Category Archives: contests

Wyong Field day and three SOTA activations

The Wyong field day is a major hamfest held at Wyong every February, with equipment exhibition and sales, a flea market for used equipment sales, a seminar room and supported by food and refreshments.

I have visited this event every year of the last 10 and have usually looked at the new equipment, passed through the flea market, sometimes buying something unique and desirable (such as the 3 element 6m yagi I bought one year)  but mostly just catching up with friends who I often see only at this event.  Some I never hear on the radio these days but they turn up at Wyong in February.

Having decided in advance to activate several summits on the way to Wyong, Andrew VK1AD (ex VK1NAM) and I set out from Yass at about 9am and reached the parking area in the vicinity of VK2/SY-002 Riley’s mountain at about 12:30, having stopped for coffee on the Hume Highway.

IMG_2353s
Sign at the start of the walk up to Riley’s Mtn

The walk from the carpark to the summit was signposted as 2.6km each way or 5.2 km for the round trip.  The track through the forest was in good condition and the forest was green and healthy, with chirping birds the only sound breaking the peace apart from the noise of our boots on the gravel and dirt track.  After about 30-40 mins steady walk we found a sign pointing left labelled “Riley’s Lookout”.  Taking the side path we were soon standing high above the Nepean River enjoying the view of the forest and river.

IMG_0720s
Nepean river and Blue Mtns National Park

Considering where to set up our radio gear to activate this rather nice location, we decided to walk the 50m or so back to the main track and set up there, using the sign as a support for the antenna pole.  In no time we had the antenna up in the air, the radio connected to the antenna and power and the microphone and key paddle plugged in.

IMG_0730s
Equipment and operator at the lookout sign on Riley’s Mtn

We posted spots on SOTAWATCH  to be sure chasers and other activators looking out for S2S contacts knew we were on the air and where to find our signals.  A good session of contacts ensued with reasonable signals into Victoria, Queensland and South Australia, as well as some closer contacts in various parts of New South Wales.

One of the contacts made was with Marek OK1BIL/VK2 who was operating  at Mt Alexandra with Compton, VK2HRX.  We met Marek at Wyong the next day and had a good chat with him.

Leaving Riley’s mountain after about an hour of operation, we headed northwards to the Great Western Highway and then towards Sydney, onto the Newcastle freeway and eventually turned off the highway near Ourimba, to reach Mt Elliott VK2/HU-093.  Again this was a very pleasant and easy place to operate from, with picnic tables, expanses of grass inviting sevevral poles supporting antennas.  Here we used a 20m quarter wave vertical on one pole and a linked dipole on the other.  On 20m we made a few CW contacts into Europe and some into other parts of Australia.  Conditions were not good enough on 20m to make long distance SSB/voice contacts.

IMGP1957s
One of the picnic tables at Mt Elliott was pressed into service as an operating desk
IMGP1958s
Andrew VK1AD operating on 40m

Shortly before sundown we closed down and made our way to Wyong where we had booked accomodation for the night (two months earlier, or more).  We had a meal and some cool drinks at Panarotti’s at Tuggerah Westfield.

In the morning I woke early and decided to observe the International Space Station’s pass which was almost directly overhead.   I lost sight of it to the northeast when it was over New Caledonia according to the tracker.   It was brighter than most other things in the sky apart from the moon.

At the Field Day there was a good collection of second hand goods for sale in the flea market, some new items but it was strangely quiet in the corner where one of the larger traders usually is found.   At the VHF seminar, some discussion about the rules for VHF/UHF contests prompted me to make some unplanned comments about operating practices in these events, specifically about the practice of callinq CQ, making all contacts and listening all on 144.150, which many field and home stations appear to do.  A straw poll of those present revealed that while a number of people operated in that event, only a small number of them had made contacts into VK1, only 250km away from the Sydney area.  I suggested that this was due to being stuck on the calling frequency and it would help everyone to make more contacts, make more points in the contest and increase activity if they could move to other parts of the band during these events.  Let’s see whether a direct appeal to the operators has the desired effect.  I wish the contest rules did not specify a calling frequency.

