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2. Intro

I maintain the AZ_PROJ azimuthal equidistant projection map generator (logo) world map. The code was written by NV3Z and myself and first released at the Central States VHF conference in 1994. The website, now running on 2 servers, has been in place for about 4 years, drawing about 12,000maps/yr. I initially wrote the code to find bearings to gridsquares for VHF contests. One of the data files holds Zack's list of N.E. mountain tops. You can go to a location in N.E. type in your location (or let your GPS receiver do it for you) and bring up a map with distances and bearings to any of the mountains in Zack's list. Another datafile has the ham VHF/UHF beacons and another the commercial TV transmitter list from which you can pick stations by frequency to monitor 6m openings. Talking about 6m here's the density of 6m operators in Europe and NA as shown on the UKSMG webpage.

My first success to help VHF contesting with this code was to make the Most Wanted Grid maps for DL in 1996. This project was headed up by DL8EBW who at the end of each summer VHF season would ask people for their most wanted grids. This list allowed people to plan next year's vacation and grid-DXpeditions.

No similar project exists in North America. The consequence of this is that

While we are happy to collect baseball statistics forever when it comes to contests, we spend all year honing our skills, building our equipment and figuring out what we should do this year that we didn't do last year. It would be nice to look at what happened in the whole contest and to learn something from it.

We should all have some idea of the number of times each grid has been activated by the most persistant of our community, the VUCC winners. For instance if we all knew the top 50 hard-to-get-grids on 2m, some of us might put some effort into going there, or at least turn the rig on if we're going through there.

We've all seen the W3EP's maps of band openings in his VHF column. These openings happen at random times and detecting them relies on the small number of people who happen to be on the air and who tell Emil about it and if Emil finds enough of a story to make it worth publishing.

In a contest on the other hand, a large number of people are monitoring conditions continuously for 36hrs. Many of us have been on 6m in a contest when a contact suddenly shows up at 1500km, then disappears to be replaced by another a bit closer. For the next 15mins contacts come closer and closer, with the distant gridsquares dropping out, till suddenly there is silence. You can guess this was an Es cloud, but you don't know if it was moving, whether it getting higher in MUF and you don't know how big it is. In 1996 during the summer VHF contest, I got Italy on 6m on a double hop from the Blue Ridge Mtns in NC. Apparently few people got this opening - the contest logs would show who else did. In 1998 W3ZZ working 10band VUCC in one opening during a contest. In an opening like this, the contest logs would show if anyone else managed to work through this opening.

It should be possible to put all the contacts in a contest into a database and then ask for all the contacts on 2m longer than 500km and make a movie with these qso paths drawn on the map. Presumably in a quiet time you would just see flashes here and there, but if an opening appeared, you would suddenly see lots of qso paths criss-crossing the movie. The software I have can do that now. The software is not difficult to write, many websites do this routinely, and you don't need me for this. What we do need is the data.

I'd been thinking about this for quite a while and didn't know quite what to do about this. There wasn't anyone person or body in North America taking leadership in this area. I was reticent to approach the ARRL. I'd been rebuffed before when I'd asked the ARRL for their list of repeaters to draw maps of repeater locations. They wouldn't release the lists to their members because they made money from publishing them themselves.

The next thing that happened was that Dan N9RLA posted to some newsgroups asking about choosing a route for a rover trip in a contest. A few e-mail exchanges with him and I decided to do something. I e-mailed the ARRL briefly outlining my project and telling them that I was looking for contest and VUCC logs. I was told the ARRL didn't have the resources to handle the request.

I called up a few prominent VHF contesters, most of who I'd met face-to-face and asked them if I could plot the grids they'd activated in recent contests. I found that people were happy for me to have the information but didn't want anyone else to know who they'd worked. This was solved by sending a script to delete call signs from logs and I made these activated grid maps from the logs of Dick K3MQH and Gene W3ZZ.

