and historical information. Just watch those mercury rectifiers flash in time with the code! Some additional tidbits are available in the QRZ.com thread from which I learned about the MRHS.
Tired of playing solitaire? Here's a new game that lightning bolts play called first one to the ground wins! (Thanks, Rus K2UA)
Wouldn't one of these robots be handy at Field Day? No word on whether it recognizes, "Fetch another cold 807, please!" (Thanks, Rich KZ9K)
The IARU HF Championship log submission deadline has passed, with 3,343 logs received electronically. 127 logs have been received for the August UHF Contest so far, with two weeks to go before deadline. Who handles all the contest paperwork at HQ? Kathy Allison KA1RWY, Jo-Ann Arel, Carol Michaud KB1QAW, and Alex Tara all keep the wheels rolling - a tip of the radiosport headgear to them! (Thanks, Sean KX9X, ARRL Contest Branch Manager)
The full Web writeup for the 2008 ARRL DX Phone contest is now online. A hiccup in the log-checking process required a re-evaluation of the DX scores (new LCRs are also posted) and delayed posting of
the Caribbean coverage written by Jeff KU8E (now online). The Divisional Writeups are now almost completely done and uploaded - thanks to the volunteer authors for generating the peer recognition we all enjoy. A special courtesy for our southern DX friends is provided in the bilingual writeup of the Central and South American results by Ramon XE1KK - muy gracias, seÃ±or!
CQ WW 160 Meter Contest Manager, Andy N2NT asks, "If anyone is interested in sponsoring a plaque, we have some openings. Please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested. Also if you have sponsored a plaque in the past, let us know that you will continue to do so." Andy plans on making some rule changes for the 2009 contest, so watch for announcements.
Participants in the 2008 Mississippi QSO Party should be receiving the printed results by mail. I got my copy a few days ago - thanks!
In a hot-and-heavy CW contest, the temptation can be strong to use cut numbers, reducing transmit time. The most common cut numbers (N for 9, A for 1, and O for zero) actually do work pretty well. After all '5NN' is pretty much universal. The trouble begins when the less common examples, such as U for 2, are employed. These often take the receiving operator by surprise, leading to a request for repeats and erasing the miniscule time gained by eliminating a few dashes here and there. For optimum efficiency on both ends, give the receiving operator what he or she expects.
At the Pacific NW DX Convention last weekend (thanks to our hosts, the Williamette Valley DX Club), I heard a very good talk on ground radial systems by Rudy Severn N6LF. Rudy tackled some of the topics that have bounced around vertical antenna forums for a long time - elevated radials and the length and number of ground surface radials. Rudy's conclusions were drawn from experiment guided by modeling - a very nice exercise in verifying theory through practice. There is a lot more material from Rudy on the site, as well, including his design of an effective ground radial system for 40 - 10 meters (see experiment #6).
While getting set up for the NAQP SSB sprint this weekend, Tom W7WHY was wishing he had a way to listen simultaneously to computer-generated and receiver audio. "While watching the XYL listen to her Ipod, I saw something that had promise. I borrowed her ear buds from the Ipod and slipped them inside my headphones. I use cordless headphones, so they have a rather large opening to go over the ear. I then plugged the Ipod earbuds into my computer audio output and, voila, I can now hear what my computer is saying."
While browsing the July issue of Power Electronics magazine, I noticed that Cornell Dublilier has introduced a new line of film capacitors to replace the venerable electrolytic for high-voltage dc filtering. The cost is competitive with aluminum electrolytics and film capacitors are non-polarized, plus they will never dry out. These might be a good choice for your next amplifier!
If your arm is aching after cranking up the crankup or untilting tilt-over towers, take a look at Rick N6RK's photos showing his adaptation of a drill to do the job. Dave K6XYZ found that a larger ac-powered drill could be slowed with a Variac and still provide plenty of torque.