We departed Wyong at about 12 noon and headed homeward. After a lunch break at Pheasants Nest we continued to the turnoff for Mt Wanganderry, VK2/IL-003.  Setting up there we were able to make contacts on 40m using SSB and CW, we did try 20m without any success.  This was a new summit for us both.

The antenna and shelter at Mt Wanganderry
The antenna and shelter at Mt Wanganderry
IMG_0736s
Using the sun shelter at Mt Wanganderry

RD contest 2015

The exchange in the RD contest is a signal report in standard RS(T) format, followed by a 3 digit number indicating the number of years the operator has been licenced.  This year it was 50 for me so I thought that was a good excuse to operate in the RD.

I decided to use CW only and use the IC703 at 5 watts output.  This put me into the QRP/CW category.

The bands were ok for east coast contacts on 40m and 80m.  I didn’t hear any VK6 on CW which was unusual.  I did hear one on 20m but conditions were poor there and I was unable to make any contacts.

Total contact count was 100 on the RD logger screen but 99 in the summary – perhaps I confused it at some point when I backed out a contact that didn’t get completed.

IMGP1677s IMGP1679s IMGP1681s IMGP1682s IMGP1683s

QRP HOURS

The 2013 QRP HOURS event runs on 6 April.

This is a fun event – a contest for QRP stations (5w or less output power) that runs for just one hour on each mode.  First an hour of cw/digital modes, then an hour of SSB.

Due to daylight saving still being in operation in the southern states that night (in fact it’s the last night of DST) the timing is late evening.  That gives everyone time to make those last minute antenna corrections in daylight, get a good evening meal, then settle down with the QRP radio and see how many contacts they can make in an hour.  There are some recommended frequency limits for the contest.

I operated in this event a couple of years ago and enjoyed the experience of making contacts on 80m with my FT817.  5 watts may not sound much but on 80m it goes a long way if you have a real antenna.  I worked several ZL stations and about a dozen contacts on each mode around vk4/2/3/7/5.  My antenna is a dipole supported in the centre by a 20ft (6m) pole and fed with RG58 cable.  Very simple but effective.

in the 2012 event I used an IC703 QRP radio, with the power reduced to an indicated 2w on CW and peaking 1w on ssb voice peaks.  The same antenna was used as the previous year.  Despite a reduced power output I made more contacts than in the previous year, about a dozen on cw and 17 on ssb.  Not a high pressure event.  CW ops, wind your speed back a bit, many of the QRP operators are not frequent CW users and their hand keys won’t match your Formula 1 speed.

Rules etc are at http://vkqrpclub.org/qrp_hours_contest_2013.php

 

Spring VHF/UHF field day Nov 2012

The spring VHF/UHF field day saw the station set up at a new location due to roadworks between Bulls Head and Mt Franklin. The temporary location was between the 5 way intersection known as Piccadilly Circus and Bulls head. Elevation 1305m and some trees on the east and west sides of the ridge. A single pair of power lines, probably running 11kv single phase, provided noise at up to strength 9 on 6m and 2m.

Mount Franklin Road
Latitude: -35.3742
Longitude: 148.804
Altitude: 1305
Accuracy: 17m

Contacts were made northeast up to the port Macquarie area and southwest to the Geelong area on 2m. Best contact on 70cm was with vk3uhf near Geelong.

No contacts outside vk1 were made on higher bands.

A weak Es opening occurred on
the Sunday morning. Several vk4 contacts were made.

Total contacts 104.

Thanks to Bruce VK1HBB and his daughter Tayla VK1FTAY for assisting and operating.

Field Day site for November 2012

VHF/UHF Field day (contests) scoring proposal

After discussion for several months a proposal has been published for revision of the scoring rules for Australian/WIA-sponsored VHF/UHF Field Day contests.

The proposal is here:  vk1da.net/vhffielddayrules.html

A survey of active VHF/UHF amateurs seeking views on the proposal and other aspects of these events is here:  vk1da.net/survey/index.php

The proposal was developed by a group of interested radio amateurs, primarily Colin VK5DK and myself but in consultation with a number of others.

CW contesting

If you have heard the intense activity at the CW end of the bands during contests, you might wonder how you could join in.

