2013 Contest University At The Dayton Hamvention

Contest University Session

Contest University Session

One of our favorite things to do at the Dayton Hamvention is to attend Contest University.   Fred (AB1OC) and Anita (AB1QB) attended Contest University for the first time in 2012 and found this to be a great learning experience about Amateur Radio in general and Contesting specifically.  The instructors are the same people who consistently place highest in contests. They share their knowledge with the rest of us at Contest University.

Here are some of the sessions that I attended at Contest University 2013:

  • Radio Sport Contesting, It’s More Than Rules – K5GN – The message from this presentation is that with contesting, everyone is under the honor system – there is no referee in your shack making sure that you follow the rules.  Technology has brought even more innovative ways to cheat than in the past.  But the best contesters do not cheat – your time is better spent learning to improve your skills.
  • Tips on Being a Better Single Operator – K5ZD – Randy Thompson is the director of the CQ WW contest and is an excellent speaker.  In this presentation, he shares many tips on improving your contesting skills based on his experience contesting and analyzing logs.  I would highly recommend this presentation, which can be viewed from Icom’s YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/IcomAmericaInc. Some items that I learned are:
    1. Automate as much as you can – band changes from your software, rotator control, PTT output to the radios, etc.  It is possible to set up your station so that you can click on a spot and your rotor will turn your antenna, your radio will tune, and the entry window of your logger will open with the callsign filled in.
    2. Station layout is important – make it easy to reach the items you go to most and difficult to reach the ones that you should not (eg. don’t accidentally switch antennas while transmitting)
    3. Have a strategy – look at your past logs and the logs of your peers (Logs are public for some contests, like the CQ WW contest).
    4. Understand the rules and use this information to determine when to change bands, when to run, when to hunt for multipliers
    5. Get your station ready 1 week before the contest and get a good night’s sleep the night before.
    6. There is a real-time score reporting website – cqcontest.ru – See below for an example showing AB1OC’s score midway through the CQ WPX CW contest.
    7. Don’t give up if it’s not going well – keep pushing – the next QSO could make the difference.
AB1OC CQ WPX CW Real Time Score Display

AB1OC CQ WPX CW Real Time Score Display

  • Setting Up for RTTY Contesting/Operating a RTTY Contest – W0YK – The presenter, Ed Muns, operates as P49X from Aruba in the major RTTY contests and consistently has stop scores.  I attended this talk last year, but with some RTTY contests under my belt, I was able to get much more out of the presentation this year.  He provides alot of good technical information about how RTTY works, how to set up RTTY, comparisons of hardware and software for RTTY, and what the various program options do.  Some learnings:
    1. Using multiple decoders for a given signal helps to get a good copy on at least one.  The new 2Tone decoder from G3YYD can decode signals under some conditions where other decoders (MMTTY, etc.) cannot.  This avoids asking for repeats and increases your QSO rate.
    2. Using Super Check Partial, a database of active contester callsigns, can also help to accurately  pick out call signs
    3. Callsign stacking  – waiting for 2-3 callsigns after calling CQ and then working them in sequence can speed up your QSO rate.
    4. RTTY is easier than other modes, since the callsign is already decoded for you on your screen.  Take advantage of this to multi-task to increase your rate.  Use Single Operator Two VFO (SO2V) to find stations via search and pounce while running.  Or do search and pounce on one VFO and while you are waiting for your chance to respond to a CQ, look for another station on the other VFO.  If you have 2 radios, and are good at multi-tasking – use SO2R to increase your QSO rate even more.  This is how the best RTTY contesters win.
  • Post-Contest Log Analyzers – K6MM – As mentioned by K5ZD in his talk, analyzing your contest log (or your peers’ logs) is a good way to improve your score in the next contest.  This presentation was about several software packages that can help you to do this.  The most full featured of these is SH5 , which provides 50 different reports on your log.  Some of the reports include QSO rates per hour, number of hours operated, QSO break down by band, and number of countries worked.  It even provides a Google map plot of the QSOs that you worked!  I ran SH5 on my log from the 2013 BARTG HF RTTY contest and a couple of reports are shown below.
AB1QB QSOs from 2012 BARTG HF RTTY Contest