Before you crank, listen to Frank (W3LPL) on the subject of dead weight limitations of tilt-over towers. "Don't forget that you must comply with the dead weight capacity of your tilt-over tower. This is important - a nearby ham failed to comply with the dead weight specification and his fold-over tower collapsed as he tilted it up. His mistake? He forgot to count the weight of his Heliax feed lines! Everything you add to your tower must be counted against the dead weight specification, including all cables, masts, rotators and other accessories. Give serious consideration to using an aluminum mast and light weight antennas, feed lines and control cables. It's especially important to minimize every pound of weight above the top of the tower (i.e., mast and antennas and feed lines). Every pound above the top of the tower adds very significantly to the moment on the lower tower sections and the tilting base."
On the subject of keeping water out of connections, Roger K8RI relates that, "Flooding connectors is not always desirable, but if deemed necessary...the original [flooding compound] is Dow-Corning's DC-4. DC-5 also works. It's messy, but impervious to water, doesn't shrink, and is good well up into UHF." Flooding a connector means filling all internal voids with material to prevent water entry - an ironic use of the word "flood".
Hams use a lot of aluminum - in the shack, in the air, and basically everywhere. The Web site of the Aluminum Association has a lot of information about the processes by which aluminum is refined and made into the many forms in which we put it to use. Click the "Tech Q&A" link at the top right of the page to find these discussions. (Thanks, Dave AB7E)
The August "Analog Dialogue" from Analog Devices features a nice article about noise figure and logarithmic amplifiers (often used for RF power measurement). The discussion on noise figure is particularly good, even if log amps aren't your cup of tea.
Here's a neat idea from the Instructables Web site about using inexpensive mouse pads as a covering for work surfaces. This idea may resonate around the home, shop, and shack in other ways, too!
Sooner or later those rotator control box dial-illuminator bulbs will burn out and you'll find that replacements are hard to find. Idiom Press has a new kit to replace the bulbs with a nice array of LEDs that improves dial illumination, but if you just want to put in a new bulb-like object, Joe W4TV suggests LED bulb replacements that can be had in white and other colors at voltages from 6 to 48 volts. These bulbs are probably available in electronics emporia everywhere.
If you need a Molexâ¢ connector in a pinch and can't wait for mail order, you might be surprised to find out that your local RadioShack store could supply just the part you need. Ken K4XL found the online catalog reference to help the local staff find out whether the connectors are in stock.
Grounding hardware hard to find? Well, it's probably available at Storm Copper Components, as Julius N2WN found out. The company has an excellent selection of various electrical components, including standoff insulators.
Technical Web Site of the Week - The folks at Directive Antenna Systems have put together a nice collection of Application Notes for VHF+ contesters. Topics include how to design a stack of VHF antennas, T-matching, installation and waterproofing of connectors, and other subjects of interest beyond radiosport alone. Look for "App Notes" at the left-hand side of the home page. G3SEK's Web site on stacking antennas is also good reading and has links to other informative references. (Thanks, Larry W1DYJ and Roger N0VR)
A Roving Elmer
Responding to a question on the VHF Contesting reflector about how to tackle one's first VHF+ roving experience, Jim KK6MC posted a thoughtful set of guidelines for the beginning rover. Roving is a type of operation that I would like to try and I'll bet there are other HF contesters out there shuffling along the sidelines thinking about joining the game. Perhaps Jim's suggestions will answer some questions and result in some more entries in the Rover categories of future VHF+ contests...73, Ward N0AX
I am not an experienced rover. I started roving in the June 2007 VHF contest and have roved in seven contests since then. So I have some experience with starting roving from scratch. Here is some advice that I hope you will find successful:
1. Don't bite off more than you can chew. Successful roving is the optimization of limited resources. In a rover, you have limited power, limited space, limited places for antennas, limited height for antennas, limited pointing accuracy, limited time to operate from a grid, and limited time to get from one grid to another. The key to a good first rove is to figure out how to deal with all of these limitations without having any individual one consume too many of your limited personal resources. Three bands with the FT-857, perhaps four with the 220 MHz transverter, is a good place to start. Enter the Limited Rover class. Leave 1296 and 10 GHz for another time when you are more experienced. Or enter the upcoming 10 GHz contest.
2. Be loud on 2. If 6 is dead, and it likely will be for much or all of the September contest, 2 meters is the place you will make contacts and identify people to move to other bands for more points. If you have a 2 meter linear to add to the 857, go ahead and do it. It will pay dividends.