Assuming you have learned morse code and have used it already for ordinary contacts, how different are contests?  In some ways they are easier – no need to chat about the weather, your rig or antenna, or even your name.  To operate in almost any CW contest it is possible to figure out from listening to contacts under way what the exchange is and whether contacts are international, internal to certain countries but if you are in doubt about the rules look them up on sites such as the WIA contest page (for WIA sponsored contests within VK), or for international contests, the ARRL contest page or http://www.contesting.com/.

Once you know enough about the rules, how do you join in? Do you just call CQ TEST on an “empty” frequency? I’d suggest in most cases it is best to start out by finding someone who is either calling cq or is working a number of stations in a “run”.  In that case you will call that station using only your own callsign, sent once only.  If you get a QRZ? you either call again once, or if you think there is QRM or your signal will be weak, give your call twice. Using full break-in can be helpful because it lets you hear the other stations calling and most importantly it lets you hear your target answering another station.  You can’t do anything about that – in many contests VK is a long way from the centre of the activity so you have to put up with not being heard every time.  Particularly in Europe, but also within Asian or US contests there is a lot of QRM and a lot of very strong signals to compete with.  You have to persist and you have to be clever in your choice of frequency and your timing.

Here are some more detailed tips.

  1. Do lots of listening to contest operators to learn what is done.
  2. Initially it helps to have a pre-written sheet of standard exchanges visible so you can send from the sheet instead of trying to do it out of your head.
  3. It is usual to send only your own callsign when answering a CQ
  4. Use break-in techniques rather than “callsign de callsign” at each end of your transmission. So after receivingVk1DA 599234 599234 BK
    You reply R UR 559056 559056 BK
    the reply will be R TU and possibly a pause, in which you can reply TU
    after which the station you worked will call CQ or QRZ? and as he/she “owns” the frequency, you now QSY and look for another station to call.
  5. In a quiet or slow event there is time to send 73 and stuff but don’t bother in a dx event.
  6. If signals are strong, twice is enough for calls or numbers. Change to suit the situation. Watch for clues that you are not being copied well – the station you call gets your call wrong, or asks for repeats using AGN or just plain ?
  7. The simplest reply requesting a repeat of a number or call is NR AGN PSE  or for a callsign, QRZ?.
    For callsigns it sometimes works to send VK5? BK  but there is always someone who is not a VK5 and is convinced you want them to call again, making it tough for the real VK5 to make the contact.
  8. You need a cw filter – SSB bandwidth is too wide for a cw contest
  9. Send no faster than the station you are calling.
  10. If called by a station at a slower speed, slow down to his speed.
  11. Send no faster than the speed you can copy. (hint: practice)
  12. If you are operating at 15 wpm and callers persist in calling you at 25 or higher, use QRZ? or a CQ to convince them to remember their manners. A lot of contesters use computers or computer keyboards but this is no excuse for poor on-air procedure.
  13. Send no faster than you can send accurately
  14. You will hear stations sending callsigns at one speed but sending the exchange like 59905 or even part of it, at twice the speed.  As if that saves them any real time! The number of milliseconds saved by sending that at 40 wpm but running everything else at 25 is so small, it isn’t worth it.  I don’t recommend this practice.
  15. QRP stations and beginners at cw contesting are always better off using the “search & pounce” technique than trying to set up a run, where you sit on a frequency and have dozens or hundreds of contacts with the rest of the world calling you, unless you have outstanding signals and the right conditions.  Or unless you ARE the DX.
  16. In a pileup for a wanted station try to call on a freq between other callers. This means knowing your exact tx freq as heard by the other op. This is what a separate receiver and transmitter used to be so valuable for.  Modern rigs match your tx frequency with the sidetone so turning BK off momentarily and tapping a dit or two will let you hear your effective tx frequency.  Less modern radios have a sidetone that is nothing like the frequency offset of your radio.  You need to use a monitor receiver or another receiver and practice getting the frequency offset right.
  17. If the dx is operating split, listen for whoever he is working and what the pack is doing. If they are all on 7015.125 you need to be 200-400 hz off the pack either up or down in frequency.  This takes planning and experimentation, so you may think this will waste time, but since calling endlessly on the same frequency as 100 others won’t work at all, it is better to let a few contacts go by while you tune in to the way the wanted station is operating, where he is listening and getting your transmit frequency right before calling.
  18. Logging is usually by computer now but if you are using a key to send you will be moving your hand between keyboard and key. If logging on paper it is a smart move to learn to send with one hand and log with the other. I never learned this well enough for a contest but I still log two contacts per minute in a good contest.  Very few vk contests run at this pace for more than the first 15 minutes.
  19. Your antenna is the most important part of your station in contests.

