November 12, 2008Editor: Ward Silver, NØAX
IN THIS ISSUE
NEW HF OPERATORS - THINGS TO DO
Why not drop a note to your high school or college club and encourage them to make some QSOs in the Collegiate ARC Championship? By participating in ARRL Sweepstakes, school clubs can go head to head with other clubs, just like on the gridiron.
Dave G4BUO reports that he is handling the EU Sprint logs, following the demise of Paolo I2UIY as reported earlier. If your log isn't listed on the EU Sprint Logs Received page, please resend to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your editor is embarrassed to have busted Midge K7AFO's call, name, and everything else in the October 15th issue of this newsletter's caption for the photo of I2UIY (SK).
Rules follow Commentary section
NEWS, PRESS RELEASES, AND GENERAL INTEREST
Welcome back the National Contest Journal News by Al Dewey K0AD, as the Nov/Dec issue completes his first year as editor. This current issue includes "Simplifying the Four-Square" by G3LNP, "Distributing Receiving Antennas" by K3NA, and "Tips for Tuning a Full-Size 160 Meter Vertical" by WX0B. N6XI updates his review of the increasing popular Elecraft K3 after adding the latest options. K0AD provides a first-hand report on the very successful Dayton Contest University 2008 including some interesting plans that K3LR and the CTU staff have for 2009. Rounding out the features in this issue are an article by W5WZ on "The Birth of the Louisiana Contest Club" as well as a useful tip by N4TZ/9 on "Solving the Long Rotator Cable Problem for Larger Rotators". NCJ prints complete contest results for the popular North American QSO Parties (NAQP) and Sprints--the Nov/Dec issue includes results for the July 2008 RTTY NAQP. Rounding out the Nov/Dec issue are NCJ's regular columns; NCJ Profiles by W4PA, Workshop Chronicles by K4ZA, Contest Tips - Trick - Techniques by W9XT, VHF-UHF Contesting by N0JK, Contesting 101 by K4RO, and Contesting on a Budget by K9ZO. NCJ is always looking for good ideas for articles of interest to contesters: contact K0AD at email@example.com with your idea!
The 75th running of CW Sweepstakes is history. Band conditions were good and the multipliers were out in force. As of 10 November, 955 logs have been received via email. A log counter has been added to the top of the Logs Received page, so you can watch the total grow. Scuttlebutt on various reflectors indicates folks really enjoyed themselves this year. Promotion efforts seem to have paid off; several anecdotal reports from various Sections and Divisions indicate participation seemed higher than usual. (Thanks, Sean KX9X, ARRL Contest Branch Manager)
If you have questions about log checking in the ARRL Sweepstakes, Steve N2IC contributes this link to an informative article about it. The article addresses what happens to "the other station's log" when you make a mistake on your end, for example.
Steve N2CEI has issued a call for papers and presentations for the 2009 Southeastern VHF Society Conference on April 24-25 in Charlotte NC. Steve is the program chairman again this year and will be accepting papers for the proceedings with a cutoff date of 2 March 2009. All papers should be submitted to Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The old OH2AQ DX Summit goes offline on November 19, 2008 at 1000 UTC. The new DX Summit Web site debuted on May 23, 2008. The site has been redeveloped from the ground up and uses the latest technology available. The new DX Summit has been ramping up steadily and today the number of hits is approaching 1 million a day. In addition to providing the same functionality as the old DX Summit, the new platform offers the necessary flexibility to easily add new features which are currently on the drawing board. (Thanks, Martti OH2BH)
Randy K5ZD, WPX Contest Manager, has noticed a lot of variation in the club names submitted in contest logs. To encourage more consistent spelling of name and improving the club scoring process, he has begun development of an "official" list of contest club names. Please take a moment to find your club on the list and let Randy know if there are any errors or there is a more accepted spelling of the club name. The goal is to have the names on the list be what the club members want to use in their log and how they want the club name to appear in the magazine results.
