Saturday, November 29, 2008

Podcast / audio now available

I'm experimenting with a new service called "Odiogo" which produces an audio feed (a.k.a. Podcast) automatically from each blog entry. You can hear the audio directly at my blog (that's or you can subscribe to it using a variety of RSS readers and even iTunes by clicking on this here. (That link is also available on the blog site.) I'd be curious to hear from any readers (or perhaps they should be called "listeners") who find this useful.

If you're reading this directly on the website or get it emailed to you, you can ignore the following: One other change is that the URL for the RSS feed has changed. It's now This was done as part of integration into Google (who owns Feedburner), but you shouldn't have to change anything as the feed will automatically redirect itself. If you run into any problems, please let me know.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Courtesy isn't a one-way street

This past weekend was the ARRL SSB Sweepstakes contest. This is another one of the major contests that are part of the fall contest season. There's something that's far more of a constant during the contest season than anything else. More constant than forgetting to configure some piece of your station properly until the last minute, more constant than some emergency cropping up just when the bands are getting hot, and far more constant than propagation: Complaints.

Starting before each contest, with a major peak after each one (though it's worse after the phone contests) the complaint emails will start hitting the reflectors (email lists) about how inconsiderate the contesters are. This usually has to do with a contester jumping on top of an ongoing (non-contest) QSO without even a passing attempt to ensure that the frequency is available. Unfortunately, a large number of these complaints are merited, but there are a number of regular complaints that are not valid. For instance, just because you've met your buddy on the same frequency for the last 42 years at some specific time doesn't mean you "own" the frequency, and someone holding that frequency prior to your arrival has to give it up because you say so. While it may be courteous to do so, in this case, "possession" (use) of the frequency is not 9/10ths of the law.

In fact, the FCC rules governing our hobby in Parts 97.101(b), (c), and (d) specifically say:
(b) Each station licensee and each control operator must cooperate in selecting transmitting channels and in making the most effective use of the amateur service frequencies. No frequency will be assigned for the exclusive use of any station.
(c) At all times and on all frequencies, each control operator must give priority to stations providing emergency communications, except to stations transmitting communications for training drills and tests in RACES.
(d) No amateur operator shall willfully or maliciously interfere with or cause interference to any radio communication or signal.
My interpretation of this is that the only time that someone can "take" a frequency that is in used by someone else is in order to provide emergency communications, and to do otherwise is to violate the rules as specified in subsection (c).

Here's what happened to me, which annoyed me enough to write this. I was busy for much of the day on Saturday, but I had some free time to participate in the previously mentioned SS contest on Sunday. Although I normally "Search & Pounce" (listen for stations calling for other stations, work them, and move on), I decided that it would be fun to try "run" stations, which means that I'd do the calling and let others come to me. This is a lot more fun than having to tune around, can result in a higher rate (the number of stations you work during a given period of time), which in turn generally results in a higher score, though it does mean that you have to be able to find a clear frequency to use. This is particularly difficult for low-power stations like myself, since, due to propagation, often a stronger station will be on the same frequency but in a different part of the country and will eventually overpower me. That's OK when it happens, and I usually just move off the frequency and try elsewhere.

What happened Sunday was that I'd managed to find a clear frequency on 40m to use to "run", specifically 7.244Mhz. I started CQing (calling) at around 20:00Z (see my previous post for more information about why I'm using UTC, not local time!) and had been working stations pretty steadily until around 20:36Z. (I worked 28 stations during that time, which may have been my best rate ever in an HF contest.) Right around then, between CQs, I heard a couple of guys come up on the frequency and start chatting. I said, at least three times between transmissions "gentlemen, this frequency is occupied, please QSY, thanks, K2DBK" (informing them that I was there, and asking them to move), then returned to CQing. They didn't move, and didn't even acknowledge me. I know that sometimes propagation can be stronger in one direction than another, or that they could have been using very high power and couldn't hear me, but I really doubt that was the case. One of the operators was located in North Carolina and I'd been working even QRP (low power) stations there easily.

It's time for some background: The National Traffic System is one of the many public services performed by volunteers all over the country. (Please click on the link for more information, there's far to much to go into here.) I was a very active participant in the NTS until a couple of years ago (I stopped primarily because of conflicts with other responsibilities with work and my family), but I still consider myself a supporter of the NTS system. In order to move traffic (message) around the country, there are regional area nets that meet on the HF frequencies (including 40m) since HF is best for medium and long-distance communications.

At about 20:45Z, one of the stations started calling the 4th Region National Traffic System Net (aka 4RN). (Remember, I'd already asked them, when they were just chatting, to move somewhere else.) Instead of asking me if I'd stand by, or moving up or down a few kilohertz (which is commonly done on HF nets), the net control simply proceeded to call the net, which interfered with my ability to use the frequency.

Although I would have legally been in the right to simply remain on the frequency, I did what I considered to be the right thing to do, which was to move to another available frequency. The net control had done exactly what other non-contesters complain about: They "took" a frequency without asking. While I acknowlege the possibility that neither the net control station nor any other station heard me informing them that the frequency was in use, I remain fairly certain that they did in fact hear me and simply decided to keep operating on "their" frequency. Had the net control station asked that I move because there was a regularly scheduled net there, I almost certainly would have done so. Had he asked that I stand by until the net completed, I would have been even happier to do so. (I would have gotten a short break and would have gotten my frequency back when they were done, probably ten or fifteen minutes later.) Instead, they chose to take the low road and intentionally interferred with my operation.