The pc based program MorseRunner is good contest practice with some fun options. The vk contests don’t use that cipher format but it still gives you practice at copying callsigns with qrm, qrm and an occasional lid calling cw on top of your contact. All good fun. And if you google “morse runner” you find others have not only used it but added other software to interact with it.  A useful comment noted on one site: run it slightly faster than your comfortable speed. If you ever want to increase your speed you have to be scrambling, not comfortable.

No doubt this list can be expanded forever but I hope it’s of use.

QRP Hours contest – after the event

As planned I operated in this relaxed event tonight, for a couple of hours.

I decided to use my IC703, partly because it has a CW filter and I know how useful that is even in a quiet cw contest.  (I should get one for my FT817).  The other advantage the IC703 has over the FT817 is that it has a speech compressor which improves the average power output on SSB.  But as a test and a self imposed handicap I decided to cut the IC703 power level down from its nominal 10 watts to 2 watts for this event.

First an hour on CW, where I made 11 contacts.  As you can tell this is not a hard paced, highly pressured event.

Then an hour on SSB where I made 17 contacts, a few more than I did last year.  I recognised some of the callsigns from last year and also made contacts with friends such as  Mike VK2IG, Murray VK1MDP, Waldis VK1WJ and Peter Vk3YE.

I don’t think running 2 watts instead of 5 or 10 made any difference to the number of contacts made.  While 10 watts is 5 times higher, which translates to 7 decibels, 80m generally provides good propagation and there is more than enough “head room” in the available signal levels for QRP signals to be easily readable.  80m can be a noisy band on SSB especially late at night.  There was some electrical storm noise but it wasn’t too bad.  Another time those 7db might have been quite important.

A few interstate stations gave me good signal strength reports so the old 80m dipole at 6 metres above ground was doing its usual job.

The low dipole isn’t any use for dx though.  I have heard some US and JA signals on the CW end of the band but even the strong ones rarely even return a QRZ? to my call.  Have to get a decent vertical going on that band to work dx.

RD Contest – State Scoring formula

Is the RD contest state score formula correct, and is it fair?
There has been a lot of concern about the RD contest state score formula, and conjecture about how it can be improved.
I have written this to clarify my thoughts and to show others what my analysis of the scoring formula reveals.

A fundamental principle is that the scoring formula has to work in the simplest of all situations, ie. when all states have equal performance.  We know the number of licencees is different so we cannot simply add up their logs and award the contest to the state with the biggest score.  That would give the result to the largest state and that’s not fair to the smaller ones.

To analyse the situation we have to start with some assumptions.

  • Assume all operators across all states had the same average points per log
  • Assume all states had the same participation ratio, ie. logs submitted divided by licencees

Should we expect that to result in equal scores?  Seems reasonable doesn’t it?

Let’s assume each log contains 10 points  (this can be an average, if you wish) and that the participation rate in each state is 10%.
Table 1. Examples of varying state sizes and scores
State Licencees Logs Participation rate (PR) Pointsper log Score(total points*PR)
A 3000 300 10% 10 3000*10%=300
B 1000 100 10% 10 1000*10%=100
C  200 20 10% 10 200*10%=20
We find that the smaller states cannot win if all operators score the same average points per log as the larger state.  Their population is a fraction of the bigger state and they need a correspondingly higher average points per log than the larger state does.
This simple example shows that the current scoring formula does not allow for different sized states.
In most RD contests, the two larger states have had low participation rates and several mid sized states have had better rates.  To examine how those scoring rates affect the outcomes, we can insert those factors into the model and see how that affects the state scores.
We can go further and examine what a smaller state needs to do in order to score higher than a larger one.

