Posts Tagged ‘rant’

Pile up rant

Last night's 80 Meter QRP Fox hunt was interesting and frustrating, all at the same time.  I have written about the Fox hunts here many, many times - but for newbies, or those unfamiliar with the process, the procedure is germane to rest of this post.

The 80 Meter Fox hunting ground takes place on spectrum real estate centering on the QRP Watering Hole of 3.560 MHz. The 80 Meter woods is 10 kHz on each side of that, from 3.550 MHz to 3.570 MHz. One Fox "hides" in the upper half and the other in the lower. You find the Fox calling "CQ FOX", send the required exchange back and forth, and you earn a pelt if successful.

Last night, the two Foxes, Earl N8SS and Dale WC7S decided to do something a bit different. Earl planted himself 1 kHz below 3.560 MHz, while Dale planted himself 1 kHz above the Watering Hole. Both worked split - Earl down and Dale up.

Sounds like good, clean fun, eh?  In theory, yes - very good. In practice, good - but not very good. And the difficulty that ensued was not the fault of Earl or Dale. Once again, it was due to the Hounds (AKA, the pile up) not listening.

I caught Earl two minutes into the Hunt at 3.559 MHz. I heard him (key words) call "CQ FOX" and then "DN". That raised my eyebrows a bit, as I wasn't expecting that.  But I quickly adjusted VFO B and nabbed him on my third call. At this point, all was peachy keen.  Then, going up to the high end of the 80 Acre Woods, I heard Dale's pack of Hounds - not very far away at all.  From the location of the Hounds and figuring on a "standard split" of 1 kHz, I figured out that Dale was probably sitting around 3.561 MHz. I tuned over there and indeed, there he was - very weak, around 119 ESP levels.

What made things even more difficult were the Hounds chasing Earl, who weren't listening and were trying to work him by calling "up". And they overwhelmed Dale's weak signal completely. And there lies my complaint.  If you can't hear the Fox well enough to determine that he's calling "DN" then what are you doing, calling him at all?

Listen - don't make assumptions!

It got to the point where Dale must have realized something not good was going on, as he moved up a little bit farther. That was nice, but there were other problems to deal with, on that end. I had the KX3 in Dual Watch mode and finally had to turn it off, because some of the shenanigans going on there were pretty bad too.  I heard one Hound who blindly sent his call - I kid you not - 10 times in a row without so much as taking a breath! 10 times - really ?!?  I think that Dale was able to work two Hounds in the time it took this one guy to send his call that many times. Wow! And obviously, if you are sending your call that many times, then you are not listening - and that's the most important thing you can do in a pile up.

Paul WW2PT is one of the bloggers I list in my blogroll. He has a very good post that contains an interview with the K1N Team, post-Navassa.  Go over there and read his post. What you read there will make your eyes wide as saucers.  But because this is so important, I am going to take the opportunity re-post the K1N Team's assessment on why many in a pile up are not successful.  I wish the Hounds in last night's hunt had read this. The main issues they saw were:

