A handicap score could be calculated along with the regular score. The handicap could be determined from past scores in each gridsquare, using the 50yrs of logs that we've paid our employees at the ARRL to collect. The handicap would attempt to give the same ham the same score in any gridsquare. The handicap table should be published a year ahead of the contest (as is done in Europe for the most wanted grid project) and would encourage operation from rare grids. The current system rewards those who staked out good sites (e.g. mountain tops) in the early days of VHF contesting. While these people deserve the rewards for their hard work, not everyone can do this and a good AU-ready operator living in the western half of the country should be included in VHF contests.
The best operators work hard to improve their success (e.g. in contest contests at the Dayton Hamvention where they listen to high noise QSO tapes to determine calls etc). While much of their success and the 30:1 advantage they have over the rest of us, is due to location, equipment and many dedicated hours of operating, one would hope that some of what they know can be transmitted to the rest of us by more conventional methods (e.g. books). A post-contest phone interview for each person that the ARRL sends a contest certificate, over 50 years would accumulate many stories and opinions, which with a bit of effort could be distilled into knowlege. The 111 people who submitted logs here could be interviewed/asked for their stories too. We should make sure that the ARRL doesn't get involved in this.
Contest organisers can take this 30:1 ratio into consideration when devising the scoring method(s), handicapping for location and having separate categories for QRP. Operating skills can be improved by encouraging CW operation and letting people know how to operate on AU.
The best equipped AU stations/operators are honing their skills at 220MHz. The 220MHz band is too difficult for any but the best stations to work AU. On AU, the jump from 144MHz to 432MHz is about 4 times more difficult than for normal terrestrial propagation. If we didn't have the 220MHz band, this AU opening would only have shown 2m running full tilt, within reach of most good contest stations, but with 432MHz beyond the reach of most and requiring a commitment level similar to EME. We would have seen all or nothing in the various bands. With the 220MHz band, we have a difficult zone where otherwise there would be none. We should make sure ham radio is strong enough and that we employ people to represent us to our government(s), that we keep this band.
It is a long way from 432MHz to 903MHz. The people who make this jump will have to figure out a lot of things, without being able to dress rehearse at intermediate frequencies. Hams in VK have an band mainly for ATV at 576MHz, a frequency that can be received by home broadcast TV receivers. Hams in VK use this band for transmissions of general interest to the public, keeping the populace aware of the existance and usefullness of ham radio. These people are fortunate too and hopefully will be able to protect this band.
Government mandated minimum requirements aren't a guide to better ham radio. We shouldn't support organisations whose vision of ham radio is in line with government mandated minimum levels. If we drove on freeways at the govt minimum level of skill and responsibility, we'd have 0.08% blood alcohol levels, no 3rd party insurance and no knowlege of the workings of a car.
While you don't need logs for your QSO, ham radio does need your logs to get ahead. Logs have always been useful for propagation and we've always needed to exchange them.
Logging software should look like a paper napkin log, allowing entry of all data in any order on a single line. On hitting a carriage return, the program will record the time of the QSO, figure out which field is the gridsquare, call, rst, put entries into their correct fields and put unresolved entries into the comment section for later scrutiny and manipulation. QSOs should be exportable in a standard database format (ascii, delimited by tab or pipe symbol). Rather than reinventing the wheel, logging programs could use a standard GPL'ed SQL database for the backend. The front-end could use other platform independant tools (Perl/Tk) allowing a client-server model for the program, which would automatically allow multi-operator logging.
Hams need a common format for exchanging the information in logs. When I first contacted the ARRL volunteering to analyse contest and award logs, they were using a multitude of formats, seemingly one for each contest, This made data processing difficult (different train gauges in each state anyone?). The ARRL has recently adopted a single computer readable ("Cabrillo") format, which I believe originated in the CQ magazine contests. If you look at this seemingly revolutionary step, you'll see that the Cabrillo format is the database equivelent of
date-time band mode your_call where_you_are other_call where_he_isThe actual format doesn't matter - the fields must be computer readable, that's all. Computers can differentiate call signs from gridsquares - each field only has to be recognisable and the fields can be in any order. If you make all beam headings multiples of 10°, then rst and beam headings can be differentiated also.
