Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Flannan Isles

Islands are the DXers crack cocaine. There is mystery and romance that islands inspire, and not just the tropical palm trees and sweet drinks with umbrellas in them kind either. DXers find the romance of glacier covered rocks in the Antarctic to be just as compelling as humid atolls with no hint of shade and homicidal infestations of birds and crabs. The RSGB’s Islands On The Air (IOTA) program is solely devoted to this fascination with islands, big or small, rare or common. For the DXer that finds the DXCC list too trivial a challenge, the IOTA program is sure to provide some interest. A recently announced IOTA DXpedition to the Flannan Isles of Scotland, EU-118, is a good example of the extremes and challenges that is island DXing.

First a little background. Wikipedia provides a wealth of information on the Flannan Isles, namely where are they and why are they interesting. To quote,

The Flannan Isles are a small island group in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, approximately 32 kilometres (20 mi) west of the Isle of Lewis. They may take their name from St Flannan, the 7th century Irish preacher and abbot. The islands have been devoid of permanent residents since the automation of the lighthouse in 1971. They are the location of an enduring mystery which occurred in December 1900, when all three lighthouse keepers vanished without trace.

Ahh, a mystery. This is no run of the mill lump of moss covered granite sticking up out of the North Atlantic. It turns out that the island’s lighthouse was finished in 1899. It was manned by a three man crew with a fourth rotating crew member to provide relief. You can imagine in the days before ham radio and the internet, spending an extended period of time on a small rock with two other blokes is likely to get boring rather quickly. Less than a year after commissioning the lighthouse, in December 1900, the relief boat shows up one day to find nobody is home. The light is out, everything is normal in the lighthouse keepers quarters, except for an overturned kitchen chair, but no evidence of the three lighthouse keepers. Theories abounded as to the fate of the three missing lighthouse keepers. The official story concocted by an investigator with the National Lighthouse Board was as follows,

“From evidence which I was able to procure I was satisfied that the men had been on duty up till dinner time on Saturday the 15 December, that they had gone down to secure a box in which the mooring ropes, landing ropes etc. were kept, and which was secured in a crevice in the rock about 110 ft (34 m) above sea level, and that an extra large sea had rushed up the face of the rock, had gone above them, and coming down with immense force, had swept them completely away.”

Of course that sort of explanation just doesn’t make for much of a mystery. This is just the sort of story that is fodder for tales of paranormal activity or alien abductions. These are much more palatable than a mere story of getting washed out to sea by rough weather, so we’ll stick with those.

Alas, like most of the world’s lighthouses, the Flannan Isle lighthouse has been automated to prevent future alien abductions. Again, we’ll steal a quote from Wikipedia.

On 28 September 1971, it was automated. A reinforced concrete helipad was constructed at the same time to enable maintenance visits in heavy weather. The light is produced by burning acetylene gas and has a range of 20 miles (32 kilometres). It is now monitored from the Butt of Lewis and the shore station has been converted into flats. Other than its relative isolation it would be a relatively unremarkable light, were it not for the events which took place just over a year after it was commissioned.

We’re not sure who Lewis is, but we don’t envy him his job.

This June, the MS0INT team plan to activate the Flannan Isles, providing a rare IOTA island group to hungry DXers worldwide. The LIDS look forward to working them and wish them success. Just watch out for the aliens. And Lewis.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Demon DX Dog Storms the Web

Our good friend K1NSS over at Dashtoons.com has started a nice section featuring those Second Ops many of us have in the shack. He's been kind enough to include some pics of Cousin QRM's Demon DX Dog among the gallery. Triple D hasn't mastered the key yet, but he is handy at holding a run frequency on phone while Cousin takes a bio break. Does that make Cousin Single-Op Assisted? Hardly. If anything there should be a Single-Op Distracted category. But some claim that's what the cluster is for.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Law Firm Announces Radio Sport Division

The law firm of Howe, Dewey, Cheatham and Wynn, LLP has announced a new practice in the area of radio-sport contest rule regulation. The new radio-sport division will be led by Arthur Phil Dodger. Art has been a partner in Howe, Dewey, Cheatham and Wynn since 1998 when he pioneered the legal defense strategy of "depends on what the meaning of 'is' is".

The radio-sport rules division will bring their expertise in contract and tort law to assist top tier (i.e. Big Gun) single-op and multi-op contest stations in developing technology and operating strategies to implement cutting edge approaches to winning radio-sport contests while maintaining adherence to the current rules.

With increasing scrutiny of top competitors by contesting committees and evolving rule changes to meet perceived inadequacies, Howe, Dewey, Cheatham and Wynn can provide the level of legal analysis necessary to insure a priori adherence to the contest rules and also provide capable defense afterwards in the event of accusations of impropriety.