  1. Not listening to the DX operator
  2. LISTEN to and LEARN the rate and rhythm of the operator
  3. LISTEN to WHERE the operator is listening and his PATTERN of moving his VFO, know where he will listen next!
  4. Learn to use your radio (split/simplex, etc)
  5. Do NOT jump to and call on the frequency of the last station worked. The DX station will NOT hear you because the din is total unintelligible chaos.   Move UP or DOWN from that frequency, as we on our end were continuously tuning up or down after each Q, so if one jumps onto the last-worked frequency, we will not hear you, even if you were the only one there, as we have tuned off.
  6. TURN OFF ALL SPEECH PROCESSORS AND COMPRESSION! Do NOT overdrive ALC.   There is a night and day difference in listening to NA/AS and EU pileups.   The horrible distortion makes it impossible to copy many, if not most EU callsigns.   There were MANY loud stations that we did not work, simply because we could NOT understand their terribly distorted callsign.   Have you ever listened to yourself in a pileup?   We gave many stations a “19” signal report.   Very loud, but extremely unintelligible!   You want to have INTELLIGIBILITY, not distortion!
  7. Give your callsign ONCE and ONLY ONCE!   DO NOT KEEP CALLING! We would tune on by those who did not stop calling.   We are looking for RATE and getting stations into the log.   You should be, too!!!
  8. If the DX station comes back with your callsign, DO NOT REPEAT YOUR CALLSIGN, AS WE ALREADY KNOW IT or we would not have answered you.   Many stations (in all modes) would repeat their callsign two, three and even four times!   We only want to hear “5NN” or “59” from you.   Anything else is a total waste of time and CHEATS others out of a chance to get into the log.   Only repeat your callsign if it needs correction, and then let us know it is a correction.   Anything else is cheating others out of a contact, as our propagation windows and time on the island are limited and we need to maximize the opportunity for everyone.   SPEED.
  9. Take some time to listen to the next DXpedition working NA and listen to the rate and rhythm of the operator.   It is fast, quick and efficient, and more people get into the log! Then listen to him work EU.   The wise operator will catch on quickly to what it takes to get into the log!
  10. SPREAD OUT!   Our highest rates (for any continent) were working the edges of the pileup where there was less QRM and weak stations were much easier to work than loud stations in the middle of the pileup.   If we say, “Listening 200 – 210,” 70% of the pileup sits exactly on 200 in an unintelligible din, 25% of the pileup sits on 210 and is almost as bad.   5% of the pileup will be spread out somewhere between 201 and 209, making them very quickly put into the log.   S P R E A D   O U T ! ! ! !
  11. LOUD is NOT better!   MORE AUDIO/COMPRESSION is NOT better!   Finding the spot to be HEARD is the MOST important thing you can do to get into the log. My biggest thrill (and I’m sure on both ends) is finding the lone weak station and getting him into the log quickly.
  12. LISTEN to the DX operator INSTRUCTIONS!   As we would constantly tune our VFO, if we find a clear spot, we would often say, “33” (meaning for YOU to transmit on 14033, 28433, etc) and a few would listen and get into the log very quickly.   You cannot hear these hints if you keep calling calling calling calling………   Many times I would say, “listening 200-210” and after a while would say, “listening 240-250”.   Often 30-45 minutes, even and HOUR later, I would find MANY still calling on the original “200-210”…..of course, they would never show up in our log, as I was not listening there.   LISTEN LISTEN LISTEN and LISTEN SOME MORE.   The less you transmit, the better chance you have of getting into the log.
  13. LISTEN
  14. If you don’t want to get into the DX log, just ignore the above suggestions.
The best advice IS "listen, listen, listen and listen some more". Avoid the temptation to jump in blindly and work shot gun style. In the end, you will work more DX - and Foxes, if you listen. And, by becoming a better operator, you will not only be more successful, you will earn the admiration and esteem of your fellow operators. No one wants to earn the label of "LID".

End of rant.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

ARRL needs to lighten up

So .... the ARRL rejected the idea, out of hand, for the new "Jeeves" cartoons for QST. It appears they don't want any cartoons in QST and they don't want "to look to the past". As I've said in my comments, I think this is so LAME that I cannot believe it! It's thinking like this makes me regret my decision to become an ARRL LIfe Member, so many years ago.

No humor? No look to the past? I think "The Old Man" is spinning in his grave at this line of reasoning. Did any of you at HQ ever read his editorials? You are aware, I'm sure, of the Rettysnitch and the Wouff-Hong?  Do you think those inventions of his were NOT stabs at humor? Do you think his editorial letters were deadly serious 100% of the time?

I think the leadership at the ARRL needs to come off its high horse. I also think you guys are starting to take yourselves way too seriously. To say that you are above humor and that you are above living, enjoying and celebrating your past is to put yourselves on a pedestal so high, that no one even wants to bother looking at you.