AB1QB QSOs from 2012 BARTG HF RTTY Contest – from SH5 generated KML file

AB1QB QSOs per Hour 2013 BARTG HF RTTY Contest - from SH5

AB1QB QSOs Per Hour 2013 BARTG HF RTTY Contest – From SH5

Some other topics presented at Contest University included Contest Antennas and Coaxial Cables, Propagation Trends, RFI and Ham Radio, VHF Contesting, Design and Maintenance of Antennas, Towers and Rotators.  There is so much good information, I wish I could have attended multiple sessions at once!

We also attended the RTTY contesting forum at the Dayton Hamvention where we learned about the Reverse Beacon Network and CW Skimmer . These tools are beginning to be available for RTTY.  The CW Skimmer works with participating stations running software that decodes and collects information from received CW traffic.  That data is collected by the Reverse Beacon Network website and displayed like spots from a spotting network.

AB1OC Spots on Reverse Beacon Network (CW Skimmer)

AB1OC Spots On Reverse Beacon Network (CW Skimmer)

Next year, Contest University will be held around the ARRL Centennial which will be held July 17-20, 2014 in Hartford, Connecticut, USA.   Contest University has also been held in Germany, Italy, and Australia.

Several of the contest university sessions were recorded and can be found on Icom’s YouTube Site:  http://www.youtube.com/IcomAmericaInc.  The Hamvention RTTY Contesting Slides and Videos can be found at W0YK’s website.

There is also some good contesting information at http://www.rttycontesting.com and the CQ-Contest and RTTY email mailing lists at contesting.com.

– Anita (AB1QB)

2013 Dayton Hamvention

ARRL At Dayton 2013

ARRL At The 2013 Dayton Hamvention

Anita and I had the good fortune to attend the 2013 Hamvention in Dayton, Ohio USA again this year. The Dayton Hamvention covers almost everything Amateur Radio that one can image and it has something for everyone. We’d like to share some of the highlights of this year’s Dayton Hamvention that were of interest to us.

Anita, AB1QB, began her Dayton Hamvention experience by spending a day at Contest University where she gathered some ideas and information to forward her knowledge as a contester. Anita put together a nice summary of what she saw and learned at Contest University which can be viewed here. We spent the following two days looking at all of the exhibits on the main show floor. Our first stop was the ARRL Area. Here we looked at the latest books and publications, dropped off a pile of cards going to the US Bureau, and had a couple of hundred cards checked towards endorsements on our DXCC and WAS awards.

Icon At Dayton

Icom At The Dayton Hamvention

All of the major radio manufacturers (Icom, Yaesu, Kenwood, Ten-Tec and Elecraft) had large displays at the show and they were all packed. One of the more interesting things we saw there was a prototype of Elecraft’s new KXPA100, 100w amplifier for use with the KX3 and other QRP transceivers.

Elecraft KXPA100

Elecraft KXPA100 Amplifier

The unit is a compact and highly portable package and should be a very nice complement to the KX3 for higher power portable operations.

FlexRadio 6700

FlexRadio Flex-6700

We also spent quite a bit of time at the FlexRadio Systems booth. Anita and I have a new Flex-6700 Software Defined Radio on order and we wanted to learn as much about the Flex-6700 as we could. Fortunately, we had a chance to talk with Steve Hicks, VP of Engineering at FlexRadio to gain a much better understanding of the design, architecture and evolution plans for the Flex 6000 series. I expect that this will be one very impressive radio! Unlike previous designs, the 6000 series radios directly sample signals in the RF domain and do all processing and detection of signals digitally. This eliminates the need for roofing and other RF band filtering and allows the radio to operate on multiple frequencies/bands at the same time. The Flex-6700 can implement up to 8 separate receivers simultaneously allowing multiple bands to be monitored. It should also make a great contest radio as its capable of up to SO8V operation. The direct RF sampling approach coupled with the radio’s dynamic range of 140 dB creates a radio that has much lower distortion products and better selectivity that anything else which is currently available. Steve gave an excellent presentation on the architecture of the 6000 series which includes some very good information as part of one of the Forum sessions at the Dayton Hamvention. Creating a new radio and all new software for it is a very large project and it appears that the folks at FlexRadio are almost ready to begin shipping the Flex 6000 series radios. We are hoping to have our Flex-6700 by the end of the summer and we will provide a post here on the new radio once we have it in place in our shack.