The programmer who writes logging programs has a difficult time. The computer has to behave like a table napkin to the user. This is rarely achieved. As well, to get market share, programmers want to calculate the cumulative score during the contest. This Sysiphean task originates in the Babel of ever changing scoring methods for multiple differently scored contests and results in the programmer spending his time keeping up with things that are not his concern, rather than writing the logging program. The user then has to buy/download a new version of the logging program for each contest (planned obsolescence anyone?). If a contest organiser wants some fancy rules for his really special and totally unique contest, then he should sit down with the logging program authors and they should design an API for different modules to be loaded for each contest. The contest organiser then writes a platform independant, logging program independant, module/plug-in for his contest, uploads it to the announcement page and tells everyone to download it for his special contest. (Do you think Netscape writes plug-ins? They don't. Each group, who wants Netscape to display their special content, writes its own plug-ins.) Currently the ARRL can have different rules for each contest and change them with impunity, because they don't use or write the logging programs, they don't analyse the logs and the cost of the changes and different scoring methods is borne by the users. Presumably sometime in the next 50yrs, someone will be able to show the ARRL how to run all of their contests with only one set of rules and the logging program authors can return to the their business of improving the logging programs, rather than working for free for the ARRL.
Greenpeace doesn't take credit for saving species that are extinct. The NRA gives credit in marksmanship for those who hit the bullseye, and none for just firing the gun into midair. The ARRL doesn't care about the difference and thinks that doing so will attract more members and protect ham radio. They think the public and the FCC doesn't know the difference either but at least one delivery company, who walked off with 2MHz of the 220MHz band, knows. We could reward people whose operating procedures get the correct call, verifyable gridlocators (to 6 characters) and who record an accurate time for the QSO. For operators not at their FCC address, the gridlocator problem could be handled by the operator signing /P for the contest.
The information in logs needed to look at operating procedures in ARRL sponsored contests is closely guarded by our employees, who appear to hold conflicts of interest, who set contest rules behind closed doors, to benefit select but undisclosed people (some of the winners apparently, but not this winner) and to deny learning to others. With the ARRL providing no rewards for good operating procedures, and with no-one allowed to check contest scores or logs, one might expect VHF contesting procedures to have descended into the depths of chaos. However this AU opening shows that hams operating by themselves can produce a set of logs for the opening in which 70% of the operators and 24% of the contacts are seen, only 2% of Es contacts are reported as AU and time is accurate to 1min in 70% of the contacts. This information from the AU opening, needed to scrutinise the state of our operating proceedures, is available here only because I found a way around the ARRL.
Contests run by CQ magazine attempt to reward good operating skills and to make sure you don't get credit for something you didn't do, by deducting points for bogus callsigns. The organisers are free in stating their contest affiliations and do not appear to have conflicts of interests in running the contests.
Changing our operating procedures, to hit the bullseye everytime in a contest, is within easy reach, and it won't take long to achieve when contests are organised as a cooperative event. It will take longer to regain the public credibility and strength that we failed to accrue and the lessons we didn't learn from an understanding of 50yrs of contest results.
The real technical progress in US ham radio is now reported only in conferences run by local groups. These are sponsored by the ARRL, for reasons I can't fathom. The first one of these I attended, a few miles from the ARRL HQ in Connecticut, I expected an ARRL rep to address the audience telling us how the ARRL would use the papers in this conference to advance ham radio and how the conference fitted into the ARRL's bigger plan of advancing ham radio. Nothing like that happened. Many of the talks were suitable for general distribution amongst hams and I expected them to be mentioned in QST. This didn't happen either. It took several of these conferences for me to be convinced that no official ARRL reps were even in attendance. They don't want to be seen at their technical conferences. Since I don't get to the ARRL HQ to check out their technical books, except by taking a day of vacation, I asked one of the ARRL employees if he could bring some of the ARRL books to the next year's conference. He explained that schlepping piles of heavy books and keeping track of money would be a lot of trouble. He was there on his own money and he wanted to enjoy the conference and didn't want to work for the ARRL on his day off. I could see his point but I didn't think the ARRL was serving me well. One place that the ARRL should be is at conferences of active hams being available to talk about their concerns. Instead the ARRL sees no point in trying to sell its technical books at technical conferences or in talking to technically oriented hams. I haven't figured out what the ARRL and the conferences are getting out of this mutual sponsorship relationship. Maybe the ARRL prints the conference proceedings for them at a lower rate. I don't know why these conferences want sponsorship from an organisation that has no interest in their activities: it appears a sham to me. If the conference wants sponsorship (whatever it is) then a technical organisation like TAPR would seem a better choice.