Pete N4ZR reports, "I'm happy to report that the World Contest Station Database is back from the dead, thanks to the generosity of Jamie Punderson W2QO. Jamie and Networks & More, Inc. have donated the ASP hosting that enabled me to get it back up and running for the first time since last January. The database is as it was after the last update, in January 2008, containing descriptions of over 3000 HF contest stations worldwide. Please feel free to go to the site and update your entry. When you fill out the form, be sure to include your call, so that I can associate whatever changes you make with the proper record."
Antennex announces the release of a new book by LB Ceibk W4RNL (SK), titled "Some Basics of Multi-Band Beam Design". In LB's words, "Most amateur literature simply passes over the subject or presents a design without much theoretical commentary. We, the outsiders who look in on multi-band beam design, view it as a mystery, as a function of secret optimizing software, as esoteric knowledge to which the average amateur is denied access. This 247-page volume simply presents what I have managed to learnabout the process over the years. I have certainly not learned everything-just enough to get started and to realize the limits of what I know."
Spanish Hams Receive New Frequency Privileges: The Union de Radioaficionados Espanoles (URE), Spain's IARU Member-Society, reported that as of October 24, 2008, that country's Secretaria de Estado de Telecomunicaciones y para la Sociedad de la Informacion (SETSI) approved an expansion on 160 meters during certain events, such as international Amateur Radio contests. The new allocation, 1.810-1.830 MHz, as well as 1.850-2.000 MHz, will be available for the 2009 ARRL 160 Meter Contest, the 2009 King of Spain Contests (both SSB and CW) and the 2009 CQ 160 Meter Contest (both SSB and CW). In addition, Spanish hams were also granted privileges on the experimental portion of the 4 meter band -- 70.150-70.200 MHz running 10 W ERP -- until April 25, 2009. (Thanks to "The Daily DX" by W3UR)
John W0UN and Lance W7GJ relate news of more solar cycle prognostication. This article deals with the number of "spotless days" at the bottom of the cycle, suggesting the more spotless days that occur, the weaker the subsequent cycle will be. This points to a weak Cycle 24, unfortunately. Bob N6TV found this related article from NASA that should give some encouragement.
If you're looking for an inexpensive RS232 to CI-V interface for Icom radio control, Gary K8BE and Carolyn N8ST sell just such an interface for $25 that works great according to Ken N9VV.
Along with the Web sites mentioned last week that list contest DXpeditions, don't forget about the QRZ DX Web site! Editor Carl N4AA collects notices from travelling talkers and telegraphers, too. Collect them all and make sure you don't needlessly miss a mult!
Something you need to know: 73 + 88 = FB in hexadecimal. (Thanks, Ian N8IK)
Tom Baker K8MMM, a pioneer in VHF+ contesting passed away on Nov 1st. He was well known on 6 meters, particularly on the scatter modes. Tom was a leader and mentor to many midwestern VHF+ operators as they fired up on the "Magic Band." (Thanks, Lee WA8LRE/KZ4RR)
Web Site of the Week - UniverseToday.com announces Space Lifestyle Magazine. Its a free, full-color digital magazine. SLM has feature articles about all aspects of space - NewSpace, NASA, military, science and astronomy - but mostly it's about the people that make the space sector tick. Some personal information is required for registration. (From AMSAT New Service bulletin ANS-314)
WORD TO THE WISE
Precedence and Check - these two words will be heard a lot this weekend in the ARRL Phone Sweepstakes. These are very old words, predating radio, all the way back to the telegraphy days of the "wire that sings". They were carried over into the radiogram header in the early part of the 20th century. Precedence (not precedent) is an abbreviation that provides handling instructions, such as "return receipt requested". In Sweepstakes, your precedence is a single-letter category indicator; A-B-M-Q-S-U. Check in a radiogram is the number of words and punctuation elements in a message. Check became "checksum" when the messages were transmitted as digital data. In Sweepstakes, check is the last two digits of the first year you (or the station) was first licensed. (A point of interest - next year will mark the 100th anniversary of W1MX, the MIT club station and we will see the first "lapping of the field" as checks from 1909 and 2009 make their appearance!)