Begali Keys At Dayton

Begali Keys At Dayton

As you may know from reading our Blog, I have been working on my CW skills for the past several months. I am beginning to get pretty serious about CW operation and I wanted to get a really good set of paddles. After looking around at many options at Dayton, I decided to purchase a Begali Sculpture Key.

Begali Sculpture Paddles

Begali Sculpture Paddles

Begali makes some of the finest CW keys and paddles in the world. I really like the feel of the Sculpture. It is very solid, heavy and has a very short “throw” during operation. Mr. Begali spent some time with me to show me how to properly setup and maintain my new paddles.

Mr. Begali

Mr. Begali

I cannot wait to get home and get the Sculpture key setup in the shack. It will surely provide more good motivation to continue to improve my CW skills!

DXLab Software Suite

DXLab Software Suite

While a big part of the displays at Dayton are about hardware equipment (radios, antennas, accessories, etc.), I have noticed an increasing trend towards software vendors at Dayton over the last two years. Anita and I have recently switched to the DXLab Suite of software for logging, award tracking, rig control, QSL’ing, etc. DXLab had a nice display at Dayton. We spent some time with Dave Bernstein,  AA6YQ who showed us several features of the DXLab Suite that we did not know about. One cool one was the ability to use Google Earth to plot all kinds of QSO information on a world map. You can see an example of this feature in our Blog by clicking here. Dave also gave an excellent presentation on the DXLab Suite as part of one of the forums at Dayton.

FreeDV Software - HF Digital Voice

FreeDV Software – HF Digital Voice

Another interesting piece of software we saw was FreeDV. This software implements a royalty free codec inside a software program which can be used to send and receive digital voice transmissions on the HF bands. The royalty free codec aspect of this software is a key element as the licensing fees associated with the codecs used by other digital voice systems from Icom, Yaesu, etc. make up a significant portion of the cost of a digital voice enabled radio. The FreeDV folks are also working on a 2M HT which will have their codec built-in. This should be a very interesting product when it comes to market. I plan to try FreeDV in the near future and I am planning a Blog post to share more information about it sometime in the future.

Buddipole At Dayton

Buddipole At Dayton

Anita and I spent quite a bit of time with Chris and Budd Drummond and the gang at Buddipole. Anita and I are big fans of the Buddipole System and we have used it in numerous portable operations including Field Day and a DXpedition to Bora Bora Island in French Polynesia. We heard a lot about various portable operations and DXpeditions that Chris and the gang have done using their portable antenna system. We also talked about some projects that are underway related to yagi’s built using the Buddipole system. Stay tuned for more on this topic in future Blog posts.

Green Heron AZ-EL Rotar Controller

New Green Heron AZ-EL Rotator Controller

The folks at Green Heron Engineering have a new Az-El Rotator Controller in the works which should be very useful for controlling Satellite and EME antenna systems. Green Heron Engineering is also continuing to expand the capabilities of their GH Everywhere remote control hardware and software lineup. We use the Green Heron RT-21D Rotator Controllers in our shack and have been very happy with them.

Piglet  And PigRemote - Remote Control Via iPad

Piglet Remote Control Via iPad

Anita has long been interested in the idea of operating our station remotely via her iPad. We visited Pignology at Dayton to learn about their Piglet and PigRemote devices which enable this sort of operation with the Elecraft KX3 and other radios. We decided to try the PigRemote and we are planning a post on our Blog sometime in the future which shares our experiences with the product.