With the ARRL's having offloaded the technical and contesting parts of ham radio to other magazines leaving QST to concentrate on matters more important to the ARRL, we're lucky that ham radio in the US has only slipped to CB licensing levels and that we've only lost 2MHz of the 220MHz band.
The ARRL complains of shortage of money and if you believe them, they've been operating at a chronically underfunded level on a multi-decade time scale. If this is true then I have to wonder why the ARRL hasn't adapted to the reality of the situation and jettisonned activities which don't defend or advance ham radio. The financial statements in QST don't tell me whether the ARRL's expenditures (e.g. Sarex, reviewing equipment) are financially worthwhile. We, the employers of these people, aren't being given enough information to judge the situation for ourselves. The ARRL's balance sheet reported in QST is meaningless to me and looks like any other standard corporate public announcement. I shouldn't have to be an accountant to tell whether the ARRL is spending our money wisely. If as I found, revealing the contest affiliation of employees who decide our contest rules will result in loosing your job, then I hold little hope of learning the salary of my employees. An ARRL member responding to the announcements of financial doom from the ARRL to volunteer to help sort out the finances, told me he was denied access to our financial records. A credible person I know, who has some knowlege of the workings of the ARRL, told me that the ARRL is a great place to work since income is guaranteed from memberships and financial planning can be done years ahead. I conclude from the information provided by the ARRL and other sources, that the ARRL doesn't have any financial problems and is rolling in money.
The ARRL doesn't give an annual report of how it's done its job of advancing ham radio. If they want more of our money, I should be able to decide myself whether they are doing their job.
Now that I've left the ARRL, they send me junk mail sometimes only a month apart. This month's theme is that our spectrum is under attack and only the ARRL can save us. Two years ago I e-mailed K1ZZ (and posted to the usual reflectors) a notice about the covert surveillance cameras, targetted to security and police organisations, operating on 434MHz which are available cheaply on the internet (try looking with your favorite search engine). (Note Oct 2002: Celestaire is offering a remote weather station with a 433MHz link.) Clearly these cameras are not setup to ID with ham call signs every 10mins. K1ZZ's reply to me was that since the advertisements include a notice that you need a license to operate these cameras, that there was nothing the ARRL could do about it. The best he could advise was to not publicise the problem so that the smallest number of people would find out about the cameras. The ARRL thinks illegal operation of transmitters in ham bands is OK as long as the person knows it's illegal. Another concern here is that with the easier and easier licenses that the ARRL is pushing, that there may be a loophole whereby these things can be operated legally by nominal hams. If you don't have any serious exams to pass, then people will find ways to use the ham bands for purposes we won't even recognise as ham radio. I accept that the ARRL doesn't want to do anything about illegal operations in ham bands, but with the ARRL's thinking on other topics having missed the target by so much, I would expect that at a minimum, ham radio should be able to defend itself against the sale of transmitters designed for illegal operation in its bands. 2 years after hearing the ARRL's solution for this problem, I find these cameras still selling like hotcakes despite the deafening silence from the ARRL. The search engines on the internet let everyone know where to buy the cameras and the ARRL sticking its head in the sand hasn't made a dent in their sales. It's hard to imagine the NRA rolling over and playing dead here and proudly declaring to its members that it has done so.
That's not "defense of ham radio".
If Greenpeace activists were in the ARRL, they'd be outing all the people who bought the transmitters and broadcasting the list of those that didn't have licenses. They would have written to police deparments, organisations and security companies informing them of the problem and to make sure that these people stayed on the correct side of the law. They'd contact the people selling these things and ask to visit them to explain the problem. The ARRL could ask it's members not to buy from these stores, and as a last resort, could suddenly appear outside the headquarters of one of these businesses, unfurl a banner across the building with "Acme pollutes the air waves" and "Acme sells devices for illegal spying" Outside could be a couple of 100 hams picketing the place, with a display for news people about ham radio and the history of ATV. The events could be relayed by SSTV and packet radio back to a parallel demonstration at the FCC. What was the last bit of activism you saw from the ARRL? When was the last time K1ZZ was arrested chaining himself to the front door of a corporation that sold transmitters for illegal operation in ham bands? The ARRL is not going to protect us from this year's spectrum nabbers any better than they are doing here or did for 220Mhz. They're just going to take your money to run more contests where no-one will learn anything. The reason these cameras are at 434MHz is that it's radio quiet there (no sense trying to receive on a channel holding a 1MW TV station 20 miles away) and because they know the ARRL won't do anything about it. Would a NY TV station let these stores sell surveillance cameras on their channel allocation?
