CW Skimmer Wins Dayton Hamvention Pileup Contest

The Kansas City DX Club Pileup Contest is an annual bragging rights event for the serious CW operator in ham radio. This year’s contest offered up a bit of a different competitor — CW Skimmer, that often maligned software program that attempts to copy Morse code using digital dits and dahs wrapped in binary computer code. Since Morse code and computer code are both binary in nature, you’d think our computer binary friends would get along well. And they did.

The big 2009 winner of the Kansas City DX Club was Skimmer, with 61 accurate calls counted in the pileup contest, besting the number one human form of VE3DZ with 51 accurate calls.

Skimmer is still controversial in contesting circles. But a tool like that in a DX pileup is a cool thing to have. Even in contests.

Multi-operator contesting teams and sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation also impacts the productivity and performance of teams. This, from Bob Sutton, in Sleep Deprivation and Group Performance. While the point of view of sleep deprivation is on business teams, I think it directly applies to ham radio multi-operator contesting teams as well. Especially those that have not operated together often enough to bond as a team.

Not much research has been done on sleep deprivation and teams, so the article he cites is both ground-breaking and needs more confirmation. The article is not linked (it’s an academic article, so I don’t think it is on-line…), but the basic points are these:

  • The individual impact of sleep deprivation — “reduced ability to process information, reduced ability to learn and perform novel tasks, irritability, and impatience” — disrupt team performance as well.
  • If the team is set up as a hierarchy, overcoming the leader’s errors is very difficult.
  • “…when people on a team are sleep deprived — regardless of their personalities — the resulting irritability and grumpiness is likely (regardless of personality) to cause the kind of nasty interpersonal conflict associated with poor performance and decision-making”

If you have operated on a multi-operator contesting team, even a team of two in the middle of a Saturday night of contesting, you’ve seen these effects in play.

Has sleep deprivation distrupted your multi-op team?

What Ham Radio talking points need

Ham radio is a diverse hobby. It’s a technical, engineering, builder, emergency service hobby. But ask most people about ham radio and you get stories of RF interference or a puzzled look followed by a question about 1950. I mean, the Internet obliterated ham radio, didn’t it?

Over at, there is a great dissection of a traditional media article on ham radio from Michigan. And the article isn’t bad. But the end of the post notes this:

Any press is good press they say and getting the hobby out to the general public is a good thing, so props to the Midland ARC for getting coverage and getting a few juicy tidbits out there. However, we, as a hobby, need to work on some talking points on some of the more “exciting” points of Ham Radio. We also apparently need to work on our comparisons.

So what should our talking points be to the traditional media? Here’s a few suggestions:

Ham radio embraces many interests

If we’re a diverse hobby, it should be an advantage. If you are an engineer, you can design antennas, stations or software. If you are a builder, there are kits. If you like the outdoors, you can take radio with you. If you like competition, we have contests. If you like public service, we have it in spades.

The great thing about a diverse hobby is that if you get tired of one thing (DXing, for example), you can learn about a whole different thing (say digital modes) while still staying within the hobby. It’s not like you love trains, then get disinterested, leave your club and friends there, and start over so you can try out planes. Nope. You just start working in this new area.

Ham radio helps the public

While this is the traditional public service message we have, we need to mix in much more of what we have done to advance emergency work. We have an imbedded methodology through ARES that gives us a good process. We have practice sessions to support local emergency teams. We have built digital communications to improve our work with emergency providers. And, yes, when all else fails, we can still get through because of our multiple frequency antennas.

Whether it is Katrina or the Space Shuttle or the local walk for charity, ham radio operators perform in their role of supporting emergency communications and public service.

Ham radio is fun

Sorry, I’m not into something for the drudgery. The numbing going forward of work on stuff that doesn’t even remotely excite me. Whether it is the friendships you develop over time and on the air or investigating a new part of the hobby or meeting up with your buddies in the ham radio club, ham radio is fun. As soon as it isn’t fun, it’s time to try something else in the hobby…because we have a diverse hobby.

What else? What do you think our talking points need when that microphone gets pointed at us for some answers?

Ham radio Photo DXpeditions

Crossing my e-mail was a note that Svalbard (JW) shore operations were approved for July 4th and July 14th of this year. You may work this short operation with radios, vertical antennas and less than a 100-watts. But, that’s not why you should pay attention to this operation.

It is the photography

Breathtaking is the best way to describe the photos that come out of these trips. Whether it is photos of penguins, glaciers, polar bears or other fabulous scenery, these trips will knock your socks off.

Oh, and by the way, ham radio is an integral part of these trips where there are shore stops to operate ham radio.

You can find out about these great trips from the Photo DXpedition website. And the pictures? Here’s a sample of how close you get to the scenery:

I like my Digital SLR model better than this one

Photo DXpeditions

Ham radio contesting Wiki site

Ham radio contesting has lots of information in many different places — including the most popular articles here on — 30 days, 30 contesting tips. Pete, N4ZR, has spearheaded the creation of a Wiki site devoted to contesting called the Contesting Compendium. The idea for ham radio contesting is to have a single site to point to that will help new and experienced contesters.

A quick look at the table of contents shows a great start:

Ham radio contest operating

This section is devoted to everything operational. Sections are already up on contesting from a city lot, 40-meters, SO2R and my favorite — A sleep strategy for DX Contests.

Ham radio contest technology

Technology for contesting is broad and specific at the same time. Already up are articles on Contest logging software and CW Skimmer with more to come. This one has a potential to grow to monstrous size.

