Saturday, May 31, 2014

Dayton 2014 - Contest University

Crowne Plaza Home of The Before, During and After Parties
As our Dayton plans became a reality, one of the events I wanted to attend was the Contest University (CTU) which was held at the Crowne Plaza on the Thursday before the Hamvention. The plan was for me to spend the day here and by the time the seminars were over, my close friend Sean, KL1SF and his family would have arrived at Dayton. I was up early and had my wife drop me off about 30 minutes before registration began. It was a short night as we did not arrive until very late on Wednesday night. Our hotel was about 20 minutes away (normal traffic) from the Crowne Plaza hotel. Even though I was still recovering from our 13 hour drive and late arrival the night before, no snooze button was abused as this was a ham radio event I was excited to attend!

Once I arrived and picked up my Contest University bag of goodies, I grabbed a few small items from the breakfast buffet. I found my seat toward the front of the crowded room and enjoyed my wake-up cup of coffee and light breakfast. I then turned my focused on all those hams in the same room. I started looking at all the callsign badges being worn by all those in attendance. Like a quality control inspector candling at an egg packaging factory, my focus was on all those badges going by me.  

I struck up a conversation with Jim, K5ND who was sitting directly behind me. Jim is very active with Radio Scouting and it was very interesting speaking with Jim in regards to this part of the hobby he is very passionate about. You can find more information at the K2BSA website. I had been involved with scouting at an early age but sadly, nothing in regards to radio was ever discussed around our campfires.

Contest University began with Tim, K3LR welcoming everyone. Tim explained the days happenings and how things were going to play out throughout the remainder of the day. Tim was followed by Randy, K5ZD who discussed Radio Sport Contesting. This is the second time I've heard Randy talk about ham radio. Randy is a great public speaker and his topic, "Let's Do This Right - Radio Sport Contesting" was yet another fantastic presentation. The presentation focused on playing the game (contesting) honestly and fairly. 

Contesting Salon (Room)
For those who have never attended Contest University, there were four Contest Topic Sessions going on at the same time. You review the list (schedule) and decide which topic session (Salon or room) you want to attend. If there happened to be a conflict and two of your favorites were being presented at the same time, there was also a voted rerun of the most popular presentations later in the day. This made it possible (at least for me) to snag a session I missed earlier due to the time conflict. I actually looked at the list prior to leaving for Dayton, so I had my sessions picked out before hand. Each of these sessions are lead by well known contesters and subject matter experts. These sessions ran close to an hour in length and were packed with great information.   

The sessions I attended during the morning and early afternoon are listed below. Of course there were a few sessions I would of liked to attend but I've never perfected being in more than one place at a time. So, I was SO1R, Single Operator 1 Room. Here are those sessions that were at the top of my list to attend;

  • The Best Hints to Becoming a Better Contester - N0AX
  • The Essentials of RTTY Contesting - W0YK
  • Advanced RTTY Contest - W0YK
  • The DX Cluster, CW Skimmers & The Reverse Beacon - N6TV

Signing the Attendance Poster

The first session was very informative and Ward covered the basics of becoming a better contester. Anyone starting out in contesting would find Ward's presentation full of great information. The 2nd and 3rd presentations I attended covered my favorite contesting digital mode, RTTY (Radio Teletype). Ed's RTTY sessions were extremely packed with information with little time for Q&A. Thankfully the afternoon sessions were an open discussion format for getting any questions answered that one might have. The Advanced RTTY session was similar to the Essentials of RTTY Contesting session but did expand on a few topics a little bit more. After Ed's Advanced RTTY Contest session, we rolled into lunch. Lunch was of the boxed variety and immediately after lunch, Doug, K1DG gave a presentation regarding the World Radiosport Team Competition (WRTC). It was then followed by Tim, K3LR speaking on Radio Contesting's Future.

During lunch, the highlight for me was meeting Kevin, KL7KY. I had heard Kevin on the radio during many contests while living in Alaska and it was great to finally put a face with a callsign. I sat with Kevin and a few of his fellow Alaskan hams at the Contest Dinner but I will expand on that more in a future blog post. 