QST was always looked upon as "THE" Amateur Radio magazine. Jeeves, Phil Gildersleeve, the humor, friendliness and "folksiness" all helped to put you there, so many years ago. I admire your endeavor to maintain that leadership role, but I think your approach is off. And dare say it,  I think HPM would agree.

My Mom, God rest her soul, always told me "Never let your head get too big and never forget where you came from." That advice has served me well throughout the years. I offer the same sage advice to the ARRL, at no charge - compliments of a thoroughly disappointed Life Member.

Before I close this post, one last thought about looking upon the past, and what it can do for you. Hey ARRL, have you looked at NASA's "spacecraft for the future" - the Orion?  Does it remind you of something from the past, like perhaps the Apollo Command Module?  It appears that NASA didn't think that a concept from the past couldn't be made to work well again, and perhaps even better!

Bravo for them, and shame on you.

Footnote: This rant is NOT a knock on the "worker bees" who actually do the work, and produce QST from month to month. They do an outstanding job, for which I am forever grateful. The policy makers, from whom they take their direction and get marching orders from, IMHO, need to wake up and smell the coffee - perhaps, just a little.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Some common sense, please!

After working the QRP Fox Hunt last night, and over time working a bunch of DX and a lot of the W1AW Centennial WAS stations, and other pile up causing stations - I really have to wonder what goes on in the minds of some people.  It seems like when there's some kind of quarry to be had, whether it be a QRP Fox, a DX station, or a W1AW/XX station - common sense goes right out the window and sheer insanity takes its place.

Take for instance last night.  I was trying to work Steve WX2S on 40 Meters who lives about 18 miles from me.  Ground wave was strong enough that he was about a 229/339.  The advantage was that not only could I hear him, but I could also hear the stations that were calling him.  I ended up not working him, but even so, it was a unique opportunity to observe.

Steve was working split from the beginning and he was handling the pile up deftly.  But I was left shaking my head, because so many times - all through the hunt, people continued throwing out their calls while Steve was engaging another station! I sat there, kind of dumbfounded. There was Steve, sending out "559 NJ STEVE 5W" to whomever, and all the while there were stations sending out their calls, over and over and over, without so much as taking a breath!

So here's the deal......if you can't hear the quarry well enough to realize he answered someone other than yourself - then why the heck do you continue to throw your call sign out there in the first place? Obviously, if by some miracle, he actually came back to you - would you be able to hear that well enough to realize it and complete the exchange? Something tells me

Part of pile up discipline (on the part of the chasers) is to realize when you have a legitimate shot. But in any case, whether the quarry is 229 or 599 on your end, don't you think it would be a lot wiser to send your call maybe twice at most and then take a break to actually listen?

Listening. That seems to be a dirty word in the minds of a lot of folks.

Look, I know we all make mistakes and I've made my fair share, too.  No one is perfect, and I can understand forgetting to turn the "split" function on or some other such thing.  But deliberately sending your call over and over and over in the vain hope of somehow scatter-gunning the target is really just inexcusable, and rude and inconsiderate of your fellow Hams.

As always, this is just my humble opinion. Your mileage may vary.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

Times have changed

The SET session went well. My wife had to work late, so I was able to get on the local VHF net which is affiliated with the NTS, in order to pass on our SET report.  Admittedly, it's been years since I have handled any traffic. However, I was very active back in the 80s, serving for a long time as a NCS of the very traffic net I checked into.  In fact, I was assistant to the Net Manager for quite a while there, also.  So while I'm rusty, I'm no neophyte to traffic handling.

Here's the sticky part. I made my message as brief as possible, but it still came to a check of 27.  And I got to listen about it. Yes, I understand the ARRL message form has lines for 25 words, but c'mon, really?