If I really wanted to, I could have easily recorded everything that happened, and possibly file a complaint with the FCC. (In fact, I may have done so, and honestly haven't checked; my contest logger can be configured to record audio while operating, and while I don't think I left that feature turned on for this contest, I may have. Guess I'll have to check my computer.) But I am not going to do that, since A) There is the chance that this was an honest mistake, B) I would prefer not to have someone performing a valuable service, running an NTS net, get in trouble, and C) I still believe that it's in the best interest of hams to work out these kinds of issues themselves.

So keep in mind that courtesy isn't a one-way street. There will always be situations where one person is using a frequency that for some reason another person wants to use. Don't try to "take" the frequency, at least ask if the person who was there would be willing to move or to stand by if the use is expected to be short. There is enough animosity in the world, let's try to make make our hobby more pleasant than that.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

It's about time

A few weekends ago the ARRL CW Sweepstakes contest was held. It was also the weekend where, in the United States, the time "changes" from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time. I won't go into the history of DST, or Summer Time, since the web is full of resources that discuss that ad nauseum. I'm also going to show some restraint and not launch into a full tirade (just a little grumbling) about how pointless it is and how especially stupid it is that the goverment of the United States decided to change the start and stop times last year, costing many millions of dollars to have all kinds of software and other equipment changed, while actually increasing energy use. (A recent article about that is here, one from spring 2007 is here.) No, I'm not going to talk about that.

What I am going to talk about is the surprising level of misunderstanding that some hams seem to have about telling time.

Why is time important for hams? There are lots of reasons but I want to address two in particular. The first one is that when a ham makes a contact on the radio and wants to exchange QSO (contact) information, in the form of a QSL card or electronically, we need to agree on a standard time reference to use. In case the reason for this isn't obvious, because contacts are often made across time zones, if I log the contact time in my local time, it's not the same time (and in some cases, even the same date) at the other end. It can be confusing to try to validate a contact where the time (and date) don't match what you expect. For example, I'm typing this at 6:44PM local time on Sunday, November 9. If I were to make a contact with my friend Bruce, XW1B in Laos, if he were to log that contact in local time, his log would say 6:44AM on Monday, November 10. Instead, we both just log that the contact was made at 23:45 (the same as 11:45PM) UTC or Zulu (which is essentially the same as GMT), on Sunday, November 9, and all's well. (As an interesting aside, there actually is a difference between GMT and UTC, the Wikipedia article is pretty interesting if you're interested in that kind of thing.)

One thing that has happened to me a number of times is when a fellow ham gets the UTC time correct, but gets the date wrong. I've gotten cards that had the correct time (in UTC) but the date was wrong. This typically happens when the UTC time has gone to the next day (such as in my example above). I suspect that some of those are honest mistakes, but I do recall an email exchange with a ham a few years back where he insisted that since the day hadn't changed at his location, the day remained the same. I think that I finally managed to convince him otherwise.

The other reason that I wanted to mention is that for certain special events, and in particular, for contests, hams need to know when the contest starts and when it ends. Unlike the discussion above where it's only a single point in time, a contest involves a period of time. Clearly you should neither operate prior to the start of the contest nor after it ends. Since most contests involve participants, the start and end times are usually specified in UTC. Very simple, right?

Well, I thought so, but apparently not everyone does. A few weeks ago, just before the ARRL CW Sweepstakes contest that I mentioned earlier, someone posted to one of the mailing lists that I receive asking if there would be more hours to operate since the clocks would go back one hour in the middle of the contest. He then went on to ask how to deal with the "fact" that since the time between 1AM and 2AM occurs twice when "falling back" his log entries wouldn't be correct. (In the US, when changing between DST and Standard time, the change is made at 2AM local time. When going to DST, the local clocks jump from 2AM to 3AM. When going the other way, the hour between 1AM and 2AM occurs twice. Remember that this is only the local time.)

My response to him was that since the contest start and stop times are specified in UTC, and UTC, by definition doesn't adjust for DST, that there were still the same number of hours between 2100 UTC on the 1st of November and 0300 UTC on the 3rd of November this year as there are, and have been, every other year. Further, since logs have to be submitted in UTC anyway, why not just log in UTC and not worry about any kind of conversion? Although I did respond directly (not on the mailing list) to the person who asked the question, I never received a response.

Personally, I always log in UTC, even on those rare occasions (like when I was operating from the boat as K2NUD/MM) when I use paper. It's not hard to figure out the local time difference, and once you start, there's nothing to it. My computer logging programs automatically log in UTC, I keep the clock on the display on my Icom 756 Pro II set to UTC, and I have this nifty program called Qlock that allows me to display local times all over the world (that's how I knew what time it was for XW1B but also shows UTC. It's easy. If you don't use a computer for logging or don't have a program like Qlock, you can use a website like to find out the current time in GMT. If you don't have a computer (hey ... how are you reading this?) you can always tune to WWV on 2.5, 5, 10, 15, or 20Mhz which transmits the time in Coordinated Universal Time (aka UTC). Remember that UTC is the same no matter where you are in the world!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


I'm going to go totally off-topic for a quick posting: If you're a registered voter in the United States, please make sure you vote today. Voting is how you participate in democracy, and if you're eligible to vote and you don't, you're saying that you don't care. I'll bet you do care, and even if you aren't thrilled with your choices in the election, it's not only your right, its is your responsibility as a citizen to do so.

Please participate in the democratic process and make your voice heard.