The afternoon session by N6TV, Bob covered many of the current modern day spotting methods for Morse Code (CW) and how it all works. One of the things I was excited to learn about was the graphing ability, post contest, from data captured from the Skimmers and the Reverse Beacon Network. In short, it gives you a visual presentation of your signal in regards to how it was being heard around the globe. Also, like a traffic camera at a busy intersection, the Skimmers and Reverse Beacon Network are helping to curb cheating and those who are breaking the rules. Skimmers have sure changed the game in my humble opinion. I prefer contesting unassisted so the only impact I saw was the immediate and crazy pileups when I operated CW contests while in Alaska as KL8DX. You no sooner found a run frequency and the masses showed up. Kinda reminds me of hunting at a hunt club. You can now operate a large part of a contest without touching your VFO. You can continuously click spots on your bandmap and log contacts. But one must remember, not everything spotted is accurate. I bust enough of my own callsigns, I don't need anyone else's help ;0)

Graduate Certficate
I did not attend the entire afternoon sessions as I was more excited to see Sean and his family when they arrived. It had been a few years since we last saw them. They visited with us in Alaska a few years ago on one of their return trips. I did however listen in on a few of the question and answer sessions prior to my early departure. Even though I did not get to attend all the sessions I wanted, it was well worth attending Contest University 2014. The topics were great and the only thing that would of made the experience better would of been if I could have attended all the sessions. Each attendee took home a nice bag of goodies and you know us hams, we love our grab bags of stuff! In the grab bag of stuff was a Contesting University book which had the slides from each of the PowerPoint presentations. So even though I did not get to attend all the sessions, I can still go back and read through each of the slides when time allows.

A tip of the hat goes to Tim, K3LR and all the instructors. There is obviously lots of time and effort that goes into putting Contesting University together. It has something for everyone, even if you are not into contesting. Icom and DX Engineering along with other sponsors made this event possible. I can now cross one more event from my Bucket List.   

Monday, May 26, 2014

Doin' Dayton 2014

Dayton Hamvention 2014
This year was finally the year that I made the Dayton Hamvention. It was made special as it combined a family trip with a family reunion of sorts. Our long time Hamily (hams that are family) Sean, KL1SF and his wife Mindy, KL1MF met us at Dayton. We had not seen them for a few years so this made Dayton even more special.

My wife (KL8SU) and I left MA the Wednesday before the Hamvention as I had reservations for Contest University on Thursday morning. Sean and Mindy were due to arrive in Dayton on Thursday afternoon. The plan was going to be, the guys would do the Hamvention and the girls would do...well, what girls do when their ham husbands do radio stuff.  And that is exactly how it played out. I had surprised Sean with tickets to Saturday nights Contest Dinner. We would then wake up on Sunday morning, have a nice breakfast together and head our separate ways. Sean and Mindy were winding down on their vacation and ours was just getting started.

After Dayton, my wife and I headed to central Ohio and spend a few days with the kids and grand kids. From there, we headed to Northern Ohio to our old stomping grounds near Lake Erie to see a few more of our friends and family before heading back to MA over the Memorial holiday weekend. 

Dayton Hamvention led to some personal sensory overload but it was exciting to finally put faces to many a callsign I had worked over the years. In my next few blog entries, I will highlight most of my activities at Dayton. The weather could not have been better (we did get a little rain and hail) but no complaints from this ham. I did make a few purchases but I did not over overindulge so it was a financially successful trip as well. Unlike Sean, I was not limited to carry on so that is what I'm most proud of. I could have fit plenty in the back of the family car. 

As life gets back to normal and our daily grind is about to begin yet again, Dayton turned out to be the medicine that I needed. Spending a large part of my life living in the Buckeye state, it's hard to believe this was my very first time at Dayton. Better late than never, right? I'm sure it won't be my last trip but it was certainly fun seeing all the ham vehicles driving around Dayton. From hairdo's to vehicles, there were plenty of antennas roaming Dayton Ohio for the Hamvention weekend.