3. I suggest starting out operating near a grid corner that is also fairly close to a large population of VHF contesters or between two large populations. You probably know where the activity is in your area and can look at a grid map and find a likely spot. By being on at the beginning of the contest, people will know to look for you the rest of the contest. By being near a grid corner, you can quickly go from one grid to another without consuming too much time traveling. By being near population centers, lots of people will hear you. Go to another corner on Sunday. This will make a nice rove. With 6 grids, 4 bands and modest activity, you should have a good score. It usually isn't more than an hour's drive to the nearest grid corner and you can sleep in your own bed Saturday night.
4. Always sign /rover and always announce your grid when you call CQ. Tell people to look for you from the new grids you will be going to if they don't ask. Always use phonetics.
5. I don't know of any good grids near you, but I use Google Earth, Google Maps, and Topo to find good spots. Also, if there is a local VHF reflector, or contest reflector, ask there. People who VHF contest love to help rovers; you are more multipliers and more QSOs. You don't need to operate from a rare grid, just one that doesn't have much activity in a contest.
6. I have come to the conclusion that operating in motion is important. You may wish to have a digital voice recorder to help you log or a separate driver. I now think that a successful rove consists of operating from several good VHF high spots, and operating while in motion from one good site to another in perhaps another 5 or 6 grids. I find this optimizes the operating time and getting to a great spot, like a mountain top, doesn't consume all of the time you have available. You may prefer a different strategy, but that is a good place to start
7. I suggest Yagis that are at least 5 or 6 feet long, and up to 8 or 10 ft if you have them. If you need Yagis in the 5 or 6 ft range, the WA5VJB designs are easy to make on short notice.
8. Keep the antennas at least a half wavelength above the vehicle. This will be hard to achieve on 6 meters, but should be achievable on the rest of the bands. This will help you put more radiation at low angles. This means that the lower loop of you 2 meter stack should be at least 40 inches above the pickup, which will probably put it up pretty high, but not above the legal limit.
9. Bring CW capability. It adds 10 dB or so to the signal to noise ratio capability. I always make one or two contacts on CW that I otherwise wouldn't have made.
10. Move people from one band to another. I usually make first contact on 2, then move to 432, then to 6. With 220, you would put that between 432 and 6. This optimizes the points you can make. Try to work as many people on one band before you move, then try to move the whole pack. Try not to leave anyone behind as you change bands, as it can be hard to pick them up again. Here in NM, activity is sparse, and the calling frequencies are usually used for all this. If activity is higher where you are, pick a set of frequencies beforehand, and use the same ones every time. That way people will know where to look for you. Announce that you will be returning to the 2 meter frequency when you have finished working everyone on the other bands. It pays to be predictable when you are a rover. You probably won't be able to do this with the Big Gun stations though. Check the log to see that you got everyone. Try to control this process rather than have an impatient station try to move you to another band before you have worked out the one you are on. This is easier in a grid that most people need. This whole process requires a knack, finesse, and that you are an efficient operator. Practice it rather than give up on it. It is tempting to move too soon; before you move, always ask if there is anyone else that needs to work you.
11. Call CQ. People can't work you if they don't know that you are there. Calling to a dead band is a tedious task, but it does pay off.
12. Don't stay too long at any one grid. Too long is relative, but I think an hour and a half is usually plenty unless band conditions are super, and I have left after 30 minutes or 45 minutes if activity was very low.
13. Set goals. They help you keep going when things get slow, help you measure your progress, and make the weekend worthwhile when you finally meet them. Set an achievable goal and one that will require you to stretch your capability. Making a certain number of QSOs, say 100, is a good goal. Having your call published in QST, which means a first place in the division, Top 5 in the region, or Top 10 nationwide is a good goal. I set these as goals when I first started roving, and finally met them. Since then I have set a goal to operate from all 22 grids in NM. I have 21 down and will try to get the last one in September. Trying to improve the rover for each contest is a good goal.
14. Take Friday afternoon off to set up the rover. Plan to be in place at your first stop an hour before the contest starts to ensure that everything is in place ready to go.
15. Roving is hard work. Be sure to take and drink plenty of water so you don't dehydrate. Rather than full meals, I find snacking during slow times best. You will be tired Sunday night. Take Monday off to recover.
