Sunday, July 25, 2010

2010 IOTA Contest

I operated a contest yesterday that I'd only ever done before as as DX, The RSGB IOTA contest. In this contest, any station can work any other station, but if you work an island (as defined by the organizers [note that the link goes to a PDF file]) it is worth more points (15, instead of 3 for a non-island contact) and each island you work counts as a multiplier, increasing your score. The contest has some interesting rules regarding hours of operations (you can submit as a "12 hour" or "24 hour" contestant) and some categories that are different from many other contests. (e.g., "Island DXpedition"). I decided that I'd try to operate in the 12-hour, low-power assisted  mixed category as "world" station. That means that my operating time was 12 hours or less, I used 100 watts to transmit, I used the packet cluster to help locate stations, operated both phone and CW, and I was not located on a island.

Unlike many other contests which typically start either in the evening or mid-afternoon for me, this one started at 8AM local (Eastern Daylight Time), and, not being a "morning person", I didn't get on the air until around 11:30 AM, and was a little disappointed to find out that the band conditions didn't seem to be as good as I'd hoped. I started off on 20m phone and made a handful of contacts in the first 20 minutes. I realized that if 15m was open, if I wanted to work anyone outside the US it would have to be early in the afternoon. I switched over to 15m and found ... nothing. Well, almost nothing. I did manage to work two stations in about 10 minutes, one on phone and one on CW. Clearly 15m was not going to be a productive band.

I moved back to 20m and worked stations steadily, thought not terribly quickly using Search & Pounce to find stations. I worked a few dozen stations on phone, then another dozen or so on CW and moved back to phone. After another hour of S&P, I was lucky enough to find a clear frequency to call CQ to try to "run" stations. (During most contests, it's pretty tough to find and keep a frequency, especially for a small station like mine.) I called CQ for a couple of minutes and got one reply from a station in Poland, then about a minute later got a reply from my friend David, K2DSL, who is located nearby. We chatted briefly, then I moved on to work other stations. All of a sudden, a number of stations all started calling me. It turned out that David had "spotted" me on the packet cluster. When that happens many stations will tune to the spot frequency to work whoever is there. For someone like me being spotted is terrific because it significantly increases the rate at which  I can work stations. Prior to being spotted, I'd operated for around 4 hours and had made around 100 contacts, for a rate of around 25/hr. One hour after being spotted I'd worked an additional 65 stations, almost tripling my rate. I finally gave up the frequency after about 90 minutes, making 75 QSOs during that time which comes to around 50/hr. (The final 20 minutes or so of that period was considerably slower). In any case I had a great time and it was a lot of fun being the person that was being called, rather than having to hunt.

After time out for dinner (we were out with friends), I got back on the air at around 11:30PM. The only band that was open at the time was 40m, and because of atmospheric noise due to all the thunderstorms in and around the east coast, the band was very noisy. It was very slow going making contacts, and I suspect that some of the ones that I made then will turn out to be incorrect, since I had a particularly difficult time getting the details of the contest exchange. (For this contest, you gave a serial number, starting at one, and, if located on an island, the island identifier). I gave up after about 90 minutes, with a total of 210 contacts in my log. I thought that it was a pretty decent effort for the seven hours that I operated. Here's my score summary:

        Band  Mode  QSOs     Pts  Sec
           7  CW      10     138    9
           7  LSB     22     246   13
          14  CW      45     399   13
          14  USB    130     990   27
          21  CW       2      18    1
          21  USB      1       3    0
       Total  Both   210    1794   63

            Score : 113,022

Friday, July 09, 2010

Facebook and the ARRL

Earlier today, fellow blogger and Cornbread Road podcaster Jeff, KE9V posted an article on his blog entitled "Screw You Newington". Please take a minute to read that if you haven't already.

While I don't entirely agree with Jeff's comments (and I commented there saying so), I do feel that the ARRL has possibly made a serious mistake in the way they've gone about starting up their presence on Facebook. As I promised Jeff, I've written an email to my ARRL Division Director (Frank, N2FF) and Vice- Directory (Joyce, KA2ANF) explaining my concerns. I have slightly edited what I wrote to them (removing some personal things) and I am posting it here, sort of as an "open letter". Unless they explicitly give permission, I won't be posting their response, but I felt that posting this would give my view of things.