These messages were local in scope and weren't bound for the Second Region Net or anything like that. And it was only two stinkin' words over. You're going to give me flack for that?  I hate to sound like an old crotchety curmudgeon, but back in the day, we sometimes handled messages with checks as long as 30 or even sometimes 35 words.  And if some evening, you're lucky enough to get a ton of check ins, you're not going to send a net report because it would be over 25 words?

Seems to me the NTS should be begging for traffic, not making remarks so that people couldn't be bothered.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

This post is going to get me into trouble!

John KK4ITN left a comment on my post "Conditions" over at Here's a line from it:

"Seems when the bands are down every person with a ‘bug’ is out calling cq. Wish they would put code oscillators and dummie loads on sale. Dits at 20 wpm and dahs at 5 wpm."

I guess it's not directly related to band conditions, and I'm not sure that John's claim is 1,000,000% accurate, however - he makes an excellent point.

Not to dump on bug users, because I have a bug. I like using a bug. Using a straight key makes the arthritis in my hands go "Hey! Stop that!" But unless I've practiced with my bug (off the air) for a while .... my sending can be pretty bad.  So I try to make it a point to take the KX3 "off the air" and practice sending with my bug on a regular basis.  Not as regularly as I should, but I try to keep in decent practice.

I agree with John and I would posit that listening to someone use a bug (or even a straight key or paddles, for that matter), who doesn't know how to use it properly, is akin to listening to nails being scratched across a blackboard. NB: For any younger readers, a blackboard is what we used in school before the advent of whiteboards and smartboards.  If you scrape your fingernails across the surface of a blackboard, it makes a sound unlike anything you've ever heard. It literally hurts to listen to it.  It will make your teeth ache. There's something about human fingernails and slate that just don't mix. Listening to someone scratch a balloon is almost as bad. But .... I digress.

The phrase, "Dits at 20 wpm and dahs at 5 wpm" resonated with me.  Morse Code sent like that is not only unreadable - even worse, it's unbearable.  No one is asking that all Morse be sent so that it sounds like it's coming from a keyer or a computer - but for Pete's sake - at least make sure your sending is copyable!

I would suggest that anyone who is inclined to use a bug perform this little exercise.  Send some Morse and record it, either with a tape recorder (do they still make those?), or, I believe most smartphones have a voice recorder feature. Do it off the air. Either send your RF into a dummy load or turn off your "VOX" - that usually will put your rig into code practice oscillator mode.

Send some Morse, listen to it, and copy what you sent. Be honest and critical with yourself. If you can honestly copy what you've sent, then you're probably good enough to go live. It might even be a good idea to wait a day or two between the sending part and the listening to yourself part - just in order to make it a bit more objective.

I can tell you for a fact, that I have done this - I have listened to my own bug fist - and have said, "Oh my!".  It was a rude, but necessary awakening. I am totally glad that I did not subject my fellow Hams to what I had thought was decent sending.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

There is a season, turn, turn, turn

A time for W2LJ to ponder and to vent.  This is stuff I’ve been thinking over the past couple of days. I can’t speak of these things to “civilians” as they would look at me like I was speaking in tongues (Ham speak?), not comprehending a word that I was saying.

The first occurred the other night as I was walking Harold, our beagle.  As usual, I take my dual band HT with me and scan the various repeaters that I have programmed in there. The HT settled on a local VHF repeater that was holding an NTS Traffic Net.  Having been a avid traffic handler in my early days as a Ham, I don’t mind listening in on these – procedures haven’t changed so much in all these years. At least I thought not.

The repeater itself was having problems. Some kind of interference or intermod was making communications difficult at best, almost impossible at worst.  Two stations were having difficulty passing a couple of messages due to the interference.  The receiving station asked the sending station to send him the messages via e-mail, and then he would deliver them.  He told the Net Control Station to consider them passed traffic.  Passed traffic?!?  Would that be proper?  Would that be considered the equivalent of going to another repeater or simplex frequency and passing them on the air?  I applaud the ingenuity of the two stations, but ultimately passing traffic via a means that was not “radio” has me wondering if those could rightfully be counted as passed traffic.  I may be a bit behind the current standards, so – anyone out there know if this would be considered Kosher?