16. Work everyone you hear. Try hard to work the weak ones. Occasionally you will be pleasantly surprised.
17. Announce your plans on a local reflector, and on national ones as well. I keep an e-mail list of those in the region I have worked in past contests and those in the region who have been active in VHF/UHF contests. I send a separate e-mail to them with more details of the planned rove. Do this a couple of times before the rove to stir up interest. Change the message each time so it is not like spam. After the contest is over, I send another e-mail to the list telling how I did and thanking everyone for the contact. In a slow contest, like the UHF contest I can send an individual thank you to each one I contacted. You obviously can't do this for the big contests like the June contest, but this individual attention builds up camaraderie among contesters and I like to think it helps motivate people to go out of their way to work you.
20 August through 2 September 2008
An expanded, downloadable version of QST's Contest Corral in PDF format is available. Check the sponsor's Web site for information on operating time restrictions and other instructions.
Hawaii QSO Party--Phone,CW,Digital, from Aug 23 0700Z to Aug 24 2200Z. Bands (MHz):1.8-28 Exchange: RS(T), S/P/C or maritime region or HI county. Logs due: 30 days. Web site
Ohio QSO Party--Phone,CW, from Aug 23 1600Z to Aug 24 0400Z. Bands (MHz):3.5-28 CW-3.545, 7.045, 14.045, 21.045, 28.045; SSB-3.825, 7.200, 14.250, 21.300, 28.450. Exchange: Serial and S/P or "DX". Logs due: 30 days. Web site
YO DX Contest--Phone,CW, from Aug 30 1200Z to Aug 31 1200Z. Bands (MHz):3.5-28 Exchange: RS(T), serial. Logs due: 30 days. Web site
ALARA Contest--Phone,CW, from Aug 30 0600Z to Aug 31 1159Z. Bands (MHz):3.5-28 Exchange: RS(T), serial, ALARA nr, name. Logs due: Sep 30. Web site
SCC RTTY Championship--Digital, from Aug 30 1200Z to Aug 31 1159Z. Bands (MHz):3.5-28 Exchange: RST, 4-digit year first licensed. Logs due: Sep 15. Web site
No VHF+ contests are scheduled.
LOG DUE DATES
20 August through 2 September 2008
August 20 - DMC RTTY Contest, email logs to: email@example.com, paper logs and diskettes to: DMC Contest Committee, P.O.Box 8, 6000 Stara Zagora, Bulgaria. Rules
August 30 - North American QSO Party, SSB, email logs to: (see rules, web upload preferred), upload log online, paper logs and diskettes to: Bruce Horn, WA7BNM, 4225 Farmdale Avenue, Studio City, CA 91604, USA. Rules
August 31 - Portugal Day Contest, email logs to: firstname.lastname@example.org, paper logs and diskettes to: REP Award/Contest Manager, Rua D Pedro V, No. 7-40, 1250-092 Lisboa, Portugal. Rules
August 31 - Venezuelan Ind. Day Contest, email logs to: email@example.com, paper logs and diskettes to: Radio Club Venezolano, Concurso Independencia de Venezuela, PO Box 2285, Caracas 1010-A, Venezuela. Rules
August 31 - National Lighthouse Weekend QSO Contest, email logs to: (none), paper logs and diskettes to: Dave Ruch, NF0J, PO Box 20696, Bloomington, MN 55420-0696, USA. Rules
August 31 - European HF Championship, email logs to: firstname.lastname@example.org, paper logs and diskettes to: Slovenia Contest Club, Saveljska 50, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia. Rules
September 1 - RSGB IOTA Contest, email logs to: email@example.com, paper logs and diskettes to: RSGB IOTA Contest, Radio Society of Great Britain, 3 Abbey Court, Fraser Road, Priory Business Park, Bedford MK44 3WH, England. Rules
September 1 - ANARTS WW RTTY Contest, email logs to: firstname.lastname@example.org, paper logs and diskettes to: Contest Manager ANARTS, PO Box 93, Toongabbie, NSW 2146, Australia. Rules
September 1 - CQ Worldwide VHF Contest, email logs to: email@example.com, paper logs and diskettes to: CQ VHF Contest, 25 Newbridge Road, Hicksville, NY 11801, USA. Rules