Monday, March 19, 2007

A little contesting, since I was stuck home anyway

Some of you who know me may be aware that I've had some back issues lately. Nothing too horrible, but things got to the point where it was really getting annoying enough that it was time to have something done about it. I had a small procedure (done at a hospital but as an outpatient, but was probably in and out of the hospital in under 90 minutes) last Saturday, and the one real restriction was that I really needed to limit my physical activity for the next 24 hours. (Shucks, I couldn't shovel out the mess that was left from the storm. Well, I wouldn't have done that anyway, since we actually pay a guy to plow. But I digress.) As it turns out, the chair in my office/shack happens to be extremely comfortable to sit in when my back is bothering me. Well, gee, here I am in my shack, might as well play a little radio while I'm at it.

As it turns out, this was a very busy weekend for contesting, with at least a dozen contests all going on simultaneously. Over the last couple of years, encouraged by Larry, N4VA I've "played around" making a few contacts in the Virginia QSO Party.

In general, the way "QSO Party" contests work is that, like other contests, you want to make contacts with other ham stations based on a certain criteria. Generally, for state QSO party contests, folks outside of the state can work anyone inside the QSO Party state, with "multipliers" being the various counties within the state. (Virginia also has something called "Independent Cities" which also count as "mults".) You usually can only count a multiplier one time, so once you've worked, for instance, Fairfax County, you can work it again, but you can't count it as a multiplier. The rules about whether you can count a mult once only, or once per band vary with the different contests. Anyway, for folks who are inside the state, they can also work the other counties inside the state, but they can also count as mults typically things like other states and other countries (though for some contests, you only get one "mult" regardless of how many different countries you've contacted.) And to really complicate things, sometimes Canada counts as a foreign country, sometimes each province counts as a state. Yeah, it can get confusing. G
enerally your score is the number of contacts you've made times the number of multipliers.

Anyway, for the past few years, Larry has been a "mobile" in the Va QP, which is sort of a third option: Mobiles drive around to different places in the state, operate for a while from there, then move on to another location (another county or independent city, in the case of Virginia), and so on. The idea is that there are areas which would otherwise be unavailable, and (here's the key), it's fun. So for the last couple of years, Larry has driven around, and I'd have a lot of fun "following" his progress, while working maybe a few more stations along the way. Incidentally, in-state vs. out-of-state are considered different "classes" of operating, since in-state operators have the capability to get a lot more multipliers, which is what really helps build your score.

This year, Larry had other plans for the weekend, so he didn't operate mobile (though he did spend some time operating the contest from his home station), but after having "played" in the VaQP previously, I thought it might be fun to see how well I could do. So, I sat back in my nice comfy chair, put an ice pack on my back, and starting making some contacts in the contest. Because of the distance between NJ and Va, for the most part, you're fairly limited in which bands you can use. Generally, 40 meters works well during the day whereas 75/80 meters works after the sun sets. (There's 160 meters too, but my antenna for that band is very poor, though I did get to make a contact there.) It's sort of an interesting challenge, since the phone (voice) part of the 40m band is "shared" by European commercial shortwave broadcast stations, which, because they are running a lot more power than hams, tend to wipe out communications. The challenge when trying to operate 40m phone in the afternoon when the Europeans come in is to find an open spot and/or hope that the guy on the other end has a really strong signal (and vice-versa). Of course, the other thing you can do is to operate CW (what hams call Morse Code). Contrary to some of the recent discussions, there is still plenty of CW use, and I did make about 30% of all my contacts on CW.

When it gets a little later, you can then go and start operating on 75 and 80 meters, but while the sun is still up, with the exception of some relatively nearby very strong stations that just won't work.

I wound up probably spending around 9 hours or so "in the chair" on Saturday, and I really did have a lot of fun. I spent less time on Sunday because I was feeling better and could move around, but more importantly, it was Brett's birthday and was spending time with him setting up his new computer. Overall, it looks like I had about 56 different "mults" out of a total of 134 possible, so I was pretty happy with that. I made around 140 or so separate contacts, so I guess I did ok, considering the limitations that I have.

Again, as I've noted, I think that it's important that ham radio be fun. The emergency perspective of ham radio is absolutely, positively of vital importance, but in my perspective, you've got to be able to just plain have fun and relax and "play radio" now and then.

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