When you get right down to it, I would think (IMHO) that  traffic nets are supposed to be the resource available when everything else has turned to deep doo-doo.  In that event, there will be no Internet to fall back on.  IMHO, the two stations should have exhausted every RF means possible before resorting to e-mail and the Internet. But again, I may be just an old curmudgeon who’s behind the times and isn’t up to current standards. Can anyone shed a little light on this?

Secondly, the next scenario has to do with the QRP Fox Hunts.  No calls will be used to protect the innocent and the not-so-innocent.  We have been very fortunate to get some new blood showing up in the hunts. New-to-Fox-Hunting Hams have been showing up to participate both as Hounds, as well as Foxes. This is a very good thing, because if there’s no influx of new people, then sooner or later, the “sport” is going to die out.  That would be a bad thing, as these are so much fun.

Anyway, a week ago we had a Ham perform his first ever shot at being Fox.  I’ve been there, so I know what he faced.  Believe me, for an experienced Fox it can be daunting, let alone your maiden voyage.  The Hunt begins and close to, if not more than, a hundred Hounds are calling you all at the same time. A wall of barking, and they’re all barking at you. No amount of “Here’s what to expect” from an experienced Fox can really prepare you.  It’s truly a “deer in the headlights” moment  for most newbies (myself included).

Here’s the rub – it was an 80 Meter hunt, and according to Da Rulez, “The 80M Foxes will operate within +/- 10Khz of 3.560 MHz”.  Well, the newbie Fox got distracted, excited, or maybe just a bit overwhelmed and planted himself just a hair above 3.570 MHz – less than 600 Hz away from the boundary.  As it was, 42 Hounds found the Fox and snared his pelt. So it’s not like we’re talking that he was so far out of bounds that everyone was left mouth agape, wondering “Huh?”.

When he posted his log, he apologized for his error, and basically stated that this would not be repeated next time.  Needless to say, that’s not good enough for some. Let’s just say that some of the responses were not exactly friendly, kind, understanding, encouraging or constructive. Here we get a volunteer to subject himself to a pileup of QRPers for 90 minutes and because you didn’t think to look outside the box, you let the poor guy have it!  Nice ….. really nice!

Did he break the rules? Yes.  Did he realize his error and apologize? Yes.  Is this a cause for making someone feel like a schmuck? Definitely NO!

It’s not like we’re talking of a deliberate act, like interference or jamming, or being a willful idiot.  The guy made a one time mistake, apologized for it and intends to do better the next time.  I’ll be the first to admit, that in the past, I too may have been hot headed at times and may have been more than willing to jump on the pile with harshness. But due to some of my reader’s comments to me on some of my own blog postings (when I’ve been harsh), I feel that I have learned and have come to realize that this is not the right thing to do. Constructive criticism is the best way to go, and  we need to cut the poor guy a break. Otherwise, we’re going to scare off volunteers and you’re going to find yourself hunting a Fox that’s literally not there (never mind just a little off frequency!)

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP – When you care to send the very least!

Slow it down

I worked a station at lunch time today, and it was a frustrating experience. He was sending way too fast …… not for me, but for him.

He was 599 Plus and should have been easy copy, and he would have been if he had been able to send his own call correctly more than once in a row. But it took a while to figure his call out, as he sent it differently each time, tripping over himself the whole way.

You know, when you turn up the code speed to that point, you’re not doing anyone any favors – yourself or the stations you’re trying to work. What’s the point of sending so fast that repeats become necessary or you turn off potential contacts? No one really wants to listen to gobbledygook.

It makes more sense to slow it down. You might not break any land speed records, and your ego may be a bit deflated, but you will also not send people away going, “Huh?!?”.

As they say in the FISTS club, “Accuracy transcends speed.”

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP – When you care to send the very least!

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