With the amount of effort I needed to get the first two logs, and having no success with people I didn't know, I realised that this approach would not scale to the several 100 logs I'd need to get a statistically useful summary of a contest.

I also wanted the historical data that we'd paid our employees at the ARRL to collect for us. Hams have been contesting and collecting awards (eg DXCC and VUCC) for probably 80yrs. An analysis of the contacts made in these activities would show the expansion of hams into new bands and modes and would show activity as a function of sunspot cycle. In the VHF bands you would be able to monitor anomolous propagation that can only be seen when a large number of people are probing the tropo- and ionosphere. It would be a chance for people to learn something more from the contests. Ham radio is a hobby where we are aware of our responsibility to the public for our use of bandspace and can show that not only are we using the bandspace we have, but that we are advancing with the times and continuing to make good and new uses of the bands. We should have records for instance that show that we are doing new things with ham radio and that we are moving into the UHF bands.

I decided to find out what the problem was with the ARRL. Apparently they were worried about resources but I hadn't asked them to do anything beyond giving me access to their archives.

Ham radio is a cooperative hobby where people learn from each other. The official ARRL contest policy with regard to logs as stated by Bill Kennamer is

> More than a few competitors take their contest logs quite seriously, as
> you found when you tried to obtain logs from them. They regard these
> logs as proprietary information, based upon their experiences in
> learning how to compete and win. I can agree with this logic, as there
> is much information that would remove a competitive advantage gained
> from several years of experience in contesting.
> This would be equivalent to allowing NASCAR competitors to see the
> winning engine after the race, or for a NFL team to give other teams its
> playbook. Information such as this gained by experience is not something
> someone wants to give away lightly.

> As I read your statement, you are looking to the contest results in
> order to better your achievements. 

The policy then of the ARRL is to defend the position of winners and to stop other hams from learning what the winners have learnt from contesting. There is no accountability in the contest logs, they are not available for scrutiny or checking.

I'm a winner myself and take my logs seriously. I'm happy to have them inspected and for others to learn about ham radio from it. Other winners want others to know what they've learnt too. I've been to talks at conferences where contest winners describe their winning strategy or equipment in great detail. They are quite happy to share their knowlege with other hams. The ARRL doesn't recognise or understand the self training aspects of ham radio.

I spent about 6months in e-mail contact with the ARRL about this, to find that they weren't legally able to grant members access to the logs we'd paid them to collect. An e-mail to Chris Imlay found this not to be true. I also found that members do not have access to the policies/minutes of meetings/ requests for comments/ that were used to set the rules for contests; cannot find the procedure to change them and when the matters are put before a committee, you cannot find out when the committee meets, who is on the committee, the representation that can be made to the committee and after the committee has met, you are not told the results (you have to ask).

While the ARRL can accuse me of self interest in my efforts to volunteer help, our employees at the ARRL have no requirement to reveal any conflict of interest in their formulation or execution of policies and are under threat of loosing their jobs if they reveal the contest affiliations of our employees at the ARRL.

During this time, the upcoming Leonids meteor shower was being heavily publisized in the media. On one of the ham newsgroups a high school student posted a request about meteor scatter and for logs of contacts made during the shower - he was doing a project on meteors. Here's a map I made of an auroral opening. If we hope to attract young people to ham radio, we should be able to send a person like this high school student to a url and tell him to use the query engine to look for contacts and draw maps. I contacted Shelby Ennis to find that he would not be collecting such information for the Leonids.

After 6 months I found that 5 people had asked that their logs not be released and the ARRL was not going to allow cleaned logs to be analysed, by a suitably appointed ARRL volunteer, even those logs for which the submitter explicitely allowed their logs to be released for analysis.

For last January's VHF contest I asked people to e-mail me their logs. I received about 10 logs, from people who thought this was a great idea. This wasn't enough to do a statistical analysis of the contest. I also received an equal number of vituperative e-mails from people who seemed to think I was out to steal their first-born. I gained new respect for people who take on leadership roles and try to steer groups of people in new directions.

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