Table 2. Further examples showing how state score is affected by participation rate (PR)

State Licencees Logs Participation rate (PR) Points per log Score(total points * PR)
A 3000 150 5% 10 3000*5%=75
B 1000 200 10% 10 1000*100/1000=100
C 200 20 10% 50 1000*10%=100

Firstly, to explain States A and B of this example, the participation rate of state A has dropped to half its level in the first table.  But note that its computed state score has cut to a quarter of its original value.  It was 300 when its participation rate was 10% but with half the particpation the final score is 75, which is one quarter of the original value.  We can observe that the state score changes in proportion to the square of the participation rate.  Hold that thought.

This change in State A’s participation has had a dramatic effect on its final score, allowing state B to score better than state A, with the same average log value as state B.

Secondly, for the much smaller state C, I have illustrated how it can achieve the same score as one that is 5 times bigger.  Its logs contain five times as many points per log as the mid level state.  Here we can observe that the state score is proportional to the average points per log for each state, provided the participation rate remains constant.

Why is the state score not proportional to the Participation Rate?

As we know the formula for state score is:

State score = PR * (total of all logs)

However the total of all logs already reflects the participation rate, as if the PR were higher or lower, the log total would be correspondingly higher or lower.  Indeed if the number of logs was halved, the total score would halve.  Putting that another way:

Total of submitted logs = Total of all possible logs from state * PR

Rewriting the state score formula, we see that the state score formula can be rewritten as:

State score = (total of all possible logs from the state) * PR^2  (ie. PR squared)

From this it is apparent that the state score is proportional to PR squared.

This is why the state score is affected so dramatically by the participation rate PR.

How can the state score formula be improved?

Clearly the formula currently does not compensate for the different sizes of each state.
Teams of differing sizes can be compared only by normalising results to the average effort of each team member.  In the case of the states competing for the RD trophy, this translates to the average number of points earned by each state licencee.
ie. Average score per licencee = (Total points on logs) divided by (total licencees in that state).
With that formula, going back to table 1 above, the average score per licencee in each state is 1.0.  The average score per licencee in the other states is also 1.0.  A tie.
And since they both produced the same average effort per licencee, a tie is exactly correct. This measure works well for the case where all states perform equally.  How does it work if some states perform differently?
Let’s recalculate table 2, where states had different participation rates and different points per log.
Table 3. Sample results with Average Score per licencee
State Licencees Logs Participation rate (PR) Points per log Average Score per licencee
A 3000 150 5% 10 0.5
B 1000 200 20% 10 2.0
C 1000 220 22% 10 2.2
D 200 20 10% 50 5.0

Outcomes:

  • The anomalous  results shown in Table 2 have gone.
  • State A: large state, low participation, logs submitted are average value, overall rating 0.5.
  • State B: medium size state with higher participation than state A, and a much higher score – 2.0.
  • State C: like state B but with 10% more logs.  Note that the score is 10% higher.
  • State D: the exaggerated example of a small state with very high average logs, scores best of all at 5.0.

As can be seen the results are linear, with increased scores resulting in a proportional increase in State score.

Where to from here?

The state score formula should be changed to the following:

State score = (total points from logs submitted) divided by (number of licencees in the state) [see note below]

I would like to see this analysis considered by contest managers and other decision makers within the WIA.  I believe that the state scoring formula was fundamentally flawed because it was based on incorrect mathematics.

It is recommended that this part of the contest rules be corrected at a suitable time, to reflect the results of this analysis. It may be too late for the rules to be changed for 2012, but perhaps this anomaly can be corrected for subsequent years.

This change would make it more feasible for the contest to be won by different states.  I believe the run of wins for VK6 has occurred due to good promotion of the contest in VK6 combined with a severe penalty for the larger states imposed by the erroneous formula discussed here.  I feel sure that with a more appropriate formula, competition would be enlivened and the contest would be a healthier and better supported event.


Note: number of licencees is adjusted to remove licencees that cannot participate in contests such as repeaters and beacons.  This is already catered for by current rules, but I did not wish to complicate the description above.

Reference:  Current rules for the RD Contest, rule 14.1 defines the state score calculation. http://www.wia.org.au/members/contests/rdcontest/documents/RDcontest2012Rules.pdf