Wednesday, May 26, 2010

LoTW, VUCC & The lack of Leadership

A recent thread on the VHF E-Mail Reflector about when (if ever) the American Radio Relay League plans to implement VUCC credits using their electronic QSL software called "Logbook of the World". 

LoTW, for short, has been around for almost a decade now, but still doesn't accept contacts made above 50mhz towards credit for the VHF UHF Century Club (VUCC) Award. So, even if you have 200 grids confirmed on 2 Meters using the software, you can't print out that list and have it accepted by the ARRL towards credit for the award. 

Many in the VHF community feel slighted by the delays and excuses coming from Newington. Making matters worse is the growth of alternative electronic QSL programs such as "E-QSL" which is accepted by CQ Magazine for their awards program, and more recently, the electronic awards program. 

The LoTW software uses a high level of security, including the use of special encryption keys, and others steps to protect the data to the highest standards. So high in fact, that they exceed the level of security used for my on-line banking account, my brokerage account, and even my daughter's FASA college grant account! 

These security steps have made the software difficult to install and use, a real pain to transfer to a new computer, and generally slow to be adopted by hams. In contrast, the E-QSL program is fast, easy, and wildly popular. I expect the program to take off too. 

The problem lies when trying to keep up with all of it. Now each QSL has to be confirmed a minimum of three ways to keep everyone happy. That means uploading your logs, and sending out cards. Since the ARRL won't accept E-QSL's or cards, you have to still do them manually via US Mail. 

VUCC cost me $270 in postage, return postage, envelopes, etc. A hefty price just to confirm 100 contacts. In contrast, you could easily qualify for DXCC, especially if you're active on RTTY or the digital modes, for no investment at all. Most hams active on the digital modes tend to be early adopters of LoTW, and logs are often uploaded within hours of the end of a major RTTY or PSK DX contest. 

The rise of alternative programs is completely understandable. The league missed it's opportunity to lead in the area of electronic-QSL's and have failed again and again to update the software, add programs like VUCC, and improve the interface. 

The real shame is that in doing so, they reduce their own "market share" with a new generation of hams. Currently, DXCC Honor Roll, VUCC, and other ARRL Awards are the most highly prized, but that doesn't mean it will always be that way. They could quickly become antiques as other award programs grow and are adopted by the next generation. 

What's that old saying, "Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way"? When it comes to VHF+ matters, the league continues to allow it's priorities to be set by those who experience is grounded in the HF world. You see in their contesting rules, the lack of support for VUCC on LoTW, and even in their monthly magazine, QST, which often includes editorial slants painting VHF Men as second rate operators compared to their HF brothers. 

It's time to wake up, Newington...adopting VUCC as part of LoTW should be "JOB ONE" until completed. I hope others will join me in making their feelings known to their Section Managers, and elected officials. 


VHF Contesting Webinar

For those who missed it, Gene Zimmerman's web seminar (webinar) on the topic of "VHF Contesting" is now available on the Potomac Valley Radio Club web site: 

Zimmerman is best know as the author of "The World Above 50 MHz" column in QST each month He's served in that post since 2002. Gene is also a top-notch contest operator in both the HF world, and VHF+ efforts, being one of the principals of the highly successful K8GP "Grid Pirates" Multi-Multi group. 

The webinar had over 60 attendees, including two from Europe, and lasted approximately an hour and half. It's a perfect general introduction to VHF Contesting (just in time for the June ARRL Test, and July CQ WW Test in July). But it also featured some lively discussion about the design of a truly serious VHF station that will be of interest to both DX'ers and contest operators. 

For those trying to be successful on VHF in deed restricted settings, I really think it's vital to "work smarter, not harder". You won't be able to succeed with the typical formula of big antennas and big amps--so you've got to make up those db's in other ways. The best way is to be a better operator--work on your station and your skills. Webinars like this go a long way towards that education. 

Thanks to Gene, W3ZZ and the PVRC for the efforts involved. Check it out. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

VUCC Within Reach

The winter of my discontent has turned in the Spring of renewed hope for me. It began on March 6th, when I had my cards checked for 6 Meter VUCC at the Birmingham Hamfest. I have just over 127 grids confirmed on the "Magic Band". While I haven't received the certificate yet, the league office confirms it's on the way. 

Late March and April brought some great tropo openings into the Southwest.
A chaotic work schedule has resulted in a string of 20 hour + days, and sleeping through most of the tropo opening here in the Southeast. On March 12th, I was determined to change my fortunes, and set several alarm clocks for 6AM Central time, after going to be bed at 2AM.
Still managed to sleep through them, but woke at 7AM. Rushed to the shack, glanced at the APRS map, and began spinning the dials. Heard several loud station in Texas in a group on .230, and called them during their first break.
What followed was a three hour long spree of tropo DX, bagging 10 new grids, bringing my total to 87 grids worked on 2 Meters with the indoor antenna. Many stations were loud, literally speaker quality and then some.
When K5RUS asked me to run the bands, I really started to regret moving my 222-1296 gear to the rover set-up. I literally had nothing up that I could get on the higher bands. Drats! I decided just to focus on 2 Meters, and not worry about what I might be missing on 222 and up.
The highlight had to be when a weak station called me...I struggled to make out his callsign---and then clearly heard XE20R in DL98. Raf was actually calling me! WOW!
We worked, and I nearly had to pinch myself. DX on 2 Meters with a 6 element antenna inside the attic. And it wasn't even via Sporadic E's.
Thanks to all the patient stations who pulled me out of the noise that day. You can't image what a 10 grid day means to someone who is used to logging perhaps one new grid every month or two. It's was like Christmas at Easter Time.
13 Grids and counting for VUCC on 2 Meters! 

Late April and early May have brought some nice E-Skip openings on 6 Meters...and two new countries on that band. Last night, I even managed to work AA6DD in California via double-hop E's. He was loud, even on the 3 element indoor beam. 

Granted, I've worked the West Coast many times, but never this early in the season--and never with signals that good. I'm hoping that we'll soon be blessed with a decent 2 Meter E-Skip opening. One good day could put me over the top and complete my quest to earn VUCC using indoor antennas on another band. 

Les Rayburn, N1LF
Grid Bandit #222