SIGHTS AND SOUNDS
The contesting.com home page is now ready to accept your CQ WW 2008 photos! Share your fun with the world by browsing to contesting.com. On the right side of the page, click on "Add CQ WW 2008". Follow the instructions to upload your photo. (Thanks, Steve N2IC)
Something new will be added to the Web versions of the Sweepstakes writeups this year - a Soapbox contest! Each of the SS writeup authors - Steve N2IC and Kelly VE4XT - will go through the ARRL Soapbox Web page for their respective modes and pick some favorite Soapbox entries in categories such as Best Soapbox Submission, Best Contest Photo, Funniest Soapbox, Best Excuse and so forth. So make sure to add your two cents to the ARRL Soapbox Web page - it's quite easy -- including uploading a photo or two.
RESULTS AND RECORDS
The results from this year's Field Day are now available online, too. Dan N1ND relates that, "The addition of the online ARRL Field Day Locator site was a huge success, as more than 1500 sites were listed in this first year of use. When you scan the Online Soapbox, Field Day continues to be the most popular on-the-air event in Amateur Radio." You can find the results in the Members Only section of the ARRL Web site. (Thanks, Bryan WA7PRC and the ARRL Letter)
The remaining third of the 2007 Sweepstakes plaques were sent out Monday, October 27. If you haven't received your plaque by now, send an email to ARRL Contest Branch Manager, Sean KX9X (email@example.com). All of the 2007 ARRL 10 Meter Contest certificates went out the door on the same day, as well.
There's some great reading about CQ WW and Sweepstakes on the radio-sport.net Web site. Site creator Jamie NS3T packages interviews and scores into great articles on the operators and contests alike. Toni CU2A's big effort in CQ WW SSB is featured and an article about CW SS looks at the different calls atop the standings this year.
John K1AR, CQ WW Committee Member, reports 3409 CQ WW SSB logs received as of 8 November, just a little under two weeks past the date of the contest!
Speaking of electronic logs - it's worth using Notepad or some other simple text editor to review your Cabrillo log before you fire it off to the sponsors. Check to be sure that your header information agrees with what the exchange says in the QSO: lines. For example, if the header information for a Sweepstakes log says "Low-Power, Single-Op" and the exchange you sent says "U", that's confusing. If you've just downloaded a new program and are using it for the first time, be sure that you haven't left default information in the configuration and setup areas, resulting in misreporting of your QTH or other important bits of data.
Barry W5GN, Awards Manager for the CQ WW contests requests your help in properly entering your address in the Cabrillo log. Include each "line" of your address (street, city-state-zip, country) as a separate line. This helps a lot in printing the address directly on the envelope for your certificate or other award. Also be sure that your country is the last line, written in CAPITAL letters.
QTH abbreviations are important for proper scoring in many contests--mess up an abbreviation and you can lose your Clean Sweep! This is very much an issue with operators new to contesting as is frequently the case in the ARRL November Phone Sweepstakes. If you're mentoring new operators or hosting a multi-op, make sure the proper abbreviations are used (see the ARRL Contest Branch Web page for a list of ARRL Section abbreviations). For example, is that MI in the log supposed to represent Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, or Mississippi? Other common "busted sections" are LA/LAX, SD/SDGO, ME/MN, NTX/NWT. That last one would be a bad one to get rong!
TECHNICAL TOPICS AND INFORMATION
No need to rely on hitting the Enter key precisely in sync with the beep from WWV, there is an excellent Windows implementation of the Network Time Protocol (NTP) application available for most or all flavors of Windows. The company that makes it available manufactures time servers and radio clocks for data center and network use. Mac OS X, other UNIX versions, and Linux all have NTP built in and are usually in a reasonable configuration out of the box. With a couple of reference clocks configured (a minimum of three is required), your system's clock will always be within a few ms of UTC. (Thanks, Peter N5UWY)
Tales from the recent HQ3Z expedition include a close encounter of the unwelcome kind with a hotel's mis-wired electrical sockets. Luckily, the only damage was to radio equipment and not to the operator thereof. This situation is not uncommon - don't be a casualty, carry an electrical outlet tester like this one, recommended by experienced DXpeditioner, Glenn K6NA. Cheap and lightweight, it checks for six common problems and should be the first thing plugged into any socket.