At the time of the announcement, no clients of the new radio-sport division of Howe, Dewy, Cheatham and Wynn were publicly identified, but anonymous sources indicate that Xtreme contesters Macho Cuesew and Leche Dinero have signed as clients.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Just Keeping It Honest

It's getting tougher and tougher to keep things honest.

First I worried that someone would accuse me of running excessive power. So I bought one of those fancy digital wattmeters with a threshold sensor. I had the factory set the threshold to 1499 watts, just to be safe. If I ever hit 1500W, the meter would automatically trip the amplifier off.

Then I worried that I might be accused of using the cluster while entering unassisted. So I canceled my internet service and sold off all of my packet gear and VHF/UHF radios. I just do all my email and websurfing at work. Things are a little slow these days, so no one notices.

Someone said that it might be cheating to use those databases of calls, names, and QTHs with your logging program. Well, I hate to do it, but I gave up using computer logging and went back to paper and pencil. Just me, my radio and a log sheet.

Then someone said it wasn't fair that I had a mental database of calls and such from all the years of contests I've operated. So I started drinking heavily between contests, sobering up just long enough to work the contests. I've managed to forget most of what I knew, but have to admit I still occasionally recognize a friend's call.

Now some are claiming I might be cheating if someone tells me about a needed mult or rare band opening on the air during a contest, even if I didn't ask them about it. All I know to do is to unplug the headphones and keep the volume turned all the way down to make sure I don't hear anything I shouldn't. It's going to make it harder to make Qs, but I'll keep CQing and hope my ESP gets better.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Big Gun Contesting and DXing - A Look Forward

This is the start of not just a new year, but the start of new decade. We thought this would be a good time to take a look forward to see what the future of Big Gun DXing and Contesting will look like. To get an idea of the future, we went to the most advanced Big Gun we know - Macho Cuesew, the king of Xtreme contesters. Below is Macho's essay in his own words. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Lost Island DX Society, the Fi-Ni Report, or Major League Baseball.

The future Big Gun and his station will be modeled on NASCAR. Radios, antennas, towers, they're all expensive and sponsorship is the way to get to the big time, unless you're independently wealthy or a successful gambler.

In exchange for the sponsor's help, naturally I'll help advertise their products - all off the air of course. I've already ordered myself one of those jumpsuits like the NASCAR drivers wear. Across the chest and back I'll have the major sponsor's logos emblazoned, and have smaller patches on the arms and legs for minor sponsors. I'll wear the jumpsuit at every 'appearance' I make, like hamfests and club meetings. So don't be surprised if in April you see me at Dayton with my jumpsuit on, Icom across the chest, Force-12 across the back, Vibroplex on the right arm, Dunestar on the left. Of course this is all pending getting those sponsors on boards.

But the real key to promoting myself as a Big Gun and getting those sponsors is the web. Several Big Gun stations have started streaming live audio during contests from their stations. A few are even doing live video as well. This is a great way to get and keep little guns and beginners interested in big-time contesting. But all those eyeballs and ears are also potential customers for my sponsors.

I'll equip the shack with live video and audio, in HD and stereo, to broadcast every contest. It'll be just like the NASCAR in-car cameras, except full-time. That also means arranging the shack to insure that sponsor's products are prominently displayed for all to see. Of course, I'll also wear my jumpsuit to operate every contest.

Now, this is where we make the jump to the real big time. Once we have those viewers watching during the contest, we can expand beyond traditional radio equipment suppliers. Just like NASCAR went beyond car and parts manufacturers to sign up sponsors like Tide and Viagra, we can do the same thing in contesting.

Just like in the movies, the key will be product placement. So, for example, I can have a Red Bull energy drink sitting there on the operating desk that I can sip from, or a Starbucks coffee mug with my coffee in it. The key is finding products that would interest contesters and DXers, or even hams in general.

You can even slip in an occasional endorsement since there will be live audio. For example, you might casually comment, "Boy, that Alpha Big Boy amp sure busts the pileups easily", or " That Red Fulla-Bull energy drink sure wakes me up!".

There's a non-radio product that is ideal to pitch to both serious contesters as well the generally graying ham radio population, but I'm having trouble convincing the manufacturer. That product is Depends. My best idea so far to during the contest let out a big sigh and comment, "Depends lets me keep running." Shoot, that could make a YouTube video ad by itself.

We can also stick in plugs for our sponsors in our soapbox comments, not unlike the post-race interviews with the NASCAR drivers. For example, the soapbox for the next big contest might read like this: "I tell ya', the Yaesu/Ameritron/Cushcraft/Depends super station was just awesome this weekend. We were a little slow there at the start due to some local power line QRM, but once that cleared up we had some great runs to Europe in large part thanks to those heavy duty Depends which help keep us in the chair. Toward the end of the contest we got a little drowsy, but a double shot of Stahbucks espresso gave me the jolt I needed to make it to the end. "

The future Big Gun may very well be named Ricky Bobby.