Yemen DXpedition Presentation

7O6T Yemen DXpedition Presentation

There were also some great Forum Presentations at the Dayton Hamvention and one of our favorites is the DX Forum. We listened to several presentations on recent DXpeditions including the 7O6T Operation in Yemen and the PT0S Operation on St. Peter & Paul Rocks. It is always fun to hear about the planning and work that goes into a DXpedition and these talks were no exception.

We also attended the Top Band Dinner at the Dayton Hamvention where we met some very nice folks and heard some great presentations from a few of the top 160m DX’ers.

All of this  just barely scratches the surface of  what there is to see and learn at the Dayton Hamvention. We hope that you have enjoyed this post and we hope to see you at the Dayton Hamvention sometime in the near future.

– Fred (AB1OC)

Boxboro, MA Hamfest

Boxboro Vendor Area

Boxboro Vendor Area

We had the opportunity to attend the ARRL New England Division Convention in Boxboro, MA. A big part of any Hamfest is the vendor display area and there was a good one at the Boxboro event.

FlexRadio 6700

FlexRadio 6700

We saw several interesting things in the vendor area. The first is FlexRadio’s new 6700 Software Defined Radio (SDR). This rig is a state of the art next generation SDR which handles almost all functions in software. The 6700 is not yet released but it is expected to be available for sale by the end of the year.

Elecraft Remote Operations - K3/0

Elecraft Remote Operations – K3/0

We also spent some time in Elecraft’s booth looking at the K3 Transceiver and its remote control head cousin – the K3/0. I am very interested in remote operations as I travel a great deal for business. The K3/0 along with components from RemoteRig.com allows one to set up a K3 in a permanent station and then operate this station remotely over the internet. The cool thing about this setup is that the remote end is a “real radio” with an identical control head to the Elecraft K3. The setup allows one to use a microphone for SSB and other voice modes, a key for CW, and the usual equipment to operate the digital modes.

RemoteHamRadio.com

RemoteHamRadio.com

The folks at RemoteHamRadio.com are offering a remote operating service based upon the Elecraft K3/0 remote operating setup. Their service allows a HAM to purchase a membership that provides remote operating access to several world-class stations on a timeshare basis. These folks provide all of the equipment and setup needed to use their service. This could be a great solution for HAMs who cannot build an HF station due to CC&R’s or other restrictions.

Boxboro Presentation

Boxboro Presentation

Another really interesting part of the Boxboro Hamfest were the presentations on a variety of topics. We particularly enjoyed the WRTC 2014 July Debriefing by Doug Grant (K1DG) and the session on SteppIR Maintenance and Repair Workshop by Mike Bernock (N1IW). Anita and also I did a presentation on our Bora Bora DXpedition earlier this year. Several members of our local Club, PART of Westford  also gave presentations as part of the Boxboro program including:

  • Andy (KB1OIQ) – Linux in the Ham Shack
  • Ernie (N1AEW) – AMSAT
  • Terry (KA8SCP) – Area Repeater Owners Working Session

This part of our Boxboro experience was great fun and we also learned a great deal.

W1A Station

W1A Station

There was a special event station, W1A at Boxboro. The folks at WRTC 2014 provided one of their towers and antennas for use with the W1A station. This was a very nice setup of a special event station of this type.

W1A Antenna Complements of WRTC 2014

W1A Antenna and Tower Complements of WRTC 2014

I also helped with my first FCC license testing session since becoming a Volunteer Examiner (VE). The VE program is a great way to give back to the Amateur radio hobby and the testing session that I was part of was a very rewarding experience. I am looking forward to doing this again on a regular basis.Anita and Fred at Dinner

Anita (AB1QB) and Fred (AB1OC) at DinnerFinally, we attended the dinners on Friday and Saturday evening. This was a great opportunity to socialize with some of our friends and to hear some interesting speakers. All in all, we both had a really great time and we’re looking forward to doing it all again in two years.

– Fred (AB1OC)