If you are interested in trying the free W6ELprop propagation prediction software, Carl K9LA has written a tutorial titled "Downloading and Using W6ELprop". This can help you get the most out of this useful software..
Another electrical hazard to radios is presented by common "entry-level" amplifiers, such as a used Heathkit SB-200/220 or a Drake L4 or L7. Joe W4TV notes, "The keying line (PTT relay) in the SB-220 is +120 V DC. The contacts of the "Linear" or "Send" relays in most transceivers can not handle the voltage and current "spike" generated by the high voltage PTT circuits in these older amps. You will probably need to replace the "Linear" or "Send" relay in your transceiver. If you are lucky, that will be all you'll need to replace." Joe suggests a keying buffer such as the Ameritron ARB-704. Check the ratings of your radio and the specifications of the amplifier before connecting the two.
Your editor's CW Sweepstakes operation confirmed that a great "secret weapon" in domestic contests is a low dipole on 80 or 40 meters. In my case, an 80 meter inverted-vee about 20 feet high at the apex generated nearly 400 QSOs while operating low-power. A 40 meter dipole at a similar height will also generate great results. Why? The high angle of radiation from these antennas results in great regional coverage out to several hundred miles...and beyond if conditions are good. For a DX contest, these antennas don't do nearly as well, but for a temporary advantage in domestic contests, the low dipoles can't be beat.
Using sections of transmission line to match impedances is a great trick, and inexpensive, too! Here's an on-line asynchronous transformer calculator contributed by Frank W3LPL. Joe W4TV chimes in with another online calculator, too.
If you've got a fixed amount of wire to use for a radial field, how should you use it to get the best radial ground field? Lucky for you, Al Christman K3LC wrote a paper on just this problem and published it in NCJ. You'll find it online on the NCJ Web wite. (Thanks, Frank VO1HP)
Bill W2WO notes that, "Almost everyone who runs cables underground eventually wishes they had used a conduit of some kind. It seems there are always control cables to be added, another feed line, etc, etc. Also, many of us painfully learn to use at least 3" conduit. A single coax looks very small in this size pipe, but it is certainly easier to feed new lines and pull old lines. Always leave a "messenger" cord in the conduit, with lots of slack on one end. Also, water will get into almost any simple conduit. Always allow for this by tilting the conduit, putting a little stone under it, leaving weep holes at appropriate places, a small dry well at the best spot, etc. Allow some air circulation through it, but block the entrance for small critters. "
When trying to eliminate birdies caused by a PC power supply, check to see if the power supply has an EMI filter. Many cheap (and not-so-cheap) supplies have no line filtering whatsoever. Taking a look inside often reveals that the PC board has the space for a filtered connector--and it may have been on the PC board to pass EMI certification--but is strangely not present on the manufactured version. (Minor editorial rant--I realize the FCC can't pay attention to every single, cheap PC supply, but it would seem that a few highly-publicized fines would get the attention of the corner-cutters for a while.) Corcom ac line filters are widely available and fit the ac line cord socket very nicely. They'll often do a much better job than external ferrite cores.
Technical Web Site of the Week - The past week has seen the launch of a great series of discussions about balloon- and kite-supported antennas on the QRP-L mailing list. Topics from the best type of kite to what kind of tether line. Browse the QRP-L archives beginning on Nov 6th where you'll find the thread flying high.
What Does It Mean?
The ticking of the technological timepiece is loud and clear in the land of radiosport. Once limited to the relatively slow and local coverage of VHF packet networks, spotting information is now distributed at gigabit-per-second rates around the world. My finger has barely left the Enter key before the information I've uploaded is popping up on band maps around the world!
