Practice Makes Perfect

After spending 32 hours in the recent CQWW WPX CW contest I was a bit discouraged as I  finished the contest with 700 contacts, only to dissect the log file using SH5 when I hit upon many reasons why I did not achieve my goals. Even though I was frustrated, the contest was a success on some levels, as I wrote since I bettered my 2010 totals of final score, contacts and prefixes. On that level it was a success, but I wanted the opinion of another contester to give me advice, something the software program couldn’t accomplish.

I decided to contact Hank, W6SX who lives up in Mammoth and by his admission he doesn’t have the best set up, nor is very competitive when it comes to contesting. While his experience is measured years, he is much more fluent in decoding CW than I believe I am. After some discussion and comparison of our logs he provided some insight that I had not considered.

First and probably the most important was the lack of time I put into 40M. The low bands are the higher point bands in WPX and it was evident I did not spend enough time on 40/80M to make a dent into the totals I wanted to achieve. Part of the problem was staying awake into Saturday morning, but the other part of the equation was waking up 1-2 hours too late after a 4 hour nap. It was my hope to work 16 hours straight, but that didn’t happen. Needless to say conditions on Saturday night into Sunday morning were not as good as the previous day and unfortunately I missed many of the 6 point JA contacts.

After the first day, Hank said he only had about 500 contacts, similar to where I was after my first full day of contesting. Unfortunately with the sun going down, I faded and hank was able to collect further points. Why? Because of how we operated. Hank ran high power (1500w) and used the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN), I on the other hand, shooting for wallpaper (another term of an award) decided to run low power (100w) and unassisted, not getting the luxury the RBN or cluster, which I felt provided me the best opportunity at winning at least my call district.

Something that cannot be replaced is experience. I enjoy working CW and know Morse code, but I am still working on improving my skills. This is like many other skills, which if going unused might take some time to get back up to speed. During contests many exchanges are down at 25-30 WPM, sometimes at a fast rate. My feeling is I might struggle at trying to decode call signs at 25-30 WPM during a contest, thus part of the reason I don’t try to run a frequency and decide to search and pounce all my contacts, like I did in WPX.

The other suggestions I was given, was to use some of the upcoming summer contests as practice. He said the ARRL Field Day was a great event to use, while not an “official” contest, stations on the air will run all modes. This would allow me a chance to get on the air when many stations are participating in this event and probably be able to strength my CW skills without the worry of my performance. The second suggest was to download and install Morse Runner, which is a program that simulates a contest. After initially setting it up, you can start the program different modes from pileup to one call at a time, which improves your receiving and typing skills. Unlike myself, Hank uses this to work on while typing, but felt it would help improve my ear and decoding call signs.

His last piece of information was to set a goal to work the IARU HF World Championship that take place July 14-15. He believes 1000 QSOs is a possible goal, much like WPX was. The difference in this contest is that you are able to work CW and SSB contacts on all bands, which means that activity should be higher than it was in WPX. So between now until the start of this contest I will look to improve my skills, my goal being to improve my CW count for the 2012 CQP. I only made 41 contacts using CW last year and most all of those were calling other stations, not having those stations answer my CQ calls.

Shack Update

It’s been a few years since I actually updated the shack. While I wish I had a “dedicated” shack, like the 10×14 shed in the backyard I was just not able to swing it, so I did the next best thing. I relocated the shack from an upstairs, spare bedroom to the garage. I built a raised platform on which to stash cables and wires that run to the outside through the garage wall that  comes out in the backyard.

W6ONV ShackI had a 5′ wide desk with a few shelves I picked up from Ikea and I called that my shack. Thanks to a buddy at work who provided me with a 6′ long desk I now have a bit more desk space and can spread out now. Unfortunately I am in need to some sort of shelf to  put my monitors on, as currently they are on top of my radio and amplifier. Overall though I am pleased with how it all turned out.

I have much more wall space now, which is what I was missing previously. Like most shacks I can now display my world map, as well as a US map, some cork boards and my “wallpaper” that currently includes my initial WAS (54,367) and WAS Digital (RTTY #865) along with my VE certificate and ‘Life Member’ plaque from the ARRL. It looks and feels more like a shack now. Wonder if that will actually help my total scores? More mults, maybe? Doubtful, but one ham can dream.

In other ham related news I attended the August NCCC Meeting held in Livermore, CA this past Monday and sat with some great hams, Scott, W6CT, Tom, N6ST and our current President, Chris, N6WM. It was a light turnout, but that did not take away from the meeting one bit. The CW Open was discussed, which is less than 2 weeks away. Visit for all the details. Unfortunately as a fantasy football commissioner of a league I have run for 28 years, I will be on the road in Las Vegas for our draft.

The other topic was that of post contest log analyzers. I had only recently found SH5 by using TR4W during the CWOps mini-contests. There are a few that seem to parse a .LOG file very well breaking down a specific contest and giving you detailed reports and statistics that could provide useful in improving in the same contest next year. You can find the files on the NCCC website listed under ‘Resources.’

I also spoke with Rusty, W6OAT, who was getting together with John, W6JZH who is a close ham with a wonderful station that is currently being upgraded. It is my hope to operate from his fine station soon. As I understand it, CQP and ARRL Sweepstakes are already out the window as the station will be in use. Rusty was going to look at helping me find a seat at another station in order to operate. More on that later…


Guest Opportunities

The excitement builds after meeting and talking to John, W6JZH on Friday at his QTH in Pittsburg (about 10 minutes from my house). After looking over John’s list of “guest operators” I am hoping to add my call sign to that list starting in May with CQWW WPX CW. The 2010 WPX CW was one of my best efforts to date and a contest I prepared diligently for. Of a possible 36 hours I logged nearly 25 hours of “BIC” time. Looking back at my 2010 WPX Goals, it’s easy to see where I failed to meet my goals, but in the end I will still pleased with my final score.

Other possible guest op opportunities for me also include the 7QP in May, as well as RAC Canada Day in July. But more importantly it will be the NAQP that start the second week in July with RTTY, followed in August by CW and SSB. Those are quick and enjoyable contests that I can participate in. September brings CQWW DX RTTY Contest and then October is CQP.

Learning the ins and outs of the station as well as software is an area I will need to put some time into. The software that is current in use at W6JZH is TR4W and N1MM, neither of which I have used. Both are freeware and easily downloaded and installed. I currently favor Win-Test since it was the first and only software I have used since starting contesting at N6RO back in 2008. I have downloaded and installed N1MM and I know many operators really like this software.

I just got done reading some of the documentation for TR4W and using the limited version of SH5. I might actually give this software a test spin for the JIDX CW next week. Looks like a very simple and effective (but powerful) program that provides some great statistics (with the use of SH5 log anaylsis).

The problem usually associated with introducing a new logging program in a contest is the learning curve. It took quite a few contests for me to learn Win-Test, even now I am not using it to its full potential, but I like what the software offers and it’s ease of use. TR4W, like every other program carries it’s own learning curve.