Hi Frank and Joyce,

I hope you've been keeping cool and the DX has been flowing for you.

Recently, the ARRL posted an article on their website about their presence on Facebook. In general, I think this is an excellent idea, as social media, like it or not, is here to stay and is an important part of having public visibility. I think it's a great way to show that the ARRL is active and recognizes that things like Facebook have value to many people. A Facebook presence should help the League acquire new members who may not be aware of the fine work that they do.

However, I do have one concern. The following is quoted from the article:

Thanks to Herman May, KE5HYW, the ARRL has its own Facebook page. Check out the page to see a lot of features you won’t find anywhere else, such as pictures from ARRL events and interactive status updates. [emphasis mine]

I have shared with both of you my disappointment in the current ARRL website, but I think that the worst thing that the League can do is to start posting "exclusive" content elsewhere. While I understand that intent is to provide another outlet for content, asking members to visit a second site doesn't seem to be a good idea to me. If the ARRL wants to keep users coming back to their website (which is typically the goal of any website), the exclusive content should be there, and there alone. I think it's perfectly fine to have some overlap between the sites, but the website should be the primary site.

I also think that the League will run into issues with members who aren't willing to join Facebook (they've gotten a lot of bad press lately, some of it deserved, some not, for their privacy issues), and I am sure there will be complaints from users who are being "forced" to join Facebook to view the content.

With that said, I have looked at what's up on Facebook now, and aside from some user-posted pictures, most of the content appear to be cross-posted from the ARRL news feed along with minimal status updates like today's "Who did you have your first QSO with"? If that's really the main thrust of what's going to be available there, then perhaps this isn't really a significant issue, but I am aware of several fellow hams who are taking the information published in the article at face value and assume they'll be missing out on something if they don't join Facebook.

In closing, I hope that you take this note in the spirit in which it's intended, which is to provide constructive criticism of something that I think the ARRL could be doing better.

Monday, July 05, 2010


As I mentioned previously, Ed, VP9GE helped me to get a license to operate from Bermuda (VP9) for my vacation last week. Since this was all pretty last minute, the exact plans to get on the air were pretty much non-existent, but Ed suggested that I contact him on the repeater when I got down to Bermuda and work out the details that way. I decided to bring along my Icom W32a HT (a full-featured 5w transceiver) as well as my little Icom Q7a HT, which is very small, runs off two AA batteries, but only puts out 500mw (1/2 w).  I haven't used the W32a much recently, and although I've tried to keep the batteries (I have 2 battery packs, one stop and one an extended capacity version) topped off, I think they may have simply reached the end of their life and don't seem to hold a charge very well. Still, I figured that I might be able to get enough power out of them to make contact with Ed.

I didn't mention previously that we were taking a cruise to Bermuda, and because of the location of the ship (we were docked in "Dockyard" it was very difficult to reliably hit the repeater. The first day there, we decided to take the high-speed ferry to Hamilton (the capital city) and I took the small Q7a with me, hoping that there would be good-enough coverage there. As it turns out, that did work out quite well, and I was able to contact Ed via the repeater, using my K2DBK/VP9 callsign. Ed is constantly running around (he runs some guest apartments on the island) and had a number of runs to the airport and meetings over the next couple of days, but we agreed to try to contact each other again at around noon the next day.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get in to the repeater the next day, as we were doing some sightseeing in St. Georges, and apparently the repeater doesn't have good enough coverage there to pick up my little 1/2 watt signal. I didn't know it at the time, but I was close enough that I could have worked Ed simplex, but I never tried.

So although I did manage to operate at least once as K2DBK/VP9, I wasn't able to get on HF or 6 meters. Still, it was fun doing that, and if I ever get back to Bermuda, I'll try to plan a bit more in advance and hopefully get on the lower bands.