VE3NEA's CW Skimmer, now at version 1.3 and climbing, is steadily improving its ability to pick out call signs and display them across the band like a freshly-stocked candy store of potential QSOs. Even if one chooses not to use the CW decoding feature, the horizontal version of the "waterfall" display makes it easy to see the different call signs in a pileup or across the competitive field.
Not satisfied with transmitted signals, chat pages and online databases make it possible to know where a station is listening, without transmitting a single syllable. Streaming audio is available from dozens of Web-based receivers around the world. The well-connected, so to speak, can also transmit from remotely located transmitters inside and out of their home territory.
Traditional contesting depends on a lot of information being unknown - the frequency and call signs of contest stations, for example. Having to copy a station's exchange information is becoming less and less important due to pre-fill databases and automated copying tools. Being able to find stations and multipliers is still a hallmark of the top operator, but for how long?
I'll return to a question I've asked before - what does it mean to have a competitive radio activity in an environment in which stations have wide access to information about where stations are transmitting and listening and can themselves transmit and receive from nearly anywhere? The question is no longer so much "Can you find them and hear them", but "Can they hear you through the din of everybody else calling". How do we keep (or return) radio know-how at the top of the contester's skill set?
Partially tongue-in-cheek, I present the "Radio Skeet Shoot" as an example of operating rules that "go beyond" the point-and-shoot world. In this contest, the operator identifies one or more public sources of spotting information and registers them with the contest sponsor, who then records the output of that source throughout the contest. When a spot pops up on the operator's computer, a certain number of points are assigned to the spot and a countdown begins. The operator has a limited amount of time to accept the spot as a "target". The longer the delay between the spot appearing and being accepted, the smaller the value for working the spotted station. Once the spot has been accepted, the operator then has a limited number of "shots" (calls) in which to work the targeted station. With each unsuccessful shot, the point value for working the spotted station is reduced. If all shots are taken without success, no points are obtained and the target has been "missed." The sponsor then uses the recorded spot stream and information from the station's log to correlate the time of acceptance, the time logged, and the number of shots taken to verify the final point value claimed by the competitor.
How does this put radio know-how back in the contest? For starters, I can't just jump to a spot and start calling over and over again until I get through, as is the current situation. I have to make each call count. That means I have to be choosy about which spots I accept as targets, evaluating propagation and my station and my operating abilities to make realistic choices. I have to be on the right bands with the right antennas, pointed in the right directions. I have to understand timing and how to get through a pileup. A reverse set of rules could apply to calling CQ. There might be rate thresholds or coverage bonuses or rewards for better copy. Bonuses my be given for being the "first to spot" to emphasize tuning skill. Strategically, maximizing one's score in such an environment requires a lot of savvy in different skill areas.
What other types of competitions make sense with so much information, previously unavailable, now piped into the competitor's shack for the asking? These tactics can often be evaluated will "piggybacking" on a regular contest, as long as the rules for the contest are followed by competitors in the "contest within a contest". Perhaps you could try out your own set of rules and give them a try within your club, announce them on the Internet and sign up participants, or even start your own contest. Anything is possible. With the inventive and competitive operators out there, there shouldn't be a shortage of interesting rules to try. Know what I mean?
12 November through 25 November
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.
ARRL November Sweepstakes--Phone, from 15 Nov 2100Z to 17 Nov 0300Z. Bands (MHz):1.8-28 Check is last two digits of first year licensed. Exchange: Serial, category, call, check, ARRL sec. Logs due: 17 Dec. Rules
Collegiate ARC Championship--Phone, from 15 Nov 2100Z to 17 Nov 0300Z. Bands (MHz):1.8-28 Exchange: See ARRL Sweepstakes. Logs due: 17 Dec. Rules
JT 50th Anniversary Contest--Phone,CW, from 15 Nov 0000Z to 16 Nov 2400Z. Bands (MHz):1.8-28 Exchange: RST and serial or "50" for JT hams. Logs due: 1 Jan.