One thing that influences the FCC and congresspeople is votes in elections. If you are going to defend ham radio, you do what every other lobbying organisation does: You contact all the hams in a voting district, let them know what you're going to do, make sure they are in agreement with what you are about to do (get signatures on a petition if you want). Then a group of you meet with your local representative (congressperson/senator). You remind him that ham radio has trained several generations of electronically oriented people (you name half a dozen highly placed active hams in organisations that the representative will recognise), supplied many/most of the signallers in WWII, buys xx$ of equipment a year, has an average setup which the operator has spend xxhrs building, has made communication via the moon practical, developed the first wireless packet network in the world (etc, etc), has taught free classes for the xx members of the public, has xx practitioners in his district who voted for him in the last election, and the representative who agreed with the handing over of the bottom 2MHz of 220MHz didn't get re-elected. You tell him that you're asking for his support of ham radio in his district and you ask him what he thinks of the sale of transmitters designed specifically for illegal operation on amateur frequencies. And you'd better make sure that the xx hams in the district who voted for him last time are prepared to express their displeasure next time if he doesn't think ham radio is worth supporting. Unfortunately this approach doesn't work as well for hams as for the NRA or Greenpeace. Hams aren't single issue voters and have things on their mind more in line with the general public. We don't rock the boat. If it comes to a decision between ham radio and butter, hams will choose butter.
All the numbers "xx" and missing information in the previous paragraph for your district can be obtained from the ARRL which has tracked all this information for years (or should have). While you're calling them up, ask them which of our representatives are sensitive to ham radio issues and which elections the ARRL has targetted. This is all standard information for lobbying organisations.
Not so long ago we could have also said "We train and qualify people who are both techically and operationally highly competent operators." Unfortunately today this would raise a fit of giggles from the rep. The top level exams to become a ham used to be rigorous, and a person with that license could take pride in accomplishment. The ARRL has just thrown away this our inheritance, a major bargaining chip, in the last restructuring, and in exchange, what did the ARRL ask for? Nothing. Before restructuring, the ARRL was proud that 5yr olds could get a license. Now for our licenses, to show how good we are to a public (and its representatives), that has no other way of telling how good we are, we bring to the barganing table a bowl of pottage. We should be able to tell of other things we've done for the public but these too have been spurned by the ARRL. We could have been supplying the high school text books for electronics for the last 50yrs, but the ARRL doesn't have a long term plan for amateur radio and no interest in bringing in young people to ham radio.
Of course, the next guy into the reps' office will be the lobbyists from the security camera companies. They'll talk about the importance for a person in his own home to be able to maintain privacy and that they are providing tools and equipment empowering the home owner to exercise his constitutional right to a safe home. They are also providing equipment for police to maintain law and order. And xx constituents in his district own these things and depend on them for their day-to-day safety (you can bet they'll have these numbers).
We just have to make sure that the rep likes our story more than the surveillance camera people's story.
This is "defense of ham radio"
What we have running right now for lobbying is that W3ABC approaches someone in congress or the FCC, saying that we're really tight for band space and we don't even have room for any more repeaters. They listen sympathetically and after Hugh leaves, they look at their spectrum analyser for 30mins, notice our VHF bands empty, listen to the content of conversations on a few repeaters, call up his research department to find that the ARRL hasn't published any studies of VHF band usage in the last 50yrs and that there are no ongoing studies or uses of the ham bands that the ARRL wants anyone to know about.