Ham radio station design

How you design a station for contest operations is different than design for DXing or casual operating. This section reflects that design. My favorite? Tours of Famous Contest Stations. And, no, my station isn’t included in the tours…

Ham radio towers and antennas

Antennas for contesting are different than for other modes of operating. Sure, you can contest with a dipole and vertical antennas (and there are many instances in contests where these types of antennas are superior), but contesting requires a broader perspective for which antennas are right for different contests.

Ham radio contest propagation

Let’s just say that you can learn more about ham radio propagation working a single band in a 48-hour contest than you will with months of on and off operating on the band. String a few of those together and you can really sense the difference in propagation without the numbers.

And many more

This is a work in progress from the contesting community. So bookmark the site and check it often (no RSS feeds?) as there are some good contributions there already with more coming.

Props to Pete, N4ZR, for doing this. It’s no small job.

Ham Radio Sunspot Saturday — April 25, 2009


The Sun with Sunspot 1004
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License by DJMcCrady

Reversed polarity from this sunspot signaled the start of a new sunspot cycle. It just hasn’t come back very fast. Given the fact that I have a great vertical — with half the signal going into the side of the hill from my QTH — I need a bit more than hope out of the sun to get some signals here.

Patiently waiting…

SSB is dying — help save ham radio

Noting that several e-mail reflectors and other ham news outlets have said that over 10,000 CW logs were sent in for the CQ WW DX Contest, I have to agree with K3NG — it’s time to Save Phone!

After all, K3NG waxes:

…we don’t test for phone operating skill anymore. Today’s amateurs are lazy. They’re not going to try phone operation unless you force them to do it. You need to test for it so they get proficient at it and want to use it. Phone operation always works; everyone has mouths and can speak.

For those of you new to ham radio, these were the arguments against getting rid of testing for CW for licenses several years ago. And shows that testing for modes doesn’t necessarily mean the death of a mode. On the contrary, now that phone is in a cyclical decline, it is more than hilarious to see some competition between phone and CW.

Just think, between CW and digital modes, we might need more of that SSB spectrum…

ARRL needs new media tools for donations

I get mail. Real mail, not e-mail. Outside of bills, I get mail about ham radio from the ARRL wanting my hard earned dollars for various different funds the ARRL has set up. Whether it is spectrum defense or just supporting the ARRL, the request for dollars is there. I understand that.

So this weekend I took a trip over to the ARRL’s web site. I thought I would take a look around to see what was all there for all these different funds. After a quick look — it doesn’t take long — I can sum up the web presence for all of these funds easily: you read a letter to members to donate or are directly given a donation form to fill out.

Ho hum…

ARRL stories need telling

It is great that the ARRL has advanced to on-line transfer of funds. But there are no stories behind the need for the funds, just a dry, one-time request to donate. What happens to the funds? How are they being used? What successes have we had with their use?

The only instance of what was done with the funds was from the ARRL Foundation where scholarships and grants were given. A picture, name and an amount. What happened with those people? How did the grant help expand and support ham radio?

People don’t just give money because you ask them to. Instead, they want to be involved in movement, a success story in the making. Without the ongoing stories, the web pages are static requests made a long time ago that generates zero interest.

Why just ARRL members?

All of the funding requests start out with “Dear Member…” Why? I’m sure it is because the letter that was sent out — to members — was just reprinted on the web page asking for funds.

Yet, the specific purpose of these funds resonate across the ham radio spectrum of licenses. The purposes support more than ARRL members alone. Despite that, starting a page out with “Dear Member” immediately shuts out any other ham from contributing to the particular fund. Or anyone else, for that matter.

Sure, not many hams that are not ARRL members will contribute, but discerning hams who have a legitimate reason for not belonging to the ARRL could very well support single purpose funds. But they are shut out, undoubtably reinforcing the very reasons for not being a member in the first place.

The ARRL needs new media methods

The ARRL is dipping into blogs, twittering and other technology areas. That’s good. But these specific funds — from spectrum defense, education, to the ARRL Foundation — are perfect opportunities to build blogs around to get the stories these funds are creating out to the ham radio community. It is a classic “blogging for business” application that begs being used.

Sure, news around these funds get published on the web site somewhere. But there is no followthrough to the fund areas on the web site.

What the ARRL doesn’t get about blogs is that they build communities around specific subjects. The ARRL is thinking that “ham radio” is the community when, in fact, there are many communities within ham radio. There is an education community, a scholarship and grants community to build outreach, and communities that see threats to our hobby through taking away spectrum. Yet all of that is treated the same.

Building communities takes effort

Yes, this means resources need focus on building out this area. But resources are needed for every part of a web site. The static, unchanging, untold stories of these specific areas on the ARRL web site don’t cut it in a world of social media.

And, I’d bet, don’t produce much in donations either.

If you want donations from ham radio operators in the cause of your fund, there needs to be engagement, community, and activism shown to the contributors. Snail mail alone doesn’t cut it anymore.

Ham radio Contest Stations database updated

Do you want to find out about the set-up at your favorite ham radio contesting station? Well, you can through the voluntary efforts of the contesting station owners and the Contest Stations website. Pete, N4ZR, and Mike, NF4L, have been working hard on updating the site making it easier for contest station owners and users of the site to find and update information.

Easier Updating by Contest Stations

Now station owners can update their information on the site. The update triggers an e-mail to Pete, N4ZR, so he can review the update before the change is made to the web site. This is done for security reasons, of course.

Enter your station — or update your information

The information for my entry was from when I still lived in the Midwest. Now that I’m in the Pacific Northwest, my entire antenna system has changed along with my approach to contesting. It took me only a few moments to update the information in the database.

Now, if Pete’s on the ball early this morning(!), you should see updated information for K9JY on the Contest Stations site. Just enter in my call in the search field and take it from there.