RSGB 1.8 MHz Contest--CW, from 15 Nov 2100Z to 16 Nov 0100Z. Bands (MHz):1.8 Exchange: RST, serial, UK district. Logs due: 16 days. Rules
PSK63 QSO Party--Digital, from 16 Nov 0000Z to 16 Nov 2400Z. Bands (MHz):1.8-28 Exchange: EPC member nr or RST and serial. Logs due: 30 days. Rules
LZ DX Contest--Phone,CW, from 22 Nov 1200Z to 23 Nov 1200Z. Bands (MHz):3.5-28 Exchange: RST and ITU Zone or LZ district. Logs due: 30 days. Rules
ARRL EME Contest--Phone,CW,Digital, from 15 Nov 0000Z to 16 Nov 2400Z. Bands (MHz): 50-1296. Exchange: Both call signs, sig rpt, acknowledgement. Logs due: 16 Dec. Rules
LOG DUE DATES
12 November through 25 November
November 12 - YLRL Anniversary Party, SSB, email logs to: firstname.lastname@example.org, paper logs and diskettes to: Annette Wood, KC8SQM, 6167 Oakwood Circle, North Ridgeville, OH 44039, USA. Rules
November 15 - California QSO Party, email logs to: (see rules, Web upload preferred), Upload log at: http://logs.cqp.org/, paper logs and diskettes to: NCCC, c/o Rick Eversole, N6RNO, 1225 Vienna Dr #919, Sunnyvale, CA 94089, USA. Rules
November 15 - Pennsylvania QSO Party, email logs to: email@example.com, paper logs and diskettes to: PA QSO Party 2008, c/o NARC, PO Box 614, State College, PA 16804-0614, USA. Rules
November 15 - Makrothen RTTY Contest, email logs to: firstname.lastname@example.org, paper logs and diskettes to: (none). Rules
November 15 - 50 MHz Fall Sprint, email logs to: email@example.com, paper logs and diskettes to: Ray Rector WA4NJP, 3493 Holly Springs Rd, Gillsville, GA 30534, USA. Rules
November 15 - SRT HF Contest SSB, email logs to: firstname.lastname@example.org, paper logs and diskettes to: (none). Rules
November 16 - SKCC Weekend Sprintathon, post log summary at: http://www.skccgroup.com/sprint/wes/sf.html, paper logs and diskettes to: (none). Rules
November 18 - PODXS 070 Club 160m Great Pumpkin Sprint, email logs to: email@example.com, paper logs and diskettes to: Jay Budzowski, N3DQU, 109 S Northview Ave., New Castle, PA 16102, USA. Rules
November 18 - Stew Perry Topband Challenge, email logs to: firstname.lastname@example.org, paper logs and diskettes to: BARC, 15125 SE Bartell Rd, Boring, OR 97009, USA. Rules
November 19 - ARCI Fall QSO Party, email logs to: email@example.com, paper logs and diskettes to: ARCI Fall QSO Party, c/o Jeff Hetherington, VA3JFF, 139 Elizabeth St W, Welland, Ontario L3C 4M3, Canada. Rules
November 20 - Illinois QSO Party, email logs to: firstname.lastname@example.org, paper logs and diskettes to: WIARC, PO Box 3132, Quincy IL 62305-3132, USA. Rules
November 20 - Worked All Germany Contest, email logs to: email@example.com, paper logs and diskettes to: (none). Rules
November 22 - Microwave Fall Sprint, email logs to: firstname.lastname@example.org, paper logs and diskettes to: Dexter McIntyre W4DEX, 16164 Pless Mill Rd, Stanfield, NC 28163, USA. Rules
November 24 - ARRL School Club Roundup, email logs to: (none), paper logs and diskettes to: School Club Roundup, c/o Lew Malchick, N2RQ, Brooklyn Technical HS, 29 Fort Greene Place, Brooklyn, NY 11217, USA. Rules