Next thing that happens is that a representative of a delivery company comes in the door. "Afternoon Mr. Representative. I'm from the Acme Delivery Co. As you probably know, home delivery is a rapidly expanding and now essential component of the retail industry, with xx$M/yr in handling fees alone, increasing by xx%/yr. An even larger section of the business is business to business same- and next-day delivery. We're updating our delivery fleet with GPS receivers, so that we know where every truck is at every minute, to expedite our deliveries at the cheapest rate to our customers. Our deliveries are computer tracked and our customers can follow delivery of their packages from a web browser. The only thing we can't do is to rapidly communicate computer-to-computer with our delivery trucks. We need minute to minute communication, 24/7 to be able to move into the next decade and be competitive. We know band space is at a premium and we're prepared to develope the technology to handle this problem and we're prepared to pay top dollar for the band space. Can you help us?"
Well the rep knows that these guys have enough money to buy channels on satellites if need be. He knows hams are just a bunch of hobbyists who don't demand a whole lot of their govt, who don't have a whole lot of money and who do their best to give back to the community. He isn't neccessarily impressed by the amount of money Acme is spending on deliveries; it's probably less than he had to raise to be elected.
He makes a call to the ARRL.
"Hey, have you guys got anything to back me up on a decision about this?"
The ARRL thinks about the 50yrs of contest logs, awards, and records of packet links as they crept across the country. It does one of two things
"Never mind, we don't need all those repeaters anymore, really, OK?".
"There are several million contacts in here, which we've never analysed, and we're not going to analyse - hell we don't even know how to analyse them. They cover the expansion of hams into new modes and frequencies, hold lots of information about propagation. They've caused us nothing but trouble. One of our employers was prepared to sort through all of this in his vacation time, take it all home and analyse it. He wanted hams to learn from them, if you can believe that. It took us 6 months to get rid of him - we told him that 5 people didn't want the logs analysed. He dropped his membership, so we don't have to worry about him anymore. Of course, we still send him our junk mail, just to show there's no hard feelings, things like You spoke, we listened. It's kinda fun to do that. When we're finished here, we're not going to let this get outa hand again though, there'll be no contest records anymore. "
Note: Jul 2002 - as a result of my postings on Heights Towers, I've been contacted by another person who has just had a failure of the same nut in their Heights Tower.
Jun 2003: The ARRL reported a tower climbing fatality. There is no sign from the report that we will learn anything from this event and hams will go to their deaths for want of preparedness.
You can't tell people to be carefull anymore that you can just tell your kids to be careful crossing the road. You have to tell people what to be careful of. In the case of your children, you tell them that cars closest to you come from the this direction and the that cars in the far lane come from the other direction. You look to the near lane first... and when you cross, you walk at a uniform pace.
If you look at a canoeing book, it will tell you all the ways people have had accidents and what to do to not have it happen to you. Backpacking/rockclimbing/canyoning organisations have lists and details of all accidents. For poorly understood events, skilled people repeat the trip under as similar conditions as possible, to see what must have happened and this report will accompany the original report.
What we need in ham radio is an ethic were accidents are reported and all information relating to the event are public information. Presumably good information is available from serious injury events (the person still being alive), while data from fatalities will be partial. A person climbing a tower will then know all the available information, eg the distribution of ages of people, their experience, the height at which the event happened and will also know the completeness of the data (eg only 20% of accidents with fatalities are understood).
The ARRL should investigate all fatalities and report them in QST for our education.
It would appear that the ARRL is not interested in strengthening ham radio, or protecting it, but only sees hams as a source of members to pay their salaries. Our employees are happy to insult volunteers who want to help with the real problems of ham radio and thumb their noses at us with the appearance of conflicts of interest. The long term thinking common in other organisations is not part of the ARRL: we've missed out on 50yrs of high schools using books written by hams to learn electronics. The real wonder is that half of US hams still send the ARRL money. Have you thought about what you are getting for your money?
(C) Joseph Mack 2000-2002, Joe NA3T, jmack (at) wm7d (dot) net, http://www.wm7d.net/azproj.shtml
Excerpts from this report may be reproduced as long as the author, Joseph Mack (or Joe NA3T) and the URL of the AZ_PROJ website http://www.wm7d.net/azproj.shtml are attributed.
A draft of this article was first presented at the N.E.W.S. conference Enfield CT, 26 Aug 2000. The full text will be available in the conference proceedings for 2001. Some of the images here will be used in an article in CQ Contest, Nov 2000
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